Invisibility: The Power of an Idea

36th Social Research Conference, April 20-21, 2017


The concept of invisibility is powerful, pervasive, and multifaceted. It is paradoxically double-edged, affording the possibility of great power as well as the complete absence of power. It is both magical and a spur to scientific experimentation and exploration. It is a central concept in science—whether as something to be achieved or overcome. It is evident in the development of technologies that allow us to find new evidence of the invisibly small (e.g. the Large Hadron Collider revealing the Higgs boson) and the invisibly far-away (a new planet in the solar system); conversely, it is also evident in devices that allow us to render objects invisible, devices that may have implications for warfare and for medicine.


In addition, invisibility is present in the social sciences, as evidenced most clearly by the economic concept of the “invisible hand” and by the troubling phenomenon of social invisibility, which affects large groups of people who are ignored, underrepresented and under-served by the dominant culture. But that is not all. The concept of invisibility has also played a central role in the thinking of many philosophers, literary figures, and in theological thinking. 


Thus this conference is designed to explore the multitude of ways in which invisibility figures in our intellectual and social lives, as a thread running through our human endeavors, and the ways in which the power of invisibility can lead to a quest for understanding as well as render us altogether disenfranchised. The first three sessions will address the concept of invisibility in different fields, and the concluding session will bring together experts from various fields who will seek to underscore the shared aspects of invisibility that account for the important role it has played in our lives and in our thinking in the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Each session will include a Q&A in which panelists can address questions to each other and audience members can address their questions directly to speakers. 


This conference will offer a unique opportunity for experts to reach across fields to better understand their own explorations of invisibility, through discussion with others, and with the public.


This conference is made possible with generous funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation


Proceedings from this conference can be found in Social Research: An International Quarterly:

Invisibility, Vol. 83 No. 4 (Winter 2016)


This event is part of the Nth Degree Series with the The New School.




DAY 1: Thursday, April 20


12:00 – 2:30 PM

Location: Theresa Lang Student and Community Center, 55 W. 13th St, NY, NY

SESSION I: Invisibility as a Motivating Force for Research and Discovery

This session examines the fundamental invisibility of the world at the scientific level; the search for evidence of the invisible in cosmology, physics, and biology; and the quest for tools that allow us to detect, hide, or interact with the invisible.


Molly E. Cummings, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin


Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University


Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor, Department of Astronomy and Physics, Yale University


David R. Smith, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Director of the Center for Metamaterial and Integrated Plasmonics Duke University


Moderator: : Daniel Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor Emeritus of History, History of Medicine & American Studies, Yale University



3:00 – 5:30 PM

Location: Theresa Lang Student and Community Center, 55 W. 13th St, NY, NY

SESSION 2: Invisibility in Cultural Context

This session examines invisibility in the context of the humanities, economics, and philosophy.  Discussion will range over the philosophical explanatory power of invisibility, its role in economic theory, e.g. “the invisible hand”, its place in literature, e.g Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and in mythology.


Adam Bradley, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder


Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions and the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago


Mark Johnston, Walt Cerf Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University


William Milberg, Dean of the New School for Social Research, The New School


Moderator: Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy, The New School



5:30 - 6:30 PM

Location: Lang Cafe, 65 W. 11th Street, NY, NY

Keynote Reception -  wine and cheese, open to the public.  

With a performance by magician Alex R. Stone.



6:30-8:00 PM

Location: The Auditorium at West 12th Street, NY, NY

KEYNOTE: Brian Greene, Professor of Physics and Mathematics, Columbia University

Discussant: Marina Warner, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Birkbeck, University of London



DAY 2: Friday, April 21


11:00 AM

Location: Theresa Lang Student and Community Center, 55 W. 13th St, NY, NY

SPECIAL SCREENING: Ladies First: Saudi Arabia’s Female Candidates (2016|38 min)​

Documentary film on the first women voters and political candidates in Saudi Arabia, by Mona El Naggar


12:00 – 2:30 PM

Location: Theresa Lang Student and Community Center, 55 W. 13th St, NY, NY

SESSION 3: Invisibility in the Social World

This session examines invisible populations such as African Americans, and the disabled; invisible or erased histories; and what is required in order to make visible the invisible other.


