Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oppression and Thing-Power: Some Thoughts on Robin James' Thoughts on Vibrant Matter

I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. -- Frantz Fanon, Black Skins/White Masks, p. 77

Robin James has two great posts up over at her place (here and here) on Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, and you need to go read those. It's fine, do it now, we'll wait.

Oh good, you read it? Awesome.

So, I started trying to write one long post responding, and that got unwieldy. So, instead I am going to focus on one argument in her post, and ideally I will go back and respond to other bits of James' post. However, if you go and look through my blog titles, you will see a lot of "Part I"s and very few "Part II"s. So, the likelihood that I get around to responding to every part I want to seems small.

So, before we go further, I want to say some thing about how I come to this topic. For a while now, I have been trying to think through four different types of philosophical positions. The first is poststructuralist positions found in thinkers like Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Kelly Oliver, etc. The second is new materialist/constructivist positions found in thinkers like Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, etc. The third is decolonial and anti-racist positions found in thinkers like Maria Lugones, Angela Davis, Gloria Anzaldua, etc. And lastly the work of ecofeminists found in thinkers like Lori Gruen, Carol Adams, Chris Cuomo, etc. There are, of course, plenty of thinkers who fit in more than one of those categories (Spivak, Sara Ahmed, Stacy Alaimo, etc.). But the important part is that these four positions often exist in tension with each other, and I don't always have easy answers to those tensions. So, the goal here is to blog out loud about some of the different tensions that James' posts raises for me. One other preliminary point: I am not particularly interested here in some sort of defense of Bennett per se. So, occasionally James' posts seem to move from discussing Bennett and vital materialism, to indicating a criticism of broader understandings of new materialism. And I what I am trying to do here is try to mobilize some of the things I think are helpful or interesting from new materialism (including Bennett). So, this has less to do with disagreeing with James, and more to do with my trying to clarify to myself some of the tensions in my own work. And there is a lot I don't disagree with James about. For example, when James argues:
So while Bennett says “I cannot envision any polity so egalitarian that important human needs, such as health or survival, would not take priority” (104), I’m arguing, via Beauvoir, that precisely what we need to do is de-center the human in practice as well as in theory. And that will probably feel like “death” to those of us accustomed to having our health and survival more-or-less fully supported by the state, by capital, by patriarchal white supremacy, and so on.
I agree in advance.

On the issue of Ideal Theory/Oppression. 

Okay, there is a lot going on here, and I am having trouble with the argument. There seems to be two ways that oppression is working here. One is that oppressed people actually make less of a difference on the world, because of the structures of their oppression. The other concerns this word legible. That would seem to indicate that oppressed people make as much (if not more) difference in the world, it is merely that their difference is disavowed. So, if we take the concrete example given:
For example, women have always practiced creative arts, but for most of history (and arguably even still today) creative genres that were predominantly by and/or for women–needlepoint, chick lit, etc.–have been seen as something other than “real” or “fine” art (see Parker & Pollock’s “Old Mistresses” for an early version of this argument). Women’s work doesn’t really “count” as such–the situation of patriarchy prohibits them from positive development, so to speak.
Okay, so in this example women are producing art, but their art is disavowed as mere craft. This is why there are quotations marks around the word count, right? Because of course important art is being done by women in this example. So, if we mean oppressed people's differences are disavowed, it would strike me that theories that try to undo disavowals of who and what makes a difference would be at least a move in the right direction. So if we follow Beauvoir in saying that oppressed people are turned into things, doesn't the move to talk about thing-power mean that the productions of the oppressed become more legible? This leads us into the discussion of Ranciere's critique post-political consensus.

 Okay, so James makes the following comment after quoting Ranciere:
Universal envoicement actually is “not the liberation” from silencing but the “loss” (Disagreement 102) of political mechanisms for addressing oppression. In giving voice to all matter, is Bennett disappearing vital materialism’s constitutive outside (the out-out-side, so to speak) behind a claim for universal envoicement?
There is something to this, but what does one do with Ranciere's support for declarations of rights? If we look at his article, "Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?," we see Ranciere supporting declarations of equality of anyone to anyone. Why? Because, to use a phrase from his On the Shores of Politics, it provides the part that has no part opportunities to create syllogisms of emancipation. The syllogism follows this way, This declaration claims we are all equal, this incident of oppression shows us not being equal, therefore something has to change to make us equal. In other words, universal declarations of equality are important because they allow the chance to produce the logic of tort, to force a recognition of the wrong to come to the fore. This, of course, is also a response to James' critique of the politics of exception. It seems to me that Ranciere would believe that a formal declaration of equality is better than a formal exclusion because at least we would have a better chance of recognizing the wrong in the latter. In the same way, I think that affirming the power of things and nonhuman actors provides us with a chance to recognize those beings who have been disavowed. What matters is refusing to close the political order, and staying open to the reality that our distribution of the sensible needs to change. That there will always exist beings that remain from any account, and that resist the counting order.

