Author Events in October

This October, check out some of the many opportunities to see our authors at online and in-person events around the world. Be sure to note the local time zone for each event.

Cover of Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle by Shannen Dee Williams. Cover is yellow, orange and fuschia with a black and white photo of a Black nun in front of a microphone.

October 3, 7 pm EDT: Shannen Dee Williams, author of Subversive Habits, presents an in-person talk based on her book at Mount Saint Mary’s College. Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center, 330 Powell Ave., Newburgh, NY.

October 4, 5 pm  EDT: Neferti X.M. Tadiar, author of Remaindered Life, speaks in-person at Duke University as part of the Gender Studies Now event series, East Duke Parlors, 1304 Campus Drive, Durham, NC.

October 4, 3:30 pm MDT: Joseph Pugliese, author of Biopolitics of the More-Than-Human, gives the 2022 IHR Book Award Lecture online.

October 5, 12pm PDT: Andrea Ballestero and Brit Ross, coeditors of Experimenting with Ethnography, host a virtual event celebrating the first anniversary of their book’s publication. The event features commentary by Marilyn Strathern, Dawn Nafus, and Nikhil Anand, along with a panel of two of the book’s contributors, Patricia Alvarez Astacio and Tone Walford. This event is co-sponsored by the Ethnography Studio, the Levan Institute for the Humanities, and the Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life at USC.

Cover of Panama in Black: Afro-Caribbean World Making in the Twentieth Century by Kaysha Corinealdi. Cover is black and features a collage of images, newspaper articles and artifacts from Panamanian history.

October 5, 4:15 EDT: Heather Davis, author of Plastic Matter, gives a talk called “Ambivalent Repair” hosted by the Program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality at John Hopkins University.

October 6, 7pm EDT: Kaysha Corinealdi, author of Panama in Black, will be in conversation with Ariana A. Curtis in a virtual event hosted by Cafe con Libros.

October 6, 7 pm PDT: Richard T. Rodríguez, author of A Kiss across the Ocean, reads from his book in-person at Fabulosa Books. 489 Castro Street, San Francisco.

October 10, 6 pm PDT: Elisabeth Anker, author of Ugly Freedoms, speaks in-person at Reed College. Eliot Hall 314, 3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, OR.

October 11, 11:15 am CEST: Breathing Aesthetics author Jean-Thomas Tremblay lectures in-person about his book at the University of Copenhagen. Læderstræde 20, Lecture Hall, Copenhagen.

October 11, 7 pm PDT: Vicente L. Rafael, author of The Sovereign Trickster, joins Moon-Ho Jung to discuss colonialism, empire, late-stage capitalism, and more at an in-person event at Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 Tenth Avenue, Seattle, WA.

October 12, 12 pm PDT: Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early, authors of Our Veterans, speak in-person at the Rotary Club of Napa. 2840 Soscol Avenue, Napa, CA.

October 12, 12 pm PDT: Elisabeth Anker, author of Ugly Freedoms, speaks in-person at the University of Washington. Petersen Room, 4th floor of Allen Library, 4000 15th Ave NE, Seattle, WA.

October 13, 5 pm EDT: Elisabeth Anker speaks about her book Ugly Freedoms in-person at Whitman College. Kimball Theatre in Hunter Conservatory, 324 Boyer Ave., Walla Walla, WA.

Cover of Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood: Coming of Age in the Sixties by John D'Emilio. Cover is maroon with orange lettering and features photgraphs of a teenage boy shaking hands with a Cardinal, two boys with buzz cuts playing, and a young man sitting at a desk.

October 15, 7 pm CDT: John D’Emilo, author of Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood, joins Steven Louis Brawley for an online conversation sponsored by Left Bank Books.

October 17, 5 pm EDT: Matt Brim, author of Poor Queer Studies, gives the annual Queer Theory Lecture in person at Duke University. East Duke Pink Parlor, East Duke Bldg, 112 Campus Dr, Durham, NC.

October 18, 7 pm EDT: NYU’s Department of Performance Studies sponsors a book launch for Barbara Browning’s The Miniaturists. Room 612, PS Studio, NYU, New York City.

October 18, 5 pm EDT: Ricky Rodriguez, author of A Kiss across the Ocean, is in virtual conversation with Alexandra Vazquez, author of The Florida Room, as part of the IASPM-US Popular Music Books in Process series.

Cover of Cartographic Memory: Social Movement Activism and the Production of Space by Juan Herrera. The lettering is in many colors and is in the style of a protest poster. There is a drawing of a woman in a red scarf, a child and a man with a mustache.

October 19, 3:30 pm PDT: Juan Herrera, author of Cartographic Memory, gives an in-person talk entitled “Social Movement Activism and the Production of Space” sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Department of Geography.  575 McCone Hall, Berkeley.

October 20, 4 pm EDT: Elisabeth Anker, author of Ugly Freedoms, speaks in-person at Hamilton College.

October 20, 4-5:30pm EDT: micha cárdenas, author of Poetic Operations, will give an online book talk as part of the Fall 2022 Humanities Forum hosted by UMBC’s Dresher Center for the Humanities.

October 20, 6 pm EDT: John D’Emilio, author of Memories of a Gay Catholic Boyhood, speaks at an in-person event at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute in New York City. Pre-registration is required.

October 21, 3:30 pm CDT: Darren Byler, author of Terror Capitalism, speaks in-person at the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies. Joseph Regenstein Library, Room 122, 1100 E. 57th St. Chicago.

October 24, 6 pm EDT: Srila Roy, author of Changing the Subject, speaks in-person at The New School Sociology Colloquium. Wolff Conference Room, 6 E 16 St, New York City.

October 25, 7 pm GMT: Diana Paton and Matthew Smith, editors of The Jamaica Reader, give an in-person talk at Millennium Gallery, 48 Arundel Gate, Sheffield City Centre, Sheffield. Tickets are £7 in advance and £8 at the door.

Cover of The Pandemic Divide: How COVID Increased Inequality in America edited by Gwendolyn L. Wright, Lucas Hubbard, and William A. Darity. The title is in black font against a white background; a light blue surgical mask lies in between "Pandemic" and "Divide."

October 25-27: The Samuel DuBois Cook Center at Duke University hosts a conference inspired by the book The Pandemic Divide, edited by Gwendolyn L. Wright, Lucas Hubbard, and William A. Darity. Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club 3001 Cameron Boulevard Durham, NC.

October 25, 5-6pm CDT: Jean-Thomas Tremblay, author of Breathing Aesthetics, hosts a virtual event with the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore. They will be joined in conversation by Jennifer Scappatone.

October 26, 11 am EDT: Sami Schalk launches her new book Black Disability Politics at the Ford Foundation, 320 E 43rd St, New York City.

October 27, 4 pm EDT: Vicente L. Rafael, author of The Sovereign Trickster, gives an online lecture entitled “How Revolutionary was the Philippine Revolution?” as part of the Philippines Lecture Series at Harvard University.

October 27, 4:10 pm EDT: Srila Roy, author of Changing the Subject, speaks in-person at Columbia University. 208 Knox Hall, 606 West 122nd Street, New York.

October 27, 5:45 pm CET: Heather Davis, author of Plastic Matter, gives a keynote address titled “Petro-modernity as Pleasure and Threat” at the Swiss Design Network Research Summit in Switzerland.

