Feminist Studies

Gisela Fosado’s Sale Recommendations

Image reads: use code SPRING22, Spring Sale, 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues through May 27
Our Spring Sale continues for two more weeks. If you’re looking for suggestions for what to buy, check out Editorial Director Gisela Fosado’s recommendations. Use coupon SPRING22 to save 50% on these and all in-stock titles.

With the Latin American Studies Association conference wrapped up last weekend, I thought I’d recommend a dozen of our most important brand new books (published within the past 6 months) in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx studies.

Troillot Remixed: The Michel-Rolph Trouillot Reader edited by Yarimar Bonilla, Greg Beckett, Mayanthi L. Fernando.
“By the sheer force of his example, he invited us to recognize not only the irreducible complexity of the Caribbean as a horizon of inquiry but also the intellectual duty to take up the challenge of reinventing the categories through which we apprehend and engage this complexity. Trouillot Remixed offers us a thematically distilled selection of his work that will provoke us to appreciate his contribution in fresh and unexpected ways.” — David Scott, Columbia University

Planetary Longings by Mary Louise Pratt
“These brilliant essays bring cultural theory to life. Mary Louise Pratt thinks across the Americas, drawing us into a repertoire that every American should grasp. To decolonize the postcolonial legacy, she shows us how to think generously and rigorously as well as politically.” — Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene

The Florida Room by Alexandra T. Vazquez
“Alexandra T. Vazquez’s bold, brilliant, and refreshingly unconventional meditatin on sonic placemaking in Florida is fearless and groundbreaking. Compressing the deep, wide, and volatile politics and poetics of the global South into a focused exploration of the “Sunshine State,” The Florida Room reminds readers of what daring, innovative, and challenging theory looks and sounds like. This luminous book opens up our notions of what counts as theory as well as who gets identified as theorists.” — Daphne A. Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

Scales of Captivity: Racial Capitalism and the Latinx Child by Mary Pat Brady
“Mary Pat Brady has written a multilayered, bracing study with deep historical roots and startling contemporary resonance. She reanimates questions of citizenship and exclusion at the heart of Chicanx/Latinx studies, while simultaneously uncovering the inextricability of childhood, queer politics, and acts of witnessing.” — Richard T. Rodríguez, author of Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics

Loss and Wonder at the World’s End by Laura A. Ogden
“In its freshness of vision, its first-person mode of presentation, its openheartedness, and its scattering of materials in delicate montages, Loss and Wonder at the World’s End is such fun to read. Laura A. Ogden’s persistent view of history throughout the text as multivalent, dense, and mysterious is wonderful.” — Michael T. Taussig, author of Mastery of Non-mastery in the Age of Meltdown

Suspicion: Vaccines, Hesitancy, and the Affective Politics of Protection in Barbados by Nicole Charles
Suspicion is a compellingly written and superlatively theorized ethnography of public health, affect, and the persistence of racism in the Caribbean. Nicole Charles uses suspicion to understand the logic behind Black parents’ decisions about whether to give their children vaccines, showing that their decisions are rooted not in ignorance and irrationality but within long histories of racial and sexual injury as well as hierarchies related to race, class, color, education, and authority.” — Deborah A. Thomas, author of Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair

Stories That Make History: Mexico through Elena Poniatowska’s Crónicas by Lynn Stephen
“The fortuitous pairing of perhaps Mexico’s most beloved, enduring, and influential writer with one of its most prolific and accomplished international scholars of social and cultural movements gives rise to an extraordinary collaboration. This engrossing volume will be required reading for anyone seriously interested in Mexican journalism and literature, history and history-making, and the formation of social memory.” — Gilbert M. Joseph, coeditor of The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics

Unintended Lessons of Revolution by Tanalís Padilla
“This book transcends the constricted scope of a narrow institutional study to throw new light on a series of larger questions concerning Mexico’s legacy of revolution, its failed rural policies, and the explosion of unrest among rural teachers and activists. It is a pleasure to read.” — Brooke Larson, author of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910

Workers Like All the Rest of Them: Domestic Service and the Rights of Labor in Twentieth-Century Chile by Elizabeth Q. Hutchison
“Presenting a series of timely, important, and often surprising arguments, Workers Like All the Rest of Them will find an audience among Chileanists, historians of gender and labor, as well as social science scholars interested in domestic work around the world.” — Nara B. Milanich, author of Paternity: The Elusive Quest for the Father

The Lettered Barriada: Workers, Archival Power, and the Politics of Knowledge in Puerto Rico by Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo
“Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo’s focus on the ‘politics of knowledge production’ explodes our understanding of the internecine struggles within the early Puerto Rican Left and the politics of race and gender in the construction of radical social movements in Puerto Rico.” — Eileen J. Findlay, author of We Are Left without a Father Here: Masculinity, Domesticity, and Migration in Postwar Puerto Rico

Cover of The Nature of Space by Milton Santos features a black and white photograph of Santos. He is wearing reading glasses and looking slightly to his left while gesturing with his hands. The title and subtitle appear over the photo in yellow and white type.

