Daniel McNeil is the first person to hold the Visiting Public Humanities Faculty Fellowship at the JHI. He obtained his PhD in History from the University of Toronto in 2007 and brings to the Fellowship many years of experience nurturing interdisciplinary communities, fostering innovations in pedagogy, and leading public outreach work in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
At a recent Fellows’ Lunch, Daniel introduced us to the work of Jeremy Deller, an artist born in south London in 1966 who is committed to making art collaboratively, working with different social groups, and contesting media narratives that frame marginalized groups as selfish and dangerous threats to the nation and its health.
After demonstrating Deller’s ability to address the spirit of dissent that characterized opposition to the Thatcherite break-up both of the coal industry and Britain’s wider industrial and manufacturing base in the 1980s, Daniel revealed how the work of Deller and other creative artists had stimulated his thinking about three research projects that attend to the formation and distribution of energy in Britain, Canada, and the transatlantic world.
The first project is a co-edited book that shares Stuart Hall’s insistence that collaborative work is particularly well suited to examine the coming together of often distinct though related contradictions in a particular historical moment. It brings together academics in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, as well as artists and theatre practitioners to delve beneath the media headlines about the “migration crisis,” climate refugees, Brexit, Trump and other events and spectacles that have been linked to the intensification and proliferation of stereotypes about migrants since 2015.
Daniel’s second project is titled Even Canadians Think it’s a Bit Boring: An Incomplete History of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Race Relations, 1971-2001. This project considers how multiculturalism has been configured as banal across a range of disciplines and fields of inquiry. In the process, it grapples with the work of liberal political philosophers who argue that multiculturalism is banal because it has been incorporated into the same everyday logic of negotiation and power that shapes all domestic politics in Canada; political scientists who suggest that the creation of new cadres of community leaders who are familiar with banal Canadian institutions and practices might be one measure of the policy’s success; and critical sociologists who associate multicultures in postcolonial cities and towns with “real multiculturalism,” the insinuating rhythms of everyday life, and a “banality of good.”
Daniel’s third project is titled A Tale of Two Critics: The Cultural Lives of Young Soul Rebels and Grumpy Old Men. This project builds on his recent contribution to African American Arts: Activism, Aesthetics, and Futurity to examine the suggestive, explorative and provocative work produced by cultural critics such as Armond White, one of the most notorious film critics in the United States, and Paul Gilroy, one of the most influential intellectuals writing in the United Kingdom, over the past fifty years.
For each of these projects, McNeil invited discussion and reflection about the role of the humanities in critical discourse about energy and climate. In particular, he asked us to consider:
- What might we learn from the soundscapes and landscapes that inspired young soul rebels and their politically infused acts of pleasure?
- How have morbid, mournful, or melancholic forms of energy powered narratives of decline, protection, and regression?
- In what ways has work in the humanities been boosted and transformed by energies and utopian desires that have been harnessed by—and overflowed from—their national and generational containers?