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Benhabib Appointed Social Studies Chair

By Alexandra S. Morrison

Professor of Government Seyla Benhabib has been appointed chair of the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies and will take up the position July 1. She will replace Charles S. Maier '60, director of the Gunzburg Center for European Studies and Krupp Foundation professor of European studies.

Benhabib yesterday said she is excited at the opportunity to head the interdisciplinary concentration "at a time when we are becoming increasingly more specialized and the drive is either to be cautious or silent on the larger questions facing us, in a world that is eliciting fewer and fewer thoughtful responses."

Benhabib is a prominent feminist political theorist. One work she edited, Feminist Contentions: a Philosophical Exchange (1995), is currently read by concentrators enrolled in the Social Studies 10, the sophomore tutorial.

Benhabib said she plans to lecture in Social Studies 10 on critical theory, and also possibly on feminism and on the social theorist Max Weber. Benhabib also said she hoipes to "bridge a gap" she sees between the social sciences and literary and cultural studies.

"Some of the most interesting questions--national identity, citizens, the development of racism, distribution and group claims, multiculturalism--all of these issues cut across social science and cultural studies, broadly defined," she said.

Benhabib also said she plans to initiate a colloquium series, directed toward concentrators and also to a broader audience, tentatively titled "Great Conversations." The conversations would be a "kind of happy hour" held once a month and would feature speakers on such topics as "Is Social Theory Dead?" and "Multiculturalism or Tribalism?"

"We're all very excited about Professor Benhabib's appointment," said Judith E. Vichniac, director of studies in Social Studies. "She has an abiding interest in social theory and other intellectual aspects of the program, and I think she will be a wonderful chair."

Benhabib was nominated for the chair last year. However, because she decided to take a leave of absence this academic year, Maier agreed to stay on as chair for a fourth year.

"It's a fine appointment," Maier said. "Social Studies has a strong tradition in social theory, and Professor Benhabib has a major scholarly interest in this area, so she is a perfect fit for this position."

Maier will continue to be director of the Center for European Studies and to teach history courses.

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