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What We CAN Do When There's Nothing To Be Done: Strategies for Change

  • The Forum at Columbia University 605 West 125th Street New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)
Credit, Lorie Novak, , 2013 Oventic Murals, from   Dancing with the Zapatistas

Credit, Lorie Novak,, 2013
Oventic Murals, from Dancing with the Zapatistas

What We CAN Do When There's Nothing To Be Done:
Strategies for Change


CSSD invites you to an all-day Symposium to celebrate 10 Years of the Center for the Study of Social Difference and 5 Years of Women Creating Change!

How can we imagine justice, practice solidarity and create change across barriers of social difference in today’s political landscape? As the acceptance of inequality has become the new norm to a degree we might have deemed unthinkable, and as public dialogue has reached an impasse, protest and resistance continue.
This conference brings together scholars, artists, and activists from around the globe whose work can inspire new ways of thinking, seeing and listening, and productive strategies of intervention for our time.

Videos from our 10th Anniversary conference:

Intros and Roundtable One - CSSD “Imagining Justice, Creating Change” video; introductions with Sarah Cole, Jean Howard, Lila Abu-Lughod, Marianne Hirsch; presentations by Ayse Gül Altinay, María José Contreras, Noura Erakat, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Farah Jasmine Griffin (moderator)

Roundtable Two - presentations by Diana Taylor, Lyndsey Stonebridge, Debarati Sanyal, Juan Carlos Ruiz, Mae Ngai (moderator)

Roundtable Three - presentations by Ricardo Dominguez, Sama Alshaibi, Miya Masaoka, Saidiya Hartman, Carol Becker (moderator)

Roundtable Four - conversation with Judith Butler and Masha Gessen, moderated by Bernard Harcourt

Writings from our 10th Anniversary conference:

A Student Response to What We Can Do When There Is Nothing To Be Done

Dean Carol Becker’s “The Gesture”, prelude to the roundtable discussion “Arts of Intervention”

Our conference statement in response to contemporary events, #WhatWeCANDo

Full conference program:



9:30 am: Introductions


Sarah Cole, Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature; Dean Of Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Columbia

Lila Abu-Lughod, Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Founding Co-Directors of the Center for the Study of Social Difference, Columbia

10:00 am-11:30am: “Protest and Social Movements”

a roundtable with:

Ayse Gül Altinay, Anthropology and Gender Studies, Sabancı University, Istanbul, Turkey

María José Contreras, School of Theatre, Catholic University, Santiago, Chile

Noura Erakat, Legal Studies, International Area Studies, & Social Justice/Human Rights, George Mason University

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, African-American Studies, Princeton University

Farah Jasmine Griffin, Moderator, English and African-American Studies, Columbia


11:30 am: Coffee break


12:00 pm-1:30pm: “Crossing Borders: Refugees, Migrants, Stateless Lives”

a roundtable with:

Diana Taylor, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, New York University

Lyndsey Stonebridge, Humanities & Human Rights, University of Birmingham, UK

Debarati Sanyal, French, University of California, Berkeley

Juan Carlos Ruiz, priest and co-founder of the New Sanctuary Movement

Mae Ngai, Moderator, History, Columbia


1:30pm: Lunch


3:00pm-4:30pm: “Arts of Intervention”

a roundtable with:

Ricardo Dominguez, performance artist, The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT);Visual Arts, UC-San Diego

Sama Alshaibi, visual artist; Photography and Video Art, University of Arizona

Miya Masaoka, sound artist, School of the Arts, Columbia

Saidiya Hartman, writer; English and Gender Studies, Columbia

Carol Becker, Moderator, Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts


4:30pm: Coffee break


5:00pm-6:00pm: “Facing the Present, Imagining the Future”

a conversation with:

Masha Gessen, journalist, The New Yorker

Judith Butler, Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

Bernard Harcourt, Moderator, Columbia Law School


6:00pm-7:30pm: Reception and Celebration


Book sales provided in auditorium foyer courtesy Book Culture

CSSD Anniversary Planning Committee:
Marianne Hirsch, CSSD Director
Lila Abu-Lughod
Meera Ananth
Farah Jasmine Griffin
Jack Halberstam
Jean Howard
Catherine LaSota
Ana Paulina Lee
Frances Negron-Muntaner
Kendall Thomas
Paige West


With thanks to our co-sponsors:

Center for Gender & Sexuality Law; Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race; Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought; Columbia Global Centers; Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion; School of the Arts; Dean of Humanities; Dean of Social Sciences; Department of Anthropology; Department of English and Comparative Literature; Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures; Division of Arts and Sciences; Institute for Comparative Literature and Society; Institute for Research on African-American Studies; Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality; Middle East Institute; Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities; Barnard Center for Research on Women; Barnard College Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies; and the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.






Earlier Event: September 27
Later Event: September 30
Pedagogy of Dignity Workshop