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January 2013: Cynthia Willett

posted Dec 30, 2012, 5:35 PM by Peggy DesAutels   [ updated Dec 30, 2012, 6:45 PM ]

Cynthia Willett
Emory University

Cynthia Willett is Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. She studied political science at the University of Missouri (BA) and philosophy at University of Minnesota, University of Toronto (MA), University of Texas, and Pennsylvania State University (where after a ten-year journey through a wonderfully wide range of graduate programs she earned a Ph.D. writing on Hegel and Derrida). She has taught at Harvard, Le Moyne College, University of Kansas, and, since 1996, at Emory. She has won two teaching awards, and served as department chair, and as co-director for the Society for Phenomenological and Existential Philosophy during its exciting 50th anniversary. She has served on the APA executive board, and now is on the executive board for American Philosophy Forum and for Symposia on Race, Gender, and Philosophy: http://sgrp.typepad.com/

Her research spirals around edgy questions of social justice, comic conceptions of community, the tragedy of hubris, and the festive ethics of eros. She is inspired by many writers and thinkers, including Luce Irigaray, Stanley Cavell, Toni Morrison, and Enrique Dussel. Her first book, Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities, (Routledge, 1995) offers a slave narrative of history (in contrast with Hegel’s master narrative). This history reconfigures human nature through the social bond between the mother and child; rejects separation from the mother as a measure of maturity; and draws upon Frederick Douglass as a major political thinker of social freedom. She edited Theorizing Multiculturalism (Blackwell, 1998) while having children. Her second book, The Soul of Justice: Social Bonds and Racial Hubris (Cornell, 2001), is a dialectic of hubris as a violation of social bonds; here care ethics and critical theory are transformed as a theory of social eros. Her third book, Irony in the Age of Empire: Comic Perspectives on Democracy and Freedom recapitulates American history as farce yet with a promise of social freedom.

A fourth authored book, Interspecies Living (a serious ethics with a comic twist) is just completed. There she presents a model for social attunement across species. 

Her new essays are coauthored: “The Seriously Erotic Politics of Laughter,” in Social Research Volume 79 No 1 (Spring 2012); reprinted version with added section in Joanne Waugh and Sharon Crasnow’s Philosophical Feminism and Popular Culture (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013). And “Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of the New Jim Crow,” in Pursuing Trayvon Martin edited by George Yancy and Janine Jones (Lexington, 2012).

An interview with Chris Long and Shannon Winnubst on anarchic communitarianism and animal humor appears at:

Her next project is on the politics of music, and she counts learning jazz guitar as research.