Whose Suffering Counts in Our Political System, and For What?

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New Faculty Book Examines Suffering Through the Lens of Political Theory

Liberalism and Human SufferingAsma Abbas, professor of political science and philosophy, published Liberalism and Human Suffering: Materialist Reflections on Politics, Ethics and Aesthetics (Palgrave Macmillan) in October. The text is an extended theoretical argument that critiques fundamental aspects of how political liberalism influences our perception of suffering and justice.

Describing the book, Dr. Abbas says that it is “an examination of the sources and implications of our encounters with suffering in contemporary politics and culture. It explores the forces that determine how suffering matters, and it ultimately offers alternative ways of thinking about suffering and politics.”

Dr. Abbas’s research is important in the field of political theory, and is situated at the intersection of politics, ethics, and aesthetics. She combines continental, historical, and postcolonial perspectives and through her research aims to inspire different modes of knowing. “Through my voice and the language I write with, I hope to transcend the inadequate ways of understanding our world that we have been taught,” Dr. Abbas says.

Gregg M. Horowitz, Chair of Social Science, Critical and Visual Studies at Pratt Institute, praises the book, calling Dr. Abbas’s critique “deep and bracing.” He notes that her “scholarly and interpretative achievements are remarkable . . . any recommendation of Liberalism and Human Suffering would be incomplete without reference to the sparkle and verve and sheer hopefulness of Abbas’s prose.” Horowitz continues, “By turns dialectical and lyrical, philosophical and allusive, dark and illuminating, Liberalism and Human Suffering argues for a world in which thinking ceases to fear its most far reaching capacities.”

Writing in the Bard College at Simon’s Rock Community

The book was crafted in the time since Dr. Abbas’s arrival at Simon’s Rock in 2005. “The four years of teaching at Simon’s Rock I did before I finished the book helped me to see it in a different light and to do different things with the writing,” Dr. Abbas says. “Simon’s Rock has allowed me to experience my voice as a teacher and to bring that to my writing. While I was working on the book, students responded really well to the ideas I brought into the classroom. I saw my voice getting traction and provoking thought within this intellectual community.”

That community came out in force to celebrate the launch of Liberalism and Human Suffering with a party and readings from the text at a local bookstore. Among those who read and spoke were Laurie Naranch, professor of political theory at Siena College, and Barbara Alfano, professor of Italian literature at Bennington College. Dean of Academic Affairs Anne O’Dwyer, Professor Chris Coggins, and former students also shared passages from the text.

Dr. Coggins introduced his selection by stating that it has been “awe-inspiring to witness Asma’s continuing contributions both to the Simon’s Rock community and the larger intellectual communities we are a part of. Asma writes with remarkable clarity, fluidity, and urgency in territory where words too often fail us: her work crosses disciplinary and theoretical boundaries that most scholars simply avoid.”

New Work Expands on Research Line

Abbas’s current research project is tentatively titled A Politics of Love on the Verges: Rethinking the Margins via Anticolonial Timescapes. It takes up where Liberalism and Human Suffering leaves off by locating the times and spaces inhabited by the supposed “antithesis” of suffering. “When I began my research on suffering, I was asked if I was simply telling people to suffer more and hope that something better will somehow come about. I knew that wasn’t at all what I was up to, not least because the turn to hope as an escape from suffering was an unsettling question for me. I now have an answer: that hope isn’t the materialist double to suffering—love is.”

Abbas, who was on sabbatical during the fall 2010 semester, will return to campus this spring. Aside from launching her first book and drafting chapters of her next project, she’s used her sabbatical to serve as a guest researcher at Örebro University's Centre for Gender Excellence, in Örebro, Sweden, and to author several entries for the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought.