THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK - Matthew Reisz

Cather­ine Rot­ten­berg is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of Amer­i­can and Cana­dian Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham. She was born and raised in New York City, but at the age of 14, she re­calls, “went to live for a while on a kib­butz in north­ern Is­rael, which be­gan an am­biva­lent re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try. I pur­sued my un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies at Brown Univer­sity – with one year at Tel Aviv Univer­sity – and then com­pleted my MA and PhD in Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture at the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem.”

A com­mit­ted ac­tivist against what she de­scribes as “the en­trench­ment and in­creas­ing vi­o­lence of Is­rael’s colo­nial project” in the era of the sec­ond in­tifada (which erupted in 2000), Rot­ten­berg points to two other ma­jor in­flu­ences on her think­ing: “One was a course I took with prom­i­nent fem­i­nist bi­ol­o­gist Anne Faus­toSter­ling at Brown Univer­sity. I had al­ways thought I would be a doc­tor, and, oddly, that em­bry­ol­ogy course in­tro­duced other pos­si­bil­i­ties into my life. The other was my post­grad­u­ate year at UC Berke­ley, with Ju­dith But­ler as my su­per­vi­sor. Ju­dith’s in­tel­lec­tual, po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal gen­eros­ity are un­par­al­leled, and she has set the bar im­pos­si­bly high for me.”

Asked about the po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of aca­demics, Rot­ten­berg notes that “in the UK, uni­ver­si­ties have been ne­olib­er­alised in ways that I never ex­pe­ri­enced in Is­rael…I think that mem­bers of the univer­sity com­mu­nity – staff and stu­dents – have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to push back against this process, which, iron­i­cally, has con­trib­uted in no small part to this coun­try’s men­tal health epi­demic. I want to be­lieve that we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to think, the­o­rise and write (and the po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist in me will say, protest and mo­bilise) around the dif­fi­cult and ter­ri­fy­ing is­sues that we face: im­mi­nent en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe, wars in the Mid­dle East and else­where, in­ten­si­fy­ing in­equal­ity and in­creas­ing pre­car­ity for more peo­ple across the globe.”

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