And that brings us to the amazing opening line of Fred Moten's In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, where he writes, "The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist." In the introduction of that book, Moten speaks of "animative materiality" (p. 7) and "animateriality" (p. 18). I do not think it would be wrong to say that Moten is forwarding an argument that could be read as part of new materialism. I want to forward this argument a little more by looking at a passage from Moten's later essay, "The Case of Blackness." In it, at one point Moten is exploring the Fanon quotation I used as an epigraph to this post. Moten writes:
What if the thing whose meaning or value has never been found finds things, founds things? What if the thing will have founded something against the very possibility of foundation and against all anti- or post-foundational impossibilities? What if the thing sustains itself in that absence or eclipse of meaning that withholds from the thing the horrific honorific of “object”? At the same time, what if the value of that absence or excess is given to us only in and by way of a kind of failure or inadequacy—or, perhaps more precisely, by way of a history of exclusion, serial expulsion, presence’s ongoing taking of leave—so that the non-attainment of meaning or ontology, of source or origin, is the only way to approach the thing in its informal (enformed/enforming, as opposed to formless), material totality? Perhaps this would be cause for black optimism or, at least, some black operations. Perhaps the thing, the black, is tantamount to another, fugitive, sublimity altogether. Some/thing escapes in or through the object’s vestibule; the object vibrates against its frame like a resonator, and troubled air gets out. The air of the thing that escapes enframing is what I’m interested in—an often unattended movement that accompanies largely unthought positions and appositions. (pp. 181-182)
I'm moving too quickly to give the sort of attention that Moten's texts demand, but I would hope that it might be possible to understand an animative materiality. And this might provide a different way of examining the paradox of both a subject and an object, both a thing and not a thing. And it might also remind us that there is always a fugitive, haunted air that escapes in these vibrating objects.

Okay, two counter-arguments to what I wrote above (remember when I said I am just talking aloud about some tensions that I haven't completely answer to myself yet?)

(1) The movement to try and say, "Well, if oppression proceeds by turning marginalized people into things, then we should understand the power of things" reflects a similar problem that occurs in critiques of humanism within critical animal studies. So, in the beginning of Alexander Weheliye's recent Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human, he argues that animal studies and posthumanism proceed as if Man is a category that all human beings have equal access too, and that the failure to recognize that is not the case undermines their arguments (pp. 9-11). Now, I think he is being a little too dismissive here, but I also think his main point is a serious one. If we look at the tradition of decolonial philosophers like Fanon, Wynter, Césaire, and Maldonado-Torres we see some of the strongest and best critiques of humanism. We also see, however, a constant move to argue for a better humanism, as well. Those of us on the critical animal studies side are always wanting to say something like, "We agree with the critique of humanism, lets move on from there." And this is something I have talked about before (see, for example, here). I don't have a good answer, but I do think that any movement that does not take seriously questions of dignity alongside questions of who has the protection to be able to declare "I am an animal," or "I am an a thing" are going to end up in bad spaces. But, that is still not an answer.

(2) The other critique to what I wrote is linked with the post I made, "The Right of Obscurity Must Be Respected." Making ourselves more attuned to other beings also needs to take into account the sorts of violences that Glissant understood to happen under the idea of comprehension, and also respond to the problem of what Hartman class hypervisibility. There is a type of violence that can come from refusing intersubjective recognition, but there is also a type of violence that can come from refusing the right of opacity (of that air that escapes).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CFP: Panel for When Species Invade at AAG

Call for Papers: Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, 21-25 April 2015, Chicago Illinois
Session Title: When Species Invade: Towards a Political Invasion Ecology.
Session Organizer: Matthew Rosenblum (University of Kentucky), Adam Keul (University of Connecticut- Avery Point)

