The Centre for Modern Thought draws together a unique community of scholars where graduate students interact regularly with academic staff in seminars, meetings with visitors, and other events. Students benefit, at the same time, from close and frequent contact with their advisors. The Centre offers exceptional freedom for innovative, cross-disciplinary projects at the M.Litt and Ph.D. level. It also offers rigorous training in the fields of Literary Thought, Political and Legal Thought, Science Studies, Visual Culture, and Philosophy, offering students in these areas high-level preparation and a rich context of theoretical and cross-disciplinary discussion. We are discovering that students working in significantly varying areas of research find the context of the Centre for Modern Thought particularly stimulating and fruitful for their individual endeavours. Our list of participants will give some idea of the range of research projects currently being pursued by our students.
In sections below, we offer brief descriptions of our areas of special concentration and suggestions of the kinds of research that might be pursued within them. These brief descriptions (still under elaboration) are meant as a kind of map of possibilities; they are not exhaustive and we are eager to welcome imaginative innovations and crossings. We would like to encourage all interested students to contact us with their queries. We are prepared to welcome students with a theoretical inclination who have not yet found a precise project, as well as more advanced students with specific projects in mind.
Programmes of Study in Modern Thought
There are several paths into the Centre for Modern Thought. Students beginning graduate study normally pursue a first degree at the master’s level before continuing for the Ph.D. For this first degree, they may pursue an M.Litt by Research in Modern Thought or opt for a “taught” M.Litt in Visual Culture, or Comparative Literature and Thought. The latter two degree programmes are Modern Thought’s sister programmes (they are directed by shared staff), but students can also consider pursuing masters-level study in any number of other M.Litt programmes in the College of Arts and Social Science. The M.Litt by Research in Modern Thought allows for the greatest independence and flexibility since there is no required coursework beyond introductory training in research methods. However, all students in Modern Thought are expected to participate in the Centre’s core seminar: EL5044/5552. The latter event is designed to foster a sense of intellectual community in the Centre and has had notable success in the last two years. Students with widely divergent backgrounds have come together with staff from various departments to pursue sustained and high-level discussions on texts of broad interest (in 2006/7 the topic was “Kant, Hegel, Schelling, and the Concept of the Political”, directed by Professor Alberto Moreiras; in 2007/8, the topics were science studies and the theory of the new media directed by Professor Mario Biagioli and Dr. Kriss Ravetto). In 2008/9, the topic was the work of Alain Badiou, directed by Dr Nick Nesbitt. In 2009/10 the core seminar was replaced by two workshops: "Blanchot's Le pas au-delà", directed by Professor Christopher Fynsk, and "Nietzsche, Proust and Deleuze", directed by Professor Alberto Moreiras. The Centre's seminar, which runs throughout the year, is complemented by events featuring a considerable number of visitors of exceptional quality. Consequently, students pursuing independent research will find that they have a challenging and supporting context for pursuing their work. The staff of the Centre also seeks to follow closely the progress of their advisees.
Employment prospects: Because of the high professional stature of the staff involved, we are confident that students who seek jobs in academia will have excellent employment opportunities. The staff are committed to looking after the individual needs of students in this respect. The Centre also welcomes students who do not seek employment in the academy and who will move into different sectors such as filmmaking, journalism, public policy, broadcast media, the arts, and other education sectors such as museums and primary and secondary schools. Because much of our research carries us to the margins of various disciplines (questioning their foundations and probing the most interesting points of contact with other disciplines as regards issues facing the modern world), and to the limits of the academy itself (where we seek to explore the interface with various public institutions, both global and national), we welcome students who are not easily placed in traditional slots. But since we feel that such cross- and even extra-disciplinary work requires thorough study, we are also prepared to train students with quite traditional aspirations.
What It Might Look Like
We have identified several areas of concentration and have sought to give an indication of possible tracks of study. The brief paragraphs below offer links to fuller descriptions on separate pages. These descriptions are meant to provide a kind of map of work at the Centre and will give potential students a sense of what they might expect to find if they choose to pursue one of these concentrations. Once again, we also welcome proposals for self-directed cross-disciplinary projects.
Literary Thought. A significant number of the current faculty have literary backgrounds and have worked extensively in advanced literary theory and intersections between literary study and fields such as philosophy, science studies, the visual arts, psychoanalysis, gender studies, post-colonial studies and cultural studies. Students with an interest in literature can benefit from the rich offerings in the College of Arts and Social Sciences in literary studies (in the School of Language and Literature, but also in the Research Institute in Irish and Scottish Studies) and from the course programme offered in the M.Litt in Comparative Literature and Thought.
For the Centre’s launching event, “Forms of Thought for a Change in Times” (available as video in our archive) the Centre took Maurice Blanchot’s reflections (from 1960) on the role of literature for critical global thinking as a starting point. We asked how the question of literature might be carried forward today in the context of new global configurations and after almost five decades of intense theoretical investigation in movements such as post-structuralism.
But it should be noted that our literary references are not restricted to the canon of modern authors recognized in contemporary theory. Indeed, as with all areas of research in the Centre, the resources for a genuinely modern thought can be drawn from any period or site.
Political and Legal Thought. The Centre for Modern Thought designated political thought as one of its key points of concentration from the outset. The Centre’s mission of seeking to engage global issues demands that it pursue a reflection on political formations and political possibilities and that it sustain a constant meditation on the history of political thought and the fate of the political in the modern world. This area of concentration is led by Professor Alberto Moreiras and involves the participation of Professors Carty, Vilaros, James, and Pasha, and Drs. Bojanic, Nesbitt, and Paterson. Numerous other staff members consider this area of enquiry to be a key point of connection for them. We also have notable strengths bearing on intersections between the history of political and legal thought. The Centre enjoys the proximity of Aberdeen’s distinguished Law School (where Professor Biagioli also holds a partial appointment) and will develop multiple forms of interaction with it as it moves forward.
Science Studies. The Centre does not currently have a core member of staff pursuing research in this area. However, the Centre enjoys significant connections with staff working in the History of Science and Mathematics. The question of technology in its various manifestations in the contemporary world remains a focal point for us, and we continue to pursue a wider range of interaction with practical and theoretical work in the sciences (involving links with the research group of Professor Celso Grebogi, for example, and a large number of researchers in environmental and energy-related issues).
For more information, see the Science Studies page.
Visual Culture. Research activity by staff involved in the M.Litt in Visual Culture (particularly in film) is given a prominent place in the activities of the Centre for Modern Thought. The Centre's long-standing commitment to research in the new media will be continued in 2010-11 with the sponsorship of a visit by Professor Xa Xin Wei of Concordia University in the spring of 2011.
Philosophy. The founding document for the Centre for Modern Thought contains a strong philosophical component in that it calls for enquiry into the foundations of contemporary forms of knowledge and practice as a component of its cross-disciplinary ambitions. It calls for a form of “fundamental research” in the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences that would be undertaken in tandem with questioning addressed to fundamental socio-political issues. At the same time, the Centre gives a particular emphasis to intellectual history in its effort to give a new footing to contemporary theoretical work. These emphases necessitate a strong commitment to philosophy, and to the history of philosophy, that is met by numerous members of the group. The Centre for Modern Thought is particularly strong in the area of modern Continental Philosophy and the philosophical dimensions of post-structuralist thinking. Its ambition of engaging a dialogue with theoretical work in the sciences also points to the necessity of a broad approach to the contributions of various philosophical schools. Students will find significant support for philosophical projects in modern European philosophy, philosophy of science, aesthetics, and political and legal philosophy.