Prestigious CNRS Grant Supports Timely ‘Norms of Life’ Research

November 30, 2022

Graduate Center faculty are part of an international project that examines the origins and implications of the norms that shape the way we live or expect to live.

Norms of Life Grants to Alyson Cole
As part of an international research project, Graduate Center faculty will examine topics such as what is “normal” and how people are adjusting to a “new normal” in the face of a pandemic, war, and other disruptions. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

As people adjust to their altered lives and routines amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as ongoing war, increasingly frequent natural disasters, worldwide political upheaval, and other unsettling disruptions, a popular term has emerged: the new normal. But what is “normal”?

Graduate Center faculty are part of a timely, international, interdisciplinary research project that will examine this question and related ones in an investigation of the norms of life, their impact, and origins. The “Norms of Life” project merited a prestigious €100,000, five-year International Network of Research (GDRI) grant from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) — the French state research organization.

CUNY scholars will participate in the project with prominent humanities and social science scholars from Doshisha University (Japan); Harvard University; Johns Hopkins University; Oxford University; Picardie-Jules-Verne (France); Sorbonne 1 (France); and the University of Cape Town (South Africa).

“This research project questions the meanings of what are usually considered standards of life,” said Professor Alyson Cole (GC/Queens College, Political Science, Liberal Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies), a principal investigator of the grant. She added, “Norms may be matters of decorum — unarticulated rules that make human coexistence less volatile — or they can be learned and adopted proactively — the product of self-reflexivity. But normativity can also be deployed to pathologize difference by creating a divide between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal.’”

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Over the course of five years, the grant will make possible approximately 20 workshops hosted by the participating universities.

The project will launch with an event at CUNY in late April 2023 titled “Returning to ‘Normal’? Life After the Pandemic.” Scholars will address why people express wanting to return to so-called normal life after recent disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, war, ecological and other disasters, sexual and racial violence, and forms of authoritarian populism. Specifically, participants will examine the roots of this aspiration, to what extent it’s generative or regressive, and whether there are better ways to conceive of restoration and repair.

Joining Cole on the CUNY leadership team are Distinguished Professor Glenn Burger (GC/Queens, English), Distinguished Professor Susan Buck-Morss (Political Science), and Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate Be Stone (Political Science).

This is the second time that CUNY is part of a project funded by the National Center for Scientific Research. An earlier project, “Vulnerable and Dynamic Forms of Life,” spanned from 2015 to 2020.

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