Scholars from a range of fields loosely organized under the banner of ‘political ecology’ have become increasingly attentive to the lives of non-human actors. Political ecologists in geography have situated their research in sites as diverse as the laboratory and the slaughterhouse, spaces where non-human life is made and unmade, to the end of showing the relevance of non-human bodies in socio-spatial processes. The turn toward affect, experimentation, and liveliness in the ecological humanities and social sciences has produced fruitful accounts of the intimacies involved in ‘when species meet’ but has left much about the being ‘out of place,’ the radically contingent, irredeemably destructive, or so-called invasive species, yet to be said. What has been said is often preoccupied with the existing vocabularies of invasiveness and the ways in which the rhetoric of invasion ecology is linked to rhetoric’s of colonialism, nationalism (Olwig 2003, Groning & Wolschke-Bulmahn 2003), xenophobia (Subramaniam 2001), etc. Of course the link between the discourses of the natural sciences and modes of human marginalization is important since such taxonomic strategies have facilitated “beastly behavior toward the animalized and the naturalized” (Coates 2006; 135). But beyond the narcissistic anthropocentrism which problematizes invasion ecology because of its effect on human communities are the violently excluded bodies of the invasive and the feral. In many ways the popular discussions of invasiveness have abounded to the detriment of exploring questions of how metaphor and discourse motivate agents to act upon the world (Bono 2003) and whether or not those actions are commensurate with a worthwhile ethical framework. After all, “the search for a precise lexicon of terms and concepts in invasion ecology is not driven by concerns for just semantics” (Pyšek et al. 2004; 131), it is about action, and surely a process of categorization that is meant to decide which beings belong and which do not has real, felt, material, consequences. While the discursive focus takes furry, leafy, and other invasive bodies as its object, these beings are, ironically absent. Discussions about what nomenclature is best suited to categorize certain forms of nonhuman life have virtually ignored the fact that the practice of invasion ecology implicates humans as well as nonhumans in an economy of violence directed at the attainment of a certain ecological ideal (Robbins & Moore 2013) through the use of “quarantine, eradication, and control” (Elton [1958] 2000; 110). In this light, even many of the most critically aware scholars has failed to ask questions about the value of invasive lives and whether killing them is in line with a truly political ecology, one that views “ecological systems as power-laden rather than politically inert” (Robbins 2012; 13) and one includes non-human lives as subjects of politics rather than objects.

The aim of this session is to move beyond the mere discourse of invasiveness and explore alternative ways of both politicizing the science and practice of invasion ecology and bringing invasive entities, both alive and dead back into the discussions that implicate them. Topics might include, but should not be limited to:
-Queer critiques of ecological futurism

-Emotional geographies of ecological loss

-The ‘invasavore’ movement

-Non-constructivist approaches to invasiveness

-The biopolitics of invasive species management

-New directions in the discussion of the rhetoric of invasiveness

-The conflict between environmental ethics and animal ethics

-Invasiveness and landscape studies

-Animal Diaspora and non-human mobility

-Political ecologies of bordering

-Hunting power

-Invasiveness and the politics of the Anthropocene

-‘Novel ecologies’ and engagements with scientific concepts such as equilibrium, resilience, etc.  

Anyone interested in participating in this session should send a 250 word abstract to Matthew Rosenblum ( by 15 October 2014. We will notify the authors of selected papers by 20 October 2014 and ask them to register on the AAG website and send us their pin by 1 November 2014.

Bono, J. J. "Why Metaphor? Toward a Metaphorics of Scientific Practice." Science Studies: Probing the Dynamics of Scientific Knowledge. Ed. Sabine Maasen and Matthias Winterhager. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2001. 215-33.
Coates, Peter. American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006
Elton, Charles S. The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. Chicago: U of Chicago, [1958] 2000.
Groning, Gert, and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn. "The Native Plant Enthusiasm: Ecological Panacea or Xenophobia?" Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 75-88.
Olwig, Kenneth R. "Natives and Aliens in the National Landscape." Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 61-74.
Pyšek, Petr, David M. Richardson, Marcel Rejmánek, Grady L. Webster, Mark Williamson, Jan Kirschner, Petr Pysek, and Marcel Rejmanek. "Alien Plants in Checklists and Floras: Towards Better Communication between Taxonomists and Ecologists." Taxon 53.1 (2004): 131.
Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2012.
Robbins, Paul, and S. A. Moore. "Ecological Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosing the Politics of the Anthropocene." Cultural Geographies 20.1 (2013): 3-19.
Subramaniam, Banu. "The Aliens Have Landed! Reflections on the Rhetoric of Biological Invasions." Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 2.1 (2001): 26-40.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CFP: 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North American Conference