October 28, 7:30 pm GMT: The bands Scritti Politti and The Mekons77 play at The Brudenell in Leeds to support Gavin Butt’s new book No Machos or Pop Stars. Tickets are £20 in advance.

New Titles for Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month which takes place September 15-October 15, celebrates the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.

Today, September 26, is Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s birthday, so it’s a fitting day to share our new titles in Latinx studies, including The Anzaldúan Theory Handbook, by AnaLouise Keating. Through archival research and close readings of Anzaldúa’s unpublished and published writings, Keating offers a biographical-intellectual sketch of Anzaldúa, investigates her writing process and theory-making methods, and excavates her archival manuscripts. The book also includes extensive definitions, genealogies, and explorations of eighteen key Anzaldúan theories as well as an annotated bibliography of hundreds of Anzaldúa’s unpublished manuscripts.

In A Kiss across the Ocean, Richard T. Rodríguez examines the relationship between British post-punk musicians and their Latinx audiences in the United States since the 1980s. Melding memoir with cultural criticism, Rodríguez spotlights a host of influential bands and performers including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam Ant, Bauhaus, Soft Cell, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Pet Shop Boys. 

The contributors to Consuelo Jimenez Underwood: Art, Weaving, Vision, edited by Laura E. Pérez and Ann Marie Leimer, examine the artistic practice of artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, whose innovative art and urgent engagement with a range of pressing contemporary issues mark her as one of the most vital artists of our time.

In The Florida Room, Alexandra T. Vazquez listens to the music and history of Miami to explore the city’s sonic cultures and its material and social realities. She transforms the “Florida room”—an actual architectural phenomenon—into a vibrant spatial imaginary for Miami’s musical cultures and everyday life.

Drawing from archives and cultural productions from the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe, in Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspective, Lorgia García Peña considers Black Latinidad in a global perspective in order to chart colonialism as an ongoing sociopolitical force.

In Junot Díaz: On the Half-Life of Love, José David Saldívar offers a critical examination of one of the leading American writers of his generation. He explores Díaz’s imaginative work and the diasporic and immigrant world he inhabits, showing how his influences converged in his fiction and how his writing—especially his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—radically changed the course of US Latinx literature and created a new way of viewing the decolonial world.

Scales of Captivity: Racial Capitalism and the Latinx Child by Mary Pat Brady traces the figure of the captive and cast-off child over 150 years of Latinx/Chicanx literature as a critique of colonial modernity and the forms of confinement that underpin racialized citizenship.

In Unsettled Borders: The Militarized Science of Surveillance on Sacred Indigenous Land,  Felicity Amaya Schaeffer examines the ongoing settler colonial war over the US-Mexico border from the perspective of Apache, Tohono O’odham, and Maya who fight to protect their sacred land. 

Juan Herrera maps 1960s Chicano movement activism in the Latinx neighborhood of Fruitvale in Oakland in Cartographic Memory: Social Movement Activism and the Production of Space. From Chicano-inspired street murals to the architecture of restaurants and shops, Herrera shows how Fruitvale’s communities and spaces serve as a palpable, living record of movement politics and achievements.

In Toward Camden, Mercy Romero writes about the relationships that make and sustain the largely African American and Puerto Rican Cramer Hill neighborhood in New Jersey where she grew up. She resists narratives of the city that are inextricable from crime and decline and witnesses everyday lives lived at the intersection of spatial and Puerto Rican diasporic memory.

In The Lettered Barriada: Workers, Archival Power, and the Politics of Knowledge in Puerto Rico, Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo tells the story of how a cluster of self-educated workers burst into Puerto Rico’s world of letters and navigated the colonial polity that emerged out of the 1898 US occupation. They did so by asserting themselves as citizens, producers of their own historical narratives, and learned minds.

Check out all our great titles in Chicanx and Latinx studies here.

Peer Review Week: Max Liboiron on Problems, Theories, and Methods of We

For Peer Review Week this year we are sharing some excerpts from recent books that discuss the ideas encompassed by this year’s theme, “Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research.” Today’s post is an excerpt from Pollution Is Colonialism by Max Liboiron.

The joke was old even before it appeared in print:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto find themselves surrounded by hostile Indians. The Ranger asks Tonto: “What are we going to do, Tonto?” To which Tonto replies: “What do you mean we, white man (or paleface, or kemo sabe, depending on the version)?”

Its racist ancestry is undeniable: the joke partly evokes the picture of a feckless subordinate who will treacherously abandon his superior at the first sign of trouble — usually with the ethnic or social group to which the subordinate belongs. But even before 1956, ancient variants of the joke were meant to deflate the condescension of individuals who used the royal “we,” and the insulting presumption of people who assumed, for their own purposes, what they had no business assuming.1

We is rife with such assumptions. A familiar, naturalized narrative about environmental pollution is that We are causing it. We are trashing the planet. Humans are inherently greedy, or wasteful, or addicted to convenience, or naturally self-maximizing, and are downright tragic when it comes to “the” commons. On the other side of the coin, We must rise up, work together, refuse plastic straws, act collectively, and put aside our differences.

I’m not going to dwell on how We erases difference and power relations or how it makes a glossy theory of change that doesn’t allow specific responsibility.2 Here, I want to focus on responsibility — the obligation to enact good relations as scientists, scholars, readers, and to account for our relations when they are not good. And you can’t have obligation without specificity. We isn’t specific enough for obligation. You know this — an elder daughter has different obligations than a mail carrier, and you have different obligations to your elder daughter than to the mail carrier. DuPont has different obligations to plastic pollution than someone with a disability who uses a straw to drink. Even though I’m sure you’ve heard that “everything is related” in many Indigenous cosmologies, this doesn’t mean there is a cosmic similitude of relations. You are not obliged to all things the same way.3 Hence there is a need for specificity when talking about relations.

There can be solidarity without a We. There must be solidarity without a universal We. The absence of We and the acknowledgement of many we’s (including those to which you/I/we do not belong4) is imperative for good relations in solidarity against ongoing colonialism and allows cooperation with the incommensurabilities of different worlds, values, and obligations. There are guidebooks to doing careful, specific solidarity work across difference.5 Indigenous science and technology studies (STS) scholar Kim TallBear has written about “standing with” as a methodological approach to doing research in good relation. In her work, she writes that she “had to find a way to study bio-scientists (whose work has profound implications for indigenous peoples) in a way in which I could stand more within their community,” rather than critiquing them from a place of confrontation and not-caring— an approach that she argues is bad feminist practice. She now moves “towards faithful knowledges, towards co-constituting my own knowledge in concert with the acts and claims of those who I inquire among.”6 Indigenous peoples, settlers, and others have different roles and responsibilities in the “challenge to invent, revive, and sustain decolonizing possibilities and persistences.”7 Rather than fixing or saving one another, “giving back,”8 or assuming that ongoing colonial Land relations only harm Indigenous people, “within the condition of alterlife the potential for political kinship and alter-relations comes out of the recognition of connected, though profoundly uneven and often complicit, imbrications in the systems that distribute violence.”9 This is investment without assumed access to our subjects and areas of research.

Max Liboiron is Associate Professor of Geography at Memorial University. Pollution Is Colonialism is available for 30% off on our website with coupon SAVE30.

