• Research Without Boundaries

  • Dominic Pettman

    When you staff a program with professors from every discipline at The New School for Social Research, rigorous interdisciplinary scholarship is bound to follow. In fact, it confronts you at every turn. As associate dean and professor of culture and media, Dominic Pettman helps students contextualize the intellectual history of ideas and social thought through a theoretical framework that doesn't confine those ideas to any particular field or area of study. This approach to teaching completely suits Pettman, an academic who has studied a number of methods and disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. He notes that this approach gives students “who refuse to choose” the ability to decide on an academic direction while also participating in intense intellectual inquiry.

    With a background in literary theory, philosophy, media theory, and cultural studies, Pettman tackles big questions- What is the human? What is the relationship of the human to technology? What is love? What is beauty? What is power?-and the way those questions are inflected through specific media like books, films, and video games. His latest work asks the metaphysical and political question of what deserves to have a voice, ultimately arguing that society should broaden the population of entities that can have this all-important opportunity. Pettman has also started to research and write about libidinal ecology-the link between sex and the environment-and aims to answer the question, What is the carbon footprint of your libido? He, like the rest of the faculty in the program, continually tries to invent new concepts and produce new models to contribute to the next chapter in the ceaselessly unfolding history of ideas.

    Although the department lacks traditional boundaries, Pettman cautions people not to think of Liberal Studies as a chaotic free-for-all for unfocused students. Rather, he says it is for motivated students who want a second or third way to research mindfully and rigorously. Students need to be self-directed, but they always have the support and guidance of faculty to help them forge their own path, think clearly about topics, and craft exceptional writing. Pettman describes Liberal Studies as a “boutique program” in which students are matched with faculty and advisors to provide the most rewarding tailored experience possible.

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