The Nature of Space by Milton Santos, translated by Brenda Baletti
“Milton Santos was one of the most important Black thinkers in the Americas writing in the last four decades, one of the most important Brazilian intellectuals of all time, and one of the most cited and noteworthy geographers in Latin America. This extremely important translation subverts our tendencies to ignore scholarship being produced in the global South and marks a key step in decolonizing thought in US academe.” — Keisha-Khan Y. Perry, author of Black Women against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil

Cocaine: From Coca Fields to the Streets, edited by Enrique Desmond Arias and Thomas Grisaffi
“Through its attention to both the transnational cocaine commodity chain and the locally specific moral economies that have developed along it, Cocaine presents an innovative and urgent perspective. This highly original and engaging volume makes significant contributions to studies of crime, governance, economics, and Latin American studies.” — Rivke Jaffe, author of Concrete Jungles: Urban Pollution and the Politics of Difference in the Caribbean

Finally, if you haven’t checked out the 2022 Bryce Wood Award honorees, now is the perfect time to pick up a copy of the books that won or were honorable mentions for LASA’s top prize, Bret Gustafson’s Bolivia in the Age of Gas and Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador by Thea Riofrancos.  Huge congratulations to Bret and Thea!

New Books in May

As we approach the end of the semester, kick off your summer reading with some of our great new titles! Here’s what we have coming out in May.

Shannen Dee Williams provides a comprehensive history of Black Catholic nuns in the United States in Subversive Habits, tracing how Black sisters’ struggles were central to the long African American freedom movement.

The contributors to Re-Understanding Media, edited by Sarah Sharma and Rianka Singh, advance a feminist version of Marshall McLuhan’s key text, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, repurposing his insight that “the medium is the message” for feminist ends.

In Queer Companions, Omar Kasmani theorizes the construction of queer social relations at Pakistan’s most important Sufi site by examining the affective and intimate relationship between the site’s pilgrims and its patron saint.

In The Impasse of the Latin American Left, Franck Gaudichaud, Massimo Modonesi, and Jeffery R. Webber explore the Latin American Pink Tide as a political, economic, and cultural phenomenon, showing how it failed to transform the underlying class structures of their societies or challenge the imperial strategies of the United States and China.

In Passionate Work, Renyi Hong theorizes the notion of being “passionate about your work” as an affective project that encourages people to endure economically trying situations like unemployment, job change, repetitive and menial labor, and freelancing.

Allan E. S. Lumba explores how the United States used monetary policy and banking systems to justify racial and class hierarchies, enforce capitalist exploitation, and counter movements for decolonization in the American colonial Philippines in Monetary Authorities.

In The Lives of Jessie Sampter, Sarah Imhoff tells the story of the queer, disabled, Zionist writer Jessie Sampter (1883–1938), whose body and life did not match typical Zionist ideals and serves as an example of the complex relationships between the body, queerness, disability, religion, and nationalism.

Jodi Kim examines how the United States extends its sovereignty across Asia and the Pacific in the post-World War II era through a militarist settler imperialism that is leveraged on debt in Settler Garrison.

In Legal Spectatorship, Kelli Moore traces the political origins of the concept of domestic violence through visual culture in the United States, showing how it is rooted in the archive of slavery.

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Three Questions with Zeynep Korkman & Sherene Razack, Editors of “Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism”

Zeynep Korkman and Sherene Razack are editors of “Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism,” a new special issue of Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism that traces the global circuits and formations of power through which anti-Muslim racism travels, operates, and shapes local contexts. The full issue is free to read through the end of June; start reading here.

What makes “Transnational Feminist Approaches to Anti-Muslim Racism” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?

Transnational feminists begin with the idea that gender is not an abstract system but rather one that emerges in and through global capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. Attentive not only to the differences in women’s lives but also to the inequalities among women, transnational feminists have long had a preoccupation with global circuits of power. This collection of essays offers insight into how anti-Muslim racism travels along such global circuits. As racism travels and becomes attached to local conflicts, Muslims are installed as a pre-modern, barbaric, racial Other, a racial category that consolidates white supremacy and other civilizational discourses. The collection is the first to discuss how global white supremacy is upheld through anti-Muslim racism.

The transnational feminist analysis that this special issue embraces emphasizes that anti-Muslim racism is a gendered phenomenon. Muslim women are cast as singularly oppressed by Muslim men who in turn are cast as the universal enemy. Meriting extraordinary levels of violence, Muslims are imagined globally as threats to civilization who must be met with force. The global figures of the Muslim as “terrorist,” and the Muslim woman as oppressed and in need of saving, handily obscure the tremendous force that is directed at Muslim communities. Although the discourses of anti-Muslim racism travel globally, there is no singular overbearing structure of oppression. Likewise, Muslims are not any one thing. This special issue attends to the imbrication of the global with the local and to Muslims as complex and dynamically constituted social and political subjects.