Footnotes

Hello, Reader! Thank you for being here. These footnotes are a place of nuance and politics, where the protocols of gratitude and recognition play out (sometimes also called citation), where warnings and care work are carried out (including calling certain readers aside for a chat or a joke), and where I contextualize, expand, and emplace work. The footnotes support the text above, representing the shoulders on which I stand and the relations I want to build. They are part of doing good relations within a text, through a text. Since a main goal of Pollution Is Colonialism is to show how methodology is a way of being in the world and that ways of being are tied up in obligation, these footnotes are one way to enact that argument. Thank you to Duke University Press for these footnotes.

1. Ivie, “What Do You Mean ‘We,’ White Man?” Also see Heglar, “Climate Change Ain’t the First Existential Threat”; Hecht, “African Anthropocene”; and Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu?” All of these pieces break out of the violence and myopia of “we” as a way to critique mainstream environmental narratives, including the notion of the Anthropocene (which is also a key critique in Murphy, “Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations”).

2.  If you want some more of that, see M. Liboiron, “Against Awareness, for Scale”; and M. Liboiron, “Solutions to Waste.” There is also an entire chapter on the problems of We in a currently in-progress manuscript called Discard Studies that I am writing with excellent collaborator Josh Lepawsky (settler).

3. The idea that obligations are specific is put into practice by many different Indigenous thinkers, but this guiding principle is not exclusive to Indigenous groups. I think of New Orleans activist Shannon Dosemagen (unmarked), director of the Public Lab for Open Technology and Science, whose understandings of relations as the primary source, goal, and ethic of community science have led to a career in bringing people together in a good way and building technologies and platforms to support those relations. See Dosemagen, Warren, and Wylie, “Grassroots Mapping.” I also think about Labrador-based scholar Ashlee Cunsolo (settler), director of the Labrador Institute, whose directorship is premised on building and maintaining relations in a context of complex geopolitics and competing interests, and who exemplifies humility, generosity, and gratitude in every setting I’ve seen her in. See Cunsolo and Landman, Mourning Nature. Shannon and Ashlee, thank you for your examples of putting the relational politics that so many people talk about into practice in ways that far exceed the cultural and ethical norms of your existing institutions. It has been a great gift being activist-administrators with you.

4. Acknowledging where you do not belong while remaining aligned with those who do seems to be one of the more difficult lessons of allyship. I recently attended an “Indigenous LGBTQ2S+” gathering where white and non-Indigenous allies were thanked for attending, but then asked to leave so we could build a certain type of community. The settler sitting beside me didn’t leave. She was clearly nervous and unsure of what to do, but her inability to choose the embarrassment of standing up and leaving, and thereby outing herself as a white person, over the choice to stay in a place she had been asked to leave by those she was there to support meant that she probably isn’t ready for the even harder choices involved with Indigenous queer folk. Because of her choice, I had to take time to teach her when she was ignorant of something a speaker said. You can stand with a group without standing in their midst. In fact, sometimes standing-with-but-over-there is the best place to stand. A similar story is told by Sara Ahmed in the context of trying to have a Black Caucus professional meeting in On Being Included. I’m sure you have your own stories.

5. Land, Decolonizing Solidarity; Gaztambide-Fernández,“Decolonization and the Pedagogy of Solidarity”; Walia, “Decolonizing Together”; TallBear, “Standing with and Speaking as Faith”; Amadahy and Lawrence, “Indigenous Peoples and Black People in Canada.”

6. TallBear, “Standing with and Speaking as Faith,” 5. Thank you, Kim, for your big, bold, Out-in-public work and thinking as well as your tableside, quieter talks. I’m sure you know that your work — written scholarship, Twitter essays and jokes, gathering and organizing — props the door open for so many others, and for this I am grateful. Also, love the hair. Maarsi, Kim.

7. Murphy, “Against Population, towards Alterlife,” 122 – 23.

8. TallBear writes about Gautam Bhan’s (Indian) notion of “continuous and multiple engagements with communities and sites of research rather than a frame of giving back,” which maintains a benevolent narrative of wealth and deficit. TallBear, “Standing with and Speaking as Faith,” 2.

9. Murphy, “Against Population, towards Alterlife,” 120.

Q&A with Jean-Thomas Tremblay

Tremblay_headshot_2022_1Jean-Thomas Tremblay is Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Department of Humanities at York University and coeditor of Avant-Gardes in Crisis: Art and Politics in the Long 1970s. Their new book Breathing Aesthetics examines the prominence of breathing in responses to contemporary crises within literature, film, and performance cultures, showing how breathing has emerged as a medium through which biopolitical and necropolitical forces are increasingly exercised and experienced.

For those unfamiliar with theory and philosophy around air and breathing, how might you explain this body of work and your book’s addition to it?

Breathing and air have long been objects of philosophical and scientific interest. Respiratory and aerial philosophers—from the Stoics to Gaston Bachelard, to Luce Irigaray—have tended to describe a life force, the movement of which enables us to understand something of the interaction between the self and the not-self. One turns to breath, or more accurately returns to breath, because it carries the promise of restoring a balance one might have lost; we hear echoes of this reasoning in New Age’s appropriation of pranayama practices.

Scholars such as Elizabeth Povinelli, Tobias Menely, Lenart Škof, and Petri Berndtson have, before me, mapped the trajectories of philosophical engagements with breathing and air. One way to grasp these trajectories is that they record the gradual particularization and deidealization of the respiratory and the aerial: breathing can no longer stand in for universal experience, and air no longer registers as (strictly) a source of vitality or purity. That breathing and air call attention to themselves when a glitch appears in the ongoing exchange between individuals and milieus is as much a mundane observation as a historical and geographical statement.

This insight is most forcefully conveyed by minoritarian traditions, including a prominent Black intellectual genealogy linking Frantz Fanon to contemporary theorists like Ashon Crawley and Christina Sharpe. This genealogy thinks Black life from the uneven distribution of breathable air and the various systems, such as policing and segregation, that perpetuate anti-Black asphyxiation. Fanon’s ideas have gained tragic pertinence in the wake of the police murders of Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, and others, as “I can’t breathe” has become an omnipresent protest chant.

Breathing Aesthetics builds on the premise that breathing names the enmeshment of vitality and morbidity. I track the emergence, in the past five or six decades, of distinct “respiratory subjectivities” and “respiratory politics,” which is to say, models of the individual and the collective that derive from breathing a vernacular for expressing the contradictions of contemporary life. It is almost intuitive, in the era of COVID-19, to declare breathing a site of political antagonisms—much more intuitive, in fact, than it was when I began working on this project, almost a decade ago. I hope that readers will find in the book tools for decrypting a present moment when breathing constitutes a hyper-saturated signifier.


978-1-4780-1886-5_prHow does Breathing Aesthetics interact with or draw upon art and literature? What types of art and literature is it most interested in?

The book collects case studies from literary, screen, performance, visual, and media cultures. One thing I found especially interesting when I started researching breathing in earnest is that scholars of poetry, fiction, film, theater, and video game all claim that theirs is the respiratory medium par excellence. Those who endorse Charles Olson’s “projectivism” claim that poetry enjoys a privileged intimacy with respiration, for breath converts the energy animating the poet into the poem’s rhythm. For Davina Quinlivan, it is the cinema that enjoys such a privileged intimacy; breathing’s mimetic or contagious attribute makes it an important circuit for the transmission of affect between on- and off-screen subjects. I don’t believe that one art form or artistic medium is any more or less respiratory than others. I’m too promiscuous a reader and spectator to sustain an attention to a single one, anyway. What I do believe is that the pairing of “breathing” and “aesthetics” yields different effects across media. The aesthetics of respiration therefore calls for a medium-specific analysis and a comparative disposition.