Mona El-Naggar, Documentarian, “Ladies First: Saudi Arabia’s Female Candidates”; Reporter & Senior Video journalist, The New York Times


Kim Hopper, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public health, Columbia University


Georgina Kleege, Lecturer in English, Disability Studies, University of California, Berkeley


Darryl Pinckney, Author, Black Deutschland


Moderator:  Darrick Hamilton, Associate Professor of Economics and Urban Policy; Director, Milano Doctoral Program, The New School


3:00 – 5:00 PM

Location: Theresa Lang Student and Community Center, 55 W. 13th St, NY, NY

SESSION 4: The Seen, the Unseen, and the Unseeable: A Dialogue

What is the power of the invisible and how is it harnessed to effect change, for good or evil?


Adam Bradley, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder


Molly E. Cummings, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin


Mona El-Naggar, Documentarian, “Ladies First: Saudi Arabia’s First Female Candidates”; Video journalist, The New York Times


Darryl Pinckney, Author, Black Deutschland


Moderator:  Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice of the Humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology





Adam Bradley, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Bradley is a professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder where he directs the Laboratory for Race & Popular Culture (RAP Lab). Bradley is the author or editor of six books, including Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop; The Anthology of Rap; and the New York Times bestseller One Day It’ll All Make Sense, a memoir he wrote for the rapper and actor Common. He has also written extensively on the literature and legacy of Ralph Ellison. Bradley’s latest book, The Poetry of Pop, unlocks the mysteries of word, image, and sound in popular music across genres, featuring the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, and beyond. At present, he is editing a new digital edition of Ellison’s Invisible Man.


Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy, The New School.

Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research. His books include Very Little…Almost Nothing (1997), Infinitely Demanding (2007), The Book of Dead Philosophers (2009) and The Faith of the Faithless (2012). Recent works include a novella, Memory Theatre, a book-length essay, Notes on Suicide and a book on David Bowie. He is series moderator of ‘The Stone’, a philosophy column in The New York Times and co-editor of The Stone Reader. He is also 50% of an obscure musical combo called Critchley & Simmons.


Molly Cummings, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin.

Her research focuses on the external and internal mechanisms that drive biodiversity in animal communication traits. She combines environmental measures, behavioral experiments in the lab, and molecular approaches to achieve an integrative understanding of the sources and targets of selection for communication trait evolution. Cummings has published extensively in journals including Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Behavioral Ecology, PLoS ONE, Evolutionary Biology, Frontiers in Neuroscience, The American Naturalist, BioScience, and many more. Her work has been covered by The Economist, and National Geographic.


Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions and the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago.

Doniger’s research and teaching interests revolve around two basic areas, Hinduism and mythology. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology.

Among over forty books are seventeen interpretive works, including The Hindus: An Alternative History; and On Hinduism (2009): The Woman Who Pretended To Be Who She Was (2005); The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade (2000); Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India (1999); The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth (1998); Other Peoples' Myths: The Cave of Echoes (1988); Tales of Sex and Violence: Folkore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana (1985); Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities (1984); Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (1980); The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (1976); and Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva (1973).

Among her translations are three Penguin Classics–– The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith); The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit (1981); and Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit (1975)—a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar, 2002), and Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2015). In progress are The Ring of Truth, and Other Myths of Sex and Jewelry; Skepticism in the Shastras, or The Manipulation of Religion for Politics and Pleasure in Ancient India (the 2014 Terry Lectures at Yale); Memoirs of a Jewish Girlhood (the 2015 Mandel Lectures at Brandeis); and a novel, Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands.


Mona El-Naggar, Reporter & Senior Video Journalist, The New York Times.

Naggar is a senior video journalist for The New York Times. She evolved into a filmmaker after more than a decade covering the Middle East. She documented the breakdown of the social contract between the leadership and people that led to the great unraveling – the Arab Spring. She quickly realized that Identity was the core driver of complex, chaotic events. So she began to focus on young people, women – and Islamic extremism.