What are some topics that readers can expect to find covered in the issue?

Readers of this special issue will be introduced to the interconnections between gendered anti-Muslim legal projects across the globe. In her article Natasha Bakht reveals how there have been attempts to ban Muslim women’s clothing across the globe, bans articulated as about saving Muslim women from the barbarism of their communities even as they impose a host of restrictions and punishments. Muslims meet these challenges in a host of ways. Readers will meet Bengali women who negotiated the transnational spaces opened up by US Cold War–era imperialist ambitions (Shehabuddin), Muslim women in Russia who draw on narratives of religious and cultural histories of strength to resist their racialization in contemporary Russia (Rabinovitch), and pious Pakistani women who draw on narratives of secularism to stake their rights claims (Jamal). The special issue offers a unique look into a revolutionary politics and resistance in the Muslim world through an exploration of the aesthetic practices of Muslim artists (Ali Bhutto) who ask whether a Muslim warrior drag queen can take us to a queer Muslim futurism.

How do you imagine the issue could be used in courses, or as a basis for future scholarship?

“The transnational terrain of anti-Muslim racism demands solidarities across regions.”

The special issue will be of interest to scholars who explore how class, gender, and sexuality are central to formations of racial dominance, how these discourses travel globally, and how to resist. Gender studies scholars will find a nuanced consideration of agency and feminist political organizing. All readers will be able to deepen their knowledge of how race, class, gender, and sexuality interlock in women’s lives, in national discourses, and in imperial and colonial systems.

The enduring contribution of the issue is the message that the transnational terrain of anti-Muslim racism demands solidarities across regions. As feminists, we must learn and unlearn as we trace the investments we each bring to a transnational feminist politics. Our scholarship has to bear the weight of these critical reflections on our own praxis.

Q&A with Sara Ahmed, author of Complaint!

Sara Ahmed is an independent scholar and author of What’s the Use?, Living a Feminist Life, and other books also published by Duke University Press. Drawing on oral and written testimonies from academics and students who have made complaints about harassment, bullying, and unequal working conditions at universities, in her new book Complaint! she examines what we can learn about power from those who complain about abuses of power.

In the introduction to Complaintyou write about how your resignation created the conditions that made this book possible. Was it essential for you to be outside the institution as you compiled these stories?

I decided to do this research on complaint before I resigned. I did not know I was going to resign until I did! Once I had resigned, it changed how I could do the research. I wouldn’t say it was essential that I was outside the institution to be able to collect the stories but it certainly shaped how I could do it.

That I was outside the institution had an impact on the kinds of stories that were shared with me. The complaints that I talk about in the book (I don’t talk about all complaints!), complaints about abuses of power, complaints that challenge hierarchies, can devastate lives as well as careers. Complaints can be hard to talk about – you can even be prevented from talking about them.  Many of the participants in my study got in touch with me because they heard about my resignation. It mattered to them that I had resigned. I had refused to be silent; I had said no. That I was outside the institution probably also meant I could provide a safer space: they were not speaking to someone who was in the same institution they were speaking about. 

From my point of view, I do not really feel outside the institution – even if I sometimes call myself post-institutional. The fact that I did the research shows in a way that I am still in it, still on it. Leaving my post and profession was a very painful, bumpy and difficult process – and doing this research helped me to come to terms with what happened and to feel more grounded where I am, doing what I am.  I am so grateful for that.

Complaint! is about grievances against institutions of higher education but discrimination is everywhere, as are HR roadblocks to disciplinary procedures. What can non-academic readers learn from the stories you’ve collected?

You could do the kind of research that I have done for this book in many other institutions – and in fact, I have been approached by people about their experiences in other sectors who have shared very similar stories. I spoke to someone in my own neighborhood recently. She asked me what I was working on and when I said I was working on complaint, she shared a story. She told me what happened when she tried to complain about being bullied by her manager at the supermarket where she worked. She said “I knew I was in trouble, when they shut the door.” The experience she had of ending up under scrutiny because she complained, her knowledge of what the closed door meant, how her complaint was going to be managed and contained, was very similar to many of the experiences shared by academics and students. 

We learn from what we share. 

The book is really about power, how power works to make it hard to challenge how power works. That complaint procedures become techniques for stopping complaints and complainers is telling us something about the mechanics of power. So, I hope the book reaches readers outside the university. I also am planning to write a shorter book, The Complainer’s Handbook, which will follow The Feminist Killjoy Handbook that I am currently drafting, so I can share the stories with less of a focus on the university as a specific site. 

You map how complaints can lay groundwork for future change, and can create communities of shared experience between people whom institutional processes would otherwise have kept apart. Complaint activism is not a guarantee of institutional change, but rather “a way of thinking about what we get from complaint even when we do not get through.” Is this hopeful, or exhausting? 

