social theory

Welcome Back & Faculty Fall Meeting

Monday, September 26, 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Niles Gallery

The Committee on Social Theory wants to invite everyone back for the 2016-2017 academic school year!

The fall meeting will feature introductions and information about this years upcoming events, including the Fall Distinguished Speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Shove. There will also be plenty of time for conversation and Q&A over a provided lunch. 

Please RSVP by September 16th to Eva Hicks at

The Committee on Social Theory Presents: Richard Wolff

March 25th, Richard Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Visiting Professor, Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School. Lecture will be held in the Young Library Auditorium, William T. Young Library. Reception to follow at 5:30 p.m. in the Gaines Center Commonwealth House.

"Capitalism vs Democracy: Facing/Solving the Contradiction."



The Committee on Social Theory Presents: Dr. Lori Watson



02/05/2016 Lori Watson

The Committee on Social Theory is excited to announce the first lecturer of the Spring Lecture Series, Lori Watson. Lori Watson is Associate Professor of Philosophy and director of the Gender Studies Program, University of San Diego. Dr. Watson's lecture will address "Sex Equality and Public Reason." Reception to follow at 5:30 p.m. in the Gaines Center Commonwealth House.



The Committee on Social Theory Presents: Dr. Mahmood Mamdani



The Committee on Social Theory at The University of Kentucky is hosting Professor Mahmood Mamdani as its Fall Distinguished Speaker. On October 2, Dr. Mamdani will give a talk entitled “Political Violence and Political Justice: A Critique of Criminal Justice as Accountability.” The talk will take place at 3:30 pm in the W.T. Young Library Auditorium.

Dr. Mamdani is a Professor of Anthropology, Political Science and African Studies at Columbia University. He is also the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University’s School of Internal Affairs. Additionally, he is the Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala, Uganda.

A native of Uganda, Dr. Mamdani was awarded one of 26 scholarships to study in the United States when Uganda won its independence. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Mamdani joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972. While conducting dissertation research in Uganda he was expelled by Idi Amin. After the overthrow of Amin, Mamdani returned to Uganda, but his citizenship was eventually revoked as a result of his scholarship’s criticism of the government. During his career Mamdani has been visiting professor at the University of Michigan, University of Durban-Westville, the Nuhru Memorial Museum and Library, and Princeton University. He was also the inaugural chair of African studies at the University of Cape Town.

Professor Mamdani’s current work explores the intersection between politics and culture, a comparative study of colonialism since 1452, the history of civil war and genocide in Africa, the Cold War and the War on Terror, and the history and theory of human rights. His most recent book, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009), investigates how conflict in Darfur began as a civil war and transformed into a War on Terror.



Geography & The Priority of Injustice

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - 3:30pm
Whitehall Classroom Bldg. - Room 214


Justice has been a reference point for radical and critical geographers for more than 40 years. Geographers’ engagements with issues of justice, however, have always been defined by wariness toward political philosophies of justice. These are variously considered too liberal, too distributive in their orientation, or too universalizing. The wariness, in short, indicates the parameters that define the prevalent spatial imaginary of radical and critical human geography: self-consciously oppositional, concerned with the production of structural relations, sensitive to context and difference. Barnett explore two overlapping strands of contemporary political philosophy and political theory that have recently developed arguments for ‘the priority of injustice’ in the elaboration of democratic theory.

A Mistake on the Edge of Time: Rusty Barrett on the Mayan Calendar

Most of us heard that the world was going to possibly end on December 21st, 2012, and that it was predicted by the traditional Mayan calendar. In this podcast, Rusty Barrett, a linguist and scholar of Mayan culture and history, explains the superstitions and misunderstandings surrounding December 21st, and a little bit about how the Mayan calendar works.

SPOILER ALERT: The day after our interview, Barrett recieved an email from a Mayan organization (Grupos de Mujeres y Hombres por la Paz) in Guatemala, selling calendars for 2013 to raise money. This doesn't bode well for all those end-of-the-world prophecies.

