Author: Jessica Covil-Manset

Books Marketing Graduate Student Intern, PhD Candidate in English at Duke. Poet!

Legal Personhood of Rivers and the Failure of Imagination: A World Water Day Guest Post by Naveeda Khan

On March 4, I woke up to an urgent message from Avaaz in my email asking me to join the global effort to protect the Earth’s rivers.  An image of a polluted river with denuded sides crowded with people trying to bathe or to pan (it was unclear which) graced their petition.  This could be any water body anywhere.  Yet, I have argued for paying attention to the specificity of types of water bodies in my scholarly work, thinking to militate against the tendency to dissolve all to water within the framework of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), the reigning policy paradigm.  It matters whether water comes in a plastic container or from a tube-well.  It matters what type of a river it is, say, braided or meandering.  Entirely different sets of experiences, practices, policies, problems spring to mind with each.

978-1-4780-1939-8My intuition is served by the recent spate of efforts to give personhood to rivers as distinct from other water bodies.  New Zealand’s Whanganui, United States’ Klamath, Colombia’s Amazon, Canada’s Magpie are all rivers which have had personhood given to them. The western legal concept of a person with rights and responsibilities has been tasked to express varying Indigenous notions of the river, from embodying ancestors to aspects of Mother Earth.  Whereas the notion of personhood has been used to much pernicious effect, such as in the granting of personhood to corporations, invariably the effort to extend personhood to rivers is to protect them, say from mining or damming or to secure them for eco-tourism, the latter bringing with it its own issues and concerns.

Even if such legal claims are yet to be tested and the protective, redemptive measures that unfold from them yet to be borne out in practice, the granting of personhood to rivers seems a positive development.  It helps express in however awkward a fashion a range of relations to rivers beyond thinking of them as “ecological service infrastructures” and provides a conceptual bridge for the imagination to take flight to explore other possible relations to rivers than the ones to which one is accustomed.  It raises the question for me: by means of this legal claim, what experiences and possibilities present themselves to people who have otherwise very instrumentalist relations to rivers?  Can we reimagine our relation to rivers?

As I explore in my recent book on the Jamuna River in Bangladesh, the river expresses itself in myriad ways among those who live alongside it.  While writing my book, I was hard pressed to find elaborate cosmologies with respect to the river.  Inspired by these recent moves to grant personhood to rivers, I turned to newspaper reportage on rivers in Bangladesh to see how these moves had registered within the Bangladeshi imagination.  The English national daily, the Daily Star, known for its consistent focus on the plight of rivers in Bangladesh, records the appalling state of the many rivers of Bangladesh (the Government of Bangladesh portal records 800).  The articles point to visual evidence and studies to show how rivers are being filled in to create roads and build factories and how their waters are becoming toxic due to chemical, industrial and household wastes.  Some are more forthright in saying that Bangladesh rivers are dying; in fact, 29 are considered biologically dead, unable to support life, possibly asphyxiating.

Among the causes for this crisis in the rivers of Bangladesh are infrastructural tendencies towards river training and the creation of embankments left over from British colonial times.  Other articles point to unfair water arrangements with India, notably the Farraka and Gajoldoba Barrages that caused the decline of the Padma and Teesta Rivers in Bangladesh.  In a grimly amusing interview with Saber Hossain Chowdhury, head of the parliamentary committee on Environment, Forest and Climate Change, he recounted “they [the industry’s ministry] make the same excuses each time, massive employment and earning of foreign currencies are involved with the tannery industry and a shutdown will have a negative impact,” followed by “We have asked the environment ministry to take measures to sever electricity connection to the respective industrial units upon their failure to act on the directives” (“Slow Death of the Dhaleswari”  Daily Star July 18, 2022).  And in a clear recognition that the forces that spell the death of rivers are the very same forces that seek to capture all resources in Bangladesh, another article specifies that names of encroachers on rivers be put on lists to prevent them from running for office, getting bank loans or even leaving the country (“Protecting Rights of Rivers: Turning Intentions into Action, Nov 20, 2020).

Such, then, is the context within which the Bangladesh High Court conferred legal personhood upon the Turag River in February 2019 and by extension all rivers in Bangladesh.  Writing in October 2021, Suraya Ferdous explains the history of the concept of environmental personhood to Daily Star readers, tracing it back from Dr. Christopher Stone’s 1972 book Should Trees Have Standing?, to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court Decision on behalf of natural entities, and to Ecuador’s enshrinement of the rights of Pachamamma (Mother Earth) in 2007 and Bolivia’s “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” (“The Idea of ‘Environmental Personhood’ with Reference to River” Daily Star, Oct 16, 2021).  The author notes that the important shift is in perception, from anthropocentricism that upholds natural entities as mere resources for human use, to considering that entities have their own rights to shield themselves from human exploitation. “Legal personhood entitles a river to sue, to utilise compensation for its own wholesomeness, to have a say in multipurpose projects and to have a right in rem not to be affected adversely” (ibid).  The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), created in 2014, was granted guardianship of the Turag.  Given the parlous state of law and order in Bangladesh it should not surprise that the NRCC’s efforts to publicize the names of encroachers on rivers are equal parts heroic and pusillanimous for quickly shelving any further actions against them.

What is interesting in the case of Bangladesh extending the rights of personhood to rivers is what transfers from the most capacious understanding of the notion of personhood of rivers.  This is another way of asking: what experiences and possibilities present themselves to people who have otherwise very instrumentalist relations to rivers?  Can we reimagine our relation to rivers?  In the case of say the Whangaui River in New Zealand, it is seen as continuous with the Maori social body—any harm to it is harm to Maoris. Meanwhile, rivers in Bangladesh are granted a more limited set of rights that stops shy of treating them as persons.  Rather, they are in the stated custody of persons whose practical action is to protect the rivers, again not for the rivers’ own sake but for the sake of the general good.  This fits within the normative Muslim perspective, in which nature is given to humans for their use but also to be safeguarded as God’s creation against human excesses (Bangladesh is majority Muslim).  Here too is an unstated reference to Hindu-Muslim relations in these parts through the implicit concern with associating humans with non-humans or rendering non-humans humanlike.  What is worrying for me in this question of what transfers or doesn’t transfer is the continued occlusion of those bodies which may put themselves with rivers along a continuum of personhood.  Indigenous populations or Adivasis in Bangladesh have long maintained relations with sacred groves, mountains and water bodies.  They have also long suffered violence and dispossession of their ancestral lands.  While personhood for rivers may enter the Bangladesh imagination through the route of international legal actions, it is dispiriting to find that it does not spur inquiry into Indigenous peoples in Bangladesh, as if they have nothing to add on the matter or insights, experiences, or even critiques.  In the event marking the launch of the bilingual translation of the above-mentioned High Court judgment in English and Bengali (“Protecting Rights of Rivers: Turning Intentions into Action, Nov 20, 2020), we hear from students of geography and law, various high-ranking officials of the Bangladesh Government, the senior editor of the Daily Star, lawyers, environmental activists associated with Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), and members of the NRCC. The usual faces, the usual voices, join in an undoubtedly noble struggle to keep alive rivers in Bangladesh, but offer no new possibilities for re-imagining our relations to rivers.

thumbnail_image001Naveeda Khan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University and author of Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan and the new book River Life and the Uprising of Nature. Save 50% on both books, now through April 17, with coupon code SPRING23.

