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Organizing Fellows: Elisabeth Armstrong (Program for the Study of Women and Gender) & Marjorie Senechal (Mathematics & The History of Science and Technology)

Who are we? Are we Homo faber, humans as makers, builders of a material world fashioned - in some sense - by inborn notions of space and time? Or are we Homo sapiens, supposedly intelligent humans, seeking patterns everywhere, finding them even when they aren't there, imposing them wherever we can? Or are we Homo ludens, humans as players, the defiant creators of carnivals and theater, exuberant arts, radical social movements and scientific revolutions? Or are we something of each?

Donna Riley and Olivia Cummings

Disorder can be courageous. Consider, for example, the green revolution state of Haryana, where vast irrigation projects and high yield crops once promised a future without hunger. But as land became concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, landless women faced greater indebtedness, fewer days of waged work, and greater sexual vulnerability to those whose fields they farm. Their survival depends upon fealty to an established order vast in time, power, and acreage, yet they defy its conventions, at great risk to themselves.

Debra Boutin

Disorder can be illuminating. Toward the end of the twentieth century, scientists in many fields, including mathematics, discovered that ‘disorder’ isn’t random, it’s a maze of subtle patterns with revolutionary implications. For example, for centuries clocks were the very model of an orderly universe, a well-behaved machine, but today they are studied as models for disorder, as diseases are traced to disorderly motions in heartbeats and circadian rhythms.

Naho Hashimoto and Mike Albertson

Thumb through the Smith course catalogue (or scroll through it on the internet): you'll find a compendium of patterns, from historical imperatives to natural laws. We teach, and search for, patterns in human speech, in behavior (economic, molecular, psychological, statistical), in whole numbers and irrational numbers, in galaxies, in movements for social change. What we find changes with the times (and with changing technologies) - the genome is supplanting Linneaus - but the impetus for pattern-seeking persists. Maybe that's why academia gives disorder short shrift. But is Order/Disorder a dichotomy, or a dialectic? Change -- social, artistic, scientific -- is fueled by disorder, by distrusting and defying received, and perceived, patterns.

Disorder Colloquium

Like a carnival, this “Festival of Disorder” will turn order upside down, as project Fellows probe the vast order/disorder spectrum.1

1 One of us, for example, plans a full-blown, disorderly, and disrespectful critique of the concept, and the role, of symmetry in the sciences. Another will look at the daily lives of working poor women who fight for social change in India; women who dare to imagine more than just a better life for themselves or their families, who challenge the new world order of neoliberal globalization.

Fellows

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