This podcast was produced by Cheyenne Hohman


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

>>More feature content with Rusty Barrett and his expertise on Mayan culture: 

By Sarah Geegan

Rusty Barrett, professor in the UK Department of English and Linguistics Program, studied Mayan hieroglyphic writing and Mayan linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his Ph.D. in 1999. His doctoral dissertation was a grammar of Sipakapense, a previously undescribed Mayan language. Barrett has taught Mayan writing and Mayan linguistics at UK and is co-director of an intensive K'iche' Maya language program, taught in alternate summers in Guatemala. Barrett is currently working on a book manuscript about language revitalization in Maya communities in Guatemala.
Barrett weighed in on how the Mayan calendar works, discussed his research with the Mayan population, and shared his observations of the Maya's reactions to the idea that the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012.
Q: How does the Mayan calendar work, and is it really ending?
A: So, there are two Mayan calendars: one is a lunar calendar that is 260 days, which has a lot of religious and cultural importance for the Maya, and that is the one that the Maya really pay the most attention to. The other one is the long calendar — the one that counts days forward from Aug. 4, 3114 B.C. However, they talk about time before that date as well.
Earlier archeologists and anthropologists thought there were only 13 baktuns (a baktun is a 400 year cycle in the Mayan calendar) in the calendar, but that's really not the case. There are actually 20 baktuns in a cycle in the long calendar, but there really is no ending when you reach the 20th baktun. There's a cycle above that and another cycle above that.
Saying that the Mayan calendar ends is sort of like saying that when our calendar gets to 9999 that it ends. Well, all you do is add a 1. The Mayan calendar is the same, but their math is a base-20 system, so when you get to 20 you just move up a unit.
This is really more like a millennium for the Maya, except it's much longer than a millennium: since the cycle started in 3000 B.C., it's a 5,126 year cycle. It isn't the case that it actually ends; Mayanists have known that for quite some time, and the Maya have never assumed that it ends.
Q: Where do the theories about the end of the world originate?
The entire idea of the Apocalypse is a European idea that was introduced to the Maya during the Colonial period, and occasionally you'll find things that Maya wrote during that period that talk about an end of the world, but they're all heavily influenced by Christianity. So the end of the world is not an idea that exists in Mayan culture.
In the 1960s, when the archaeologists still sort of thought that there were only 13 baktuns, there was a lot of popular press about the idea of ancient aliens. The idea that the Maya built things because extraterrestrials came and built it for them became popular. The whole notion that extraterrestrials built Mayan communities is very offensive to the Maya and sort of suggests that somehow they weren't capable of the great achievements they made themselves. 
Ever since I started studying the Maya I have sort of known about what some people call "Mayanism," just this weird sort of religion that has developed over wrong ideas of the Maya.  Anytime you have a group that has had a high point in their culture that is gone, it’s sort of like the mystery of Atlantis; people tend to exoticize it and add stranger and stranger ideas to it until you get these sort of weird cult-like ideas about what they might have believed and what they might have prophesized.
Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about the Mayan calendar and the Maya in general?
A: One of the biggest misconceptions is that the calendar has an end date and that that's Friday, the 21st or Sunday the 23rd. The other misconception is that the Maya sort of all disappeared and died. There are actually about 6 million Maya living today in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, and the majority of the population in Guatemala is Maya. The languages that I study and work with are all spoken in Guatemala, and one of the main languages I work on, K'iche', has over a million speakers.
So there are still Maya here, and the 21st of December is an important day to them because it's an important ending of one cycle and moving on to another, but they don't believe it's the end of time or the end of the world or anything like that.
For the Maya, that day is seen as sort of an important change in the calendar and a time to reflect and think about positive things related to Mayan culture, so for the Maya it's the beginning of a new cycle particularly one of Maya independence. In Guatemala there was a civil war from 1960 to 1996 that involved an attempted genocide of the Maya, and more than 200,000 Maya were killed. So for today's Maya, the ending of the 13th baktun represents sort of a new dawn of the end of violence against the Maya and the revival of Mayan culture.
Q: From your experience with the Maya, how have you seen them react to the idea that their calendar predicts the end of the world?
A: The Maya that I work with in Guatemala have been extremely irritated with how this moment in their calendar is being represented, particularly in the U.S. and Europe. It's something they see as entirely positive and that would only really have significance within their culture, and after seeing people outside saying that it's this horrible, negative thing and movies like 2012 about the end of the world, they find it extremely frustrating.
So my Maya friends on Facebook are always posting angry messages like, "Did you see this, I can't believe this," or "why do they keep saying this? Why don't they stop?" So yes, it is really kind of strange that it has come to a point where people just assume that there's an end of time and the Maya predicted something negative to happen, which is not the case at all.
Q: It’s obvious that you have a lot of passion and respect for this culture. What can you say about that?
A: I spend a lot of time living with the Maya. In a lot of the villages where I do my research, it's not like there is a motel you can go to stay in, so I've lived with people and become very close with them. I have lots and lots of friends who are Maya and people that I have worked with for 20 years, so having spent that much time with them and learning about their culture, it's hard not to have respect because it is a vast and really interesting and amazing culture.