Q&A with Monique Moultrie

Monique Moultrie is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University and author of Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality, also published by Duke University Press. In her new book Hidden Histories, she collects oral histories of Black lesbian religious leaders in the United States to show how their authenticity, social justice awareness, spirituality, and collaborative leadership make them models of womanist ethical leadership. By examining their life histories, Moultrie frames queer storytelling as an ethical act of resistance to the racism, sexism, and heterosexism these women experience. 

How does Hidden Histories build on or diverge from your earlier book Passionate and Pious?

My prior work centered on Black women as they make choices about their sexuality within larger celibacy movements. While Passionate and Pious had a chapter about Black lesbian Christian women asserting their sexuality in these prescribed sexual spaces, at minimum I was tracing a story of Black Christian women leaders’ messages about sexuality. Yet, ultimately the text centers on what their followers decided to do as described to me by women participating in these movements. In Hidden Histories, my focus is slightly different as I consider Black female religious and sexual actors exerting their agency in religious spheres. Both works are about Black women in leadership and both take seriously the sexual lives of Black women. Hidden Histories diverges in its emphasis on the lived realities of leadership as I provide the first collection of oral histories of Black lesbian religious leaders. I hope that Hidden Histories offers through these Black women’s stories a model of leadership that is applicable to everyone.

In your introduction, you mention how being a heterosexual ally who is not a religious leader placed you in an “outsider/within” scenario during these interviews. Within the interview setting, how did you navigate the complex, intersectional issues at hand as an “outsider”?

During the interviews I recognized that my role was to share their story and to get it right. While I was not a religious leader, I understood their passion and calling to leadership. As the spouse of a religious leader, I also could empathize with what the personal costs were for them. I made every effort to not be “in the story” but to reflect the story in my theorizing. My gleanings from their life histories needed to be professional, but I needed to share enough of myself to be vulnerable to the process. Yet, I did not pry into their private lives unless they wanted me to document something about their partners. While my first book was all about personal stories and sexual intimacies, I did not inquire about these things in the oral histories. There were many experiences we could share like racism, classism, sexism, etc., but I knew as a heterosexual I carried privileges that they did not experience. My interviews had to demonstrate a critical awareness while simultaneously trying to get their stories connected to my interest in social activism. Balancing these stories was a delicate dance.

What was the most surprising perspective or unexpected insight you heard while conducting these interviews?

Honestly, I was surprised by the number of Black women in leadership in non-majority Black spaces. When I started the project, I expected Black female religious leaders to be in Black Christian churches since statistically Black women are the most numerous participants in Black Christianity. Finding Black women leaders in other religions and women who were leading in predominately white spaces was surprising as it reiterated the impacts of sexism on Black women’s thriving. For example, each of the women who were leaders in the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a predominately Black gay- and lesbian-affirming denomination, left the denomination. (This was not just because of their experiences with sexism; but, like others admitted, the hypocrisy in communities created for freedom from oppression was disheartening.)

Denomination-swapping was also surprising to me as a lifelong Baptist who only briefly dabbled as a member of an African Methodist Episcopal church. The fluidity in the interviewees’ denominational loyalties was unexpected but also demonstrated the obstacles in place for Black women in traditional Black church spaces and the wider economic resources available in predominately white denominations.

The insight I gained was that there are no perfect spaces for Black women leaders. Even the places that should be panaceas had problems, which made their activism, resistance, and overall perseverance even more inspiring.

How do you see the intersectionality experienced by these Black lesbian religious leaders contributing to their pursuit of social justice activism in a way distinct from other groups?

The entire book is my attempt to answer this question. Simply put: being a Black lesbian leader made a difference because of their ability to lead collaboratively, inter-generationally, and from the moral wisdom of Black women. Their intersectional lives make them aware of those on the margins, and because their gender has often limited their access to traditional forms of leadership and the resources accompanying this leadership, they tend to work within communities and with attention to social justice concerns that impact entire communities.

What are your hopes for future scholarship in this field?

I completed a study on cisgender and largely Christian Black lesbian religious leaders. This was a righteous but incomplete task. I have received funding to complete additional interviews of Black transgender religious leaders and non-Christian leaders, but due to the pandemic and my overall lack of access to these communities, my expansion of scholarship has been limited. It is my hope that my study and subsequent interviews pave a path towards exploring Black trans leadership and Black non-Christian female leaders. I also hope that the fields of African American Religion and Gender and Sexuality Studies continue to look to its margins, bringing these voices to the center.

Read the introduction to Hidden Histories for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E23MLTRI.

The Weekly Read

978-1-4780-1922-0The Weekly Read for March 4, 2023 is Crip Genealogies edited by Mel Y. Chen, Alison Kafer, Eunjung Kim, and Julie Avril Minich. The contributors to Crip Genealogies reorient the field of disability studies by centering the work of transnational feminism, queer of color critique, and trans scholarship and activism, showing how a white and Western-centric narrative of disability studies enables ableism and racism.

Crip Genealogies is part of the series ANIMA: Critical Race Studies Otherwise, edited by Mel Y. Chen, Ezekiel J. Dixon-Román, and Jasbir K. Puar. Books in this series bring together queer theory, postcolonial studies, critical race scholarship, and disability theory to foreground the oft-occluded import of race and sex in the fields of posthumanist theory, new materialisms, vitalism, media theory, animal studies, and object-oriented ontologies. ANIMA emphasizes how life, vitality, and animatedness reside beyond what is conventionally and humanistically known.

Prefer the print version? Buy the book and use coupon code E23CRIPG at checkout for a 30% discount!

The Weekly Read is a weekly feature in which we highlight articles, books, and chapters that are freely available online. You’ll be able to find a link to the selection here on the blog as well as on our social media channels. Enjoy The Weekly Read, and check back next week for something new to read for free.

A “Lion’s Share” Playlist: Guest Post by Veit Erlmann

While researching and writing Lion’s Share, one song had been on my mind from the beginning: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It had featured in the 1994 Disney animated feature film “The Lion King,” followed in 1997 by the Broadway musical stage production, a variety of albums, and, finally, an updated version of the original movie in 2019. A central chapter in the book is about the lawsuit that the children of Solomon Linda, the composer of the song who had first recorded it under the title “Mbube” (Lion) in 1939, had brought against Disney for using the song without their permission.

My first encounter with Linda’s song predates the case by about two decades, to the 1980s when I was living in South Africa and hanging out with migrant workers, performing in the isicathamiya tradition of male a cappella choirs later made famous by Grammy Award winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo. “Mbube” was one of the staples in our repertoire, as in this performance by the Easy Walkers in 1983.

Most of us were not aware of the legal aspects of performing Linda’s song, although there was intense animosity against other choirs who were accused of “stealing” your songs. Least of all did Regina Linda, Solomon’s widow, know her rights when I met her in 1987. What I did know though was that Pete Seeger and the Weavers in 1952 had authored a derivate work of “Mbube” they called “Wimoweh.” To his credit, when Seeger found out that the original to “Wimoweh” was Linda’s work, he arranged for royalties to be transferred to the Linda family. Apart from the downhome banjo strumming, the Weavers also retained a certain level of loyalty to Linda’s call and response structure and falsetto voice.

Same cannot be said of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Penned by industry veterans Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George Weiss, it quickly rose to the top of the charts in 1961 and again in 1963 when the doo-wop group The Tokens recorded it for RCA. However, in contrast to Seeger, Weiss and Co. had not only put a conventional Tin Pan Alley format over the more improvisatory fabric of Linda’s original, but they also turned Linda’s last phrase into a hook with inane lyrics of a lion alternatively sleeping in the jungle and a village. Worst of all, TRO/Folkways, the label that had acquired the US rights to “Mbube” from Regina for one shilling, for decades failed to fully transfer all royalties due to her or her children. Nor did scores of other publishers and sub-publishers who had used “Mbube” and/or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” such as Abilene Music, the main defendant in the Disney lawsuit.

By way of contrast, my all-time favorite performance of the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” has been and remains that by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Mint Juleps, a British all-female a cappella group who in appeared in Spike Lee’s 1990 TV production and album Do It A Cappella. The way the two groups take turns in singing the lead part without either dominating, as in conventional renderings of the song, speaks to the deep Afrodiasporic connection that has been part and parcel of the isicathamiya tradition from the outset.

Little of the finer musical details of “Mbube’s” journey across the global soundscape mattered for the legal proceedings. The similarity of the derivative version and the original was all too obvious, even to what in US copyright law would be referred as the “ordinary observer.” But apart from having established the lineage that led to “Mbube” having become the most successful song to have originated on the African continent, and having, at least in part, righted a glaring wrong, the case will be relevant for South African music over the coming decades for another reason. For, as a result of the lawsuit, the current South African Copyright Act incorporates termination rights, allowing authors to regain their exclusive rights to their works.

Veit Erlmann is the author of Lion’s Share, a book that examines the role of copyright law in post-apartheid South Africa and its impact on the South African music industry. He is Professor and Endowed Chair of Music History at the University of Texas, author of Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality and Music, Modernity, and the Global Imagination: South Africa and the West, and editor of Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening, and Modernity. Read the introduction to Lion’s Share for free and save 30% on the book with coupon code E22ERLMN.

Q&A with Hunter Hargraves

hargraves headshot2022 hi-resHunter Hargraves is Associate Professor of Cinema and Television Arts at California State University, Fullerton. His new book Uncomfortable Television examines how postmillennial television made its audiences find pleasure through discomfort, showing that televisual unease trains audiences to survive under late capitalism, which demands that individuals accept a certain amount of discomfort, dread, and irritation into their everyday lives.

In your introduction, you describe your book as “a historiography of television’s formal relationship to pleasure” (7). In layman’s terms, how would you summarize the project or main intervention of Uncomfortable Television? 

Uncomfortable Television examines why, as television’s key forms, genres, and viewing practices changed dramatically throughout the early twenty-first century, television also began to make us feel more uncomfortable. For most of the twentieth century, TV was popularly thought to be a family-friendly entertainment medium. Audiences found pleasure in the simple setups of a sitcom, for example, and knew when to laugh thanks to the canned laugh track. Or they would watch a police drama and know who to root for, since these programs had clearly defined heroes and villains. In the twenty-first century, however, we derive pleasure on TV from much darker affects and situations. We cringe at irritating and awkward protagonists. We binge series that depict frequent instances of sexual assault and racialized violence, occasionally asking audiences to show some degree of sympathy for these “antiheroes.” As television evolved throughout the 2000s and early 2010s to include more serialized narratives, more high-quality aesthetics, more legitimation from cultural elites, more fan cultures, and more programming in general, it used these changes to mask this shift in pleasure—that’s the thrust of the book’s intervention.

In addition to this historiography, Uncomfortable Television both argues for an attention to affect and performance in television studies and offers a critique of neoliberalism. How do you connect these cultural and political/economic components in your analysis?

With respect to the first part of this—the attention to affect and performance in television studies—it’s partly coincidental: as television changes in the 21st century, affect studies also begins to emerge as an interdisciplinary field, giving scholars across the humanities and social sciences new vocabularies to make sense of cultural texts. Within media studies, most of this engagement with affect tends to focus on film, however, which I attribute to television’s “low” commercial status; at the time, television was thought as formally too uninteresting and too simplistic to merit affective inquiry. I argue that television has always been invested in the production of affect, but its looser narrative structure means that this investment occurs on different terms. In the book’s first chapter, for example, I go even further back and look at the British cultural historian Raymond Williams’ canonical writings on television and on affect—what he calls “structures of feeling”—to diagram how television represents the habits, behaviors, and feelings of everyday experience.

As far as neoliberalism goes, the connection is a little more direct: late capitalism thrives on an uncomfortable viewer/consumer in part because it can offer costly solutions to alleviate this discomfort. Beyond this, however, the changes to society enacted by neoliberalism—the outsourcing of the welfare state to private institutions, the valorization of entrepreneurship despite the precarity it engenders, and the reorganization of consumer society around the individual rather than the nuclear family—all pave the way for the proliferation of discomfort. Targeting the individual viewer rather than the family unit, for example, means that producers are no longer required to make family-friendly content, since narrowcasting has enabled each member of the family to watch different programs on different devices, thus resulting in programming with less restrictions when it comes to profanity, sex, and violence. Television has consistently taught audiences how to adjust to new economic realities going as far back to its popularization in the 1950s, which was strongly connected to the development of a postwar consumer society and the middle-class, suburban lifestyle associated with the “American dream.” Uncomfortable Television argues that postmillennial television has a similar function, teaching its audiences how to live under the anxiety and precarity common to neoliberalism.

