Fisher Center

Fisher Center for the Study of Gender and Justice

Fisher Center 2020-2021 Speaker Series: What's in a Name?

"Black Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter?" Global warming, climate change, or climate emergency? Translation, interpretation, or appropriation? Anthropocene, Capitalocene, or Chthulucene? She/he, ze, or they? Emancipation, decolonization, or liberation? Entrepreneuralism, precarity, or sharing economy? Prostitute, whore, or sex worker? Revolt, insurrection, or coup? Planet, ice planet, or ice dwarf? In 2020 – 2021, the Fisher Center wants to talk about how we talk about what we talk about. Names matter. We want to know when, where, why, and to whom.

The stakes regarding shifts in meaning and uncertain definitions -- of today’s language politics -- are high. In the seventeenth-century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes associated the instability of the meaning of words with civil war. He concluded that avoiding civil war required an absolute authority who would determine what words mean. Is our setting of globalized personal media where fake news seems to reign a contemporary digital version of Hobbes’s state of war? Or is this what democracy looks like? Can we communicate if we each have our own names for everything or is there something necessarily shared, common, and collective about names? If so, do names generate commonality or does commonality precede naming?

The Fisher Center is excited to consider projects that interrogate practices of naming and renaming. How do names become settled or attached to particular objects, persons, and places? Who gets to change them and by what means? How do aliases, pen names, user names, nicknames, pet names, anonymity, and multiple use names challenge conventional modes of identification? What sort of power relations and potentials for resistance do they open up? In what ways do names identify and in what ways do they mask or obscure? How are place names sites of political struggle? Projects might investigate the effects of labels, the histories of branding, the raced and gendered codings associated with proper names, the contestations effected by improper names.

Endowed to further the study of gender and justice in the liberal arts, the Fisher Center welcomes applications from researchers in the humanities, arts, sciences, social sciences, and performing arts that demonstrate commitment to interdisciplinary discussion and collective inquiry. We encourage proposals from a wide range of perspectives that reflect on the stakes of calling something one thing rather than another.



February 10

Vanessa Wills

The 'F' Word: How Should We Talk About the Far Right?

7 p.m., Zoom (Meeting ID: 953 4845 6831, Passcode: 024344)

The January 6 coup attempt has newly enlivened debate about the applicability and appropriateness of the term "fascism" to describe some of the right-wing elements that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election. What are the implications of longstanding historiographical controversies regarding the use and meaning of this term with respect to philosophical considerations about the meaning, explanatory power, and ethical import of "fascism" as a social category?

Vanessa Wills is assistant professor of philosophy at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and is on the editorial board of Spectre Journal. Her research focuses on how economic and social arrangements inhibit or promote the realization of values such as freedom, equality and human development.

FALL 2020

Albena Azmanova

August 19

Albena Azmanova

Pracarity and subversion: the new language of radicalism

Contemporary capitalism has generated forms of suffering which the familiar language of injustice, centered on inequality and exclusion, fails to capture; to be genuinely radical, we need new categories, argues Albena Azmanova in her new book Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia. Dr Azmanova is Associate Professor of political theory at the University of Kent in Brussels. We will discuss some of the new categories she has introduced in her work: precarity, the metacrisis of capitalism, and pragmatic subversion as a strategy for radical change.

Priscilla Wald

September 23

Priscilla Wald

CONTAGION: COVID-19, the Outbreak Narrative, and Why We Need to Change the Story

7 p.m., Zoom (Meeting ID: 919 2260 0214, Passcode: 002682)

The way we talk about diseases has consequences. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of a pathogen—a diseasecausing microbe—but if COVID-19 is a “newly emerging infection,” it is also a newly emerging, though familiar, story: the latest version of “the outbreak narrative.” In this talk, Prof. Priscilla Wald will discuss how we imagine the threat and why we react so fearfully, and which problems merit our attention and resources. Wald is R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English and Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke University Press 2008) and Constituting Americans: Cultural Anxiety and Narrative Form (Duke University Press 1995). She is currently at work on a monograph entitled Human Being After Genocide.

October 7

Mercy Sherman, Willa Dow, Skye Morgan

7 p.m., Zoom

Woodworth fellows presentations (students).

Naminata Diabate

October 21

Naminata Diabate

Naming and Naked Protest: Naked Agency, Ndong, Genital Cursing, or Adjanou?

7 p.m., Zoom

A scholar of sexuality, race, biopolitics, and postcoloniality, Naminata’s research primarily explores African, African American, Caribbean, and Afro-Hispanic literatures, cultures, cinema, and new media.

Lance A. Twitchell

November 18

X'unai Lance A. Twitchell (Du Aaní Kawdinóok)

Haa Saax'ú Tóonáx Woosh Wutudzikóo: We Know Each Other Through Our Names: Peoples, Places, and Identity in Indigenous Language Revitalization

7 p.m., Zoom

Lance A. Twitchell carries the Tlingit names X'unei & Du Aaní Kawdinook, and the Haida name K'eijáakw. He is from the Tlingit, Haida, and Yup'ik native nations, and speaks & studies the Tlingit language. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in American Indian Studies from the University of Minnesota.

X'unei is a multimedia artist in poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, Northwest Coast Native design, and traditional & contemporary music. His grandfather Silas Dennis Senior was his first teacher, and his grandmother Dorothy Dennis lives in Skagway, Alaska, where Lance was born. He is an Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, and lives in Juneau with his wife, son, and daughter.


The Fisher Center brings together faculty, students, and experts in gender-related fields in the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences to foster mutual understanding and social justice in contemporary society.

Building upon their long-held commitment to interdisciplinary liberal arts education for men and women, both separately and together, Hobart and William Smith Colleges established (in 1998) the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men to support curricular, programmatic, and scholarly projects which address the question:

How do we more nearly realize, through our educational program, scholarship, and presence in the larger community, our democratic ideals of equity, mutual respect, and common interest in relations between men and women?


The Fisher Center Predoctoral Fellow application is available on the HR website.

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.