It was my pleasure to have an opportunity to spend three beautiful and intense working months at Yale University, cooperating with people at the Center for Cultural Sociology (CCS), Center for Comparative Research (CCR), as well as with other colleagues from Sociology, Psychology and Political Science departments. The whole University with twelve residential campuses is a sort of a heart of New Haven, integrated with the center of the town and colorful in autumn when elms and other trees garnish themselves with golden and red leaves. Neo-gothic architecture of educational institutions gives an impression of a long admiring tradition, combined with monumental modernist buildings such as Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges, Ingalls Rink, Kline Biology Tower, unavoidable Yale University Art Gallery, etc.
Such environment, along with excellent work conditions at the Center for Cultural Sociology – vibrant professional communities with plenty of public lectures, roundtables and conferences – enable fruitful exchange of ideas and stimulate the scholars to intense work.
My regular weekly schedule involved participation at several workshops where visiting scholars had the opportunity to discuss their work-in-progress with Yale graduate students and Yale faculty from Sociology and other disciplines. The first one was the CCR workshop on Tuesdays, held at the premises of Callhoun College in Fellows Lounge, the second one was the Advanced Seminar in Cultural Sociology held on Thursdays at Department of Sociology led by Professor Jeff Alexander. But the peak of the week was every Friday at CCS Workshop. I also presented my paper on this workshop on 20 November 2015, titled “Specters of Conspiratorial Thinking in Populist Reason”.
The purpose of the paper was not only to resolve problems of defining populism by putting the emphasis on the role of conspiratorial thinking, conceived as a simplified political discourse that relies on ultimate phantasms of the politics of redemption. My aim was also to show, by using ideas of social psychology, cultural sociology, Lacanian and post-Lacanian psychoanalysis, how conspiratorial thinking emerges and expresses those phantasms in conceiving the politics as antagonistic battlefield. As an articulation of political cleavages, conspiracy theories are symptoms that mostly act-out collective traumas. I was very satisfied with the response to my paper. The fruitful discussion helped me to improve and clarify some arguments. Furthermore, through this paper I tried to discuss several aspects of theory of cultural trauma and to improve it mostly by psychoanalytic arguments. Outcomes are more than satisfying.
During my secondment I also visited Penn State University where I met several scholars and students interested in topic of cultural trauma. The first one was Professor David Baker from the department of Education Policy Studies who was interested to popularize the topic of cultural trauma among his students and colleagues, as well as to bring them to Dubrovnik Summer institute on Cultural Trauma in the following years. The second one was Professor Scott Bennet, who is Associate Director of the project Correlates of War. That project collects the data about the wars from all around the world. We discussed the issues of compatibility of data between SPECTRESS and Correlates of War and possibilities of cooperation. One form of cooperation could be to create a database of cultural trauma narratives before, during and after the wars in different part of the world and to relate them to other, already collected data about those wars. The third colleague I met was Professor of Sociology, Kai Schaft, who worked with Roma people in Europe and investigated their collective identity and traumas through history. Professor Schaft will be our guest this year at the Spectress Summer Institute on Cultural Trauma in Dubrovnik.
Overall, my experience of living and working in USA and cooperating with so many people with different cultural and professional background especially at the CCS is invaluable. I think it changed me profoundly.
What also moved me deeply during my stay in New Haven is a huge contrast between the town center and University on one side and other, more distant neighbourhoods. I lived in a small pretty house by the Quinnipiac river, around two miles from my office at the Science Hill. However, between these two nice places, only few blocks away from them the picture of New Haven is very different. Poor buildings, ruins, and homeless people are common. Family poverty rate in 2012 was 30 % for this part of the town. Only ten minutes by bike from there lies the second richest university in the country. This is just a glimpse that shows how big social differences are here. Sometimes it looks as if Yale security system was built to protect the university from those parts of the town. That is possible only in a city traumatized by itself.