Through the Glass Darkly

“Hello, darkness, my old friend,” to quote a panelist at the SSRC’s recent event, “Speaking in Light and Dark.” His reference to the opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s, The Sound of Silence, aptly set the stage for a discussion about light and dark hosted in the late afternoon of January 18 on a stage lit only by natural light coming through the windows of Cortelyou Commons. As the sun set at 4:48 pm aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd darkness progressively pervaded the room, four DePaul faculty members from different disciplines reflected on how lightness and darkness have informed their work or thinking, either literally or metaphorically.

DePaul’s College of Communication had just begun when Associate Professor Daniel Makagon proposed an addition to the schedule called The City at Night, a class held during the unorthodox hours of 10:00 pm to 1:00 am. To see how people utilized the night, his class visited a social worker, a karaoke expert, a needle exchange site, a CTA routing and operations center, and the Guardian Angels, the self-appointed, volunteer safety brigade that once patrolled Chicago subway lines. As an enthusiastic supporter of experiential learning, Daniel fondly recalled one class visit when education become a public event itself. The class was meeting with the Guardian Angels on a subway platform in the Loop when curious onlookers began raising their hands and spontaneously joined in the learning experience themselves. “There was this of kind of opening up at night,” he said. He’s still contemplating its meaning.

Daniel has also applied a night/day lens to his research into the punk music culture to examine underground performance spaces. Subverting our usual notions of how we use spaces by day and night, these all-age punk shows often occur in basements in DIY (do-it-yourself) spaces, during the day. There the basement space becomes a “liberatory, temporary, autonomous zone for folks to enact a different kind of economy, a different social experience in terms of how they meet together in the world, and also a different kind of political experience as well, guided by an alternativepolitics, an alternative economy, to the mainstream music industry as we find it,” he said.

A compilation of night sounds gathered by Daniel’s DePaul students formed an ongoing soundtrack that played throughout the panelists’ presentations. DePaul’s Media Production and Training (MPT) video-taped the event. The results illustrate the significance of light to a technology that depends solely on light to capture and store images.

Field observation has been fundamental to Public Policy Studies Professor Bill Sampson’s academic pursuits. Bill shared with the audience the personal question that has nagged at him throughout his educational and academic life. How was it that he, growing up poor and black in a poor, black neighborhood in Milwaukee did well in school while others sharing the same outward circumstances did not? The explanation his high school teachers gave him — that he was “an exception” — didn’t sit well with him. He has reached some conclusions based on his analysis of observational data students in his classes have gathered over the years, chronicling the lives of poor black and Latino families for comparisons of how the children of those families performed in school.

Not neighborhood, not school, not teachers most affect the results, he found. That leaves him pessimistic about how much of a difference current education policies that shower resources on schools and teachers will ever make. “What mattered most were specific things about the home environment. Kids who did well in school lived in quiet, orderly, structured homes, which is difficult to maintain when you’re poor,” he said. Those students had chores at home, took part in extracurricular activities, were internally controlled, and displayed high self-esteem. All had parents or guardians who showed that they valued education, often by participating in their children’s homework even if they couldn’t do the work themselves.

Acknowledging that “we can’t control families” and that not all families even want the best for their children, he asked: “How do we take what we’ve learnedand give it to the families that want it?” Assuming that teachers and schools are doing what they should (not a given, he noted), “for the parents who are willing, we can make a difference.”

Steve Harp, associate professor of Art, Media, and Design, approached lightness and darkness more formally, but also subjectively. Against a backdrop projection of his own striking, black and white nighttime photos (including the image accompanying this post), Steve presented what he termed a short “pseudo theoretical paper” in which he explicated the word dream from the literary and psychological perspectives of a variety of writers. Noting the seeming similarity between the words trӓume (dreams in German) and trauma (derived from the Greek word for “wound”), he said it’s hard to believe they’re not related etymologically “while linked in so many ways conceptually and experientially.”

Considering any distinction between dream and nightmare as artificial, he discussed the trauma of the nightmare as the experience of waking into consciousness. He linked the traumatic aspect of awakening to the act of departure, or awakening. Inviting the audience to think of dreams spatially, as a path into darkness, he suggested that dreams might be regarded not as wish fulfillment, but as the tension between arrival (or our visions of arrival) and departure. His last words were a lyric from the late Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The panel concluded with Assistant Professor of Philosophy Peter Steeves’ mind-bendingly succinct but sobering, 15-step timeline of the birth and death of light. His only prompt, a DIY “power point” flashlight beam trained on sheets of white paper carrying dates, effectively underlined his observation that light’s lifespan is a relative blip within the sprawling chronology of the universe. In increasingly bad news, he pegged the lifespan of humans on earth at a mere million years and forecast our sun to end 6.5 billion years from now, when it will swallow up the earth. A hundred trillion years from now, all stars — the manufacturers of light — will have been extinguished. Earth too, whose rank as a “Goldilocks of stars” (not big, not small), will succumb with one of the less remarkable star-death displays, he said.

Peter’s interest in the topic is rooted in “the overlap of philosophy and physics,” his twin loves, “and light plays a major role in that,” he said. “Light is not important in any fundamental way,” he concluded. “So I sometimes think, why do we make it so important? Why do we think it’s all about life and why do we think it’s all about light? That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.”


GRACE: Supporting DePaul Research

Between teaching, service, and personal commitments, DePaul’s faculty scholars often find their own scholarship in last place. What they need most may not be training or tools but simply “more hands on deck” to do basic research tasks such as entering or cleaning data, conducting or coding interviews, writing literature reviews, and taking care of other integral details.