Take the works by Dodie Bellamy, CAConrad, and Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose that I gather under the umbrella of “broadly experimental and broadly queer life writing.” In one chapter, I examine the notation of breathing for therapeutic purposes in these figures’ blends, with varying dosages, of memoir, poetry, and performance. That the notations are therapeutic doesn’t mean that they save the notators. The psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, my favorite humorist, writes in a recent book that “people aren’t cured, they just lose interest in their symptoms.” This is true of the figures I discuss, for whom notations afford, at most, a palliative: the relief of minimal psychic coherence in crisis situations. For example, journals that repetitively record the symptomatology of cystic fibrosis instill in Bob Flanagan a boredom that leads nowhere but “holds the mood.” Because breathing’s vitality can never be detached entirely from its morbidity, the “payoff” of aestheticizing respiration remains provisional and contingent.

You have said in conversation that this book owes a great deal to the field of environmental humanities and appeals to those researchers. How so?

Yes, the book is invested in the project of the environmental humanities. I participate in the field’s critique of the pastoral—specifically, in this case, the pastoral discourses wherein breathing fulfills the role of the “natural beyond” by guaranteeing an infinitely replenishable, and infinitely replenishing, reserve of vitality. One chapter zooms in on the experimental films of Ana Mendieta and Amy Greenfield. Their corpuses have often been dismissed as pastoral for sanctioning a naïve vision of natural plenitude and surrendering to an essentialism that equates women with nature. Granted, pastoral iconography shows up everywhere in Mendieta’s and Greenfield’s works: natural wonders and great expanses aren’t in short supply. Yet there is nothing revitalizing about the experience of watching their films. The experience is rather unsettling. These are, after all, artists who have many times depicted or evoked sexual violence. This discomfort is worth dwelling on and thinking with. By activating uneasy breathing as a mode of spectatorship in the same class as seeing and listening, Mendieta and Greenfield propose a “postpastoral” anti-pedagogy. Spectators unlearn the historical processes through which a colonial and imperial ideology like the pastoral comes into social coherence.

The vast environmental humanities scholarship, by Lawrence Buell and others, on the legacies of Rachel Carson represents one, but not the only, anti-pastoral tradition informing my thinking. I’m also indebted to scholars of environmental inequalities, or the reproduction of racial and class disparities by environmental means, such as proximity to toxic hazards and health care inaccessibility. Dorceta E. Taylor, Hsuan L. Hsu, and Lindsey Dillon and Julie Sze, to name a few, frequently appear in the section of Breathing Aesthetics devoted to respiratory politics, where I operate on the basis that we are all breathers, but none of the same kind.

Breathing Aesthetics also launches a critique of certain habits within the environmental humanities. I plan to expand on this critique in a future project on “environmental inaction” that seeks to rid ecocriticism of its incipient liberalism. Environmental humanists generally want their objects to be “good” and do “good”—to galvanize readers and spectators into political action, regardless of the objects’ affective content. I don’t think we should overestimate the ability of readers and spectators exposed to the inextricability of vitality and morbidity relayed by the aesthetics of breathing to step out into the world and transform it through sheer force of will. It would require a leap of faith to believe that all reactions to this aesthetics—from exhaustion to disorientation, to panic, to titillation—fulfill a civic purpose. I follow Alexis Shotwell’s and Nicole Seymour’s critiques of the environmental humanities’ purism and puritanism in refusing the narrow range of emotions and actions to which the field typically grants validity. To figure out what the aesthetics of breathing does, we must leave behind our rigid expectations as to what environmental art ought to do.

Doing so radically expands the archive of the environmental humanities to include works that are not so obviously didactic. For instance, it baffles me that Renee Gladman’s novels, to which I devote a chapter, are routinely ignored by environmental humanists in favor of more sensationalist examples of speculative fiction. Novels by Gladman that are set in the smog-filled city-state of Ravicka might not accommodate a pedagogy of coming into environmental “awareness” or “consciousness,” but they allegorize the emergence of coalitional politics in environments where toxicity mediates our encounters. This, to me, is immensely valuable.

While drawing from theory, what are some of the “real-world” implications of Breathing Aesthetics?

I hope the book relays my conviction that the world of theory is the real world. Our daily existence is organized by abstractions disguised as something else. My colleague David Cecchetto describes this problem as “one of the great inversions of our time[,] that between abstraction and reality,” in his recent book, Listening in the Afterlife of Data: “This inversion is evidenced by the fact that somehow one daily encounters folks who think that business-related disciplines like marketing are part of a real world that theoretically informed arts and humanities disciplines are not; we’re in a cultural moment when claiming something like having a ‘passion for real estate’ sounds coherent.”

The pressure to disavow theory isn’t only external to the humanities. Consider the subfield of “empirical ecocriticism,” which claims itself capable of measuring the actual impact of, say, climate fiction. There’s something cynical, amid austerity, in abiding by “data-driven” paradigms and exiling the majority of ecocritics from the category of empiricism, such that they are caught between renouncing their theoretical proclivities or sustaining a pursuit deemed frivolous. More to the point, what empirical ecocriticism really sells is abstraction, all the way down. It collects data (one abstraction) on a reader or spectator figured as rational and reasonable (another abstraction), one who, once exposed to climate crisis-related content, adopts liberal or conservative attitudes (yet another abstraction) and behaviors considered sound in a democratic society (one more, still)… You get the point.

Even in the corners of the humanities that don’t traffic in data, it is customary to curtail theoretical ambitions by asking, for instance, “But what about The Body?” Annabel L. Kim offers a brilliant account of the gesture in the introduction to Unbecoming Language, a book that played a key role in the genesis of Breathing Aesthetics. References to The Body, as a shorthand for the lower-case-r real, presume, as Kim notes, something that everyone knows and to which everyone has access. The Body may be an abstraction for unmediated, non-abstractable experiences, but it is an abstraction nonetheless.

I’m weary of the idea that breathing somehow concretizes queer or environmental theory because so many promises to bypass abstraction—whether through the cold hard facts of data or through The Body as locus of the sensuous and the erotic—end up turning the volume up on abstraction. So, I don’t think we need to come up with excuses for theory. It’s not a vacation from reality, a flight of fancy, or a luxury. Theory, as I try to wield it in Breathing Aesthetics, is an encounter with the world with significant implications in terms of what and how we feel, think, are.

Read the introduction to Breathing Aesthetics for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22TRMBL.

Peer Review Week: Afsaneh Najmabadi on How to Think about the Ethics of Telling Stories That People Did Not Want Re-told

It’s Peer Review Week, an annual event celebrating peer review. This year’s theme is “Research Integrity,” and this week we are sharing excerpts from some of our recent books that explore this issue. Today we present an excerpt from Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Familial Undercurrents: Untold Stories of Love and Marriage in Modern Iran, in which she discusses the ethics of using family secrets in research.