It is hopeful and exhausting! I call the hope of complaint, a “weary hope,” we have hope because of what we go through not despite it even when we don’t get very far. This kind of hope gives us a sense of the point, of there being a point, but it keeps us close to the ground. Complaints can take so much out of you. But most of the time, we also get something from them. I was really delighted that Leila Whitley, Tiffany Page and Alice Corble (with support from Heidi Hasbrouck and Chryssa Sdrolia and others) wrote one of the two conclusions of the book about their experience of making a collective complaint. They took on this work as PhD students – I joined the collective they had already formed. The last sentence of their conclusion is very simple and very powerful and very true. They write: “We moved something.” We have hope, they moved something, even if it took a huge amount of effort to get there. And that effort led us to each other.  A weary “we” is still a “we.” That matters.

What does it mean for complaint to be pedagogy? 

Complaint as feminist pedagogy became the Twitter hashtag for my project – this wasn’t an intentional decision; it was one of the formulations I was trying out to pull out the significance of complaint and it is the one that stuck! Other formulations in the book are “complaint as diversity work,” and “complaints as a queer method.” Each “as” brings out different aspects of what complaints are about

Why pedagogy? When we think of pedagogy, we might think of how we teach – the teacher is the subject who uses different methods of instruction (which are also different ways of thinking about learning). By saying complaint is pedagogy, I am putting complaint in the position of the subject/teacher. We learn from complaint about the world. If we hadn’t complained, there is so much we would not know (even could not know) about what goes on. By making complaint my teacher, I position myself as learning from those I have spoken to. In my conclusion I acknowledge that “learning,” is one of the most used words in the book.

Complaint is heavy work. What strategies have you learned for those engaged in complaint to persevere? 

Finding other people to support you in your institution is vital.  If you can’t find someone inside your institution, go outside. Complaint procedures are designed to keep us apart for a reason. We need to combine our resources and energies. We need our co-complainers. We often lose people when we make complaints. But we also find people. 

Working together is also about accepting the limits of what each of us can do. There is only so much we can do. I have in my “Killjoy Survival Kit” from Living a Feminist Life, permissions notes – sometimes, we need to give ourselves permission not to do something if it is too much. We are different and we need different things to keep going. I also think of tactics that might lighten the load – we might laugh, dance, eat, breathe, take walks, hang out with our companions, furry and non-furry. 

There are two sentences from my conclusion to Complaint! that are key to my thoughts about working on as well as at institutions. They are slightly modified versions of sentences that appeared in What’s the Use: On the Uses of Use, which also made use of data from my research into complaint.  

Transforming institutions can be necessary if we are to survive them. But we still need to survive the institutions we are trying to transform.

The heavier the task, and complaint is made heavy, it is no accident that you feel the weight of the institution coming down on you, the more you need to attend to what you need to survive.  I am, of course, learning from Audre Lorde here. 

Complaint! is learning from Lorde

Read the introduction to Complaint! free online and save 50% on it and all in-stock titles with coupon FALL21 through October 15, 2021. After October 15, save 30% on Complaint! with coupon E21AHMD.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15- October 15 each year. We invite you to check out some of our recent books in Chicano/a and Latinx studies. You can save 50% on these titles through October 15 with coupon FALL21.

Focusing on artists and art collectives in Argentina, Mexico, and the United States, in Another Aesthetics is Possible Jennifer Ponce de León examines how experimental artistic practices in the visual, literary, and performing arts have been influenced by and articulated with leftist politics, popular uprisings, and social struggles that resist neoliberal capitalism.

In Magical Habits Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives.

Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernández challenges the stereotypes of machismo with nuanced portraits of Mexican men and masculinities along and across the US-Mexico border in Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora.

Analyzing a range of Chicano/a and Native American novels, films, short stories and other cultural artifacts from the eighteenth century to the present, Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita examine literary representations of settler colonial land enclosure and dispossession in the US Southwest in Spatial and Discursive Violence in the US Southwest.

In Abstract Barrios Johana Londoño examines how the barrio has become a cultural force that has been manipulated in order to create Latinized urban landscapes that are palatable for white Americans who view concentrated areas of Latinx populations as a threat.

Analyzing the personal clothing, makeup, and hairstyles of working-class Black and Latina girls, in Aesthetics of Excess Jillian Hernandez examines how cultural discourses of aesthetic value racialize the bodies of women and girls of color.

In Latinx Art Arlene Dávila draws on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators to explore how and why the contemporary international art market continues to overlook, devalue, and marginalize Latinx art and artists.

Margaret E. Dorsey and Miguel Díaz-Barriga argue in Fencing in Democracy that border wall construction along the U.S.–Mexico border manifests transformations in citizenship practices that are aimed not only at keeping migrants out but also enmeshing citizens into a wider politics of exclusion.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, her experience reporting for People magazine, and dozens of interviews with photographers, journalists, publicists, magazine editors, and celebrities, Vanessa Díaz traces the complex power dynamics of the reporting and paparazzi work that fuel contemporary Hollywood and American celebrity culture in Manufacturing Celebrity.

