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Honours Programme 2021-2022

Brief description

This interdisciplinary course is concerned with examining and questioning representations and constructions of knowledge and reality. In what has been termed a ‘post-truth’ era which sees the emergence of fake news as a political tool, it is fruitful to examine the question of what it means to know and see. Through eight textual and artistic encounters, ranging from scientific and philosophical treatises to book-length poem to art exhibition, novella, and film, we will explore depictions of structures of knowledge and individual embodied experiences and perspectives, paying careful attention to the power (im)balances at play when these come up against each other. Over the 8 sessions of this course, we will explore these issues together, and in the process we will interrogate the degree to which science, writing, art, criticism, or a combination of these, can help us attend to manifold, interconnected and collective ways of seeing.

Programme requirements and evaluation methods

Attendance: Students must ensure they attend at least seven of the eight sessions.

Preparation: Students are expected to engage in depth with each of the eight textual and artistic encounters by the time we discuss them in class. Before each class, they are expected to upload a brief response to a communal group page.

Final essay: Craft a final essay (which can be in written, video or audio form).
 

Course outline

We will meet on Wednesdays in the early evening (18h00 - 20h00) at Muntpunt.

On Wednesday 1st of December a guided tour of the David Hockney exhibitions at Bozar will precede our evening discussion. Students can choose between the following timeslots for the tour: 10.30-12.00 or 12.00-13.30. 
 

3/11/21. #1. Introductory lecture and discussion

Introductions, aims and overview of the programme and its evaluation methods. Short lecture on the overarching theme of the programme before opening up to a group discussion.

17/11/21. #2. Donna Haraway’s article: ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’ (1988)

This important article from 1988 is concerned with how truth is made. Haraway argues for a theory of knowledge based on what she terms “situated knowledges.” Questioning to what extent objectivity, traditionally understood as constituting impartial knowledge, is a perspective that under the guise of neutrality often hides a very specific position (male, white, heterosexual, human), Haraway posits that by acknowledging and understanding the contingency of their own position in the world, and hence the contestable nature of their claims to knowledge, subjects can produce knowledge with greater objectivity than if they claimed to be neutral observers. The article sets up questions and concerns which we’ll return to throughout the course, including: "How to see? Where to see from? What to see for? Whom to see with? Who gets to have more than one point of view? Who gets blinded? Who wears blinders? Who interprets the visual field? What other sensory powers do we wish to cultivate besides vision?".

1/12/21. #3. Guided visit to the David Hockney exhibitions at Bozar and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972).

A guided tour of the David Hockney exhibitions at Bozar will precede our evening discussion. Students can choose between the following timeslots for the tour: 10.30-12.00 or 12.00-13.30.
David Hockney’s work, shown at Bozar in Brussels in a double exhibition, sees the artist engaged in his principal obsession with the challenge of representation: how do we see the world, and how can that world of time and space be captured in two dimensions? In Works from the Tate Collection, 1954-2017 Hockney’s entire career is represented, with iconic images of the ‘swinging sixties’ in London, Southern California, his famous double portraits and vast landscapes. The second exhibition The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020, demonstrates Hockney’s hunger for experimentation, exhibiting the colourful iPad paintings he created during the first lockdown. Employing another medium, Hockney here continues to extend ways of seeing in his explorations of the world around us. 
John Berger’s Ways of Seeing changed the way people think about painting and art criticism. This ground-breaking work shows, through word and image, how what we see is always influenced by a whole host of assumptions concerning the nature of beauty, truth, civilization, form, taste, class and gender. Exploring the layers of meaning within paintings, photographs and graphic art, Berger argues that when we see, we are not just looking - we are reading the language of images.

15/12/21. #4. Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem: Citizen: An American Lyric (2014)

Citizen: An American Lyric is considered a book-length poem and/or a series of lyric essays. Stretching the conventions of traditional lyric poetry by interweaving several forms of text and media into a collective portrait of racial relations in the United States, this work continues to constitute a timely and urgent meditation on race, violence, racism, art, and mediation. In a decade in which police brutality and killings of people of colour continue to spur widespread anger, protest, and debate, Citizen explores the blending of genres, the subjects of race and the imagination, and the subjective experience of systematic racism and racial aggressions. 

