Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Academic units with mildly amusing/intriguing names, #4 and #5.

A couple of recent discoveries: First, near my current stomping grounds, the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford, which has gotten very vocal lately on Twitter as it tracks what's going on in Egypt. From there I learned that George Clooney (!) is launching (so to speak) a project to repurpose satellite imagery to support human rights enforcement. Whoah.
Lying at the intersection of social science, computer science, and engineering, the Program on Liberation Technology seeks to understand how information technology can be used to defend human rights, improve governance, empower the poor, promote economic development, and pursue a variety of other social goods.
and at MIT. the home of various younger version of my self, there is The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values:
This nonpartisan center is a collaborative think tank focused on the development of interdisciplinary research and programs in various fields of knowledge from science and technology, to education and international relations.

The Center is founded to honor the vision of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his call for a holistic education that includes the development of human and global ethics. It will emphasize responsibility as well as examine meaningfulness and moral purpose between individuals, organizations, and societies.
I'm trying to figure out what these have in common with the rest of this series, why they caught my eye. "Amusing" isn't quite right, although these are sufficiently on the fringe of respectable academia as to invite possible ridicule. But that's just it -- they are all efforts to slightly expand the kinds of discourse allowed within a university -- by bringing in religion, ethics, or explicit political agendas, or just by combining discordant elements. I'm all for this kind of thing, and have engaged in similar practices myself, so I don't want to mock, but any particular instance is going to be a somewhat chancy thing in which to invest your attention. But anything that promises to actually expand the space of possible discourses is something that I can't ignore.

I was a math major back in the day, and mathematics is probably the furthest away from interdisciplinary stuff like this, because in math there is no roughly no politics, and very clear standards for what constitutes worthwhile work (that is not entirely true). In places like The Center for Transcultural Vegetarianism, nobody is quite sure what good work looks like, which opens up a space of freedom that typically results in much crap and much worthwhile results too, and gives misfit intellectuals a temporary home.

Hm, and it occurs to me that "Artificial Intelligence Laboratory" may have had the same kind of ring to it back when the first ones were established. Now I'm afraid that field is somewhere between respectable and completely played out.

Previous entries in this series:
  1. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford

  2. The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, Case Western

  3. The Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley

1 comment:

fsascott said...

Some years ago I attended a lecture by an economist whose CV listed a stint at The Johns Hopkins School of International Studies Bologna Center.

I almost felt like writing that university to praise their candor in identifying the subject matter under study, and also for adhering to the correct spelling of the word, rather than its usual phonetic rendition. How disappointing it was to find that the name referred to the institution's location rather than to its intellectual substance!