Living Through Upheaval

Living Through Upheaval is a new 18-month research and public programming initiative developed by UCHRI and the UC Humanities Collaborative to foster the systemwide engagement of humanities faculty and students around important and transformative issues related to moments of upheaval–past, present, and future. It supports innovative grantmaking, public events, and a publication series.

We are living in an age of profound upheaval—not only in our physical and social worlds, but also in the world of meanings composed of shared perceptions, memories, expectations, beliefs, and imaginings. COVID-19 has upended life as we have known it, physically, socially, economically, culturally. It came atop already looming upheavals, registering across a wider timetable, of climate change and soaring global temperatures, fires, and floods in the wake. Additionally, police violence and persistent racism have once again evidenced urgent concerns for equity, justice, dignity, and respect across racial distinctions. Overlaying all of this has been a severe economic dislocation disrupting individual lives and laying waste to the cultural memory and identity of whole communities.

The contemporary upheavals currently shaking the country and world are not likely to remain discrete singular phenomena. COVID-19 will not be the last global pandemic we will face. Destructive impacts of environmental change will intensify. Racisms are not just individually enacted and experienced but are structural and systemic; they metamorphose in response to changing historical conditions. Nor are they discrete, aimed at one group unrelated to other groups targeted. Frantz Fanon (1971) once commented that when Jews are spoken about, Blacks should pay attention as they are being addressed too. One could say the same today about Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and the Indigenous in the U.S. Racisms directed at one group are almost invariably shored up by those directed at other groups. And while inclusion as institutional policy is an important advance, inclusion will fail if the systemic and structural underpinnings of racial inequalities are not addressed and redressed.

Two distinctive features of reasoning in the humanities are their historical, culturally contextualizing methodology and their holistic approach to cultural meaning, which entails widening perspectives onto the intersectional and relational interconnections between the phenomena under investigation. Humanistic historical knowledge, cultural comprehension, multilingual as well as comparative and relational study, and critical-theoretical reflection can significantly advance how we respond to the current interaction of these upheavals and their existential impacts, and to their long histories and imagined futures.

Living Through Upheaval encompasses an ensemble of carefully crafted research, public programming, and training to address these registers of response. Structural and infrastructural racisms position racially categorized populations differently with respect to social access and mobility, advancement, and wellbeing. Those groups structurally and systemically disadvantaged will have significantly more restrictive access to housing, healthcare, education, employment and employability. They will likely live in hotter segments of cities lacking green space, nutritional resources, accessible and affordable healthcare, under-resourced educational institutions and technological access. What are the histories that have generated and reproduced social inequities; how have they been sedimented in contemporary social structures; and how do they inequitably position segments of the population to experience and respond to current, foreseeable, and unpredictable upheavals? In what ways does the production of knowledge in the university contribute to or help overcome these inequalities, and how must universities reflect upon themselves and change in order to support more effective, more just adaptation to upheavals? What sorts of leadership qualities and frameworks would best serve institutions and society to address these upheavals effectively? Such issues are not just technical and technological. They concern structural and cultural considerations, institutional arrangements and socio-individually fashioned habits.

Central to Living Through Upheaval is one overarching concern: How may the legacies and future instances of humanities research help disclose, analyze, and reshape the leadership and institutional dispositions through which we may collectively respond to upheaval? How might we think differently, together, under conditions of separation and duress? We invite you to join UCHRI as we navigate these turbulent times. Apply for grants. Share your work on Foundry. Join a conversation on Elemental Matters, or tune into a meeting of great minds as they discuss Race at Boiling Point.