Mona spent a year reporting a project called Generation Faithful, a series of stories, videos and blog posts that went deep into the lives of young people in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

She worked in nearly every country in the region. She was chased by stone throwing children at the funeral for the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. She was confronted by the secret police in Libya. She reported from Gaza and spent time with Houthi rebels in Yemen. She was harassed, pilloried in the press and had her loyalty questioned for practicing journalism in her home country, Egypt.

Since turning to filmmaking she has won acclaim for her early works. She was a Pulitzer finalist for her film on a young Egyptian man who transformed from a body builder into an ISIS killer. And she was part of a team that produced an Emmy-nominated piece on a victim who escaped an ISIS massacre. Her latest work, Ladies First, offers a penetrating subtle look at the life of women in Saudi Arabia.

Mona studied political economy at Georgetown University and received a masters in news and documentary from New York University.


Brian Greene, Professor of physics and mathematics, Columbia University.

Greene is renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory, including the co-discovery of mirror symmetry and of spatial topology change. He is known to the public through his books, The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality, which have collectively spent 65 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. The Washington Post called him “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.” Professor Greene hosted two Peabody and Emmy Award winning NOVA miniseries based on his books and is a frequent television guest, joining Stephen Colbert seven times and playing himself in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. He has also had cameo roles in a number of Hollywood films including Frequency, Maze and The Last Mimzy. With producer Tracy Day, Greene co-founded the World Science Festival and he is the Director of Columbia University's Center for Theoretical Physics.


Darrick Hamilton, Associate Professor of Economics and Urban Policy; Director, Milano Doctoral Program, The New School


Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University.

Holton is an emeritus Professor of Physics and of History of Science at Harvard University. He was president of the History of Science Society, and founding editor of Daedalus. His books include Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought, Einstein, History and Other Passions, The Scientific Imagination, Science and Anti-Science, Victory and Vexation in Science: Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Others, and Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives.


Kim Hopper, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

Hopper, PhD, is an applied anthropologist and Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. He worked for 20 years as a research scientist at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, a facility of the New York State Office of Mental Health, where he co-directed the Center to Study Recovery in Social Contexts. He is author of Reckoning with Homelessness (Cornell University Press, 2003), a stocktaking of two decades of research, advocacy, and theoretical work in that field, and senior co-editor of Recovery from Schizophrenia: An International Perspective (Oxford University Press, 2007), a report from the WHO collaborative study on the long-term course and outcome of schizophrenia.. Since 1979, Dr. Hopper has done ethnographic and historical research on psychiatric care and on homelessness, chiefly in New York City. Active in homeless advocacy efforts since 1980, he served as president of the National Coalition for the Homeless from 1991-1993. He also teaches at Columbia Law School and in the Bard Prison Initiative.


Mark Johnston, Walt Cerf Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University.

Johnston is currently the Walter Cerf Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He is the author of many influential and widely reprinted articles in ontology, philosophy of mind, philosophical logic and ethics, along with Saving God (Princeton University Press, 2009) and Surviving Death (Princeton University Press, 2010), two works that present a novel form of religious naturalism. Two volumes of his collected papers, Human Beings and The Obscure Object of Hallucination, will soon be forthcoming with Princeton Press. He is currently working on a book entitled The Manifest, which explains how the world of lived experience can be very much as it appears to be, despite the discoveries of the physical and biological sciences.


Daniel Kevles received his B.A. from Princeton University (Physics) in 1960, training at Oxford University (European History) from 1960-61, and his Ph.D. from Princeton (History) in 1964. His research and writings encompass the interplay of science, technology, and society past and present with a focus on the United States. His particular research interests include the history of physics, biology, scientific fraud and misconduct, plant and animal breeding, biotechnology, intellectual property, and science, arms, and the state.His teaching areas are the history of modern science and technology, including genetics, physics, science and technology in America, innovation and intellectual property in living organisms, science and national security, and the United States in the 1970s.


