Dutch historian Rutger Bregman asks the question whether people are inherently bad or good. Should we follow Hobbes’ view that civilisation is necessary in order to keep the bad at bay, or should we listen to Rousseau who claimed that it was civilisation that had corrupted men? In his book ‘De meeste mensen deugen‘ (which will be published in English in a few days as ‘Humankind: A Hopeful History‘) Bregman analyses a ton of scientific research – from archaeology to psychology, biology and political scientific research – to show that although we tell ourselves differently, mankind is inherently good. And that research that seemed to show otherwise (think Milgram’s experiment, consider the Stanford prison experiment) are actually based on a false representation of the facts that resulted from those experiments. People were not bad or evil, but when scientists push them in a certain direction people will follow. Because if there is a flaw to humanity, according to Bregman, it is that they want to help others, even if that means they need to do bad things.
Researching the conversations at the Nordic Summer University from 1950 until 2020, I’ve been spending a week at the Danish National Archive, going through thousands of letters, reports, program leaflets. It’s been a great experience so far.
My aim with this specific research project (funded by NSU and The Nordics) is to trace the spirit of NSU, to trace the study programs throughout the years and see how they changed. Some things have been written about this, most notably Kritik og Krise written by several NSU-ers and published in 2000 (which can be downloaded here: http://nordic.university/organisation/history/). But the chapter in that book that talks about the study program is mostly anecdotal, and clearly not systematic.
Although there are some things that are more known, like how feminist studies in Scandinavia started at NSU, I want to explore this question more systematically. In this project I want to know everything there is to know about the study program. (Ambitious, right?!) How did it develop over the years? What choices were made, based on what requirements? I want to find out how the conversation changed over the years.
The Nordic Summer University is a voluntary organisation where researchers, artists and basically anybody can start a ‘study circle’: a topic that is discussed during individual circle meetings in the winter and at the summer session, where all circles meet for some days, a week or even longer. The topics of the study circle were apparently interesting and important enough for people to spend their time and energy on, and attracted other people who were interested to discuss these topics together at the Nordic Summer University. Tracing these conversations at NSU therefore means tracing the conversations of the nordic countries, of what was considered important and fundamental to study together in an interdisciplinary and intellectually stimulating environment.
Reflection on the effect of attacking questions in a feminist philosophy seminar where the aim is to create a space for thinking together.
Some weeks ago I attended a feminist philosophy seminar. A whole week, organised by the Nordic Summer University, in which in total nine different weekly seminars are held simultaneously. One of which I have been attending now for three years: the feminist philosophy circle led by three courageous women. It is an interdisciplinary group, without hierarchies, where bachelor students and emiritus professors get equal space and attention, and increasingly intersectional. It is a week I long for, look forward to, every year. I am not sure what to do without it anymore. And why? Because somehow during their seminars this group manages to create a space where thinking can happen together.
This summer was no exception. And one particular session taught me once again, how delicate that balance is that is needed to achieve this special type of space. And how easily it can be destroyed – and with it, destroy some of the people involved.
What better way to spend your holidays than to do what you love? Being, thinking, reading, being-together.
Holidays, what are those? Ah, that time of the year that I travel to the Nordic Summer University, to attend one of the interdisciplinary circles and enjoy the company of interesting, passionate and intelligent people.
Is it possible to define the sense of belonging that is more than simply the addition of the parts, that does not erase philosophical loneliness but gives it a place and makes you regard it as a strength?
It has been truly a magnificent gift to be able to spend an intensive week with a group of strangers, talking about venturing into the unknown, into the future of (feminist) philosophy, and who, during the final session, dare to share their feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. In life. But mostly in their philosophical being. A loneliness that is both personal and professional. And I wonder how that shared attitude of fundamental openness creates a space of belonging. The art of belonging is delicate and tremendously precious! Continue reading “The Art of Belonging – reflection on the NSU summer school”