Lectures by Faculty

The Arduous Path of Refugees in the Changing Landscape of Asylum

Didier Fassin
James D. Wolfensohn Professor, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study
April 3, 2013

An institution dating from antiquity whose formal recognition culminates with the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, asylum has been confronted with a dramatic increase in applicants during the past century. However, this burden has been unevenly distributed worldwide: refugees are massively concentrated in camps of the global South, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, whereas asylum seekers are selected via a form of casuistry in the global North, under the pressure of growing suspicion toward so-called bogus refugees.

Drawing on ten years of research, this lecture by Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Science, examines the significant changes to the conception of the right to asylum in recent decades and the ordeal faced by applicants as they go through complex administrative and judiciary procedures in an attempt to have their status acknowledged. Beyond the study of the refugee problem, the analysis proposes an inquiry into the question of truth—that of the asylum seekers as well as that of contemporary societies in their endeavor to define and circumscribe the responsibility to protect the victims of violence.

Derandomizing BPL?

Avi Wigderson
School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study
February 26, 2013

I will survey some of the basic approaches to derandomizing Probabilistic Logspace computations, including the "classical" Nisan, Impagliazzo-Nisan-Widgerson and Reingold-Raz generators, the Saks-Zhou algorithm and some more recent approaches. We'll see why each falls short of complete derandomization, BPL=L, hopefully motivating further work on this basic problem.

(Ancient) History on Screen

Oliver Stone
Institute for Advanced Study
January 30, 2013

From the very beginnings of cinematography, themes from the ancient world and the Bible have provided directors and screenwriters with inspiration. The representation of ­antiquity in the movies, and more generally in pop culture, is now a ­stimulating field of research within classical studies. In the last decade, perhaps no film has attracted so much ­interest and debate among ­historians and classicists as Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004). In this talk, Stone discusses his ­experience making this movie, its challenges, and, more ­generally, his approach to historical themes.

A panel discussion and a question-and-answer session follow the talk. The panel, chaired by Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics in the School of Historical Studies, also includes two current Members, Nathanael Andrade, Assistant Professor of Ancient History at the University of Oregon, and Yannis Hamilakis, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton, and the acclaimed director and film historian Gary Leva.

The Frontiers and Limits of Science

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor
Institute for Advanced Study
October 17, 2012

Every day, at the Institute for Advanced Study and elsewhere, scientists and scholars are exploring the frontiers of knowledge, from the structure of the universe to the patterns of human thought. But what is the shortest path from A to B, if you do not know where B is? History teaches us that the first step is often a step sideways, away from the beaten path. Successful research is therefore an endless cycle of imagination and concentration, of playing and thinking. However, in a time that stimulates and rewards mostly short-term thinking and direct applications, the opportunity to freely explore such original ideas is getting more and more constrained. These limits to science devalue our society and hamper the long-term solutions of the world’s most pressing problems. A possible way out could be a broader understanding and appreciation of the fundamental values of the pursuit of knowledge, such as experimentation, imagination, reflection, criticism, and openness, in particular among younger generations.