The SSRC’s primary mission is to build capacity among faculty researchers.  While we can offer help developing a solid methodological approach, or data cleaning training, we can’t do the actual research work.

Graduate Research Assistance for Creative Endeavors (GRACE), a new SSRC program, addresses that need for help with specific research tasks. We’re offering tenured and especially tenure-track faculty members 20 free hours of work by one of the SSRC’s well-trained graduate Research Assistants. The RAs, in turn, will gain valuable “hands-on” research experience.


Applicants are invited to submit a brief outline of their project, with specific tasks for the RA. Proposals should include a concrete and achievable goal for the RA.

Two faculty researchers will each receive 20 hours of RA assistance in this pilot offering.  The awarded hours may be taken over the course of a quarter.

If necessary, the SSRC will provide the RA and/or faculty member with additional training to support the research project. Any training for the RA will be considered SSRC capacity-building and won’t be deducted from the 20-hour award.


Eligibility is limited to DePaul research projects (not instructional work or work for an outside organization).  The work performed by the RA must be substantive research tasks that will contribute to an RA’s research experience and contribute meaningfully to a project (e.g., compiling an annotated bibliography entering or cleaning data) Services such as transcribing interviews or photocopying handouts for class will not be considered.


Applications are due by Friday, May 24.

We will announce the winning projects by Friday, June 7. Proposed RA work should begin no earlier than June 10. Faculty may only be awarded one GRACE period per academic year.

The application is available at:

Save the NLS!

The National Longitudinal Survey (NLS)  program faces devastating cuts in the 2012 and 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) budgets. These cuts are severe enough to cripple the program’s ability to collect and disseminate data as early as April 2012.

For those unfamiliar with the NLS – it’s a super awesome set of longitudinal surveys that has been gathering data on individuals’ labor market activities and other significant life events for more than four decades. These surveys are essential to our understanding of how labor market experiences evolve over the life-cycle. I used it for my dissertation to collect information on occupational career interruptions. No other US survey does this.

One unique feature of the NLSY is its oversampling for Hispanics, which provides a sufficient sample for comparison. Without it, we might not able to continue to examine how labor market outcomes differ for Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

For four decades the NLS has collected data on labor market activities that no other survey does. Check out the Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR)’s website (the Center collects the data) for more information on what you can do to help restore funding.  DO IT NOW.  Time is of the essence.

Calls for Papers

Entangled Histories: Connections, Crossings, and Constraints in US History
Organization of American Historians 2013 Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA
Deadline: February 15, 2012
Conference Dates: April 11-14, 2013
From the Call for Papers: The history of the United States is one of entanglement: trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and cross-border interactions; conflicts and collaborations based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and class; intersections and crossings at all scales from the global to the intimate.

Continue reading “Calls for Papers”

Calls for Papers

The Art of Neighbouring: Old Crossroads and New Connections along the PRC’s Borders
Deadline: October 15, 2011
Conference Dates: March 1-2, 2012
From the Call for Papers: Reflecting on the PRC’s rapid economic growth, its strategic decisions to foster trade, secure influence and access to natural resources, and its efforts to prevent unrest in the borderlands, this workshop explores the ways in which people’s lives and futures are affected by living along the PRC’s borders.
Photograph Exhibition: We invite submissions of photographs on China’s borderlands, the cultural practices of border-crossings (literal as well as symbolic), and images that reflect the theme of “neighbouring”.

Land Ownership and Tenure
Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Contexts
Deadline: November 1, 2011
Volume 5, No. 3 (Spring 2012)
From the Call for Papers:The politics of access to and exploitation of land and natural resources assume fundamental relations of power control and the policy of social inclusion; however, both notions imply and consolidate that access to land and land ownership, particularly in the Global South, reflect broader patterns of intra-institutional dynamics that explain how marginality and socio-political exclusion take place within countries and on the global stage.
Cover Art Submissions: We welcome submissions for cover art that relate to the theme of the issue. We are able to offer a small honorarium for pieces featured on the cover.

Experiencing Prison, 3rd Global Conference
Prague, Czech Republic
Deadline: November 4, 2011
Conference Dates: May 9-11, 2012
From the Call for Papers:We welcome contributions about the experience of incarceration across the entire range of perspectives, including legal, criminological, historical, fictional, phenomenological, biographical and autobiographical.  Contributions are welcomed from former prisoners, detainees, incarcerated asylum seekers, former prisoners of war, political prisoners or those detained because of nationalist, religious or other convictions.  All genres and media will be considered, in order to examine the widest possible range of representations, past and contemporary, which communicate the experience and nature of imprisonment. Contributions will be welcome from those who are involved with the delivery of incarceration, as well as those who seek to ameliorate incarceration by providing therapeutic drama, literacy, education, counselling, religious support and other services.

Everyday Living: Reflecting on Ethics in Everyday Life, 2nd Global Conference
Prague, Czech Republic
Deadline: November 4, 2011
Conference Dates: May 16-18, 2012
From the Call for Papers:The conference will facilitate dialogue about living more responsibly and ethically. It will be of interest to everyone who cares about living in ways that are respectful of others and respectful of the planet, whether they are lay people or, for example, ethicists, sociologists, theologians, anthropologists or psychologists who are interested in what it means to behave ethically, and in what motivates ethical behaviour. Abstracts are invited about any aspect of ethics in everyday life.