978-1-4780-1957-2Can certain forms of discomfort be productive, or otherwise preferable to or distinct from others? How might you distinguish become “uncomfortable” and “offensive,” for example?

Discomfort is tricky to dissect, in part because it is pretty subjective: in your example, what is uncomfortable for one viewer might be offensive to another viewer. (And I acknowledge how my own position as a queer White male influences my readings of discomfort throughout the book.) But because television criticism has expanded throughout the twenty-first century, encompassing blogs, think pieces, podcasts, and social media commentary, I think it becomes a lot easier to map the nuances of audience discomfort. Now, that doesn’t necessarily recoup it as fully productive: in the book’s first chapter, I look at HBO’s Girls and the celebrity persona of its creator, Lena Dunham, who is satirically characterized as an irritating and entitled millennial who just doesn’t have it together. Irritation is rarely thought of as “productive” because it is too minor to provoke serious action. But I read Girls as reclaiming irritation in all of its forms—such as trolling or calling out—as weapons of survival for millennials in an economy stacked against them, which can result in fundamentally strange and contradictory feelings of joy and pleasure.

You assert that “television is a medium fundamentally of the present” (8). Can you expand on this distinction between television and other forms of media and on their differing temporalities/relationships to time?

Within television studies, TV has been historically thought of as a “medium fundamentally of the present” because of its liveness, since for the first half of its history its programming wasn’t easily archivable or replayable, aside from syndication and re-runs. This is why so many of the programs that garner high ratings over the past twenty years—sports and big reality competitions—rely on an unspoiled viewer watching live, despite advances in recording technology. Beyond that, and more relevant to my book’s project, television’s scripted storylines also creep out across several seasons, making it hard to periodize easily. A stand-alone film that moves towards closure more easily reflects its time of production and release, whereas television can tell a story across several years or even decades, making it harder to categorize affectively. One aside I make in the book is that even though shows like Friends and ER were some of the most popular series of the 2000s, their episodic forms are of the 1990s, so that throughout their runs they present a mix of historically-specific affects that isn’t always recognizable at their moment of broadcast. In Uncomfortable Television’s conclusion, for instance, I look at discomfort from the perspective of when a program’s comedic style feels too dated or problematic for the current time. I use the example of blackface in 30 Rock, which audiences enjoyed ironically fifteen years ago but now is considered inappropriate; in fact, series creator Tina Fey pulled episodes containing blackface from streaming platforms following the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter uprisings.

What’s your favorite television show (that would hold up under critical scrutiny, in your opinion), and what is your “guilty pleasure”?

This is hard, since I have so many favorites! Most of my recreational viewing actually falls into so-called “guilty pleasures”; I have a perverse interest in reality television, watching a lot of gamedocs like Big Brother and melodramas like the Housewives. Sometimes I think I became a scholar of television in part to rationalize my love of these programs and to subject them to the kind of critical scrutiny that still accounts for their many voyeuristic pleasures. But as far as more legitimated television goes, I tend to stan series that are invested in narrating the complexity of minoritarian experience—Paramount+’s The Good Fight might be my favorite drama from the past few years.

Read the introduction to Uncomfortable Television for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E23HRGRV.

The Best Books We Read in 2022

Whew, that’s a wrap on 2022! As always, we’ve got some fun reading recommendations for you, courtesy of Duke University Press staff!

Your Body Is Not Your BodyExhibits Manager Jes Malitoris recommends Your Body Is Not Your Body—an anthology for horror lovers, full of rage and catharsis from over 30 trans and non-binary authors, poets, and artists. These speculative fiction short stories and poems are not for the faint of heart, full of body horror and transformation. The collection is precisely what Jes needed this year, and as a bonus it is produced by a small press, with all the proceeds going to Equality Texas to protect and support trans youth.

Eve's HollywoodMeanwhile, Senior Copywriter Chris Robinson offers Eve’s Hollywood. As Chris puts it, this is a collection of essays by journalist, socialite, model, artist, etc. etc. etc. Eve Babitz. She paints a picture of the wealthy and glamorous side of Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s that she ran with—rock stars, her rich Beverly Hills classmates. In one particularly poignant essay she recounts spending the night in the legendary Chateau Marmont while the Watts riots were raging: a picture of the complexity and multiplicity of Los Angeles. Babitz’s writing is scary good—her acknowledgement section alone is astonishing.


Next up: Business Systems Coordinator Arvilla Mastromarino gives praise for Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Alone but for the occasional appearance of a man known as “The Other,” the book’s protagonist, Piranesi, wanders a labyrinthine world caught between sky and water. He helps The Other’s research into A Great and Secret Knowledge, only to learn a terrible truth of his own. Clarke masterfully weaves a dream of a tale that Arvilla didn’t want to wake up from!

Dark EarthBooks Marketing Manager Laura Sell especially enjoyed Dark Earth by Rebecca Stott. Laura says she’s never given much thought to the “Dark Ages”—the period after the Romans left England and abandoned the city of Londinium, but before England was unified in the tenth century. This novel richly imagines that period from the point of view of two sisters. Laura was struck in particular by the beautiful and haunting descriptions of the decaying Londinium, about 150 years abandoned when the novel takes place. The earth is slowly reclaiming the city, with no one to repair the infrastructure. Reading this book from a crossroads in our own democracy and civilization is instructive. Take care, the most technologically advanced empire can be but a memory in a hundred years.

Secret LivesInternational Library Sales Manager Natasha De Bernardi loved Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, a debut collection of nine short stories featuring Black women protagonists. The church is a theme throughout, but really they are intimate stories of black women (and girls) dealing with their inner desires. The book was published by a small university press and won the PEN/Faulkner Award as well as being a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. A recent New York Times op-ed listed the book as an example of the kind of quality fiction that is coming out of university presses and that does not find a place among big commercial publishers. Slate has a great article that tells the story of how the book got published.

Black Was the RiverPublicist & Academic Exhibits Coordinator Ryan Helsel’s favorite book of 2022 was Black Was The River, You See by Welsh photographer Dan Wood. In her introductory essay, writer Rachel Trezise presents the Welsh expression “milltir sgwâr,” which, while translating directly to “square mile,” refers “more particularly to the patch of ground you make your own—the place that shapes you and which is shaped in return by your connection.” For Dan Wood, this describes the villages and rolling hills that line the banks of the “unremarkable” River Ogmore along its short passage to the sea in South Wales. Wood’s muted color photographs use the Ogmore as a thread to connect lyrical observations of landscape, people, and detritus, creating a sense of place that is highly specific yet familiar. Ryan adds that, after the past few years of staying very close to home and spending many afternoons walking the banks of the Eno River (which, at 40 miles is more than twice the length of the Ogmore) with his two young children, the reminder to embrace the landscape, people, and artifacts that make up our “square mile” feels more valuable than ever.

