Monday, February 17, 2014

Feminist, Toxic, Vampiric, Killjoys to the Rescue: Resilience and Perception in James and Ahmed

Two blog posts today that work well together, and I suggest you read them.

The first, from Robin James, "Toxic: on race, gender, and resilient labor on social media." (h/t Peter). The excerpts I am going to post from James and Ahmed do not excuse from actually reading the original posts. Okay, as Robin James argues in her post:
A similar claim has been (in)famously leveled against “feminism,” especially “intersectional feminism”: it vampirically drains the lifeblood of the progressive, radical left. [...] Resilience is a specific form of subjectification that normalizes individuals and groups so that they efficiently perform the cultural, affective, and social labor required to maintain and reproduce a specific configuration of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. More simply, resilience is the practice that makes you a cog in the machine of social reproduction. [...] In both essays, feminists, especially feminists of color, are tasked with manufacturing the raw materials–negative affects like guilt or anxiety–on which “good” subjects labor, and, through that labor, generate human capital (e.g., radical cred, moral/political goodness, proper femininity, and so on). They bring us down so we can then perform our upworthiness for liking, favoriting, clicking, sharing audiences. Resilience is part of the means of production, and the “toxicity” of WOC feminists is the first step in this supply chain. Black women do the labor of generating the toxicity that then becomes the raw material upon which white women work; white women do the affective/emotional labor of overcoming, which then translates into tangible employment (writing gigs, etc.). [...] Social media is, at least in part, an affective economy of upworthiness. Resilience generates both human capital and capital capital (often in the form of data that’s sold to third parties or targeted advertising). It distributes gendered, racialized labor in very specific ways: white women overcome the damage produced by women of color, thus cleansing teh interwebs and making it a sparkly, feel-good place for everyone else…just like moms always do. This also produces a hell of a lot of money and privilege for white women and MRWaSP capitalism in general.

Now, as Sara Ahmed argues in "The Problems of Perception":
When you expose a problem you pose a problem.  I have been thinking more about this problem of how you become the problem because you notice a problem. For example, when you make an observation in public that all the speakers for an event are all white men, or all but one, or all the citations in an academic paper are to all white men, or all but a few, these observations are often treated as the problem with how you are perceiving things (you must be perceiving things!). A rebuttal is often implied: these are the speakers or writers would just happen to be there; they happen to be white men but to make this about that would be to assume that they are here because of that. And so: by describing a gathering as ‘white men,’ we are then assumed to be imposing certain categories on bodies, reducing the heterogeneity of an event; solidifying through our own description something that is fluid. For example: I pointed out recently on Facebook that all the speakers for a Gender Studies conference were white. Someone replied that my statement did not recognise the diversity of the speakers. When perceiving whiteness is a way of not perceiving diversity, then diversity became a way of not perceiving whiteness. [...]  When you perceive a problem your perception becomes the problem. [...]  This is why the feminist killjoy remains such a negative stereotype (we affirm her given this negation): as if feminists are speaking out because they are miserable; or if feminism is an obstacle to our own happiness, such that she is what is in the way (feminism: how women get in the way of ourselves). It is implied that you would become well-adjusted if you could just adjust yourself to this world. Smile! The task then becomes self-modification: you have to learn not to perceive a problem; you have to let things fall. [...]  What organizes this shock is the presumption that the perception is problem: that the perception is wrong. According to this logic, people have the ‘wrong perception’ when they see the organization as white, elite, male, old-fashioned. In other words, what is behind the shock is a belief that that the organization does not have these qualities: that whiteness is ‘in the image’ rather than ‘in the organization’ as an effect of what it does. Note the phrase ‘issues of perception’ again suggests that perception is the issue. Diversity becomes about changing perceptions of whiteness rather than changing the whiteness of organizations.  I think the final comment ‘there are issues of perception amongst certain communities, which are stopping them from reaching us’ is particularly suggestive. The implication is thus that the institution does not reach such communities – that it does not include them – because they perceive the institution as excluding them. The problem of whiteness is implicitly described here not so much as an institutional problem but as a problem with those who are not included by it.

Again, read both the blog posts in the full, but I am sure you see how these are working together. In both cases we see an explanation about how those who bring up problems are seen as the one who actually have the problems. Somehow the problems do not inhere in the institutions, the movements, the organizations and organizers (never the organizers!), but rather they inhere in those who notice and bring up the problems. At the same time, those who oppose 'the negativity' get to adopt an attitude. They get to be the ones who are free of ressentiment, they are the ones who get to be cool, who get to truly radical (or liberal, where that is not a dirty word). And I am in no way saying I am free of ressentiment, or cool, or truly radical. Indeed, are any of us? Are these the things you get to individually? And at the same time, you get such good scapegoats out those killjoys. Is the fact that you are exhausted because the movement/revolution/institution did not succeed in the way you would like? Well, that failure is because the killjoys are creating stumbling blocks. They aren't forwarding their criticisms privately or appropriately (constructively?). I have written about this before in vegan movements. The failure of the movements become excuses for purging ourselves of those who are not true believers. Who are not thoroughly in revolutionary solidarity and/or universal sisterhood/fraternity. And suddenly those vampiric killjoys become the reason that our will/desire is not strong enough to reshape the world. Is there really anything more fucked up than thinking it is women and/or people of color who are keeping you from having your revolution?

EDIT: I meant to link to this as well, but I just forgot. In addition to Robin James on resilience, you should make sure to to check out this post from Jeremy Crampton, which includes several citations and commentary. Very helpful.