The contributors to We Are Not Dreamers—who are themselves currently or formerly undocumented—call for the elimination of the Dreamer narrative, showing how it establishes high expectations for who deserves citizenship and marginalizes large numbers of undocumented youth. Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzalez edited this collection.

Don’t forget, through October 15 you can save 50% on these great Latinx studies titles, and all our in-stock books and journal issues using coupon FALL21.

Q&A with Jennifer C. Nash

Nash

 

Jennifer C. Nash is Jean Fox O’Barr Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. Her new book is Birthing Black Mothers, which examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category. She has previously published two other books with Duke University Press, The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography and Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality

 

In your acknowledgements, you write that Birthing Black Mothers was born alongside the birth of your own daughter. How does this personal, lived experience inform your work? 

Perhaps all scholarly projects are born of the intersections of the experiential and the intellectual, even as academic life hasn’t always made it possible to name these intersections. I’ve always been deeply interested in how scholarly interests shift, move, and change in response to the conditions of our lives. The questions that we pose are fundamentally altered by the fact that we are embodied beings, that we contend with the world and its complexities. 

In this project, I name the fact that the book was born with my daughter, or more specifically, born in the weeks before her birth, as I navigated life as a Black perinatal subject. I became very curious about the hospital, the birthing center, the obstetrician, the midwife, the doula, the prenatal check-up, and the lactation consultant. I wanted to understand how those spaces and actors operated, and how they constructed me as a Black woman patient (and how I represented myself as such) in a moment where those spaces were increasingly responsive to—or supposedly responsive to—the “crisis” in Black maternal health. I wanted to understand what it meant to birth in a moment when the very fact of my birthing (or soon-to-be birthing) body was saturated with a different kind of political meaning. Black perinatal bodies are newly imagined not as pathological but in need of education, information, support, and compassion. My project came to life as I experienced the compassionate—and, as I argue in my book, not unproblematic—maternal health institutions that imagined my body and my daughter’s body as distinctly in need of support. 

You speak to the cultural impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in your introduction and throughout your book. What is the relationship between Birthing Black Mothers and BLM?

978-1-4780-1442-3-1Even as BLM is often described—and, at times, criticized—for placing Black boys and Black men at the center of its conception of anti-Black violence, I make a different argument in Birthing Black Mothers. I contend that Black mothers have become a central icon of the movement for Black life. At times, Black mothers are described as representing anticipated loss, as preparing themselves (and their children) for anti-Black trauma that is to unfold in the future. Other times, Black mothers are culturally invoked to make visible the trauma of losing a child, and thus become synonymous with grief, trauma, and loss. 

With the new cultural visibility of longstanding Black maternal health disparities, birthing Black mothers and perinatal Black bodies are now imagined—in perhaps the most literal way—to be a vessel of Black life. Black mothers are thus figured as standing at the intersections of multiple forms of state violence: they are guardians of their children’s lives, and they also experience medical racism, obstetric violence, and birth injustice that makes Black life precarious from its earliest moments. In this moment, anti-Black death is understood to take the form only of the police officer’s fist, baton, or chokehold, and to take the form of the obstetrician, the hospital, or the unwanted C-section. Black wombs are thus imagined as ground zero of crisis, as spaces under siege that require care and protection to ensure the viability of Black life.

In your third chapter, you focus on three celebrities engaged in redefining what you term “Black maternal aesthetics.” What was your inspiration for centering this chapter on Serena Williams, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, and Michelle Obama? 

I was drawn to how this celebrity trio has rewritten scripts about Black motherhood, Black female friendship, and what Claudia Rankine calls “Black excellence.” My chapter is inspired by so many scholars who have written on Williams, Knowles-Carter, and Obama: like Rankine’s essay, or Brittney Cooper’s work on Michelle Obama. My own endeavor was to think about these three figures together, to consider their friendships, collaborations, and investments in championing each other. I particularly wanted to emphasize how the trio centers Black female friendship as a Black maternal ethic, as a distinct form of relationality that Black motherhood renders possible. This friendship has also been forged through their shared commitment to reshaping narratives about maternal affect, postpartum bodies, and the sheer demands of mothering. This kind of Black maternal friendship offers a very different public performance than another contemporary, hypervisible public performance of Black maternal relationality: the Mothers of the Movement. Described by Valerie Castile as the “fucked-up mothers club,” the group—including Sybrina Fulton, Lezley McSpadden, Lucy McBath, Gwen Carr, and Geneva Reed-Veal—is a political affiliation forged through shared trauma. Their shared losses might be understood as born both from the death—or murder—of a child, and from the state inaction that marked many of these cases, including non-indictments and not-guilty verdicts. Knowles-Carter, Obama, and Williams offer a markedly different performance of Black maternal friendship, one rooted not in shared loss but in Black maternal pleasure, glamour, and playfulness, even as the collective—particularly Knowles—often operates in solidarity with Mothers of the Movement.