14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference
April 17 – 19, 2015 @ Binghamton University
To SUBMIT: e-mail an abstract of no more than 500 words and short bio of no more than 150 words to
The 2015 Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference is inviting papers, presentations, and workshops from scholars, activists, and artists working on ethical and political issues concerning non/human animals alongside the socioeconomic concerns that impact human populations. This year’s venue in Binghamton, NY offers a unique opportunity to investigate the intersections of oppression in a community with a rich history of campaigning for social justice for both non/human and human alike.
Critical Animal Studies as a field has become a powerful canopy for many convergent arenas of thought, politics, scholarship, and activism. In partnership with Binghamton University’s nationally ranked speech and debate program, the conference will seek to explore how the law has both served as an impetus and a hindrance to advancing the cause of social justice. The conference also aims to explore the tactics, strategies, and theories that exist outside legal instruments for change. The goal is to create an effective dialog and collaboration between people with differing viewpoints and opinions and not to create an echo chamber for a single-sided viewpoint on how non/human liberation can be achieved.
Presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length. We are receptive to different and innovative formats including but not limited to panels, performances, workshops, and public debates. You may propose individual or group presentations, but please specify the structure of your proposal. To submit e-mail an abstract of no more than 500 words and short bio of no more than 150 words to by January 10th, 2015. Please be sure to include your name(s), title, organizational affiliation(s), field of study or activism, and A/V needs in your submission.
We welcome presentations, panels, and workshops from a variety of academic and non-academic fields, including but not limited to:
Activism and advocacy
Aesthetic are artistic expressions of liberation theory
Biopolitical thought
Bioscience and biotechnology
Critical legal studies
Critical race theory
Cultural studies
Disability studies
Ecology and environmentalism
Ethics (applied and/or philosophical)
Feminist theory
Film and media studies
Intersectional streams of thought
Literary theory
Non/human liberation
Pedagogical approaches to teaching liberation
Political economy
Politics of incarceration
Postcolonial studies
Poststructuralist theory
Queer theory
For any questions concerning submission relevance, conference details, or in general e-mail us at
We are also interested in soliciting people, groups, and organizations who are interested in tabling during the conference. If interested please contact us. More information concerning tabling will be forthcoming.
Please spread and share this information with anyone who may be interested in submitting or attending. Authors who have worked on edited collections are encouraged to submit panel proposals on the books with contributing authors presenting.

Monday, September 15, 2014

CFP: Kentucky's Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference

The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group invites you to participate in the fifth annual


February 26 – February 28, 2015
University of Kentucky | Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Keynote Address: Dr. Kimberly Tallbear (Anthropology, University of Texas)

Plenary Panel: Dr. Irus Braverman (Law & Geography, University of Buffalo), Dr. Jake Kosek (Geography, University of California, Berkeley) & Dr. Shiloh Krupar (Culture & Politics Program, Georgetown University)

Other conference events include: Paper sessions, Workshops, Round-table discussions, Panels, Undergraduate research symposium, Paper competitions and Field trips.

Online conference registration will open Monday, October 6, 2014 and close on Monday, November 17, 2014. The conference registration fee is $35 for graduate students and $70 for faculty and non-academics/practitioners. There is no fee for undergraduate participants.


The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group strongly encourages participants to organize their own sessions. To organize your own session, please:

1. Draft a call for papers (CFP). For guidance, reference the wide variety of CFPs from last year's conference available via the political ecology working group website.

2. Email your CFP to the political ecology working group at We will help you to circulate your CFP by posting it on our website and via our twitter feed, but you should also distribute it among your colleagues and to relevant disciplinary listservs.

3. When you have finalized the details, please send the Google Form on our website to confirm the final orientation of your panel, including participant names, institutions, abstracts, titles, discussants, organizers, chairs and other relevant information. Please be as detailed as possible and send this information before the final registration deadline, November 17th, 2014.

4. All participants in your session must have registered and paid by the regular registration deadline. As such, we suggest having the deadline to respond to your CFP at least a week prior to the conference registration deadline.

Suggestions and reminders for session organizers:
When thinking about your panel remember that each session is 100 minutes long, and we strictly limit you to two session slots for reasons pertaining to space and time constraints.
Please feel free to think more broadly than traditional paper sessions - consider workshops, panel discussions, lightning talks or other alternative session styles. Please email the political ecology email address if you have questions or concerns about organizing a session.
Also please keep in mind that undergraduates are strongly encouraged to submit their papers to our annual Undergraduate Symposium.
DOPE participants can only present in one paper session, and at the maximum, serve as a discussant or panelist in one additional session. We ask that participants limit themselves to two conference activities at most due to scheduling limitations.


While we strongly encourage participants to submit abstracts in response to CFPs being circulated (see above), we will continue to accept individual abstracts. Abstracts submitted to the conference rather than in response to specific CFPs will be sorted thematically, and are not guaranteed placement in the conference schedule.

Abstracts or proposals should be 200-300 words in length and include titles and three to five keywords.  Please submit only one abstract. The deadline for abstract submissions is the conference registration deadline: Monday, November 17, 2014.

Please visit to register.

Follow us on Twitter at @ukpewg or on Facebook as the University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group.

Please send any questions to the DOPE organizing committee at

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whose Joy? Whose Sadness? Building Livable Communities

How do we build inclusive, joyful communities? I believe that building communities where flourishing, livable lives are possible are important projects for us to undertake. But the ideas of joy and sadness are not given terms.

* * *

Todd May recently weighed in on L'Affaire Cogburn.  In his comments, Todd May wrote:
As Foucault once remarked, one does not have to be sad in order to be militant. One can go further: a sad militancy is one of those ways the left has developed whose major contribution seems to be to increase our marginalization.
Sure, I remember that, from his preface to the english edition of Anti-Oedipus. But May's interpretation here (and perhaps in Foucault's original stance), this assumes we know what joy and sadness are, and that they might be the same thing for the same people.