Monday, February 10, 2014

On nonnative species (aka "invasive" species)

I am currently trying to finish an article on nonnative species. What follows is a small blog post about some of the issues around nonnative species. However, I have been provoked to write this article/post by conversations with (and resources shared), by Kevin C, Vasile S, and Matthew R (I didn't get their permission, so I am not including last names right now).

"Human beings shorten all food chains in the web, eliminate most intermediaries and focus all biomass flows on themselves. Whenever an outside species tries to insert itself into one of these chains, to start the process of complexification again, it is ruthlessly expunged as a 'weed' (a term that includes 'animal weeds' such as rats and mice)." --Manuel Delanda, A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, p.108. Emphasis in the original.

(1) Issues surrounding nonnative species (both plants and animals), is one of the perennial questions in environmental ethics, environmental studies, resource and animal management, and a variety of other fields concerned with the environment. I will also be the first to admit that the issue is complex. However, despite the complexity, it is also an issue that is often spoken of in the most apocalyptic tones and terminology. We can get this in the more common term of invasive species.  Tim Low has argued, "As any invasion biologist will tell you it’s a threat more ominous than the greenhouse effect, indus- trial pollution or ozone depletion" (Feral Futures, p. 295. Cited in Nigel Clark's "The Demon-Seed"). And as Chew and Carroll have pointed out in their op-ed in The Scientist, "invasion biology, like epidemiology, is a discipline explicitly devoted to destroying that which it studies.  This necessarily constrains its research program and colors its communications, both internal and external, in very particular ways." In other words, the hyperbolic communication around nonnative species allows us only hyperbolic reactions. We can have a relationship to nonnative species that is only permanent war or total eradication.

(2) A lot needs to be unpacked when we talk about nonnative species being a problem. What makes a nonnative species a problem? A lot of lip service gets paid to ecological balance, but that isn't really a thing (ecology not having much to do with balance, hippies be damned). Sometimes by problems we mean problems for humans -- that certain species eat our gardens, run onto our roads, or attack our pets. These are issues, but are they really issues of nonnative species? So, when we say that an animal species is negatively impacting the ecosystem, what does that mean? Are we complaining about, for example, a decrease in species richness?  Mark Sagoff does a good job on the complexity of talking about harm when we talk about nonnative species, especially with the question begging that certain definitions of harm are used.

(3) This is why the issue of nonnative speices is often overstated. For the most part what we see is the occasional issue of nonnative species being used to justify a vaster belief in the problem of nonnative species. It is a little like pointing to the European colonization of the Americas as reasons to oppose immigration. There are certainly studies exploring the broader question species richness and nonnative species. Which isn't to say this is a settled question in the environmental science literature, but at the same time these are not cranks, there are real debates around species richness and nonnative species.

(4) Also, just as we know that immigration does not usually hurt jobs and resources, it usually helps it (again, not universally), we are just now beginning to explore the ways that nonnative species can be used for conservation techniques, something that has been routinely ignored in most studies of nonnative species. For more on this, see this debate: "The Potential Conservation Value of Non-Native Species," "Revisiting, etc", and "Toward a More Balanced View of Non-Native Species."

(5) Why do we tend to focus on the destructive aspects of certain nonnative species, rather than the overall issue around nonnative species? It is here that I find Banu Subramaniam's work particularly on point: there really is something about the language and desire around nonnative species that is rooted in a broader xenophobia.  This isn't anti-realism, but the sort of basic situated knowledge questions that an early Donna Haraway raises. There are really good reasons to look at the ways that this stuff gets framed in order to understand research programs and policies, particularly to understand which ones get attention, funding, and support. On that last point in particular, see Helmreich's "How Scientists Think; About 'Natives,' for Example."

(6) If everything of 1-5 is correct, then I think we can agree with Paul Robbins that "It is not
species, but sociobiological networks that are invasive."  That is to say that nonnative species are not only questions of ethics, but also politics and policy. You know, constructivist political ecology. Not that ethics will not be a part of those issues, but we could in the short term engage in management systems that are not principally non-lethal, and in the long term target sociobiological networks as opposed to individual species. But, of course, that is not where we are in terms of political will. There is no real desire to discover, spend money on, and implement these sorts of management systems.

One of the reasons that we do not spend time on developing non-lethal management techniques, and one of the reasons we spend a lot of time publicizing the problems of nonnative species, is that people like hunting, they like killing, and they like eating meat. While Chamayou's work is horribly anthropocentric, I think his arguments about a cynegetic power (hunting power), is right on. Likewise, if you look into MacKenzie's The Nature of Empire, you see the strong connection that hunting has to conservation. Conservation has been stapled to hunting for a long time. And what we need now is not conservation. We need ecological or ecofeminist constructivism, not more natural conservationism. One that can honor and respond to what Lori Gruen has called the wild dignity of nonnative species.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Katerina Kolozova "Solidarity in Suffering with the Non-Human"

Here is a recording of Katerina Kolozova's talk "Solidarity in Suffering with the Non-Human," delivered at D.U.S.T. on June 24th, 2013. In it, Kolozova uses the real of suffering as the basis of creating a non-colonizing and non-identarian universality, and that universality extends to the non-human. She engages the work of Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and Fran├žois Laruelle in order to advance her argument. It's really good, and I highly suggest you take the time to listen to it.

One other note, I have not read much of Laruelle. And, I am sure many of you remember claims made a few years ago that there was really no there there with Laruelle. While I have not really read Laruelle, we are seeing an amazing production of works by people who have taken Laruelle seriously. If you look at Kolozova's new book, Cut of the Real, John Mullarkey's Post-Continental Philosophy, and Anthony Paul Smith's A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature you see smart and groundbreaking work being thought seriously through, alongside, and against Laruelle. Also, interesting, all three of the people I just mentioned take seriously the non-human as well (including the non-human animal).