My mother chose not to talk about my father’s second marriage with anyone beyond a couple of her siblings and nieces. Nor did she even hint at it in her interviews in the 1990s and in her written memoirs. My father had kept his second family a secret from the first to his dying days.

Their silence posed for me, throughout the work on this project, the unresolvable ethical dilemma that many (auto)biography writers and memoirists have noted. As Nancy Miller has put it, “Memoir writers necessarily blur the lines between autobiography and biography, self and other, especially when a child tells the parents’ story.” Telling these stories is “to retrieve a past that is ours but not ours alone.”1

What right did I have to write my parents’ story when they had chosen silence? Shouldn’t I respect my father’s secrecy and my mother’s desire for keeping its knowledge confined? I understood my father’s keeping the second marriage a secret to have been an effect of a middle-class modernist and Baha’i embarrassment, if not shame, over his bigamy, his way of living his love for Mansureh under circumstances that had made that option no longer a publicly accepted practice. As Deborah Cohen has put it in a different context, “Secrecy guaranteed both security and authenticity.”2 In my father’s case, the authenticity of his being a modern Baha’i, whose new faith emphasized monogamy much more strongly than his old faith and practices in his parental generation had, and security from the possibility of losing Fari and the custody of his two children (me and my sister, Farzaneh), a possibility that had been shaped by my mother’s education and professional life, as well as the support she received from her family (inclusive of her sister’s husband who was my father’s uncle too) — secrecy guaranteed both.

I understood my mother’s desire for keeping a relative silence over that belated knowledge as her way of saving face, of remaining respectful as many relatives had said, in circumstances where things going wrong in marriage were by default seen as shortcomings of the wife. But things mattered only if they were known. Keeping silent made keeping face possible. I thus justified my desire to tell their story as my way of attempting to open up the possibility of reducing injury and disrespect, embarrassment and shame, over their life choices.

It is at times said that historians are motivated by the desire to speak of the dead and, even more, to speak on behalf of the dead. Some of the recent decades of recuperative historiography have indeed been informed by this desire to compensate for silences in history and give voice to the silenced. Yet what of the desire of the dead to remain silent? What of the lives made possible through keeping silent?

Quite early on, when I first started thinking about this project, I contacted one of my maternal cousins to inquire about memories of our mothers and our grandmother. She was reluctant to talk; she wrote that her “first reaction was that I wanted to ‘protect’ them and their legacy. Would my mother or yours want to have the public exposed to the ‘family secrets’?” What right did I have, she insisted, to tell the stories of “family members unable to speak for themselves”?

At the time, I shrugged this objection off, largely because I was thinking of my writing as an act of empathy with these lives, not as critical judgment of their choices, decisions, and lives lived. As my work developed, I was even more certain that I could write in total empathy with all my characters; though at times empathy with my father would become challenging!

Nonetheless, my cousin’s early warning remained an echo in my head that wouldn’t go away. Conversations with other relatives would bring it back in new contexts. A paternal uncle talked about several incidents he had heard about: two related to my father’s “scandalous behavior,” apparently propositioning other women from the family, but several were about other people —so many Najmabadi men’s scandals . . . we began to joke about whether this was a genetic trait! Each time, he made it clear that none of these stories were meant for re-telling. He emphasized that even though he talked about these stories to me, this had been a very rare thing for him to do; he definitely would not want any story to be re-told.

Another relative told similar stories about Najmabadi men, repeatedly prefacing each story by saying, “I don’t engage in gossip, astaghfar allah [may God forgive me], but . . .” The repeated disavowal of gossip, in conversations with Arafat Razzaque and his dissertation on ethics of speech in the formation of early Islamic piety, brought forth another layer of this shadowy weight on my writing.3 I too had grown up within an ethics of speech centered on restraint of the tongue, hifz al-lisan. This ethics was not simply located within the high Islamic culture of texts and teachings on piety, within books of ethics and injunctions to the pious. I too had grown up with cautions concerning excesses of talking that seeped through often-repeated advice: Why do you think God has given you two ears and one tongue? Hear twice before you talk once.

Most severely, the narrative attributed to the Prophet on gossip was often repeated: alghiba ashaddu min al-zina, roughly translated as “gossip is worse than fornication.” Given that telling about someone else’s sinful deed is considered a sin, and perhaps even a more severe sin than the committing of the sin itself, how does one go about telling other people’s lives — sins and all? Given the culture of keeping things unsaid, letting things pass rather than be told and re-told, how ethical is my writing of other people’s stories? If we take gossip itself as a critical “way of knowing,” indeed, at times, as a “weapon of the weak,” as an important source for historical cultural understanding, how do we deal with the shadow of shame hanging over the knowledge generated through gossip?

Within this kind of cultural ethos, how does one write about family secrets in a way that does not do harm to others’ sensibilities? Is there a way of telling a story they had chosen not to tell that would open up possibilities of reducing injury and disrespect? Do I just not tell things that were “too scandalous”? Clearly my father didn’t want the family on this side of town to know about the family on the other side of town. His story had, of course, already come out after his death because of legal requirements related to inheritance division, but even then, it had remained known only within a limited circle of people. Yet over the past years, my pursuit of his story has made

it known to ever wider circles of people. Each time when I started a conversation with another relative by saying, “Did you know my father had another wife?,” I made that circle of knowing larger. Writing and publishing a book would make it known to an even wider circle.

The ethics and politics of retrieving a past “that is not ours alone” is not simply a memoirist’s dilemma, of course. This is what historians do all the time. Usually, we have no reason to assume that the stories retrieved are objectionable to those whose stories we have retrieved. But we also usually have no information on whether it would not be objectionable. For characters unknown to us personally, we tend not to worry.

What are the ethics of using what we save, or have been entrusted to keep? My parents had come to London in the winter of 1980 to visit me and my family. They had planned to stay a month or so, then go to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit my sister. The visit became an immigration: we insisted that they were retired and both their children were abroad; life in Iran, especially in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of a small town, during the early revolutionary years of upheaval and with attacks against Baha’is, seemed to be too risky to return to, even though my father’s conversion might not have been locally known. Why not stay for a while in the United States until things calmed down? We kept them abroad.

They had come with two suitcases. The following spring, on my visit to Tehran, I selected things to bring for them: some clothes, a few books, a selection of photographs from family albums, and a bunch of letters tied together. I recognized my father’s handwriting. On closer inspection, they turned out to be letters my father had written over the first year of my parents’ marriage when he was not in Tehran with his new bride. These also came with me. At one point, when my mother was angry at my father after she had found out about his other wife, she had wanted to throw them out. I told her I would like to save them; they became mine, though I did not read them until my familial detective journey began in 2014.

Is it ethical to use my father’s letters to my mother, which she wanted to throw out? Just because I asked her to let me keep them and she agreed? At the time, of course, neither she nor I had any reason to imagine that some two decades later I would be writing this manuscript. What makes them mine to use for this project?

Afsaneh Najmabadi is Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University and author of Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran, also published by Duke University Press, and Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity. Professing Selves and Familial Undercurrents are both available for 30% off on our website using coupon code SAVE30.

Footnotes

  1. Nancy Miller, “Putting Ourselves in the Picture: Memoirs and Mourning,” in The
    Familial Gaze, ed. Marianne Hirsch (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England,
    1999), 51 – 66, quotes from 51.
  2. Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present
    Day (London: Viking, 2013), 122.
  3. Arafat Razzaque, “The Sin of Ghība in Early Islamic Thought: The Zuhd Tradition,
    Late Antique Religion, and Ibn Abī l-Dunyā’s Book on the Ethics of the Tongue” (PhD
    diss., Harvard University, 2020).