Let's look at two quick footnotes from Steven Shaviro's excellent book, Without Criteria:
This implies that Whitehead rejects Spinoza’s basic principle of conatus, the claim that “each thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being,” and that this striving is “the actual essence of the thing itself” (de Spinoza 1991, 108: Ethics, Part III, propositions 6 and 7). For Whitehead, things strive not to persist in their own being, but rather to become other than they were, to make some alteration in the “data” that they receive. An entity’s “satisfaction” consists not in persisting in its own being, but in achieving difference and novelty, in introducing something new into the world. (p. 19, n3)
Whitehead’s rejection of Spinoza’s monism in favor of William James’s pluralism goes along with his rejection of Spinoza’s conatus in favor of James’s (and Bergson’s) sense of continual change, becoming or process, or what he also calls creativity. (p. 22, n6)
We could potentially affirm that both are true, that for some joy consists in preservation of the self, and for others joy (or satisfaction) consists in difference and becoming otherwise. And all of this, of course, will change what you see as sad, or joyful, militancy. If you see joy as persisting in your being, than anything that seeks to change how that being interacts and relates, and anyone who seeks to create new relationships, can only be perceived as killjoys.

* * * 

I have written before about Sara Ahmed's provocative and compelling essay, "Feminist Killjoys and other Willful Subjects" (the essay was expanded in The Promise of Happiness, and, Ahmed has just published a new book entitled Willful Subjects).  Ahmed wishes to "take the figure of the feminist killjoy seriously." She goes on to argue:
The figure of the feminist killjoy makes sense if we place her in the context of feminist critiques of happiness, of how happiness is used to justify social norms as social goods (a social good is what causes happiness, given happiness is understood as what is good). As Simone de Beauvoir described so astutely "it is always easy to describe as happy a situation in which one wishes to place [others]." [...] To be involved in political activism is thus to be involved in a struggle against happiness. Even if we are struggling for different things, even if we have different worlds we want to create, we might share what we come up against. Our activist archives are thus unhappy archives. Just think of the labor of critique that is behind us: feminist critiques of the figure of "the happy housewife;" Black critiques of the myth of "the happy slave"; queer critiques of the sentimentalisation of heterosexuality as "domestic bliss." The struggle over happiness provides the horizon in which political claims are made. We inherit this horizon. [...] We can consider the relationship between the negativity of the figure of the feminist killjoy and how certain bodies are "encountered" as being negative. Marilyn Frye argues that oppression involves the requirement that you show signs of being happy with the situation in which you find yourself. As she puts it, "it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signify our docility and our acquiescence in our situation." To be oppressed requires that you show signs of happiness, as signs of being or having been adjusted. For Frye "anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous."
You can see two currents here. The first is that the feminist killjoy, or more generally the activist killjoy, is the one who is constantly struggling against situations that are declared to be happy. The second current is that oppression often demands that the oppressed declare their happiness in their own oppression (we will return to this second current later). The first current allows us to examine May's original quotation in greater context. It comes as part of this whole paragraph:
To add another example, I know people whose general commitments I would call feminist reject that label because they see feminists as angry man-hating types who just want to make men feel bad. Now, of course, I don't lay all that at the doorstep of feminists. The right does an excellent job of slurring feminism. But I have had the experience of being language-policed when it seems to me inappropriate (ex. by people who would never have escorted women into abortion clinics, as I have). And I think this does not do us credit. As Foucault once remarked, one does not have to be sad in order to be militant. One can go further: a sad militancy is one of those ways the left has developed whose major contribution seems to be to increase our marginalization.
The rather odd thing is the lack of transition that takes us from the discussion of feminism to the discussion of sad militants. He does not do the work to posit why someone challenging his discourse (even someone who lacks May's ethos), leads to sadness. But someone is sad here. Is it May? It is the feminist who "language-policed" him? There exists an ambiguity of where the sadness comes from, and who it is affecting. This leads us to this great blog post by Ahmed. In it, Ahmed argues that when someone points out a problem, it is often the person who perceives the problem who is then perceived by others as the problem. Another long quotation:
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. [...]  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. 
This last point from Ahmed is interesting and useful. Namely, there is something strangely perverse about the demand that people be joyful in intolerable situations. Of course, such demands for resilience are rather commonplace these days.

* * *

Resilience is rapidly becoming one of the key ways of understanding present ways of governing the world. Robin James has taken up the concept of resilience in understanding how feminism and anti-racism on social media is seen as 'toxic' and 'vampiric.'
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.)
This narrative of overcoming can be seen in the way that those who are concerned with inclusive language are labeled as policing language, engaging in newspeak, score-keeping, and political correctness. This posits those who are attacking inclusive language as being rebels, truth tellers, concerned about the issues and philosophy. And the failure of social justice movements get laid at the feet of those who want inclusivity. Yet, I really do believe both groups want to create joyful communities.