Your second chapter is dedicated to exploring the effect of women of color doulas and other birth-workers, whose personal care, you argue, is a form of political work. You write that much of this doula work is currently funded by the state, though you remain less than optimistic about the state’s support of and investment in Black life. Can you shed light on this seeming paradox?

The book’s second chapter (which is actually the first one I wrote, and perhaps where my biggest political and intellectual attachments remain) tracks my critical ambivalence about the paraprofessional feminist birth economy, particularly the work of doulas. I study a moment when doulas—particularly women of color doulas—are hailed as precisely the innovation that will save Black mothers’ lives. And it is now—increasingly—the state that insists on the necessity of doulas, with some states even working to cover doulas through Medicaid, and to recruit and train doulas.

Doulas are, as I argue in this chapter, outliers in the feminist birth economy. Unlike midwives—the birth professionals they are most often associated with—doulas are unlicensed and unregulated, and their trainings vary tremendously, as does their sense of what kind of labor birth work is, and what is required to perform this labor. This variation is powerful, and as I write in the book, it allows doulas to subvert and interrupt the norms of institutionalized medicine in ways that challenge the stronghold of medical capitalism and its logics of birthing temporalities that all too often result in unwanted (or unneeded) C-sections and other forms of birth violence.  Yet it is a complicated moment when the state invests in paraprofessional birth work as the solution to Black maternal mortality, and when it insists that it is low-paid and heterogeneously trained birth workers (who, again, I emphasize are united by a deep ethical, political, and oftentimes spiritual commitment to the transformative qualities of birth) who are newly responsible for Black life.

You push back against the rhetoric of crisis which currently dominates discussion about Black mothers, converting them into “a political category synonymous with pain.” And in your conclusion, you encourage Black feminists to “freedom-dream.” What does this mean to you, exactly, and what alternative rhetorical frameworks do you envision?

My work has generally been interested in how Black women are rhetorically invoked to perform symbolic work for a host of actors. I have traced what Black women symbolize for academic feminism, for Black feminist theory, for the state, for hospitals, and for birth workers. In all of these cases, Black women become different kind of symbols: of pathology, trauma, grief, pain, and brokenness. I am also deeply interested in how Black mothers make themselves into symbols of certain sorts to become politically legible, to have their/our needs and demands heard and rendered legible. My call to “freedom-dream” is a plea for Black feminists to refuse to be seduced by the moment we are in, one where Black mothers are thought to simply need compassion. This moment feels appealing because Black mothers are not imagined as producing the fiscal and moral downfall of the state, but instead as requiring information, support, and education. But the moment is part of this much longer history of transforming Black mothers from complex people with heterogeneous demands and desires, into symbolic currency for a host of political movements which all too rarely hear or honor Black women’s needs. My call for freedom-dreaming is for Black feminist interventions that refuse the logics of the present, even as they can feel alluring.

Read the introduction to Birthing Black Mothers for free and save 30% on the paperback with coupon code E21NASH.

Q&A with Heather Berg, editor of “Reading Sex Work”

Contributors to “Reading Sex Work,” a new issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly, theorize sexual labor as both work and a site of labor resistance and transformation. Rather than critiquing sex work itself, they highlight sex workers’ own production of knowledge for navigating racial capitalism, state violence, and economic precarity. In today’s Q&A, issue editor Heather Berg discusses what sets “Reading Sex Work” apart and highlights a few of its contributions. Check out the issue’s contents here, including an interview with femi babylon, which is free through the end of November.

What makes “Reading Sex Work” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?

What I hoped to do with this issue was to turn a sex work lens outward rather than a civilian (non-sex worker) gaze in. There’s a lot of fatigue in sex worker communities with the academy’s fascination with sex workers’ stories. One of the things this issue is interested in is that proliferation of scholarly interest. The pieces focus less on learning new things about sex workers than they do sex workers’ confrontations with outsiders’ ideas about their work. That comes through most directly where the authors theorize from their own locations as sex workers. It also comes through in pieces where authors engage fieldwork or literature to think about the politics of knowledge production about sexual labor. What happens when the material realities of sex work run up against theoretical ideas conceived outside that context? How does a sex work lens shift how we read Marxist political economy on the wage, feminist theorizing on gendered performance, or queer of color theorizing on pleasure politics?

The issue is also turning away from making appeals for inclusion or trying to convince anti-sex worker readers to shift their perspective. As crucial as those strategies are, they can leave little room for the stickier questions I wanted to foreground in this issue. Svati Shah’s piece gets at this tension directly, asking sex work scholars to rethink our participation in “the debate.” This is in line with a broader turn in sex workers’ own political strategy, where volumes such as the recent We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival are more and more refusing to try to convince readers who aren’t coming in good faith anyway. The essays included in this issue take as a given that sex work is work (if also sometimes anti-work), and the issue’s address is to readers who are already ready to meet us on those terms. 

How do you imagine “Reading Sex Work” could be used in courses or as a basis for future scholarship?