 

16/02/22. #5. Readings from Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015) and Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (2018)

Described as ‘a modern parable of post-industrial survival and environmental renewal’, The Mushroom at the End of the World takes as its point of departure an investigation into the Matsutake mushroom trade which simultaneously functions as a gateway for a discussion of late and post-capitalist ruin. Engaging with key ideas in contemporary anthropology, biology, systems thinking, geography and economic thought, Lowenhaupt Tsing calls for a new kind of imagining of our place in an interconnected ecosystem.
In a similar move, Bruno Latour’s recent book, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime considers what an appropriate political approach might look like in the face of today’s climate crisis. Suggesting that globalisation, the explosion of inequality, and the question of climate change are intimately interconnected, Latour advocates for a turn from what he terms ‘the global’ to ‘the terrestrial’. Linked to this is the idea that the division between knowledge - as assured seeing from afar  - and imagination - as seeing things up close but without grounding in reality - also needs to be abandoned.
 

2/03/22. #6. Anna Kavan’s novel: Ice (1968)

 

In this haunting and surreal novel, the narrator and a man known as the warden search for an elusive girl in a frozen, seemingly post-nuclear, apocalyptic landscape. The country has been invaded and is being governed by a secret organization. There is destruction everywhere; great walls of ice overrun the world. Together with the narrator, the reader is swept into a hallucinatory quest for this strange and fragile creature with albino hair. Engaging with contemporary concerns such as climate change and gendered power relations, this 1967 novel encourages the reader to become complicit in the narrator’s quest for dominance at the same time as it raises questions regarding the nature and representation of so-called “objective reality”.

16/03/22. #7. Charlie Kaufman’s film: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things has been described as a unique psychological thriller which employs not only the audience’s mind, but also that of the character’s, to perplex and distress. Acting as a window into a person’s psyche and thoughts, the film is concerned with questioning conventional ideas regarding how the self is constituted in its portrayal and analysis of the human psyche. Kaufman’s latest film asks us to consider what the internal realities of our lives – our emotions, memories, insecurities, and most private thoughts – might look like if they were to become external.

30/03/22. #8. Concluding lecture and discussion

In this final class, we will debate the corpus as a whole, identify crossovers in the material and discuss how the thoughts and ideas presented in the various texts and art forms encourage us to question conventional structures and representations of knowledge and reality.

Prof. dr. Hannah Van Hove

Hannah Van Hove is Professor of the Honours Programme and postdoctoral research fellow of the FWO at VUB. She received her PhD in 2017 from the University of Glasgow and is currently conducting a research project on British post-war experimental women's writing which combines insights from English Literature with those from the fields of Gender Studies, Medical Humanities, Psychology and Philosophy. She has published reviews and articles on mid-twentieth century avant-garde fiction and has translated some of Flemish modernist Paul van Ostaijen’s poetry. Together with Andrew Radford, she is the editor of British Experimental Women’s Fiction, 1945—1975: Slipping Through the Labels (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). She is Chair of the Anna Kavan Society, sits on the editorial board of the Journal for Literary and Intermedial Crossings and is a member of the Centre for Literary and Intermedial Crossings and the artistic research group Deep Histories Fragile Memories.

Expectations and certificate

As a participant in this VUB Honours Programme, you are required to:

Requirements

1. Attend at least seven of our Wednesday discussions. Please plan your academic year accordingly. Even if you have to skip one of these discussions, you are required to fulfil the written assignments for all eight. (See below.)

2. Fulfil the assignments for all of the Wednesday discussions.
These assignments are the following:
•    you need to have done the readings, and demonstrate that you have done so during our discussion;
•    Before each class, you are expected to upload a brief response to a communal group page (this can be in the form of a brief reflection essay, a creative response, a short video, audio memo, etc.). You will receive suggestions to help your reading/thinking, but you are free to shape this reflection as you wish. Post it on the course page by Monday, 18h, so everyone can have a look at these responses in advance of the class to engage with each other’s thinking. Please note: these short responses are graded simply for completion and effort – there are no “correct” or “wrong” ones. 
•    before our Wednesday discussions, formulate 1 or 2 questions. You can add these to your brief reflection, above.
•    At the discussions: please ask questions! 

3. Craft one final essay: This essay (which can be in written, video or audio form) needs to demonstrate that you have familiarized yourself with the course corpus as a whole and that you have thought through its implications; that you can think in a complex and nuanced manner; and that you can express yourself clearly. Students will receive suggestions to help their reading/thinking, but are free to shape this final essay as they wish.
 

Honours Certificate

An Honours Certificate, signed by the Rector, will endorse your successful participation in the Programme.

How to apply?

Applications for the academic year 2021-2022 are now closed. If you are interested in participating in the VUB honours programme next year, please keep an eye out on this page - applications will open in September 2022.

How can I apply?

You can submit your online application when you have acquired at least 60 credits at undergraduate level in an academic bachelor’s programme and have achieved good study results (at least the equivalent of 'distinction').