And finally, Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Ault simply could not settle on just one! The three best books she read this year were The Sentence by Louise Erdrich; The Trees by Percival Everett; and All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews. In each of these works, politics are fundamental to the workings of plot and narrative in a way that feels elegantly worked-through, rather than tacked-on (as was the case in some other post-George Floyd novels that Elizabeth has read and read about…). Elizabeth adds that the books all have a strong sense of place; Erdrich and Mathews both evoke the Upper Midwest she knows and loves (in their Minneapolis and Milwaukee, respectively) in its glory and its violence. Each of the authors does smart and interesting things with character, even as Everett’s novel is much more satirical than the other two, which are both really warmly peopled. In their own ways, each is actually pretty f’ing funny, and Elizabeth loves when that can coexist (as it must; as we know it does in our everyday lives!) with an urgent attention to the evils of racism, capitalism, homophobia, transphobia, and the many other threats to collective thriving and liberation.Pic Collage

University Press Week: What’s #NextUp in Publishing?


Continuing our celebration of University Press Week 2022, we’re happy to share what’s #NextUp in publishing! We’ll turn it over to Charles Brower, Senior Project Editor of Journals here at Duke University Press.

Since 2020, the books and journals project editors of Duke University Press’s Editing, Design, and Production (EDP) department have sponsored a mentorship program for BIPOC students and recent graduates who are interested in pursuing a career in scholarly publishing. Our goal has been to provide a solid grounding in editing and editorial project management particularly, and more generally to try to offer a solution to that perpetual dilemma faced by so many—especially those from underrepresented groups—who aspire to enter the profession but have no publishing experience. In addition to the practical experience they get as student interns working for our editorial group, our mentees participate in in-depth discussions of copyediting, house style, workflows, interacting with authors, and many other topics that fall under the broad umbrella of editorial and scholarly publishing professional skills. By the end of their participation in the program, mentees are conversant, if not yet fluent, in the Chicago Manual of Style and have a specific, detailed sense of the work we do. 

The program had a relatively modest beginning: our mentee would meet with me and a colleague from the books side of our editorial group in a weekly or biweekly Zoom meeting, as the mentee’s work and/or school schedule allowed. In a sense, the Great Cloistering brought on by the pandemic had a silver lining with respect to these sessions, since we were able to meet the mentees wherever they happened to be working or studying. The colleague I partnered with for the first two years has left the press, but two other colleagues have stepped up to participate this year. And our ambitions for the new year are to involve even more colleagues from around the press to introduce our mentees to many other scholarly publishing roles and professional opportunities. 

It’s our hope, of course, that we have a lasting, positive effect on the nascent careers of these young people, even if they decide to enter another profession. Without exception, the participants in the program have been engaged, enthusiastic, and idealistic, and if they do become colleagues in scholarly publishing, they’ll be boons to the profession. And while our mission always is to support and inspire our mentees, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that I too have gotten a great deal out of participating in the program, whether through revisiting the habits and ethos that define how I edit or through interacting with and being inspired by a talented young person. I encourage anyone in the scholarly community reading this to look for opportunities to mentor, whether through similar programs at your institution or by reaching out to a junior colleague. The potential benefits for them, you, and the profession generally can’t be overstated. 

-Charles Brower 

Please continue on the blog tour by visiting the other university presses participating today. Head over to Temple University Press to read about their new Transformations book series, then check out the University Press of Kansas‘s feature on their new Lyda Conley Series on Trailblazing Indigenous Futures. The University of Pittsburg Press shares an interview with their new Acquisitions Editor Will Hammell about starting new areas of acquisition, and the University of Nebraska Press features a blog post about their Provocations series. The University of Minnesota Press details new developments in the Manifold digital publishing platform, the University of North Carolina Press unveils their new Black Women’s History series, and Leuven University Press spotlights the book Black Matrilineage, Photography, and Representation. The University Press of Kentucky gives an overview of the Appalachian Futures series with Editor Abby Freeland, the University of Notre Dame Press posts the results of their first-ever Publishing Boot Camp, and the Hopkins Press Internship Program enters is second year. The University of Florida Press offers a video with editors of their new series Caribbean Crossroads series, and the University of Michigan Press features an interview with Acquisitions Editor Ellen Bauerle about a newly emerging Greek/Modern Intersections series. Read about another internship program at the University of Alabama Press, and learn about the Texas A&M University Press‘s TV show on PBS. Penn State University Press shares a post from Acquisitions Editor Archna Patel about developments in their Africana studies list, and Purdue University Press Director Justin Race outlines their new Navigating Careers in Higher Education series as well as their new website. The University of Washington Press runs a Q&A with editors of the new series, Abolition: Emancipation from the Carceral, and the University of Toronto Press features a post by one of their editors about a new series. Finally, the University of Illinois Press highlights exciting changes to their Disability Histories series. 

University Press Week: Who’s #NextUp at DUP?

UPW2022-logo-webIt’s University Press Week! This year, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has chosen the theme “Next UP” to highlight the dedicated work performed by those in the university press community to seek out, engage, advance, and promote the latest scholarship, ideas, best practices, and technology. Read more about University Press Week and check out the Next UP gallery and reading list featuring publications published by our peer presses.

Today, we’re responding to the prompt, “Who’s #NextUp at your press?” to spotlight an early-career staff member on the rise. Continue reading for an insightful Q&A with Assistant Editor Ryan Kendall!

headshot picWhat got you interested in academic publishing?

It was maybe inevitable that I ended up in the publishing world. I’ve always loved reading and writing. I’ve built homes in books since I learned how to read, and I’ve learned to think through writing. I have delighted in the ecstatic fullness that language can offer, and I have been devastated by its resistance to be full again. It is a love story, after all.

I came to academic publishing because, after completing a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies PhD in 2020, I was not done thinking. I am not done thinking. Academic publishing is compelling to me because the books we publish want to challenge what and how we think. Academic publishing is a space where ideas, methods, and practices are given so much care. It’s also a space (though certainly not the only or primary space) where more livable worlds are envisioned. To be in a position to support and guide these processes is incredible.

More exactly, what brought me to academic publishing is love. I have a deep love and respect for the writing process and for what writing can do. For me, an opportunity to share in that process is a life-giving one. Academic publishing lives within the expansiveness of what it means to write, and that is so exciting to me. Each book is teeming with the echoes of formative conversations between authors, scholars, editors, reviewers, and a whole host of individuals. In each book, there is a world, and with each book, another world is becoming.

It’s too simple to say that what brought me to Duke University Press is their incredible history of consistently publishing stellar books. Of course, that wasn’t not why. But it was more personal than that. I can locate the exact moment when I knew I wanted to build a publishing career at DUP. It was 2019, and I was attending the Duke Feminist Theory Workshop as a graduate student. There, the late Laurent Berlant announced their Writing Matters! series at Duke University Press. My heart swelled. I felt giddy. I knew where I needed to be—where writing mattered.

