Grad Student Conferences

Priors and Priorities: Conceiving Time and Other Bodies


The Harvard University Mahindra Center for the Humanities announces the “Priors and Priorities: Conceiving Time and Other Bodies” graduate conference. This interdisciplinary two-day conference takes as its central problematic the temporal displacements that mark the colonial and postcolonial condition. Modernity for Europe in the 18th century inhabited a fundamental paradox, what Elizabeth Povinelli identifies as the “governance of the prior,” where social, political, and economic life relied on an imperial project invested in differential civilizational time. Our conference, building on this insight, explores the tense of the colonized Other, who is made to occupy a place of prior-ness without priority. Colonialism imagines colonized peoples as prior to the arrival of the modern, yet strips them of priority. It consistently marks colonized peoples as savage, primitive, traditional, categorically prior to the time of modern society – in the process, producing a queer subject who haunts the colonial present. Bodies in this tense are both queered and racialized—relegated to a sexually non-normative past, racially incommensurable present, and discursively impossible future.

“Priors and Priorities” is grounded in an intellectual commitment to consider colonized, racialized, and queered bodies and histories as intersecting and mutually constituted. Analyzing the temporalities of Black, Brown and Queer bodies and histories requires an interdisciplinary approach that bridges postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and queer theory in order to understand the reverberations of being prior without priority.


Friday, April 20

8:30am - 9:30am

9:30am - 11:30am
Panel 1: Temporalities on the Move
Chair: Ahmed Ragab, Richard T. Watson Associate Professor of Science and Religion, Harvard University
Respondent: Eli Nelson, PhD Candidate, Harvard University

  • “Road Plans and Planned Roads: Entangled Geographies, Spatiotemporal Frames, and Territorial Claims-making in Myanmar's Southern Shan State,” Courtney Wittekind, Harvard University
  • “Apache Deportation and the Birth of the Borderlands,” Nakay R. Flotte, Harvard University
  • “Out of Time”: Spatial Temporality among Bedouin as the Struggle for Land in the South of Palestine/Israel,” Safa Aburabia, Harvard University
  • “Times New Ottoman: The Orient Express in Ottoman Spacetime,” Caleb Shelburne, Harvard University

11:45am - 12:45pm

1:00pm - 3:00pm
Panel 2: Beyond the Posthuman
Chair: Eli Nelson, PhD Candidate, Harvard University
Respondent: Victor Seow, Assistant Professor, Department of History of Science, Harvard University

  • “Data Plans, Universal Assessments, and Streetlights: Technologies of Time in the Mississippi Delta,” Marc Aidinoff, MIT
  • “Alien Phones: The Limits of Disruption and the Infrastructure of Techno-resistance in 1990s US,” Gili Vidan, Harvard University
  • “El Tapón del Darien and the Movement Beyond the Human,” Juanita Becerra, Harvard University
  • “The Social Life of Fossils,” Nandini Ramachandran, City University of New York

3:15pm - 5:15pm
Panel 3: Tense, Epistemology, and Affect
Chair: Juanita Becerra, PhD Candidate, Harvard University
Respondent: Ahmed Ragab, Richard T. Watson Associate Professor of Science and Religion, Harvard University

  • “Imperial Temporalities: Disability, Spirituality, and the Nineteenth-Century Omaha Nation,” Caroline Lieffers, Yale University
  • “Disgust's Colonial History,” Kylie Sago, Harvard University
  • “Orders, Numbers, and Dimensions: Journeying in Revival Zion Religion,” Khytie Brown, Harvard University
  • “Common Sorrow: Necropedagogy and Interracial Commemoration in Postcolonial America,” Kristen E. Tremper, Lehigh University

5:30pm - 7:00pm
“Unruly Epistemologies: Policing, Race, Sexuality in Southern Contexts”
Jyoti Puri, Professor of Sociology, Simmons College

7:15pm - 8:15pm

Saturday, April 21

8:30am - 9:30am

9:30 - 11:30am
Panel 4: Representing Other Tenses
Chair: Gili Vidan, PhD Candidate, Harvard University
Respondent: Ahmed Ragab, Richard T. Watson Associate Professor of Science and Religion, Harvard University

  • “Passing Time: Representing Rural Transgender Modernities,” Eli Erlick, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • “Temporalities of Tradition: Mapping the Archival World of Dinesh Chandra Sen,” Rohit Dutta Roy, University of Cambridge
  • “To Share in the Spirit of the Olden Life upon this Continent”: Keeping Time in Da-O-Ma,” Eli Nelson, Harvard University
  • “Bedia as an Ethnographer?” Celia Rodríguez-Tejuca, University of Massachusetts Amherst

11:45am - 12:45pm

1:00pm - 3:00pm
Panel 5: Troubling the Present
Chair: Eli Nelson, PhD Candidate, Harvard University
Respondent: Soha Bayoumi, Allston Burr Resident Dean of Kirkland House and Assistant Dean of Harvard College, and Lecturer in the Department of History of Science, Harvard University

  • “Toxic Temporalities: Limits and Possibilities of Environmental Justice in Flint, Michigan,” Elena Sobrino, MIT
  • “Decoding Temporalities in Pistol Whippersnapper (1976),” Elizabeth Muñoz Huber, Independent Scholar
  • “Considering Narratives of the Sikh Past in the Neoliberal Present,” Damanpreet Singh Pelia, Harvard Divinity School
  • “Sexual Reinscriptions of New World Times: Indigenous Women and Canada’s Sex Trade,” Faye Fraser, York University

3:15pm - 4:15pm
Art Exhibit
Instrument, Zain Alam and Juan Ledesma

Instrument is a composition and exhibition exploring the abstract practices of assemblage, remixing, and sampling in cultural production, inviting audiences to interrogate regimes of intellectual property, boundaries of cultural appropriation, and the valuations of craft and creativity. Opening in Miami in February 2018, Instrument is the result of a collaboration between DJ Zain Alam and sculptor Juan Ledesma, turning amplification tools inside out to illustrate their inner workings and carve out a different, re-abstracted sonic presence against consumption practice of sound abstracted away from all physical mediums. These inverted instruments will play some of the most sampled in music history, forming an original composition. Instrument will be activated through this performance, and the entire process will be recorded and left on loop for the remaining duration of the exhibition.

  • Click here to download a program for this event.