 

For more information about the VUB Honours Programme, send us an email at honoursprogramme@vub.ac.be.

VUB Honours Programme

Application form

Testimonials

Participants of the 2019-2020 Honours Programme had the following to say about the programme:  

Marc Berneman (Electrical Engineering)

“The discussions have helped me to widen my outlook on the world. This wouldn't have been possible without the guidance of prof. De Schaepdrijver. She encouraged us to speak about what we wanted. To her credit, we were able to talk about the most controversial topics permeating our society today.”

Paulina Rios Maya (Social Sciences)

“the Honours Programme at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has given us, the lucky ones to be part of it, the luxury to grab a piece of classic literature and allow us to immerse ourselves, write short reflections, and finally come to terms with its content. These reflections were followed by a meeting where each brought his or her own discipline, experience and truths.”

Michelle Van den Broeck (Political Science)

The 2020 Honours Programme gave me more tools to critically dissect what is going on in the world. I therefore want to take the opportunity to say a word of thanks to the organization, and of course to our professor Sophie De Schaepdrijver, for their enthusiasm and for the space they have created for us students during the Honours Programme to think and discuss freely. I have been thinking frequently about these new insights now that we are all in semi-lockdown and some certainties cease to exist.”

Joris Van Doorsselaere (Art History and Architecture)

The main motive for me to be a part of this programme was professional: as a teacher, I want to challenge my students and prepare them for an independent and rational way of thinking. The format of this course is effective. The six classics introduced other perspectives, without being overwhelming. The guidance notes at the start of each reading gave just enough direction to develop own reflections. Voluntary reading and discussion groups could also be a very useful initiative at secondary schools in Flanders. (…) A big thank you to all who made this programme possible. It contributed far more than only a critical mind.”

Lucas Van Wichelen (Law)

“I am very happy that I decided to partake and truly grateful for the insights it has provided. I think interdisciplinary activities like the Honours Programme are an excellent way to broaden one’s view on a variety of subjects and authors, with this year’s edition featuring works ranging from the more theoretical side of the spectrum like Anderson’s Imagined Communities to the more practical side of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon and everything in between. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that the boundaries of the subject (perception and power) left us room to touch on different subjects. Being able to listen to the thoughtful opinions of people with very different academic backgrounds was really enriching. I would like to thank the whole Honours team to make this initiative possible, and prof. De Schaepdrijver for sharing her valuable time and insights.”

Ali Al-Zawqari (Electrical Engineering)

“When I read Hannah Arendt’s article “We Refugees” for the first time in 2015, it was nothing more than an expressive paper that touched my feelings (…). The second reading of the article was different, as this time, it became a self-reflection and forced me to take a look at a real situation that I found myself in since birth.”

Julia Boegaeva (Management)

“I would like to express my deep gratitude to Professor Sophie De Schaepdrijver and the programme team. I appreciated the set of classics as well as its sequence that facilitated and guided my reflections on a number of issues. I certainly enjoyed enormously (…) the discovery of my peers' views through reading their essays. I enjoyed this programme tremendously. Thank you!”

Olivia Lastra (Philosophy)

“I think the value of the wisdom we had the privilege to obtain and exchange through our readings and discussions will only ever increase, especially in the no doubt difficult times ahead. (…) I would like to sincerely thank Prof. dr. Sophie De Schaepdrijver and the organising team for this extraordinary opportunity. The Honours Programme has truly been a highlight of my VUB experience.”

Julia Neumann (Biomedical Research)

“The VUB honors program was a highlight in my very last year of my journey through higher education. (…) Writing reflection essays allowed me to express my thoughts in a way for which there is no room in my domain (medical science). The interdisciplinary character made this program truly “science beyond boundaries”. Prof. Sophie De Schaepdrijver gave us a lot of freedom to think in any possible direction, while at the same time giving us stimulating input. We were offered a platform to share, to think, read, discuss and most importantly: to ask critical questions.”

Kristof Van den Bergh (Philosophy)

“When I saw the description of the Honours Program, especially the theme and the reading list, I wanted to participate even though my time this year was limited. Having attended two lectures from professor De Schaepdrijver before, I knew her extensive knowledge and the enthusiasm with which she teaches.  I loved the method of having to read a lot, with some specific questions in mind.  They deepened my reading experience by making me stand still at some key elements of the texts.  Getting several hours to discuss is great for such topics too layered to discuss briefly.  My future will (partly) consist of being a perpetual student, and if I’d keep on being able to find courses of a format similar to this one, I’d happily sign up time after time. Thank you for this very stimulating, inspiring course!  It’s made me happily miss out on sleeping sufficiently quite a few times.”