How would you describe your career trajectory so far? How was the transition from your PhD program to your work at the press?

I would describe my career trajectory so far as challenging and a little dizzying but mostly exciting and promising. I joined DUP just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I had to learn the ropes as they were moving. The absence of in-person talks and conferences made networking especially challenging, so I’ve had to be creative. Despite these difficulties, I feel as though I am in a really promising and supportive place to establish my publishing career.

The transition from a PhD program to a publishing career is a unique one. Graduate programs are geared toward preparing you for tenure-track professorships, though I do think we are now seeing more and more discussions within graduate programs about alternative academic jobs. In the move to publishing, you’re shifting from budding scholar to budding editor. Your relationship to the work changes. I recall, in my first week, my supervisor asked me what I thought about an author’s work on affect theory. I answered with something along the lines of: “I think their work is really productive, but I question the ways in which affect here inadvertently becomes a way of sanitizing sexuality.” He stared at me blankly. I came to realize later that the disconnect happening in this moment was a result of me trying to answer his question as a graduate student, not a potential editor. My relationship to the work now is less about my own personal investments (though I am absolutely personally invested) and more about its quality, scope, intervention, significance, reach, and marketing potential (I know, marketing potential, gross, but it’s a real concern in publishing). It’s a shift that takes some learning and unlearning. Of course, this is not to say that my graduate training has not been useful here. I have drawn, again and again, on my graduate experience in this job.

What advice would you give to those wanting to move into this field?

My advice is to start seeking out experiences that translate within the world of publishing. If you’re a graduate student, you might assist a professor who is preparing an article or book manuscript for production. Formatting manuscripts, obtaining permissions for text reprints or images, and assembling art programs are all part of publishing. Are there any journals housed at your institution? Do any of your professors serve as editors for journals? Do they need an editorial assistant? I worked as an editorial assistant for the James Baldwin Review for a couple of years prior to graduation, and though I was coming to publishing with a PhD in a relevant field, my editorial experience is what helped set me apart. If your institution has a press, they likely have part-time positions for students. Some presses have paid internships as well. You also might be surprised by what sorts of job skills can help you advance in publishing. Having some experience with administrative work is a great thing. Publishing is a lot of that too.

My other piece of advice is to do your research. What books are you most excited about, and who is publishing them? What does peer review look like there? How many books do they typically publish a year? Are there any talks on publishing you can attend? So many talks have virtual options now, so they’re becoming more and more accessible. Some have been recorded and are available on YouTube. The Association of University Presses also has a wealth of resources online about publishing, though I believe it is behind a paywall. Also, reach out to editors! Start a conversation. If you’re interested in a job, make it known. There is little to be lost and much to be gained by letting presses know that you’re interested in their work.

action shotYou are currently an Assistant Editor who acquires books in feminist philosophy. What do you look for in a project? What gets you really excited about a book?

What I look for in a project is a refusal to take its own terms and the terms of our contemporary moment for granted. I’m most excited about books that are theoretically and politically engaged and are committed to thinking with race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Truly, I am interested in books that challenge modes of thinking, feeling, and living in our contemporary moment (while still being historically-minded).

Feminist philosophy is near and dear to my heart. For me, feminist philosophy means attending to the philosophical exigencies of gender and sexuality. It also means attending to the gendered and sexed exigencies of philosophy (*gasp* a chiasmus!). What is most compelling to me about feminist philosophy is the way it calls on feminism’s historical investments in antifoundationalisma refusal to let the dust settle on essentialisms and metaphysical truths. What I’m looking for in a project, then, is one that deeply interrogates its own assumptions and needs—what it needs from gender, from feminism, from philosophy. Feminist philosophy is, for me, as much a project of critique as it is of philosophical exploration.

What are some hopes that you have for Duke University Press moving forward?

I am hopeful that Duke University Press will continue to strengthen its reputation of theoretical rigor and political edge, and I am also hopeful that DUP will continue to close the gap between the politics of the work it publishes and the politics of its workplace. It is not a secret that scholarly publishing generally struggles to be a hospitable and supportive place for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Several of my colleagues have done incredible work to identify and remedy this problem—namely Alejandra Mejía, Jocelyn Dawson, and our Editorial Director Gisela Fosado, all of whom have leading roles in creating the Toolkits for Equity Project with the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications. This project is an invaluable resource for the scholarly publishing community, and it has a wealth of free materials for download. Anyone interested in scholarly publishing should take advantage of this resource.

Going forward, I hope to see more structured mentor/mentee opportunities within and beyond DUP, so that young professionals, especially BIPOC young professionals, have built-in support and guidance as they carve out their own publishing identities and futures. From what I have seen, scholarly publishing tends toward a competitive culture of ‘every person for themselves.’ So long as this is the case, few will thrive, and those few are likely to be buoyed by social and racial privileges.


Check back here tomorrow and Thursday for more great blog posts, and don’t forget to share your love for university presses online with the hashtag #NextUp.

Please continue on the blog tour by visiting the other university presses participating today. At MIT Press, several MITP acquisitions editors share what is #NextUP on their lists. Hopkins Press spotlights a new staff member and University of Georgia Press offers mini profiles of several of their newer employees (or employees in new positions). Head to University Press of Colorado for an interview with editors Allegra Martschenko and Robert Ramaswamy, and then over to University of Notre Dame Press for an interview with their 5+1 Postdoctoral Fellow. Princeton University Press offers an interview with their Publishing Fellows in Content Marketing and Editorial; this Publishing Fellowship aims to address a lack of diverse representation across the publishing industry by offering unique mentorship opportunities. Penn State University Press introduces some of their early-career employees in acquisitions, marketing, and production, and University of Toronto Press shares a first-hand account of being at UTP for over a year and the journey of getting into publishing. Check out an interview with Press Assistant Shalini Nanayakkara about her first year at University of British Columbia Press and then read a feature with Vanessa Parnell-Burton, the University of West Indies Press Accounts Payable Officer, about joining the UP publishing world. Purdue University Press shares a Q&A with their Acquisitions Assistant and SUNY Press  shares a Q&A with two of their early-career employees. Finally, check out a spotlight of new innovations coming to University of Michigan Press.

Q&A with Jessica Barnes (+ Teaching Guide!)

JessicaBarnesPhotoJessica Barnes is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the School of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of South Carolina. She is author of Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt, also published by Duke University Press, and coeditor of Climate Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives on Climate Change. Her new book, Staple Security: Bread and Wheat in Egypt, explores the central role that bread and wheat play in Egyptian daily life as well as the anxieties surrounding the possibility that the nation could run out these staples.

