“Yet Unrealized Freedom: A Matter of Concern” – Jhor van der Horst
“What do you love,” Prof. Dr. Waaldijk asked. We — the attendants of her lecture on Academic Freedom — discussed. During this short heart-to-heart, I loved hearing what my newly-met colleague loved. Yet, how can we secure space for our loves outside of Waaldijk’s careful lecture? Or, as someone during the Q&A asked: “What synonyms of academic freedom are useful in practice?” Given that academic freedom is a far-right talking point at present, as Waaldijk acknowledged, is the term useful for a progressive cause? Can this call for freedom lead to actual freedom?
As a student of rhetoric, American Studies and 19th-century histories, I was reminded of abolitionism, of its failures, and of “yet unrealized freedom.” (Hartman 1997, 139) While the end of slavery in the United States was helped by white abolitionist organizing, the moral preoccupations of its rhetoric left much to be desired. Saidiya Hartman speaks of a “burdened individuality of freedom” which followed legal emancipation. (Hartman 1997, 121) Freedpersons were both “freed from slavery and free of resources.” (Hartman 1997, 117) This precarious double bind fostered racist rhetoric that blamed ensuing economic woes on Black subjects. In the freedom of post-Reconstruction America, racism thrives. How can we learn from this history and realize future freedom?
Histories are not simple. Academic freedom may aid in addressing / redressing them. In “The Propaganda of History,” W.E.B. Du Bois advanced arguments for academic freedom by championing an “unbiased mind.” (Du Bois 1935, 726) Despite this intellectualism, however, Du Bois ends his book Black Reconstruction by flagging the racist projects of Jim Crow historians and public officials to “discredit human beings, an effort involving universities, history, science, social life and religion.” (Du Bois 1935, 727) “If history is going to be scientific,” Du Bois writes, “there must be set some standards of ethics in research and interpretation.” (Du Bois 1935, 714) In practice, ethics matter.
In the Solker Report, Waaldijk posits “the duty of care for academic freedom.” (Stolker, Stolker, and Waaldijk 2023, 9) By using the words “duty” and “care,” academic freedom is positioned as an ethical matter, involving a variety of stakeholders. This report, which combines practical and ethical considerations, is a fitting introduction to this Transmission in Motion series. These matters of concern, as Bruno Latour suggest, citing William James, mentor of W.E.B. Du Bois, deserve a stubbornly realist attitude. (Latour 2004, 231)
To start my first Transmission in Motion (TiM) blog post, a short introduction seems fitting. My name is Jhor van der Horst. I am a third-year rMA student at the University of Amsterdam (Art and Performance Research Studies // Artistic Research). This year, I am completing my thesis on environmentalist rhetoric and public space. In particular, I focus on historical organizational models of New York City’s Central Park (e.g. maintenance and funding) in relation to its ‘performance’ as a ‘public’ park. If anyone wants to chat about parks (e.g.), you can reach me at email@example.com. In addition to completing my thesis, I work as research assistant to Prof. Dr. Gabriele Klein. For more on me – e.g. my background in dance, work at OT301, work with the fledgling Amsterdam housing coop SUP – you can browse my website https://jhorvanderhorst.nl. To those attending TiM seminar, I look forward to seeing you around!
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. First Edition. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
Hartman, Saidiya V. 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Race and American Culture. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Latour, Bruno. 2004. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (2): 225–48.
New York Public Library Archives, The New York Public Library. “Exterior marble work : construction of the northeast corner.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 19, 2023. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-3781-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Stolker, Janka, Carel Stolker, and Berteke Waaldijk. 2023. “Powerful and Vulnerable: Academic Freedom in Practice.” Amsterdam, NL: University of Amsterdam. https://www.uva.nl/en/content/news/news/2023/06/stolker-committee-no-institutional-abuse-but-academic-freedom-must-be-guarded.html.