Seeing and Not Seeing Seminar

The Seeing and Not Seeing Faculty Seminar is a post-disciplinary faculty seminar and public lecture series that brings guests from a range of disciplines and institutions to speak to the project’s core sensibility of simultaneity, multiplicity and holding. It is sponsored by the Boston University Center for the Humanities and the Global Development Policy Center. Seeing and Not Seeing examines how thinking may change as the result of taking into account multiple ways of seeing simultaneously.

The project begins from the conviction that conventional ways of seeing the world and generating social science knowledge, rooted in “scientific” methods of defining categories, marshaling evidence and proving arguments, prevent the openness and holding of multiplicity needed to live and act ethically with knowledge that is incomplete and uncertain.

In 2020, the seminar met to discuss writings by seminar members on the politics of wetlands in Turkey (Catarina Scaramelli, Anthropology); the significance of invoking hope in Turkish elections (Ayşe Parla, Anthropology); and the work of translators with Mayan migrants in US immigration courts (Rachel Nolan, History).

By “not seeing,” what is meant is looking squarely at – but also beyond and through – the big things people habitually and are primed to see, such as democratic procedures, movements, viruses, or borders. Instead of delineating coherence and boundaries, a seeing and not seeing sensibility works to both “see” and “not see” these phenomena, so as to identify the multiple processes, forces, and representations that occur in and around them, out of which they are constituted and amidst which they coexist. The forms of analysis generated by this approach do not seek to make fully visible a reality that already exists, but rather to provide a field guide for new forms of interpretation and action. The seeing and not seeing sensibility interrogates the relations among author, material world and representation, theorizing openness through the tensions among them.

Seeing and Not Seeing believes a new social science sensibility is needed, one that is shaped by the humanities, does not envision clear borders among political actors and social forces, but rather discerns and holds multiplicity. Such holding is needed to grapple with the human-and-non-human entanglements of a post-COVID-19 world, as well as envisage actionable spaces for change.

The faculty seminar has been meeting since Fall 2016 and encourages collaboration among distinct constituencies within the academy, showing how post-disciplinary discussions can bridge both methodological and institutional divides and creating new intellectual communities in the process. The seminar includes scholars of history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, art history, geography, romance studies, political science, sociology and American studies. 

Janet Vertesi (Sociology, Princeton University) delivers a public lecture about the Mars rover and the teams of scientists that interpret and digitally render the rover’s findings. Vertesi shows what is “seen” and then “known” of Mars is a product of the mobility capacities of the rover and the obstacles it encounters, decisions about where to send the rover and direct its “cameras,” the team’s interpretation of the data it receives and represents, and, not least, the organizational dynamics of the team itself as it directs all of these efforts.
Contact Information:

Jeffrey W. Rubin

Director, Seeing and Not Seeing Faculty Seminar

Associate Professor of History, Boston University

Christine D’Auria on Jeffrey Rubin’s Seeing and Not Seeing Project