* * *

The struggle to build communities that create livable lives is not an easy one. And I do believe that many complicated questions about how to go about building such communities are ahead of us. But, a lot of this discussion is centered around the notion of calling out. Let us look at Todd May's last paragraph:
This last bit should not be taken to mean that we should never confront people on their language. My point is rather that in the question of whether to confront, a little judgment is called for, and perhaps a little fellow feeling for people whose behavior actually puts them in the right (i.e. left) camp. It's one thing to call out a racist who uses an offensive racial stereotype. It's quite another to call out someone who aligns her behavior with a sensitivity to LGBT issues and, among a set of like-minded friends, calls something "gay." We are none of us moral saints (thank goodness), and, if our politics are in the right place, I think we can afford to let some things go. (To be sure, language can shape perception. But not all instances of it do.) And alternatively, we need to be aware that not letting certain things go is no substitute for committed political work.
I want to address the last point, first. I am not sure how many people confine their only work to not letting things go on the internet. I am sure there are some. But because many of us primarily only meet each other in our words (I have only briefly met in person only one person I have cited or talked about in this post), it can seem like all we do is reflect on language. Building communities can never be about just getting the language right. I agree with May on this point. But I do believe if we are going to create the sort of inclusive and joyful communities we want, we have to affirm the right to be to those we include. And for people that society has systemically learned to unhear, unsee, and unknow (or to only hear, see, and know in particular pregiven narratives), creating spaces where different narratives can be understood is not a given. And sometimes it is going to require getting the language right. But let us look at May's other point, that we shouldn't call out people whose politics are in the right place, maybe the dialectic is not one of either calling people out or letting things go.

A comment on the original blog post by Cogburn written by "anonladygrad" suggested an article, "Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable," written by Ngọc Loan Trần and published on Black Girl Dangerous. They write:
Because when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed. I picture “calling in” as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes; a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal. And yes, we have been configured to believe it’s normal to punish each other and ourselves without a way to reconcile hurt. We support this belief by shutting each other out, partly through justified anger and often because some parts of us believe that we can do this without people who fuck up. But, holy shit! We fuck up. All of us. 
I fully admit to having been called out (and called in) on all sorts of statements, beliefs, and behaviors in my life. Sometimes it has been over stuff that I still passionately think I was right on. Sometimes it has been stuff that was incredibly awful for to have said or done, and I have mumbled excuses and apologies, and felt more than a little shame. And sometimes, I have been called out on stuff, and been sure of my rightness, that I got very defensive. And it wasn't until later that I realized I was in the wrong. In general, I have been gifted with friends, colleagues, and mentors who have been incredibly generous to me. They have understood my mistakes, and have often called me in. They have put up with my bullshit, or confusion, or the sort of epistemic parallax that does not let me understand the weight and scars of certain histories, words, and knowledges. And because they are truly generous, they didn't just put up with, but worked to change me, and in so doing gave me the sort of joy and satisfaction that comes from difference and becoming otherwise. They didn't have to do that. Far too often we expect the most marginalized members of our society to have to constantly explain and justify the necessity of their existence. And I hope we can fumble together, to build different worlds, different futures, and different narratives.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

CFP: Latina* Vegan Anthology

Lantern Books is looking for non-academic personal stories from Latina* vegans. I got this link originally from Hana Low's great blog post on this, and so I highly suggest reading it. Below is the call for papers from Lantern Books:

What makes our experiences as Latinas possibly different than others? Or have you found it to be harder to be a Latina in the vegan world?

Lantern Books is looking for contributors to an anthology on the experience of being both Latina and vegan. Time for our voices to be heard!

Your piece should be a personal story rather than an academic paper—you don’t need any footnotes or references. Rather than a chronological recounting of how you became vegan, feel free to write about connections between your veganism and your culture, or any conflicts. You can write about animal welfare/animal rights, your experiences in activism, food justice, worker’s rights, sustainability, or how you have woven family recipes into vegan masterpieces.

For example, one contributor relates the racism encountered while working in animal rescue:

Living in a low-income area, I often acquired stray animals or animals from a plethora of problematic situations such as neglect, abuse, and backyard breeders. When I reached out to the animal rescue community for help, the first thing I often heard was, “The owners are Hispanic, right?” It was not until I was involved in this world that I began to understand some of the sentiments that motivated the anger toward these people, toward my people. The situation was so overwhelming that at times it was easy to fall into the these people discourse. But I knew better, I was these people.
Another contributor talks about the food made by the women in her family:

In my family food was, and still is, a token of affection and love. If we weren’t feeling well, my mom’s caldo was the cure. My great-grandmother, Abuelita Martina, would say, “Always keep salsa on your table, mija. It’s our secret to looking young.” And my grandma’s tortillas could always make everything right in my world. As a Chicana, I felt like I was rejecting all that these women had given me by going vegan. As though I was judging them and their ways by refusing their dishes. But I wasn’t judging them by no longer wanting to contribute to a social construct that I found heartbreaking, or at least I wasn’t intending to.
To get more ideas, please refer to Lantern’s 2010 anthology SISTAH VEGAN: Black, Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society.
Please submit pieces of writing that are between 2,500 and 5,000 words.

