IAFOR’s special theme in 2020 is “Embracing Difference”, which builds on two previous years’ themes: examinations of fear for what the future might hold (2018), followed a year later by explorations of our ability to shape alternate futures (2019). The continuing timeliness of both topics has been fuelled not only by global political trends, but also (and in ways that largely account for those trends) the fact that individuals today are being confronted incessantly with forms and intensities of “difference” as never before in human history. Unless we are wholly off the grid of media and extra-communal encounter (as we might find with self-isolating religious communities), we are confronted daily with lifestyles, belief systems, languages, and ways of being that are radically different from our own. Whether face-to-face or mediated, these continuing micro-shocks of encounters with epistemological difference can be terrifying, exhilarating, disorienting, or even erotically stimulating (if not several of those at once). Much hinges on how we decide to process such encounters, a choice for which, I argue, we bear responsibility. To the extent that we can actively choose to frame such “dislocations” as desirable “invitations”– to question the rightness of our own stances, the security of our own “truths,” and the limitations of our own knowledge – we can welcome encounters with difference as necessary for learning and growth. Too often, of course, they are processed much more narrowly as violent threats to insular selfhood, to national and cultural primacy, and to religious absolutes. We as teachers, scholars and public intellectuals have a role to play in reframing a public debate on the fundamental value of “difference”. Beyond our common and often tepid proclamation of respect for “diversity”, it is imperative that we promote and defend the inherently generative effect of the “unsettledness” that terrifies so many of our fellow citizens. Invitations to rethink our “selves”, our beliefs, and our values should be celebrated as inherently educational opportunities, rather than feared as apocalyptic threats to coherence or community.
Donald E. Hall is Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester, USA. Prior to moving to Rochester, he was Dean of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University, USA. Dean Hall has published widely in the fields of British Studies, Gender Theory, Cultural Studies, and Professional Studies. Over the course of his career, he served as Jackson Distinguished Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English (and previously Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages) at West Virginia University. Before that, he was Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught for 13 years. He is a recipient of the University Distinguished Teaching Award at CSUN, was a visiting professor at the National University of Rwanda, was Lansdowne Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Victoria (Canada), was Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Cultural Studies at Karl Franzens University in Graz, Austria, and was Fulbright Specialist at the University of Helsinki. He has also taught in Sweden, Romania, Hungary, and China. He served on numerous panels and committees for the Modern Language Association (MLA), including the Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion, and the Convention Program Committee. In 2012, he served as national President of the Association of Departments of English. From 2013-2017, he served on the Executive Council of the MLA.
His current and forthcoming work examines issues such as professional responsibility and academic community-building, the dialogics of social change and activist intellectualism, and the Victorian (and our continuing) interest in the deployment of instrumental agency over our social, vocational, and sexual selves. Among his many books and editions are the influential faculty development guides, The Academic Self and The Academic Community, both published by Ohio State University Press. Subjectivities and Reading Sexualities: Hermeneutic Theory and the Future of Queer Studies were both published by Routledge Press. Most recently he and Annamarie Jagose, of the University of Auckland, co-edited a volume titled The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. Though he is a full-time administrator, he continues to lecture worldwide on the value of a liberal arts education and the need for nurturing global competencies in students and interdisciplinary dialogue in and beyond the classroom.
Professor Donald E. Hall is a Vice-President of IAFOR. He is Chair of the Arts, Humanities, Media & Culture division of the International Academic Advisory Board.