Georgina Kleege, Lecturer in English, Disability Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

Kleege teaches creative writing and disability studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her recent books include: Sight Unseen (1999) and Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller (2006). Kleege’s latest book, More than Meets the Eye, (forthcoming in 2017) is concerned with blindness and visual art: how blindness is represented in art, how blindness affects the lives of visual artists, how museums can make visual art accessible to people who are blind and visually impaired. She has lectured and served as consultant to art institutions around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London.


Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice of the Humanities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lightman is an American writer, physicist, and social entrepreneur. Lightman has served on the faculties of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is currently professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT. He was the first person at MIT to have a joint faculty position in science and in the humanities. His essays and articles have appeared in the Atlantic, Granta, Harper’s, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Salon, and many other publications. His novels include Einstein’s Dreams, an international bestseller, and The Diagnosis, a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent books are the Accidental Universe, and Screening Room, a memoir about the South. In 2005, Lightman founded the Harpswell Foundation, whose mission is to empower a new generation of women leaders in Southeast Asia.


William Milberg, Dean, New School for Social Research, The New School.

Milberg is Dean and Professor of Economics at the New School for Social Research and Co-Director of the Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at The New School. His research focuses on the relation between globalization, income distribution and economic growth, and the history and philosophy of economics. He teaches graduate courses in international trade, political economy, the history of economic thought, and a seminar on the methodology of economics. His undergraduate courses include “Understanding Global Capitalism” and “The Making of Economic Society.”


Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor, Department of Astronomy and Physics, Yale University.

Natarajan has been credited with several key calculations pertaining to the life cycle of supermassive black holes in the Universe including the discovery of the existence of an upper mass limit for black holes; her efforts to map in detail the spatial distribution of dark matter in cosmic structures exploiting the phenomenon of gravitational lensing; and her use of clusters of galaxies in order to better understand dark matter and dark energy. Her most recent book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas that Reveal the Cosmos, (2016) followed her earlier book, The Shapes of Galaxies and their Dark Holes (2002).Professor Natarajan is committed to the public dissemination of science and is currently a member of the Science Advisory Board for the public television series NOVA.


Darryl Pinckney, Author, Black Deutschland


David R. Smith, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Director of the Center for Metamaterial and Integrated Plasmonics, Duke University.

Smith is best known for his theoretical and experimental work on electromagnetic metamaterials. In 2006, Smith with Sir John Pendry, suggested that an 'invisibility cloak' could be realized by a metamaterial implementation of a transformation optical design. Later that same year, Smith's group at Duke University reported the demonstration of a transformation optical designed 'invisibility cloak' at microwave frequencies. Smith’s research has been published in Optics Photonics, Science, Applied Physics Letters, Physics Today, Journal of the Optical Society of America, Nano Letters, and many more. Smith is one of the most well-known researchers in physics and electrical engineering worldwide, having been recognized in 2009 and again in 2014 by Reuters as a "Highly Cited Researcher."


Alex Stone is a writer, performer, and lapsed physicist. He is the author of Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks and the Hidden Powers of the Mind—a book about the world of magic and its ties to science. Fooling Houdini was named one of Amazon’s “Ten Best
Nonfiction Books of 2012” and has been published in nine countries. Stone’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Harper’s, Discover, Psychology Today,and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.


Marina Warner, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Birkbeck, University of London.

Warner is a writer of fiction and cultural history, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, and a Professorial Research Fellow, School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Her books include Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (l976), Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism (l982) and Monuments & Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (l988). In l994 she gave the BBC Reith Lectures on the theme of Six Myths of Our Time. She has explored the fairytale tradition in From the Beast to the Blonde (l994) and Making Monsters: On Scaring, Lulling and Making Mock (l998). Her study of the Thousand and One Nights, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and The Arabian Nights (2011) won a National Book Critics Circle Award, the Truman Capote prize, and a Sheykh Zayed Prize in 2012. She has curated exhibitions, including The Inner Eye (l996), Metamorphing (2002-3), and Only Make-Believe: Ways of Playing (2005). Her third novel, The Lost Father, was short-listed for the Booker prize in l988; it was followed by Indigo, a retelling of The Tempest, and, in 2000, by The Leto Bundle, a novel about a refugee traveling in time and is now working on a memoir-novel, Inventory of a Life Mislaid, inspired by her childhood in Cairo. Her third collection of short stories, Fly Away Home, was published last year. She is currently working on the theme of Sanctuary and culture in times of dislocation and diaspora and developing a project in Sicily for storytelling in refugee communities, Stories in Transit. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, and was given the Holberg Prize in the Arts and Humanities in 2015.