You recently put together a Teaching Guide that pairs with Staple Security. What prompted you to put this supplement together, and what do you hope students and teachers take away from it?

Staple Security is a text that would work well in undergraduate and graduate classrooms. I worked hard to write in a way that is clear, engaging, and jargon-free, and the result is a book that I think will be widely accessible. The subject matter is also topical and speaks to issues of broad interest – the foods that anchor our daily lives and their links with questions of security at both household and national scales. Inspired by the wonderful teaching guide written by Susan Bibler Coutin for her book Exiled Home (Duke, 2016), I wrote the supplement to offer instructors ideas of ways in which they might integrate the book, or parts of the book, in their classes. It was also an opportunity to share some of the resources that I have developed over the past five years teaching a class on Global Food Politics, such as my bread-tasting activity and a comparative discussion of accessing subsidized bread in Cairo and SNAP benefits in New York City. I hope that students and teachers will find questions and resources in the guide that will enrich their engagement with the text, spark new lines of thought, and help them see the connections between this material, current affairs, and their own lives.

How would you describe your own pedagogical approach? What’s most important to you as an educator?

To me, teaching isn’t so much about providing students with information so that they can answer questions as about training them in what questions to ask. One of my favorite pedagogical techniques is to show students a photograph, newspaper article, advertisement, or video clip, and ask them to reflect on the story the source is trying to tell and the message it seeks to convey. Just as significantly, we talk about what the source leaves out of the frame and the points it seeks to obscure. What’s most important to me as an educator is that students come away from my classes with an enhanced ability to analyze and consider multiple perspectives. Students sometimes comment on my evaluations that my classes have taught them to think in a new way. Those are the comments that make my heart sing.

978-1-4780-1852-0_prAs you explain in a recent op-ed for The Conversation, the war in Ukraine has threatened wheat supply, thus contributing to—one might say—a staple insecurity in Egypt. What might readers gain from your book’s attention to “staple security,” even (or especially) in the face of precarity?

My book’s attention to what I call staple security will prompt readers to reflect on the things that make them feel anxious or fearful, as well as those things that make them feel comfortable and safe, both as individuals in their homes and as citizens of a state. The fact that many Egyptians worry about their nation running out of wheat—as brought home by the war in Ukraine—might come as a surprise to many readers, for whom this likely doesn’t register as a concern. But it might resonate with how they think about other things, like reliance on foreign oil. The book will also help readers think about the ongoing efforts to address precarity, some explicitly framed in terms of security and others not, as individuals, households, and nations strive for stability and comfort. In the book I apply this frame to think about staple foods, but as I argue in the conclusion, staple security could also be used to think about other key needs, like water and energy.

As an aside, readers might be struck by the near absence of the word “insecurity” in my book. I choose not to write in terms of security and insecurity because I find it creates a false duality: a sense that an individual, household, or nation is secure if it has reliable, affordable access to sufficient, safe food; otherwise, it is insecure. If security is seen more as a practice than an achieved status, insecurity can’t be parceled off as a distinct form of experience. For it is the sense of threat that is produced by conditions of insecurity that shapes the practice of security.

Readers have praised the sensory details included in your writing about bread. Would you consider this an essential feature of Staple Security? How does it contribute to the book?

In writing the book, it was important to me to try to bring readers into the times and spaces in which Egyptians are handling and eating bread, whether at the bakery, by the oven, on the street, or in their homes. I wanted to give readers a sense of what it is like to eat this food on a daily basis and why the presence and taste of those loaves matters so much when they are a core component of every breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Sensory engagements with bread—the feel of loaves that are still hot, for example, or the taste of bread that is baked within the home—are a central part of the book. They speak to some of the key daily practices around bread—like heating loaves of frozen bread or airing loaves of warm bread before packing them in a plastic bag—which we don’t typically think of as practices of security, but which I argue are just as fundamental to securing the consistent supply of a tasty staple. They also underscore what is at stake: the quality and experience of everyday life, embedded in those moments of sitting down to eat a meal with a bread that is soft and flavorful.

Something fun to end on: are you a bread eater yourself? What’s your favorite bread-based meal?

Yes, bread is definitely my staple!

My favorite bread-based meal would have to be a Middle Eastern meze—a selection of small dishes—served with pita bread. This kind of meal isn’t so commonly eaten in Egypt, where I conducted the fieldwork for this book, but I fell in love with it during my first visit to Jordan in 1999 and subsequent time spent living and working in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. To me, a spread of salads and dips like moutabal (made from smoked eggplant) and hummus, eaten with bread, is a perfect meal. I’d be equally as happy, though, eating fresh bread with just some labne (strained yogurt cheese) and a few olives.

Read the introduction to Staple Security for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22STAPL.

Q&A with Donovan O. Schaefer

Donovan Schafer 5a (1)Donovan O. Schaefer is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power, also published by Duke University Press, and The Evolution of Affect Theory: The Humanities, the Sciences, and the Study of Power. Schaefer’s new book is Wild Experiment: Feeling Science and Secularism after Darwin. Examining the reception of evolutionary biology, the 1925 Scopes Trial, and the New Atheist movement of the 2000s, Schaefer theorizes the relationship between thinking and feeling by challenging the conventional wisdom that they are separate.

How does Wild Experiment, which is your second book, build on or diverge from your earlier book Religious Affects?

After writing Religious Affects, I had a lot of people tell me they were convinced by its core argument—that affect theory is an excellent lens for studying the relationship between religion and power. But it also ended up reaffirming a binary that I found troubling: the notion that religion is uniquely driven by affect, the emotional counterpart to secular rationality.

That’s not what I meant to put forward at all. I think affect theory offers what Lauren Berlant calls a “sensualized epistemology,” a way of defining the relationship between thinking and feeling, rather than just building out the study of feeling as a domain radically separate from thinking. So Wild Experiment goes much further than Religious Affects in setting out to show how what we think of as purely cognitive processes—including reason, science, and secular rationality—are determined by affect.

That said, a big part of what the book is up to is making the case that seeing thinking and feeling as connected doesn’t mean that we can’t learn, reflect, and build our understanding of the world around us. Knowledge-making is a process that’s shot through with affects, but as I argue in the Introduction, that’s both why it works when it works and why it gets pulled off course.

978-1-4780-1825-4_prIn your Introduction, and then throughout your book, you are interested in “the emotions that move thought” and “the way thinking feels” (3). Can you say a bit about how your book breaks down the thinking/feeling binary?