Peer Review Week: Excerpt from We Are Not Dreamers

It’s Peer Review Week, an annual event to celebrate the value of peer review that brings together scholarly communication stakeholders, including academic publishers, associations, institutions, and researchers. This year’s theme is “Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research.” This week we will share excerpts on the topic of peer review and research integrity from some of our books. Today we present an excerpt from We are Not Dreamers: Undocumented Scholars Theorize Undocumented Life in the United States edited by Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales in which they discuss the ethics of doing research with undocumented students and scholars.

This is a unique volume. There is currently no other collection of empirical and theoretical work by undocumented or recently undocumented scholars. As editors of this volume, this was certainly an empirical and analytical matter, but also a methodological one. Each author details their own methodological approach in the chapters, but there are broader methodological interventions
that must also be named. These involve explicitly positioning undocumented scholars as theorists of the undocumented experience while being mindful of the ethics involved in doing this work.
At the outset of this project, we were clear that we did not want this to be a collection of testimonies, narrative reflections, or first-person essays; this is not to say that there is not value in such endeavors, but rather to be clear that such a project is politically, analytically, and methodologically distinct from  our aims here. This volume is an intentional effort to position this work as critical to the field in that it pushes our understanding of undocumented life in the United States at this time. Thus, the positioning of the undocumented immigrant as scholar is a direct departure from the treatment of the undocumented immigrant as subject or object. This positioning is not only pragmatic or practical, it is also methodological.

Part of our politic and analytic around this is that this process of undocumentation (Negrón-Gonzales 2018), while it is discussed in public discourse as a clear-cut matter, is a social, legal, and political construction. There is nothing inherent in people that makes them undocumented. There is nothing unchangeable in society that determines that undocumented people are criminals. On the contrary, people move in and out of undocumenteds status and legal, political, and social treatment of undocumented people changes across different historical moments (Ngai 2004). Methodologically, then, it made sense to us to capture these experiences by including people who have direct experience with being undocumented and scholars, whether they are currently undocumented, daca recipients, or formerly undocumented for a notable part of their lives as students. We feel strongly that the authors in this volume have an important role to play in shaping the field.

The other methodological dimension worth illuminating concerns research ethics. Many theorists of undocumented migration have aimed to be thoughtful in how they approach research ethically (Hernández et al. 2013; Suárez-Orozco and Yoshikawa 2013). Some have written about the ethics of
cocreating theory with undocumented students who are the focus of analysis (Pérez Huber 2010), while others provide undocumented students with research training and writing support (Clark-Ibáñez 2015; Mena Robles and Gomberg-Muñoz 2016; Unzueta Carrasco and Seif 2014). There is, however,
a persistent disconnection in the field more broadly. Undocumented young people note that there is a pattern of researchers entering spaces of organizing—sometimes without permission—only to gather information for their studies, never to be seen again. Those researchers have failed to reciprocate with undocumented immigrant communities, rarely using their skills to support the advocacy work that they document. And in most of those cases, people who participated in the study were not informed of the findings. Authors in this volume have had conversations about how to address these concerns regarding immigration scholars who are not themselves undocumented. One response, in particular, thoughtfully details the problems and suggests best practices for scholars to follow when conducting research with undocumented communities.
Gabrielle Cabrera, one of the authors featured in this volume, along with Ines Garcia and an anonymous student at their undergraduate institution in California, got together shortly after the election of Donald Trump. In an attempt to be proactive in this new political context and rooted in what they saw as the nonreciprocal pattern of engagement described above, they developed a brief guide on research ethics for scholars and researchers who were turning to write about undocumented youth in the midst of heightened political threats.

November 30, 2016
Dear Researchers,
We’d like to emphasize that Undocumented students are not research subjects. We respectfully, but adamantly ask faculty members who are conducting research on and with Undocumented people to please conduct ethical research. By ethical research, we mean:
1. the questions asked to participants should not attempt to uplift the “progressive” efforts of the university;
2. sharing the research and findings with our community through relevant and accessible means; and
3. researchers should not treat Undocumented students as a “trendy” research topic.
We’d also like to take this moment to express the need for critical research on and with Undocumented students. We believe the efforts of faculty are grounded in good intentions and understand the importance of it. We also want to name that research causes harm to our community as it has been known to exploit and commodify our bodies and experiences. Researchers should not collect data about our lives and publish the knowledge solely for their own benefit. Researchers should intentionally disseminate findings into our communities in meaningful and relevant ways. “Policy Recommendations” at the end of articles are not enough. Researchers should not claim to give us “voice” when current research on Undocumented students perpetuate the violent “DREAMER” narrative.
A change in the ways in which Undocumented students are researched needs to occur. We are scholars. We are community members. We are collaborators in the research process. Researchers should not speak on our behalf. Rather, researchers should give us the platform to speak for ourselves. Faculty members have the ability to do this by conducting ethical research that engages our community throughout the process.

As is true of many scholars we have worked with, Cabrera, Garcia, and their peers highlight the need to push back on the dreamer narrative, not only identifying its limitations but also highlighting how it reifies and sanctifies a certain kind of “good” immigrant. This pushback is a persistent theme across the chapters in this book, and the analytical contributions of these young scholars remind us that a key part of decolonizing research methodologies involves disrupting the assumed unmovable distinction between the researcher and the researched. Part of that process involves marginalized people theorizing and producing scholarship about the experiences of their communities.

Leisy J. Abrego is Professor of Chicana/o and Central American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love across Borders. Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is Associate Professor of Education at the University of San Francisco and coauthor of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World. We Are Not Dreamers is available for 30% off on our site with coupon SAVE30.

Introducing the Second Edition of The Mexico Reader

We are very excited that the second edition of our bestselling book The Mexico Reader is now available. In today’s guest post, editors Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy J. Henderson reflect on the process of editing the new edition and explain what’s new and what’s been removed. We hope you’ll adopt the new edition for your courses or, if you’re traveling to Mexico soon, pick up a copy for yourself.
Cover of The Mexico Reader, edited by Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy J. Henderson. Cover featurs a photgraph of group of people gathered together in festival dress to celebrate The Day of the Dead.

The first edition of The Mexico Reader was extremely well received by both scholars and the general reading public. In preparing the second edition, we were determined to maintain the elements that accounted for the first edition’s success while making the volume more inclusive and bringing it up to date. We dropped a few of the pieces from the earlier edition, some because they had become dated, others because the cost of the publishing rights had become prohibitive. We shortened some pieces for the same reasons, and also to keep an already hefty volume from becoming morbidly obese. We did new translations of a few pieces because the earlier translations were too expensive and/or because we felt they could be improved upon. And finally, we expanded our commitment to include riveting photos and other visual images, as well as evocative passages from contemporary poems and corridos (ballads).