Regrettably, we cannot offer payment, but royalties from sales of the book will go to Food Empowerment Project (

Please send your questions and submissions to

*We are using the term Latina to refer to those with Mexican, Central and South American, and Caribbean backgrounds. If you don’t love the term “Latina” but this description fits you, tell us all about it in writing!

Monday, September 8, 2014

We do not all desire the same futures

After the last 24 hours, several of you may be more interested in disability studies. There are many excellent places to start, but I might suggest you start with Alison Kafer's beautifully written Feminist, Queer, Crip.

Fellow rehab patients, most of whom were elderly people recovering from strokes or broken hips, saw equally bleak horizons before me. One stopped me in the hallway to recommend suicide, explaining that life in a wheelchair was not a life worth living [...] Although I may believe I am leading an engaging and satisfying life, they can see clearly the grim future that awaits me: with no hope of a cure in sight, my future cannot be anything but bleak. Not even the ivory tower of academia protected me from these dismal projections of my future: once I made it to graduate school, I had a professor reject a paper proposal about cultural approaches to disability; she cast the topic as inappropriate because insufficiently academic. As I prepared to leave her office, she patted me on the arm and urged me to “heal,” suggesting that my desire to study disability resulted not from intellectual curiosity but from a displaced need for therapy and recovery. My future, she felt, should be spent not researching disability but overcoming it. [...] If disability is conceptualized as a terrible unending tragedy, then any future that includes disability can only be a future to avoid. A better future, in other words, is one that excludes disability and disabled bodies; indeed, it is the very absence of disability that signals this better future. The presence of disability, then, signals something else: a future that bears too many traces of the ills of the present to be desirable. In this framework, a future with disability is a future no one wants, and the figure of the disabled person, especially the disabled fetus or child, becomes the symbol of this undesired future. To want a disabled child, to desire or even to accept disability in this way, is to be disordered, unbalanced, sick. “We” all know this, and there is no room for “you” to think differently. It is this presumption of agreement, this belief that we all desire the same futures, that I take up in this book. (pp. 1-3). 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The burden of canons & the freedom of philistines: Undoing Eurocentric civilization

"Go out upon the street; choose ten white men and ten colored men. Which can carry on and preserve American civilization?"
The whites.
"Well, then."
You evidently consider that a compliment.
-- W. E. B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: Toward An Autobiography of a Race Concept, p. 146.  

I am teaching two sections of Intro to Philosophy this semester. I recently sat and figured out that half of the days I am teaching material written by women and/or philosophers of color. I was kinda proud of myself. But, you know, it is not like white men make up anything close to 50 percent of the global population, nor have they produced half of the world's philosophy. The only way one could feel proud of producing a syllabus with 50% non-white men is by adopting the worse standards of what should be included. That is to say, the standards of including what everyone else includes, which got us here in the first place. And yet, I will admit, it was kinda hard to get to even 50%. I feel constrained by what I feel I should be teaching my students, and feeling like everyone expects them to have read things that other people will recognize as important texts in intro. I feel sometimes like I would be letting down my students if they left my class, and couldn't at least talk about some of the stuff everyone would expect them to have read. They should be able to have at least something in common with everyone else in philosophy. At least a few things--a little Plato and a little Descartes, spiced with Nietzsche.

As a matter of fact, it becomes really hard to imagine a course that reduces white men (and white people in general, and men in general) to something resembling demographics of the world. Or perhaps harder still, it is hard to imagine the sort of person who would design such a course. What person could get rid of all the beautiful texts that inform the culture around us?

* * *

I have increasing become interested in what could be called negative conceptual personas. These are ways of understanding the world that consist of figures and attitudes that have normally been abjected; seen as beings who must be repressed, resisted, and preferably destroyed. To cite at least a few examples there is the clown of Adorno, the idiot of Deleuze and Guattari and furthered in Isabelle Stengers, the concept of stupidity in Avital Ronell and furthered in Jacques Derrida. These are figures that can serve to slow everything down, that can ask questions whose answers everyone knows and that goes without saying. The idiot, for example, might be resistant to the urgent syllogism of the national security state. You know the one, "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore this must be done."  But there is more that such negative conceptual personas might allow.

