Special Lecture & Discussion Series: The Body Politic

Why and how has our embodiment become a site for political, legal, and cultural contestation?  In what ways might we imagine new paradigms for social solidarity across lines of difference?

Admitted students for the class of 2027 are invited to join Oberlin faculty and student leaders for "The Body Politic," a special, six-week lecture and discussion series.

Marisol Escobar's Five Hands and One Finger. Executed entirely in monochrome, this print portrays five hands that emerge from an amorphous patch of black ink in the center of the composition.
Marisol Escobar (American, born in France, 1930–2016), Five Hands and One Finger, 1971. Lithograph. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Fund for Contemporary Art, 1974.17.
More about this image

Although best recognized for her sculpted and painted wooden portraits of world politicians and American pop culture idols, Marisol Escobar also experimented with a variety of printmaking materials and techniques, creating abstract images that concern the prescribed social roles and restraints then faced by women. In 1964, Marisol worked at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in West Islip, New York, where she primarily produced etchings and lithographs, such as Five Hands and One Finger. Her ULAE prints typically depict outlines of the artist’s hands and feet, as well as such stereotypical feminine objects as purses or high-heeled shoes. Executed entirely in monochrome, this print portrays five hands that emerge from an amorphous patch of black ink in the center of the composition. In this work, Marisol discards her identity as both an artist and a woman, leaving only a pattern of hands for which the ownership is unknown and limitless, defying any association with a particular gender.

An ancient concept, the "body politic" refers to the interplay between individuals and groups and their place and contributions within their societies as a whole. The metaphor links the health of embodied humans to the societies and institutions they create. The legacies of this metaphor in a Western context have rightly been challenged over time, including the hierarchies and binaries upon which it has traditionally relied. However, the notion of our individual bodies together forming a larger, political organism remains powerful as a source of critique and inspiration. In our modern context, the health and wellbeing of the individual and collective alike are challenged by threats to bodily autonomy, the disruption of climate change and novel viruses, and disparate treatment based on identity and culture. But, while engaging with the "body politic" reminds us of the harm and injustice that people can structurally enact on one another, it can also provide an empowering view of our political and social agency.

In weekly lectures and discussions, faculty members from across Oberlin’s liberal arts curriculum will explore the social and political structures that we shape and that shaped us; discuss how race, gender, sexuality, and our other identities become sites of political contestation; and imagine new paradigms for social solidarity and reaching across difference to build mutual understanding and respect. Lectures will also emphasize the ways that individuals and movements reclaim bodies and embodied life as sites for resistance, liberation, and joy. This multidisciplinary lecture series will introduce students to the power and breadth of liberal arts learning at Oberlin.

Following each lecture and live Q&A with an Oberlin faculty member, students will move into group meetings facilitated by current Oberlin students working as Peer Advising Leaders (PALs). In these discussion groups, students will explore the issues and questions raised in the lectures and learn more about Oberlin life, both academically and socially. Each week the PALs will feature a different element of the student experience, ultimately conveying how all the parts fit together into a meaningful college experience. These discussion groups will be a great way for students to meet their peers and get a feel for how a college community can be a cohesive body built on care for one another and respect for individual flourishing.

A detailed schedule, including weekly lecture topics, is below. You can register online for the first session in "The Body Politic" series until the Sunday, March 26 deadline. You are invited to register for all six of the lectures, only one, or any number in between. If you would like to participate in the lecture and discussion series but have a recurring scheduling conflict, please still submit the registration form for information about potential solutions.

Register Now

This course is generously supported by The Xuemeng, Dale, and Matthew Sarro Family Fund for Connected Learning. 

Lecture Schedule

Cindy Frantz

"The Body Politic and the Psychology of Moral Reasoning"

Date: Tuesday, March 28

Time: 7:00-8:45pm

Lecturer: Cindy Frantz, Norman D. Henderson Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies

Why has an issue as personal as what we do with our bodies become so polarizing in the public and political sphere? In this lecture, Dr. Cindy Frantz, Professor of Psychology, will discuss the fundamental motivators of human behavior and explore how we make judgments of right and wrong. Together, these perspectives help explain why we are so polarized, and what the challenges are for creating constructive dialog.