We also sought to give greater attention to issues of ethnicity, race and gender. These are clearly complex topics everywhere, and certainly—perhaps especially—in Mexico. We therefore added some pieces that we hope will help readers to grasp at least a bit of that complexity. To add to our understanding of Pre-Columbian cosmologies and attitudes towards animals and the environment, we commissioned historian Andrés Bustamante Agudelo and archaeologist Israel Elizalde Méndez’s piece on Aztec Emperor Montezuma’s “Zoo.” A couple of entries (Alexander von Humboldt, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, and a gallery of images of contemporary mobilizations in the state of Guerrero) consider the contributions of Afro-Mexicans, a group that was largely absent from the first edition. We have also added some pieces that we hope will help readers better appreciate the challenges faced by Mexican—often Indigenous—women and gender non-conforming Mexicans (Gloria Anzaldúa, Marcela García on the movie Roma, Gabriela Cano on a transgender soldier in the Zapatista ranks, Gabriela Soto Laveaga on the career of an extraordinary traditional healer and the critical role that Indigenous midwives and medical practitioners have played during the Covid-19 pandemic). And while the first edition did feature an expansive view of “Mexicanidad”—one that included Mexicans living outside of Mexico as well as non-Mexicans in Mexico—we have added some pieces that expand and deepen that theme. These include an analysis of the mid-19th-century Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Gloria Anzaldúa on the transgressive and gendered role of language in notions of Mexicanness, Enrique Valencia’s polemical border ballad for the undocumented, “Somos Más Americanos”/ “We Are More American,” and Jorge Ramos’ op ed in the time of COVID, “Should I Die Abroad, Bring Me Back to Mexico.”.

The issue of immigration has long loomed large in relations between Mexico and the United States, and it was by no means neglected in the first edition of the reader. But the second edition was completed almost entirely during the presidency of Donald Trump, whose ferocious nativism—even at a time when Mexican immigration to the United States was near an all-time low—forced some reconsideration of the issue. Trump and his allies charged that the border was in a state of perpetual crisis and that the United States must build a mighty wall to hermetically seal it away from the threats posed by its southern neighbors. While we have strived to present a variety of perspectives in this book, and to avoid trumpeting our own views, we felt it necessary to push back against the torrents of misinformation, disinformation, and extreme rhetoric emanating from the Trump White House. We have, therefore, unapologetically included some pieces that tend to subvert the Trumpist narrative on immigration (Timothy Henderson on historical notions of a “Wetback Invasion” and incisive reporting on immigration and deportation by award-winning journalists Julia Preston and Sonia Nazario).

The first edition of The Mexico Reader appeared in 2002, and much has happened in Mexico since then. We have therefore added a new section titled “From the Perfect Dictatorship to an Imperfect Democracy,” which is introduced by a detailed narrative of Mexican affairs over the last two decades.  When the first edition of The Mexico Reader appeared, the North American Free Trade Agreement had been in effect for less than a decade. As the second edition appears, the agreement is nearly thirty years old and has a new name (the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA), but it remains controversial. We have included a pair of sharply conflicting views of the agreement’s impact (by U.S. economist Mark Weisbrot and former Mexican president Vicente Fox). Likewise, in 2002, Mexico’s democracy was in its infancy. The nation’s experiences since that time bear out Wayne Cornelius’s prediction that the transition to a full democratic system would be “protracted and highly uneven,” but his assurance that this transition would “advance steadily to completion” may have been a bit overly optimistic. Corruption in government and law enforcement; a troubled relationship with the rule of law; the increased violence, brazenness, and impunity of criminal cartels, and the sometimes-reckless populism of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the epoch’s most prominent political figure—all have placed tremendous strains on Mexico’s democratizing efforts, as the new selections by John Gibler, Ioan Grillo, López Obrador, and Denise Dresser make painfully clear.  Mexico’s nascent democracy has repeatedly been pushed to—and beyond—its breaking point. The human toll has been horrific, but as we also show, it has not been borne by civil society with resignation.  

We sincerely hope that educators, students, travelers, and general readers will find the new edition of The Mexico Reader engaging and enlightening. Both of us find Mexico to be a complex and endlessly fascinating country, and we are aware that no one book—not even one as corpulent as this one—can really do it justice. Sadly, if folks form their impression of Mexico from its irregular mention in the polarizing U.S. media and political arena, they will inevitably conclude that it is a dark and dangerous place. We have tried to counter that impression by presenting a well-rounded and nuanced picture, providing a new generation of readers with a solid introduction to the country’s many wonders and many challenges.

Gilbert M. Joseph is Farnam Professor Emeritus of History and International Studies at Yale University and author, coauthor, and editor of many books, including Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century, also published by Duke University Press.
Timothy J. Henderson was a Distinguished Research Professor of History at Auburn University at Montgomery before retiring in 2021. He is the author of several books on Mexican history.
The Mexico Reader is available now for 30% off with coupon E22MEXIC.

Save on New Titles in Political Science

Black text in a white, transparent box reads, "American Political Science Association 2022 Conference Exhibit. Use code APSA22 for 40% off when you order from dukeupress.edu." Background features assorted book and journal covers arranged in columns.

We are excited to join you in person in Montreal for the American Political Science Association 2022 conference! Executive Editor Courtney Berger will be on site with you, and you can browse political science books and journal issues at booth 316 in the exhibit hall.

Use coupon code APSA22 to save 40% on books and journal issues when you order on our website through October 31, 2022. Customers in the UK and Europe can order books with this code from our UK partner, Combined Academic Publishers.

Our conference landing page has highlights of new and forthcoming titles in sociology, or you can browse our complete list of books and journals in the field.

If you are looking to connect with any of our editors about your book project, see our editors’ specialties and contact information and our online submissions guidelines and submission portal.

Erica Rand on Lauren Berlant’s New Book

Following Lauren Berlant’s death last summer, Erica Rand agreed to shepherd Berlant’s new book On the Inconvenience of Other People to publication. In today’s guest post Rand describes that experience and introduces the book.
Cover of On the Inconvenience of Other People by Lauren Berlant. Bright pink cover features a painted picture of the face of a black cat with one green eye open.

Today Lauren Berlant’s book On The Inconvenience of Other People is out. It appears in the series Writing Matters!, founded in 2019 by Lauren, Saidiya Hartman, Katie Stewart, and me. I’m writing to tell you a bit about the book. Not what it’s about: I invite you to encounter the book for yourself, in your own way and time. Instead, I want to share with you some things I did and learned as I helped move Inconvenience from the completed manuscript—which Lauren submitted, soon before they passed, in June 2021—to the book in print. I took on this project both as a Writing Matters! co-editor and as a close friend, two interdependent roles I mark through the use of “Lauren” and the pronouns “they/them.” Neither corresponds to one of those roles, or to a personal vs. professional relationship; I mean to sidestep the narrative that presents Lauren’s pronouns as an index of intimacy. 

As I indicate in Inconvenience’s “Note to the Reader,” I did the tasks ordinarily performed by a book’s author during the production phase. I reviewed the copyedited manuscript, responding to suggested changes and corrections, and checked the page proofs. I wrote material for the marketing department to work with—much helped by abstracts that Lauren had submitted—and interacted with people at or outside the press as they needed or wanted me and as I needed or wanted them.

My description of the process might be dispassionate, but my experience of it was anything but. Sometimes it was heart-swelling and heart-breaking at once, especially when I encountered lines I could conjure Lauren saying aloud. Like this comment on the common or commons: “The concept is so overloaded you might think that it’s empty, but you’d be wrong.” I could hear a pause after the comma, slightly longer than what a comma versus a period would suggest, then a slight shift. The second part might sound a bit quip-like, maybe with a slightly deepened or higher voice at the end, then a deliberate two-syllable laugh sound, a visible twinkle, a smile with closed lips. 