Often, when I am telling colleagues that we need to include less eurocentric work in our introduction to philosophy classes, and undergraduate classes in general, I am often told things like, "No one here knows how to teach outside of the Western tradition." Or I am told things like, "It is great that you are bringing in all of those different traditions, but I am not trained in that." They say it like it is destiny, like a law of nature. They say these excuses like there is no way to change. I am not asking them to do scholarship in those areas (though, it would be nice), or to provide graduate courses on these areas (though, again). All I am saying is to incorporate diverse thinkers and texts in your undergraduate courses. But I realize that for many of these people, what they are afraid of is transforming from the sage on the stage into the fool on the hill. That is, they are not just saying they don't really think those areas and thinkers matter, and that they are unwilling to spend even a little bit of extra time to make a more pluralistic syllabus. They are also deeply afraid of appearing stupid in front of their students. Sometimes things don't change without a bit of a stupidity and an army of fools.

One of the works that I have been obsessed with since it came out, is Malcolm Bull's Anti-Nietzsche. This is a book in which the main protagonists are all negative conceptual personas. The heroes of the book are the losers. Indeed, Bull challenges us to read like losers. He explains, "In order to read like a loser, you have to accept the argument, but to turn its consequences against yourself. So, rather than thinking of ourselves as dynamite, or questioning Nietzsche’s extravagant claim, we will immediately think (as we might if someone said this to us in real life) that there may be an explosion; that we might get hurt; that we are too close to someone who could harm us. Reading like losers will make us feel powerless and vulnerable" (p. 36). Another hero of Bull's book is the philistine. As Bull reminds us, the anarchist and atheist were originally created by others as terms to attack their enemies. Originally, no one self-styled themselves anarchists or atheists. "In the sixteenth century, therefore, atheism, like philistinism today, was everywhere condemned but nowhere to be found. Yet by denouncing atheism, theologians mapped out an intellectual position for their phantom adversaries that was eventually filled by people who actually espoused the arguments the theologians had given them" (p. 8). The philistine, for those of you who remember your Nietzsche, "is the antithesis of a son of the muses, of the artist, of the man of genuine culture" (Untimely Meditations).   But I want to follow up the question that Bull asks later (though our answers will be different from his), "Could something as inherently unpromising as philistinism be an opening to anything at all? And if so, where are philistinism's new seas?" (p. 26).

* * *

Back in February (I know in blogging time that is the dark ages), Jon Cogburn at NewApps asked for reading suggestions for trying to get analytically trained philosophers to understand some of the stakes of what is going on in continental philosophy. Here is the original thread, and here is the follow-up thread.  A somewhat sad and predictable pattern occurs at first, with almost exclusively male and white names being suggested for being read. However, this changes as Robin James, Peter Gratton, Ed Kazarian, and whole host of excellent anonymous commentators suggest a variety of readings, and make a strong case for prioritizing diversity in readings, rather than reducing the analytic and continental divide as the only one in philosophy, and a debate that is principally between white dudes. Jon Cogburn explains that he is "Let me reiterate that in the extended sense of 'pluralist' I think that a pluralist reading group would not be nearly as helpful. Since we're all busy, we don't have time to study everything under the sun. Given these strong constraints it makes sense to read books that will help analytics best understand the maximum number of talks at SPEP that they would otherwise not understand given their poor training in so many important areas of philosophy. Philosophy of race, Africana philosophy, American Pragmatism, feminism, or the new pluralist philosophy of mind (all things suggested above) in general would be poor subject matters with a group with this as an end-goal. German Idealism and Phenomenology are very good subject matters for this end-goal." I know, right? But, at the same time, I recognize here the very same arguments that constrain my own syllabus designs. The desire to create philosophical commons, the belief that teaching too much stuff outside of the canon is to do a disservice to your students (or colleagues). It is to open up your students to ridicule for not really understanding the stakes of most philosophical discussions. This is why I wanted to include a discussion of the very possibility of syllabuses for Ferguson.

There were many smart responses to this, and I suggest reading the comments. However, here is part of one of my comments from those threads: "This goes back to the post here on New APPS about citation practices, as well. The names that we immediately think of, and think of as important, are bound up with a whole history that ignores why we cite some names instead of others. I agree with Robin James, sometimes we got to knock 'em down and rebuild. [...] And maybe Fanon or Arendt or whomever are not as canonical (maybe?), but how cool would it be if your reading group just pretended they were? What if one of the analytic folks were talking to a SPEPer one day and said, "Well, I haven't really read Husserl, but I read this great book on Fanon, and I was wondering...", or "you mention Derrida on play and difference, and I haven't read him, but Maria Lugones argues..." that would be a better philosophical world. And if the SPEPer hadn't read seriously Fanon or Lugones as important intellectual figures, it would be a great kick in the rear." It is a bit of a utopian impulse, but it is also one that requires a type of philistinism. It requires someone who honestly does not understand what the culture is suppose to be, what is normally counted as great, or foundational, or enduring. In the mixed up world of the philistine, the ephemeral becomes the lasting and the marginal becomes the central. The philistine designing her syllabus is not interested in preserving and carrying on the civilization around. Perhaps because she knows that is not a compliment.