The thinking/feeling binary is what I think of as an “ambient” paradigm. It’s not necessarily something that scholars—or anyone else—says or writes down. They don’t have to. It saturates so much of our thinking that it’s everywhere, from academic monographs to social media feeds to chatting at the bar. Even some thinkers who push back on the priority of cognition will tend to reiterate the binary, reaffirming the value of the affective by assigning it priority over cognition. This is a syntax that informs a lot of affect theory, especially versions of affect theory that are most closely associated with the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

That doesn’t at all mean the binary is accepted across the board. The first half of the book is an extended survey of thinkers and literatures that push back on the binary from different directions. Some of that comes from within the Western philosophical tradition, but I’m especially interested in other strands of affect theory (especially as informed by queer of color theory), postcolonial critiques of secularism, science and technology studies, the post-critical turn in literary theory, and academic psychology. My hope is that putting all these conversations side by side builds a conceptual critical mass that will help destabilize the thinking/feeling binary.

In addition to being an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, you are also Core Faculty in the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. To what extent does this book contribute to or borrow from gender/feminist studies?

I realized after I had finished the book that it had actually started in a seminar I took in grad school on feminist epistemologies with Linda Martín Alcoff. That seminar highlighted the limitations of classical epistemologies that focus exclusively on the intellectual dimension of thought. Feminist epistemologists have been interested in how to connect thinking to embodiment for decades. And feminist epistemology, as I read it, is also centrally concerned with the question of how a belief comes to seem like an expression of impartial reason. Feminists wanted an explanation for why skewed knowledges were so effective at defending themselves with appeals to “reason.” What they found is that the composition of any given political rationality is always configured by a distinct set of historical coordinates. Every reason has a genealogy. Some feminists went further, showing that these genealogies were embodied and affective.

I also draw heavily on the longstanding interest among queer and trans theorists in desire, pleasure, and feeling. The version of affect theory I’m most interested in is a direct outgrowth of these central concerns of queer critique. One of the arguments I make in Chapter 2 is that Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. I, one of the foundational texts in queer theory, has actually been read through a prism that blocks some of its most compelling insights. Foucault spends a huge amount of time in that book elaborating what he calls “power-knowledge-pleasure.” That conceptual structure is foundational to the arguments he makes about science, politics, and sexuality. But it gets surprisingly little attention in the secondary literature, especially when Foucault is read outside of queer theory. One of my aims is to develop the conceptual link between science and feeling that has been of vital importance to queer science studies.

One of the book’s major concerns is race, and you engage with a range of figures coming from Black studies and queer of color theory to develop that analysis. What is “racialized reason”?

I’m interested in the question of how something comes to seem “reasonable” to some people in their time and place, and how oppressive regimes of knowledge are able to fortify themselves by appealing to “rationality.” Why does a racist society end up producing, validating, and recirculating racist science, for instance? I don’t think it’s adequate to say that racists create a well-packaged lie that none of them actually believe and put it into circulation to preserve existing hierarchies. I think racist ideas are genuinely believed by racists, even when they verge into absurdity. What I argue, building on queer of color theorists interested in affect, is that it’s because “reason” is not just the neutral analysis of ideas and information. It’s configured by a set of affective parameters that dictate what feels true. Racist structures of feeling configure “rationality” itself, setting the table for racist ideas to feel true.

This is where the constant Trumpist refrain of “fuck your feelings” comes from. White supremacists are able to present themselves as above the fray of “emotions” because what they call “rationality” has been fashioned within a white supremacist society. Their version of “reason” makes racist ideas feel true. Everyone who disagrees with them is dismissed as “emotional.” Sara Ahmed calls this whiteness as an orientation that is in frictionless alignment with the “white world.” The big lie underwriting all this, of course, is that what they call “rationality” has itself been configured by white supremacist structures of feeling. “Reason” has become racialized through its contamination by racist affects. So what they’re really saying is “fuck your feelings—but protect my feelings at all costs.”

Sharon Patricia Holland’s concept of racism’s “erotic life” has been a huge influence on me, too. Her work opened up for me a way of thinking about racism as something that doesn’t have to be associated with a set of functional or economic priorities. Part of what makes racism as intractable as it is—and why it’s so easy for neo-fascist movements to mobilize racism—is the pleasure dimension of racism that doesn’t necessarily reduce to a calculation of costs and benefits for racists. Constantly framing racism as an economic strategy awards way too much political intelligence to racists. Coming from another direction, Sylvia Wynter and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s challenge to a particular Euro-modern definition of “Man” as that which is autonomous and unaffected is crucial for this project.

You talk about the prevalence of misinformation, and how people are compelled not by what is “true,” necessarily, but what “feels true” given what they have already come to know/believe. How might this insight inform the way that people engage with each other across gaps in understanding and differences of thought or values?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there’s a global crisis of communication happening right now. One of the dimensions of that crisis, as I see it, is that we still tend to assume that good information always floats to the top, that there’s an inevitable algorithm by which “truth will out.” What I propose, instead, is that we need to see the landscape of information as defined by feeling. That doesn’t mean we’re lost at sea. The work of better understanding ourselves and the world around us is an emotional process—and it succeeds because it’s guided by feeling, what Audre Lorde calls “consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with.” But we also need to recognize that sometimes beliefs are fastened in place because they feel good, regardless of whether they’re true. Conspiracy theory, I suggest in the book, is a perfect example of this. It’s a sprawling set of interconnected beliefs that are embraced—passionately—because they’re the most exciting possible interpretation of a situation. Conspiracy theories flourish in the social media age because they’re pitch-perfect clickbait. They explain the world in ways that are profoundly misleading—but feel good. They’re seductive ideas that people quite literally “want to believe.”

On the other hand, I think we also too often tend to assume that people are either “rational”—if they’re following what we consider the right ideas or evidence—or “irrational”—if they refuse. I don’t think that framing of the problem leads anywhere. The liberal fantasy of a rational public sphere—in which people are always and everywhere persuaded by better arguments, more evidence, more facts—is a myth; but it’s also a mistake to think that someone who isn’t persuaded by new information is fundamentally immune to facts. Both of those framings are ways of mapping persuasion according to the thinking/feeling binary. Being more thoughtful about persuasion means recognizing that persuasion is always about reshaping what feels true for someone. Understanding how that affective landscape is shaped by factors that are extrinsic to the content of what you’re saying to someone is crucial. But it’s also important to recognize that facts themselves are powerful tools of persuasion, especially when we consider how facts feel to people in different contexts and positions.

What do you hope that readers take away from Wild Experiment, if you had to sum it up in a tweet?

The thinking/feeling binary is a construct; it’s a construct with a history, but one that has been extraordinarily successful at presenting itself as a natural division. There’s no thinking that we do that isn’t affectively defined. We always feel our way along. And to understand the relationship of knowledge and power, we have to make feeling central to our analysis. As Lorde writes, “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.”

Read the introduction to Wild Experiment for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon E22SCHFR.