El 2012 estuvo lleno de supersticiones del fin del mundo. Todo esto fue a raíz del calendario Maya, el cual tenía un fin este pasado 21 de diciembre. En esta entrevista, Rusty Barrett, lingüista y académico sobre la cultura Maya, nos explica cómo funciona el calendario Maya y las supersticiones y equivocaciones que muchos hicieron basadas en la fecha del 21 de diciembre.

AVISO: El día después de este entrevista, Barrett recibió un correo de parte de la organización Maya en Guatemala—Grupos de Mujeres y Hombres por la Paz—que estaba vendiendo calendarios del 2013 como método para recaudar fondos. Un poco de contradicción entre la venta de calendarios y la profecía no creen.

Este podcast fue producido por Cheyenne Hohman.


Contenido Extra con Rusty Barrett y su conocimiento de la cultura Maya:

Por: Sarah Geegan

Rusty Barrett es un profesor en el departamento de Ingles y Lingüística aquí en UK. Barrett obtuvo un doctorado en 1999 en jeroglíficos Mayas y  en lingüística Maya en la Universidad de Texas en Austin. La tesis de su doctorado trata sobre la gramática Sipakapense, un dialecto Maya no antes identificado. Barrett ha presidido clases en lingüística y escritura Maya aquí en UK y también es co-director de un programa extensivo que enseña durante el semestre del verano el dialecto Maya K’iche’ en Guatemala. Actualmente, Barrett está trabajando en un manuscrito sobre la revitalización del lenguaje en las comunidades Mayas en Guatemala.

En esta entrevista, Barrett nos comparte sus pensamientos sobre el calendario Maya y como éste funciona. También nos comenta sobre sus varios estudios e investigaciones de la cultura Maya y sobre las observaciones que hizo en cuanto a la reacción de los Mayas del fin del mundo.

P: ¿Cómo funciona el calendario Maya y ha llegado este a su fin?

R: Para empezar, hay dos calendarios Maya: uno de ellos y al que más importancia le dan, es un calendario lunar que consiste en 260 días y tiene muchos elementos Mayas religiosos y culturales. El otro calendario funciona al contar los días hacia a delante desde el 4 de agosto de 3114 B.C. Aunque este segundo calendario habla sobre las fechas por venir, también se hace mención sobre algunas fechas pasadas.

Arqueólogos y antropólogos solían pensar que solo existían 13 baktúnes (un baktún son 400 años en el calendario Maya) en el calendario; sin embargo, éste no es el caso. Realmente existen 20 baktúnes en el ciclo largo del calendario; cuando éste llega a su fin lo que sucede es que un nuevo ciclo comienza.

Decir que el calendario Maya llegará a su fin es como decir que nuestro calendario acabará cuando llegue al año 9999. Lo que se hace en ese caso es simplemente agregar 1. El calendario Maya en este sentido es igual que el nuestro, solo hay que agregar una unidad. La matemática Maya funciona en una escala de 20s, lo cual significa que se le puede agregar un número, lo único es que este será una unidad completa en vez de un 1.

Para los Mayas, esto es mas como un Siglo, sólo que más largo del que nosotros conocemos ya que el ciclo actual empezó en 3000 B.C., lo que significa que es un ciclo que consiste de 5,126 años. En resumen, no es que el calendario realmente termine, muchos académicos Mayas sabemos esto desde hace un tiempo, y los Mayas nunca asumieron que el mundo iba a acabar.

P: ¿De dónde se originaron las teorías del fin del mundo?

R: La noción de un Apocalypto es una noción Europea que fue introducida a los Mayas durante los tiempos coloniales. Se han encontrado algunas escrituras Mayas que hablan sobre el fin del mundo, pero todas éstas escrituras fueron influenciadas por ideas Cristianas. La idea del fin del mundo no existe como tal en la cultura Maya.

En los años 60s, cuando los arqueólogos todavía creían que solo habían 13 baktúnes, la idea de que extraterrestres vinieron a la tierra y construyeron las pirámides Mayas se volvió muy popular. Sin embargo, está idea ofende de sobremanera a los Mayas ya que implica que ellos no fueron los que hicieron todos los logros que se les atribuye hoy en día.

Desde el comienzo de mis estudios Mayas me he dado cuenta que hay una idea muy equivocada sobre la religión Maya. Muchas culturas, como la Maya, que han tenido un auge internacional tienen la desventaja que muchos buscan hacerlas más misteriosas e interesantes. Por esto mismo, varias personas han atribuido características exóticas e ideas extrañas y peligrosas a la cultura Maya, lo cual ha conllevado a varias teorías erróneas sobre cultos Mayas y profecías que éstos pudieron haber hecho.