Adam Bradley, Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado, Boulder.

How durable is Ralph Ellison’s concept of invisibility? Invisible Man, after all, is a novel of Jim Crow racial segregation, and invisibility is inextricably bound to blackness throughout the book. Ellison also insists of the universality of the metaphor. In the novel’s final line Ellison’s unnamed protagonist muses “And it is this which frightens me: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” I plan to reflect on the implications of Ellison’s invisibility, both as a doggedly particular term of racial targeting and as an existential condition. How does invisibility operate on multiple levels of our culture and politics today? What does Ellison still have to teach us?


Molly Cummings, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin.

Hiding with Polarized light—insights from open ocean fish

The need to hide is essential across the Animal Kingdom.  It can mean the difference between finding a meal and becoming one. Since animals occupy every niche known on this planet, it is not surprising that the number and type of invisibility disguises is diverse, ranging from transparent invertebrates at sea, to well cloaked frogs in the forest floor, to mammals blending in seamlessly in the desert and artic zones.  Humans have a long history of looking to animals for ways to solve their invisibility needs, and they often turn to scientists to understand the basic principles of camouflage strategies in specific habitats. The open ocean is perhaps one of the most difficult environments to hide within because there are no structures to hide against.  In the dynamically changing light field near the surface of the ocean, animals must blend into the color, brightness and polarized portions of the aqueous background from every viewing angle in this 3D world.  Animals that need to escape the notice of polarized-sensitive viewers (a class to which many fish and invertebrates belong), face a particularly challenging camouflage task because the polarized light field is intensely angular-dependent. The polarized light field changes as a function of where the sun is overhead, and where the animal or viewer is relative to the sun. As part of a Navy-Funded Multi-University Research Initiative, our collaborative team built an underwater videopolarimeter and automated rotating platform that allowed us to test polarization and intensity camouflage strategies with live fish in the open ocean.  We found that some open ocean fish have evolved mechanisms to adjust for this continually changing environment, and show peak polarocrypsis from viewing angles associated with predation.  We also identified the structures in the fish skin that powers this innovative invisibility; and in the future, material scientists may make use of these basic principles to develop man-made surfaces that mask targets from detection from polarization-sensitive satellites.


Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions and the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago.

Is invisibility in the eye or in the mind? Is it a force for good or for evil? And does it work equally well for men and for women? These are questions to which we might seek answers in the mythologies of ancient Greece and India, medieval Germany, and 20th and 21st century America. Many of these texts seem to regard invisibility as a subjective mental state, subject to suggestion and the projection of ideas, while others think of it as a more physical, scientific phenomenon, residing in the eye and subject to chemical or electric forces or the projection of rays of light. The two views combine when myths treat invisibility as the projection of a false or absent self from the mind and/or eyes of the magician into the mind and/or eyes of the beholder.  In both cases, invisibility often shades off into masquerade and shape-shifting, as shadows, doubles, reflections or camouflage hide the one true self from the observer or confuse the object of the gaze with the background or with another person.


Mona El-Naggar, Reporter & Senior Video Journalist, The New York Times

In the Arab Muslim world, the vanity of the asserted, unflinching ‘I’ is dangerous. The individual voice fades into the collective sound. Identity is communal. And because the community is patriarchal, women are obliged to be ‘modest’ – and are ultimately cast as the invisible other in their own societies. Women should cover their bodies. Women should keep their voices down. Women should stay at home for safety. It is common to refer to a woman as the mother, wife or daughter of [insert male relative’s name here].
But when invisibility is turned on its head, it reveals surprising agency.
Leading up to the Egyptian revolution, a young veiled woman was the first to announce, in an identifiable online video, that she would heed the call to protest and take to the street. She appealed to the fact that she was a woman, and unafraid, encouraging others into action. It worked. Dozens imitated her. And what started as a small act of defiance, by one unknown woman, helped break a giant barrier of fear.


Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University.

From Antiquity, philosophers and scientists have battled over this question. They deployed vivid inventions of the imagination, from the Lucretian atomists to Immanuel Kant, from Einstein to the quantum physicists of the early 20th century.

They largely agreed that eventually all questions put to Nature can be answered through further research, without limit, and that physical processes are intuitively comprehensible. But we now know that at a fundamental level these are inherently unimaginable, even un-askable.


Kim Hopper, Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University


Mark Johnston, Walt Cerf Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University.


Georgina Kleege, Lecturer in English, Disability Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

People with disabilities often feel hyper-visible in public spaces, the object of unwanted scrutiny in the form of stares, patronizing solicitude or intrusive questioning.  On the other hand, people with invisible disabilities that affect mental, cognitive or developmental processes, often face stigma and suspicion precisely because their impairments are not visually apparent.  It is estimated that nineteen percent of Americans have a disability, and yet disability is often overlooked as a diversity category in social practices and public policies, even those intended to promote inclusion and fight discrimination.  This paper will examine the visuality and invisibility of people with disabilities in America, and make visible gaps in cultural awareness and public policy that hinder the full inclusion of this minority.


William Milberg, Dean, New School for Social Research, The New School.

The disappearance of invisibility in the global economy, 1973-2017

“Laissez-faire was planned.  Planning was not”, Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 1942.

This presentation will explore the rise and fall of neoliberalism in the governance of the global economy  -- the “invisible hand” in the global economy.  We start with a discussion of the prominent role of the theory of international trade in the context of the notion of a pure market economy, governed by the invisible hand.  Then we turn to a discussion of neoliberalism, tracing its origins to the collapse of Bretton Woods and the rise of a regime of free trade, investment and foreign exchange.  We then discuss two implications of this shift, (1) the move away from public governance and towards private governance of the international division of labor, and (2) the enhanced role of finance in economic growth and its devastating macroeconomic role in the Great Recession of 2008.  This sets the stage for an analysis of the consequences of liberalization for economic growth, employment and income distribution, with a focus on the US.  The absence of adequate labor unions and state-sponsored social protections has contributed to the negative impact of liberalization on the US economy.  The Great Recession already signaled the end of the “Washington Consensus” regarding neoliberalism, but the election of President Trump on the promise of a revival of manufacturing employment through the use of trade protection and exchange rate management offers a new, nationalistic alternative path.   We conclude by discussing the difficulties that may emerge from the Trump administration plan, and offer some alternative policy suggestions for the global economy after neoliberalism.


Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor, Department of Astronomy and Physics, Yale University.

The concept of invisibility carries particular salience in science as one of our keys goals is to render the invisible visible and develop ideas and instruments to do so. It is therefore a potent driver for scientific experimentation. Intellectually, it also stands for as a metaphor for what remains to be discovered, so it marks the boundary of what we currently know and what remains elusive. Technologies have for instance been invented to probe the invisible on sub-atomic scales like the particle accelerators at CERN and Fermilab and on the celestial scale with telescope in space and on the ground looking for the effects of unseen planets, unseen dark matter and unseen dark energy that are all revealed indirectly by the effects they exert that are visible and measurable. Invisibility marks the edge of what is known, what remains to be discovered and what might be essentially unknowable.


Darryl Pinckney, Author, Black Deutschland

David R. Smith, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Director of the Center for Metamaterial and Integrated Plasmonics, Duke University.

Scientists every day work with fields and forces that cannot be seen. The microwaves that carry information back and forth between us and allow us to communicate are “invisible” in the sense that our eyes cannot detect them. So we augment our vision by creating sensors that allow us to see across the electromagnetic spectrum.  In our group, we work on invisibility, of course, but we also use “invisible” microwaves for imaging purposes whether it is satellite imaging to understand the geology of the earth or other planets, or screening passengers at an airport for threat objects, the concept of invisibility is real at all wavelengths, not just for visible light that our eyes can see.


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