I hope the issue is useful to sex work scholars, who will find fresh perspectives on big questions that are vexing the field. Vanessa Carlisle and femi babylon’s pieces, for example, engage in different ways with what we mean when we call sex work “work.” I think this marks an important departure from (again, really crucial) writing that fights so hard to show that sex work is just work that it can’t ask that question. Julian Glover and Jayne Swift’s pieces will offer new insights on the politics of pleasure, and disrupt the common idea that only workers who have all their material needs met care about it. This shifts, I think, how scholars and organizers might talk about pleasure and survival in what we call the “whorerarchy.”

“The essays included in this issue take as a given that sex work is work (if also sometimes anti-work), and the issue’s address is to readers who are already ready to meet us on those terms.”

I also hope that scholars who don’t write or teach about sex work will use the issue to think about what sex workers’ encounters with knowledge production might have to say about the questions that are most immediate for them. Those interested in platform economies will find new insight about workplace control and resistance in Kate Hardy and Camille Barbagallo’s essay, while those interested in informal labor will find in Svati Shah’s essay key interventions on how we should think about the state.

Scholars of service work will find in the two pieces from Annie McClanahan and Jon-David Settell and Gregory Mitchell and Thaddeus Blanchette new ways to think about what gets sold in service work and what that means for those who enter into the exchange. Crucially, both pieces remind that the exchange doesn’t mean the same thing for workers and consumers.

Finally, the issue is as much for sex worker readers (paywall withstanding) as it is for those curious to learn more. I hope sex working readers will find pieces that feel generative, even as those of us in the academy wrestle with questions of extraction that can’t be easily smoothed over.

Explore the contents of “Reading Sex Work” here, or pick up a copy.

New Books in August

Don’t miss all our exciting new releases in August!

In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, fahima ife speculates in Maroon Choreography on the afterlives of Black fugitivity, unsettling the historic knowledge of it while moving inside the ongoing afterlives of those people who disappeared themselves into rural spaces beyond the reach of slavery.

Rachel Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi Holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“No one / bears witness for the / witness”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing in No One’s Witness.

In Amkoullel, the Fula Boy, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ—one of the towering figures in the literature of twentieth-century Francophone Africa—tells in striking detail the story of his youth, which was set against inter-ethnic conflict and the arrival and installation of French colonialism.

In The Politics of Decolonial Investigation Walter D. Mignolo provides a sweeping examination of how colonialty has operated around the world in its myriad forms between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries while calling for a decolonial politics that would delink from all forms of Western knowledge.

Laurence Coderre explores the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Newborn Socialist Things to show how it paved the way for rampant commodification and consumption in contemporary China.

Carolyn Hardin offers a new way of understanding arbitrage—the trading practice that involves buying assets in one market at a cheap price and immediately selling them in another market for a profit—as a means of showing how its reliance upon taking on risk is fundamental to financial markets in Capturing Finance.

Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic in Magical Habits to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives.

The contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.

In Domestic Contradictions Priya Kandaswamy brings together two crucial moments in welfare history—the advent of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—to show how they each targeted Black women through negative stereotyping and normative assumptions about gender, race, and citizenship.

In Policing Protest Paul A. Passavant explores how the policing of protest in the United States has become increasingly hostile since the late 1990s, moving away from strategies that protect protestors toward militaristic practices designed to suppress legal protests.

In A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey Martin Kilson—the first tenured African American professor at Harvard—takes readers on a fascinating journey from his upbringing in a small Pennsylvania mill town to his experiences as an undergraduate to pursuing graduate study at Harvard before spending his entire career there as a faculty member.

In Whiteness Interrupted, Marcus Bell presents a revealing portrait of white teachers in majority Black schools to outline how white racial identity is constructed based on localized interactions and the ways whiteness takes a different form in predominantly Black spaces.

Jennifer C. Nash examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category synonymous with crisis, showing how they are often rendered into one-dimensional symbols of tragic heroism and the ground zero of Black life in Birthing Black Mothers.

Transnational Feminist Itineraries, edited by Ashwini Tambe and Millie Thayer, demonstrates the key contributions of transnational feminist theory and practice to analyzing and contesting authoritarian nationalism and the extension of global corporate power.

In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine’s possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa.

Farewell to Lauren Berlant

berlant1We are deeply sorry to learn of the death of theorist Lauren Berlant following a long illness. Berlant was the author or editor of six books with us. They were also a founding editor of the series Writing Matters! and Theory Q and a contributor to many edited collections and journal issues. 