P: ¿Cuáles son algunas de las concepciones equivocadas sobre los Mayas y su calendario?

R: Una de las ideas más equivocadas es que el calendario tiene una fecha límite—ya sea el viernes 21 o domingo 23 de diciembre del 2012. Otra equivocación es que muchos creen que los Mayas desaparecieron y murieron; hoy en día hay alrededor de 6 millones de Mayas viviendo en México, Belice y Guatemala. La mayor parte de la populación de Guatemala tiene alguna descendencia Maya. Los dialectos que he estudiado y que he incorporado en mi trabajo son hablados en Guatemala al día de hoy. Uno de estos dialectos es el K’iche’, y éste es utilizado en Guatemala por más de un millón de personas.

Veamos entonces, todavía existen los Mayas y el 21 de diciembre es una fecha importante para ellos no porque se acaba el mundo, sino porque marca el inicio de un nuevo ciclo.


Este día simboliza para los Mayas un nuevo comienzo; es un tiempo para reflexionar y pensar en los aspectos positivos de la cultura Maya y todo lo que esta incorpora. Es más, este nuevo ciclo será para los Mayas uno marcado por independencia. La Guerra Civil de Guatemala duró desde 1960 hasta 1996, y esta incluyo intentos de genocidio en contra de los Mayas. Más de 200,000 Mayas fueron asesinados durante estos años. Para los Mayas, el fin del 13avo baktún es el fin de la violencia en contra de los Mayas y es el renacimiento de su cultura.


P: En tus experiencias con los Maya, ¿Cuáles han sido sus reacciones en cuanto a la idea del fin del mundo basada en su calendario?


R: Los Mayas con los que yo he trabajado en Guatemala están molestos e irritados por como este momento en su calendario está siendo representado, especialmente por Estados Unidos y Europa. Para ellos este momento en el calendario es algo positivo y que debería de tener un significado para su propia cultura; el ver que otras culturas están basando cosas negativas de su calendario y se están dejando influenciar por eso los frustra bastante.


Tengo amigos Mayas en Facebook que suelen mandarme mensajes como “¿Viste esto ahora? No lo puedo creer. ¿Por qué dicen esto? ¿Por qué no paran?” Para ellos es muy extraño el nivel al que han llegado varios por asumir que el mundo se acaba y que los Mayas son los que predijeron este acontecimiento. Todo esto es mentira.


P: Tu pasión y respeto hacia la cultura Maya es obvia, ¿Qué tienes que decir tu a respecto?


R: He tenido la oportunidad de vivir con los Mayas en sus comunidades ya que en donde he conducido mis investigaciones no son lugares donde uno va a encontrar hoteles. Esto ha llevado a que me una a ellos y los entienda de una manera que no muchos han tenido el privilegio. He hecho bastantes amigos Maya y con muchos de ellos he trabajado por más de 20 años. Después de tanto tiempo y de varias experiencias compartidas, es difícil no tenerles respeto ya que la cultura Maya es muy interesante y tienen muchas cualidades para admirar.




American Studies at Shanghai University: Andy Doolen

With the help of a generous grant from the U.S. State Department, UK has been able to forge a partnership across the Pacific. On March 29th, 2012, three UK scholars will go to deliver lectures for the Inaugural Symposium for the American Studies Center at Shanghai. Rich Schein and Patricia Ehrkamp from the Department of Geography and Doug Boyd from the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History will be lecturing on "Urbanization in the American South." The symposium will be the first of its kind at Shanghai University, but will be followed later this semester with another series of presentations about Appalachian art, literature and culture in May. 

Andy Doolen, an associate professor in the Department of English and Director of the American Studies program, is also serving as the Director of the American Studies Center in Shanghai. In this podcast, Doolen talks about the upcoming symposium, the story behind the partnership, and what UK and Shanghai University aspire to do for one another in the future. 

This podcast was produced by Cheyenne Hohman


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Farr Shares a Different Side of Martin Luther King Jr.

Arnold Farr is UK Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center's Scholar-in-Residence

Rebecca Lane

Rebecca Lane

Ph.D. Student By Rebekah Tilley
Photos by Mark Cornelison

Culture expresses itself in a myriad of familiar ways – our music, fashion, entertainment, literature. Perhaps less noted is the way that culture impacts our bodies including the very manner we are brought into the world and the food that nourishes us during gout first year of life.

James Looney

Social Theory Ph.D Student
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