Then there was the anxiety of copyedits, which I had foolishly expected to be easier to handle than copyedits on my own work. Ordinarily, I respond to copyedits with a mix of deep, articulated gratitude and would-be savvy, treating my responses to proposed changes as components of an invented bargaining relationship. I imagine, for example, that maybe I can keep my beloved “and/or” if I give up some parentheses I liked, or that if I give up “and/or” without a fuss, maybe my desire/desperation to change “butch-femme” back to “butch/femme” will not read as dubious attachment to a slash mark. I have no evidence that anyone evaluating my responses ever thought they were in any such relationship with me, although my perception is hardly unique. When I used the term “invented” in sharing my progress on this blog post with my writing accountability group, everyone protested: No, no, that’s really how it happens! You give some, you get some, especially if you are polite. Say please and thank you. You don’t want to seem like—or be!—that writer who rejects every suggestion.

With Inconvenience, I planned to proceed differently. I certainly wouldn’t bargain away anything I thought Lauren wanted, and I knew that no editor involved wanted me to. We had a mutual, explicit goal: to produce the book that Lauren wanted, lightly edited so as to be as close as possible to the manuscript they submitted. I anticipated that I would primarily be approving obvious changes—deleting an extra space between “of” and “the,” following Duke style about using “19th” or “nineteenth,” fixing a few unintended ambiguities, relocating a stray comma.

I was wrong. Even seemingly small decisions were often far from smooth sailing. For example, the Duke style guide rejects amidst for amid. Me, too. I find amidst needlessly elongated, like cohabitate, and weirdly archaic or up-classing, although I know it’s become more widespread than back when it began mysteriously to appear in my students’ papers, where I thought it represented an attempt to signal academic seriousness or, more interesting, a migrated convention from some time-traveling pop culture I kept trying to ferret out. Lauren’s manuscript, to my surprise, had amidst several times. I had to decide whether their usage was significant or fine to change. Since I couldn’t distinguish amidst’s contexts from the more frequent uses of amid. I went with the latter.

And what ambiguities were, indeed, unintended?  The copyeditor flagged “Paul leans on the old mattress on the wall” in Last Tango in Paris. The mattress, not Paul, was touching the wall, correct? If so, how about “propped against the wall,” more clear in referent? Sure, why not? Lauren was setting the stage. What about “this clash between wanting to be disturbed in sex and yet simpler in pleasure”? Could I clarify that? I thought I could, but every tweak I tried involved a lot of words and seemed like a gloss—too much of my interpretation.

Plus, I always kept in mind a conversation between me and Lauren early in 2021 after I read the almost penultimate draft of Inconvenience. I asked if they might spell out what they mean by writing through a series of “assays” and “in a parenthetical voice,” two key experimental aspects of the book.  OK, they said, and/but: “Here’s the difference between your writing and mine. When you anticipate the reader stumbling over something, you try to smooth it out. I don’t.”

I rarely needed that reminder to check myself. It functioned usually as an affectionate “that’s Lauren” when I came across a paragraph-length sentence that in a draft of mine might have turned into seven. The comment nagged at me most for small decisions, such as one involving this sentence:

Think of the clumsy physicality sex induces, in the body, the voice, and the face; the confusions and resignations of knowledge even in a scene of delight; the small and large breakdowns of concentration and confidence all throughout any episode, and the work of quieting that down so things can proceed.

The copy editor wanted to change “quieting that down” to “quieting those down.” Hmm. Did Lauren want to designate that the breakdowns added up to one big breakdown-to-be-quieted? In that case, keep that. Did they mean to convey quieting all of that down or want readers to decide what to agglomerate? Then this or those could work. Maybe they had barely thought about it. I finally decided “those” could accommodate “that” and left the correction. Even in anti-bargainer mode, I didn’t want to reject every suggestion. I didn’t think Lauren would want to be that writer either. I did, however, restore a comma after “induces.” Lauren sometimes used commas for rhythm, pause, or speed-up. I tried to listen for those.

I used that last example partly to entice you. Once you’ve read that gorgeous, super-smart characterization of sex, can you really bear to miss anything else? The pleasures of the text are many. So, too, were the pleasures of the process, including the chance to notice habits that I would not have recognized apart from this triangulated relationship with copyediting. For example, Lauren started many sentences “There is” or “There are,” establishing the very existence of something as part of writing about it. They also used terms, such as suicidiation, that are still heading toward Merriam-Webster, and various departures from standard usage: terms or metaphors, including Teflon, portmanteau, and laser, in ways that seemed, only at first, a bit to the side of working; a few words re-tensed or combined to function more usefully, such as beyonding or democracy-under-capitalism. None of that, maybe, is a big deal. But discerning habits as I went along felt like an unanticipated gift of new intimacies unfolding between us. Once I discerned habits I usually worked to uphold them. One exception concerns meticulous guidance in the copyediting away from subtly ableist language. I thought that Lauren would have welcomed, for example, being nudged toward alternatives to “see” as a way to convey recognize, understand, or notice. I now scrutinize my own writing accordingly, too.

That guidance is one of countless labors of editing, design, consultation, and love that went into the production of Inconvenience. Thank you Susan Albury, Andrea Klinger, Aimee Harrison, Scott Smiley, Laurie Shannon, Katie Stewart, and Courtney Berger.

As for the book itself, while I told you that I wouldn’t describe what it’s about, I leave you with Lauren’s summary at the end of the preface. I know it will grab you:  

Looking at sex, democracy, and the desire for life in a better world than the one that exists, the entire book tries narrating from the granular ordinary ways to lose, unlearn, and loosen the objects and structures that otherwise seem intractable. How not to reproduce the embedded violence of the unequal ordinary? People say, “You got this!” “We can do this!” But it’s more like, “Once you let in the deaths, all that follows is life.” A thing to be used.

Erica Rand is Professor of Art and Visual Culture and of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Bates College. She is the author of, most recently, The Small Book of Hip Checks: On Queer Gender, Race, and Writing. On the Inconvenience of Other People is available for 30% off on our website with coupon E22BRLNT.

Keywords in Caribbean Studies: A Small Axe Project

We are pleased to share a new annual special section from Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism: “Keywords in Caribbean Studies: A Small Axe Project”, a collaborative effort to examine the genealogy and contemporary lexicon of Caribbean cultural-political terms. The featured section will be published in each July issue of Small Axe, beginning with volume 26, no. 2 (68), which covers the multiplicity of meaning and fraught history of Caribbean discourse terms zwart, negro/a/x, négre, and Black.

“Our keywords project is an exercise in critical vocabulary that is less preoccupied with the production of a singular, authoritative definition for a term than it is with a genealogy of that term’s history and usage,” write the editors about the new special section. “In an effort to synthesize the historical meanings and enduring significance of terms that define our region and guide our study, we seek to trace histories of concepts and speculate imaginatively about their future uses and directions.”

Through this annual published conversation, Small Axe provides a space for readers and scholars to remain attentive to the tension, depth, and complexity of language while invigorating creative new thinking on contemporary and future studies in the Caribbean. Read the introduction to the inaugural collection of essays, made freely available.