Berlant was George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, where they taught since 1984. Their first title with us was The Queen of American Goes to Washington City (1997), which Judith Butler called “a keen and disarming book.” They followed it up with The Female Complaint (2008) and then with Cruel Optimism (2011), which became their most popular book, reaching outside the academy and inspiring art and even a punk song. Writing in The Progressive, queer humorist Kate Clinton said, “If you are looking for some new language to use to describe the current crisis of hope, read Cruel Optimism. . . . It is a wild, deeply witty examination of our attachments to food, love, politics, family, and pop culture.” Berlant’s most recent book was Reading Sedgwick (2019), an edited collection on the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

978-0-8223-5111-5_prCruel Optimism was the winner of the American Comparative Literature Association 2012 Rene Wellek Award. In 2019, Berlant received the  Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Literature Section of Modern Language Association. They were also a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Berlant contributed to a number of our journals, including Social Text, SAQ, the minnesota review, and Public Culture. We have made their 2012 interview in Qui Parle freely available until September 2021.

Berlant especially liked working collaboratively and published two co-written books with us, Sex, or the Unbearable (2013), with Lee Edelman, and The Hundreds (2019), with Kathleen Stewart. In an interview with UChicago News, Berlant said, “Other people’s minds are amazing. Collaboration is like a super-intensified version of teaching, where you and somebody else are working something out, and you’re building on each other—but you’re also just missing each other. There’s the complete joy of the ‘not me.’ Seeing somebody else at work, seeing somebody else’s generativity and seeing how, together, you can compose things that neither of you could have done by yourself.” Stewart says of Berlant, “Lauren held a door in the world open for so many of us. Now we shoulder on, in gratitude. The outpouring of love from everywhere is the biggest testimony to Lauren’s beauty and impact.”

The HundredsNot long after the publication of The Hundreds, Berlant was profiled by Hua Hsu in The New Yorker, an unusual honor for an academic, and a testament to the huge reach of Berlant’s work. Writing about The Hundreds, Hsu says, “In Berlant and Stewart’s hands, affect theory provides a way of understanding the sensations and resignations of the present, the normalized exhaustion that comes with life in the new economy. It is a way of framing uniquely modern questions.” 

Around the Press, those who worked with Berlant are deeply mourning the loss. Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker said, “I’ve known Lauren since shortly after they arrived at the University of Chicago in the mid-1980s. Lauren had a singularly brilliant mind, questioning their own thoughts mid-sentence in pursuit of a better account.  In book after book Lauren advanced a fully connected project, one with deep political commitments, but one that could never be fully known in advance. One of the greatest theorists of their generation— someone always generously reaching out to smart younger scholars—it was the greatest privilege to be their publisher and friend.”

Design Manager Amy Ruth Buchanan designed many of Berlant’s books, including the now iconic cover for Cruel Optimism. She says, “Lauren Berlant was one of the kindest, smartest, and most appreciative and generous authors a publisher could hope to work with. I am so sad to learn of their passing.”

Executive Editor Courtney Berger says, “Lauren was a fierce intellectual who relentlessly challenged our assumptions about gender, sex, nation, and feeling. Lauren was also an incredibly generous collaborator who sought out opportunities to think alongside and in conversation with others. Even as they dwelled on the structural violence and difficulties of thriving in a world dominated by capitalism, racism, and sexism, Lauren saw the potential for us to radically transform our relationship to the world and to ourselves. Lauren was a wit, who liked to share and hear new jokes. They loved cats, silly cat photos, and elaborate cat furniture. And they could always direct you to the best vegan food in town. Above all, Lauren was a friend and a comrade, and I will miss them terribly.”

Berger has been working with Berlant on their final book, On the Inconvenience of Other People. Berlant turned the manuscript in just a few weeks before their death and we expect to publish it in Fall 2022. In the new book Berlant considers how we might “loosen” our relations to the objects and situations that we are unhappily attached to in a way that might transform our political conditions and create new life worlds.

For three decades, we have been honored to publish the groundbreaking work of Lauren Berlant. We will miss them as a scholar, a collaborator, and a friend. Our condolences go out to all of Lauren’s friends, family, and colleagues, and especially to their partner Ian Horswill.

Poem of the Week

Our Poem of the Week is by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and is excerpted from the “Archive of Fire” section of M Archive. It reminds us of the importance of community and ceremony, and of being meaningfully, intentionally together. Thanks for tuning in to our final National Poetry Month feature! All our in-stock poetry titles are 50% off through May 7 with coupon SPRING21.

 

Gumbs_cover_front

they looked each other in the eyes every time and did not leave each

other without singing a prayer: the name or the wish. they learned to

add touching hands into the ritual, a tradition newly sacred after the

memory of the epidemic.

and of course none of that would have been possible if they didn’t

remember to look themselves in the eye every morning. or to chant

the name of the prayer. or to track their dreams for keeping and

sharing.

there is a sacredness to every day. every time.

it means again and again. it means all of us. it means this moment.

this time. you and me. we’re here.

which was something they would never again take for granted.*

* disciplined freedom capable of renovating the collective terms of our
engagement
. M. Jacqui Alexander, “Pedagogies of the Sacred,” Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 329.

 
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a poet, independent scholar, and activist. She is also the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, and Dub: Finding Ceremony, both also published by Duke University Press; coeditor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines; and the founder and director of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, an educational program based in Durham, North Carolina.