Click Here to Watch the Lecture

Ali Masood

"The Body and the Law"

Date: Tuesday, April 4

Time: 7:00-8:45pm

Lecturer: Ali Masood, Assistant Professor of Politics

Griswold v. Connecticut. Roe v. Wade. Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. These landmark cases represent a few examples of how the question of bodily autonomy has been adjudicated over the past 60 years in the United States. Any holistic understanding of the body politic in the present day must be underpinned by an understanding of how bodies are constructed and how autonomy is protected in the eyes of the law. Join Dr. Ali Masood, Assistant Professor of Politics, for an exploration of relevant case law, a discussion of ways in which the Supreme Court has balanced legal principle and ideology, and a look ahead to how current precedent could inform the legal future of bodily privacy and autonomy in the United States.

Click Here to Watch the Lecture

Alicia Smith-Tran

"The Body, Identity, and Exploitation"

Date: Tuesday, April 11

Time: 7:00-8:45pm

Lecturer: Alicia Smith-Tran, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Building on the previous week’s discussion of body politics and the American judiciary, Dr. Alicia Smith-Tran, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Oberlin College Class of 2010, will discuss the exploitation of Black women’s bodies in the United States, using the sociology of sport as a lens. Dr. Smith-Tran will also discuss her own experience conducting research as a Black woman, dating back to her time in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship as an undergraduate at Oberlin.

Click Here to Watch the Lecture

Kari Barclay

"The Intimate Body in Performance"

Date: Tuesday, April 18

Time: 7:00-8:45pm

Lecturer: Kari Barclay, Assistant Professor of Theater

When watching a musical, one often thinks of the dance choreographer in tandem with the director as part of the team bringing the production to life. But what about when watching a TV show like Bridgerton, where lightheaded banter and physical intimacy often coexist in the same sequence? Dr. Kari Barclay, Assistant Professor of Theater, will explore the practice of intimacy direction and its connections with consent and the body politic. Dr. Barclay will apply our legal understanding of the body to the concept of consent in a creative space — from how actors consent to performing roles to how their bodies interact.

Click Here to Watch the Lecture

Carmen Merport Quiñones

"The Body and the Social Construction of Taste"

Date: Tuesday, April 25

Time: 7:00-8:45pm

Lecturer: Carmen Merport Quiñones, Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies

Food preferences are always about more than food. When we eat, we're both expressing our unique identities and demonstrating how our bodily desires have been deeply shaped by social forces. Dr. Carmen Merport Quiñones, Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies, will explore different ways of thinking about the social implications of taste, with emphasis on the ways that the pursuit of flavor and status can reproduce oppressive hierarchies but also facilitate new forms of solidarity across difference.

Click Here to Watch the Lecture

KJ Cerankowski

"The Body and the Non-Human"

Date: Tuesday, May 2

Time: 7:00-8:45pm

Lecturer: KJ Cerankowski, Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies

Often, discussions of the body center the human. As the previous lectures in this series have established, there is good reason for this — the human body is a socially, politically, and legally contested space. But what happens when we think about the body in other modes? What if we turn our attention to organisms that exist at the boundaries and defy binaries? Viewing the body politic through the lens of queer trans ecology, KJ Cerankowski, Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies and Comparative American Studies, will explore what we can learn from organisms like mushrooms and how pushing back against binaries and hierarchies can help us to build a more complete understanding of our bodies in relation to one another.

Click Here to Watch the Lecture

Frequently Asked Questions

More information about "The Body Politic" is included below; if you have additional questions, please contact Associate Dean Laura Baudot, instructor of record, or Josh Kesterson, Program Coordinator.

Lectures and discussions will take place on six consecutive Tuesday evenings from 7:00–8:45 p.m. EDT, beginning Tuesday, March 28 and concluding Tuesday, May 2. All classes will take place via Zoom, and information about connecting to the virtual classes will be shared in advance of the first lecture.

Each class session will begin with a lecture by an Oberlin faculty member. Each lecture will explore the course’s key themes and questions from a different disciplinary perspective and will conclude with an opportunity for students to ask questions.

Following the lecture and Q&A, which will run for approximately one hour, students will join discussion groups facilitated by current students who serve as Peer Advising Leaders, or PALs. (Students who choose to attend Oberlin will continue seeing the PALs throughout the fall). In these groups, students will discuss the lectures, get to know each other, and learn about student life at Oberlin.

We know that you are busy and have multiple demands on your time! We also know that some of you will be joining the lectures from time zones outside the United States. If you would like to engage in the series but have a recurring scheduling conflict with the meeting times (Tuesdays from 7:00–8:45 p.m. EDT), please still submit the registration form, which will include information about possible scheduling solutions.

No. There is no charge for enrolling in any, all, or some of the lectures and discussions , Students will need access to the internet in order to join the lectures and discussion groups via Zoom. More information about connecting to Zoom will be provided in advance of the first lecture.