Ethan Dunn '21

Rising senior Ethan Dunn wants you to question what you’re told, even if it means questioning him.

Tenacious in both his curiosity and eagerness to critique the zeitgeist, Dunn is spending his summer dispelling the “myth of capitalism.” Working through a philosophical and historical lens, he plans to analyze shifts in American labor organization from the 1950s through the 1980s, which follows a period of relatively left-wing labor movements. Dunn’s adviser is Thomas Wilson, the Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of History.

According to Dunn, “The Cold War produces this new way of thinking about capitalism” and serves as a foundation for American society’s current attitude toward capitalism. He altogether hopes to offer a more critical look into one of today’s most pervasive institutions.

Dunn outlined three main components of his project. First, he’ll address the theoretical element of research, which concerns historiography and the ways in which he is collecting and managing information. Then, he plans to do more historical research, wherein he is considering working through archives in Washington D.C. The final aspect of his research will involve looking at the culture that comes out of the Cold War, which will entail reading spy novels and classic movies from the time period, like James Bond.                

ethan Dunn ’20

Majors:  philosophy and history

Hometown: Tenafly, N.J.

High school:  Tenafly High School

read about other student research 

Theorist Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism inspired much of Dunn’s research project. Dunn draws on Fisher’s notion that “reality is fundamentally capitalist” but notes that Fisher lacks a “historical narrative that showed us how that happened.” He intends to provide a contextual background for how capitalism has become ingrained in society. Dunn said that Capitalist Realism and its absence of historical application is what ultimately inspired him to design his research project.

For Dunn, the most exciting part of his project is disrupting previously held beliefs about capitalism in the modern world. To him, dismantling a system that seems inherent to humanity will help him demonstrate alternatives to capitalism. “It’s a breaking down ... of capitalism and trying to set a ground for something new to be built up,” Dunn said. “I’m basically looking at these discrete political techniques that ultimately develop and discipline people into believing that capitalism is the only viable economic system.”

Dunn also did research at Hamilton last summer. Originally a philosophy major and now a philosophy and history double major, he focused his previous project solely on philosophy and he spent most of his time “just reading books and connecting ideas.” While this motivated him to pursue this summer’s project, he acknowledged that adding a historical component demands more from him as a researcher. Still, he finds the application of philosophy to be fulfilling and relevant to understanding and evaluating society.

Ethan Dunn is one of 200 Hamilton students who are conducting summer research or completing an internship supported by the College.

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