Feminist Theory

The Trouble with White Women

Kyla SHC Oct 17 croppedToday’s guest blog post is written by Kyla Schuller, author of the new book The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century.

Broad swaths of the left and liberal-leaning U.S. public newly dedicated themselves to political activity in the wake of Trump’s ascension to the White House and the GOP’s control of the Senate and the House. Amidst the awakening of a liberal grassroots, a new enemy crystallized: the white woman voter. She emerged as the victim of a kind of false consciousness forged not in the factory, but in the college classroom and suburban mall. In dominant media narratives, her ubiquity came as a shock. The stats are repeated as incantation: 53% of white women voted for Trump a mere four weeks after video emerged of Trump bragging about sexual assault. 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore in December’s Alabama Senate special election, despite mounds of credible evidence of Moore’s molestation of young teen girls. Why, the narrative muses, would white women betray their own interests? And why are black women—98% of whom voted for Moore’s opponent Doug Jones—seemingly immune to electoral self-sabotage?

I wish to suggest a frame that has not emerged in the mountain of copy addressing the problem of white women. Feminists have generated many useful analyses – white women’s investment in patriarchy, the class structure, the racial status quo—underlining the material benefits conservative politics offer white women. There is a deeper, more structural reason why white women vote for misogynist, white supremacist candidates despite a century and a half of feminist organizing, however. Simply put: sex difference is itself a racial structure.

978-0-8223-6953-0Sexual difference, as a concept, emerged as a function of race. This is particularly salient in the nineteenth century, the era in which modern notions of race and sex difference solidified. My new book, The Biopolitics of Feeling, zeroes in on this generally overlooked phenomenon (outside of the history of evolutionary thought): that a wide variety of scientists, writers, and reformers articulated full sexual differentiation as the unique achievement of the civilized. The binary entities of man and woman were newly understood as thoroughly distinct in terms of mental, physiological, emotional, and psychological capacity. Sex difference was presented as the singular attainment of a teleological evolution moving toward ever greater specialization. The primitive races, by contrast, were cast as unsexed, as insufficiently evolved in both anatomy and character. The category of womanhood emerged in modern times as a unique quality of civilization. Its ramifications are still visible in electoral politics across the country.

The Biopolitics of Feeling uncovers the foundational role of sex difference to biopower. It unearths how sex difference functioned as a key technology of biopower’s racializing structures, which operate to choose some members of the population for life and cast others into disposability and death. Sex difference helped qualify individuals for life. I reveal how the position of the feminine was carved out not only to exemplify social evolutionary achievement, but also to protect it. Scientists identified the key quality of the civilized body to be its impressibility, or the capacity to be affected over time. Receptivity to sensory impressions determined a body’s capacity for growth, mental development, and even, in this Lamarckian and pre-genetic era, the transmission of acquired characteristics to descendants. Impressibility thus served as the ontological basis of progress. Impressibility also, however, entailed a frightening vulnerability to influence and environment, rendering the civilized body in need of careful protection.

I argue that two central technologies were developed in the nineteenth century to manage the constitutional vulnerability of civilization: sex difference and sentimentalism. The civilized body was cleaved in two, and the female half were assigned the liabilities of heightened impressibility as well as increased emotional faculty to mediate temptation to impulsive response to impressions. The male half were thus stabilized as masters of reason and moderate feeling. Sentimentalism, in turn, was a vast technology particularly, but far from exclusively, assigned to women to regulate the growth of the individual and the evolution of the population through managing the flow of impressions throughout a milieu. Both sex and sentiment were deployed as stabilizing forces regulating responses to sensory stimulations and thus their effect on the individual and racial body.

The legacy of womanhood as itself a stabilizing structure of whiteness reverberates loudly today and is particularly resonant in the trope of the white woman voter. The conservative ideology in which women’s role is to protect the private sphere is an element of the biopolitical logic that women’s role is to secure the stability of the civilized races. White Republican women who vote for sexual assaulters are not identifying with their whiteness over their gender, as has often been claimed. Rather, they are enacting their womanhood itself: both absorbing and smoothing over the flow of sensation and feeling that makes up the public sphere, ensuring that white men remain relatively free from the encumbrances of embodiment and are susceptible only to further progress. Our anger at white women conveniently spares the white male voter, who supported Trump and Moore in even larger numbers. The problem with white Republican women is the problem with woman as a category in the first place.

Feminism, too, is revealed in The Biopolitics of Feeling to function as an apparatus of biopower that translates allegedly inherent natural categories into political identities and platforms. But it doesn’t have to be so. Twentieth-and twenty-first century women of color feminists have been strikingly clear that the position of woman has largely been denied to non-white groups, and they have refashioned the meanings of the term woman in the process. Women, as a political group, need no longer be tied to biological discourses of race or anatomy, but this requires explicit excavation and refusal of the term’s lingering past.

Multiethnic feminisms lead the way to disentangling feminism from biopower, and woman as an entity from naturalizing logics. Intersectional and assemblage feminisms and multiethnic #MeToo campaigns are pointing to a new politics in which women no longer serve as civilization’s remainder, the sponge to absorb the impressions and stimulations of which power is itself constituted. Feminism may be born of the biopolitical logic of sex, but it thus also contains the seeds of biopower’s demise.

Pick up Kyla Schuller’s new book The Biopolitics of Feeling for 30% off by using coupon code E17SCHUL at dukeupress.edu.

New Books in January

978-0-8223-6902-8.jpgHappy 2018! Ring in the new year with these exciting new titles from Duke University Press:

In Fractivism, Sara Ann Wylie traces the history of fracking in the United States and how scientists, nonprofits, landowners, and everyday people are coming together to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable through the creation of digital platforms and databases that document fracking’s devastating environmental and human health impacts.

Raymond Knapp’s Making Light traces the musical legacy of German Idealism as it led to the declining prestige of composers such as Haydn while influencing the development of American popular music in the nineteenth century, showing how the existence of camp in Haydn and American music offer ways of reassessing Haydn’s oeuvre.

In Media Heterotopias Hye Jean Chung challenges the widespread tendency among audiences and critics to disregard the material conditions of digital film production, showing how this emphasis on seamlessness masks the complex social, political, and economic realities of global filmmaking.

Charlotte Brunsdon’s Television Cities traces television’s representations of Paris, London, and Baltimore to show how they reflect the medium’s history and evolution, thereby challenging the prevalent assumptions about television as quintessentially suburban and showing how television shapes our perception of urban spaces, both familiar and unknown.

978-0-8223-7038-3.jpgIn Ezili’s Mirrors Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley traces how contemporary queer Caribbean and African American writers, filmmakers, musicians, and performers evoke the divinity Ezili—a pantheon of lwa feminine spirits in Vodou—in ways that offer a new model of queer black feminist theory.

Focusing on the hemispheric circulation of South American musical cultures, in On Site, In Sound, Kirstie A. Dorr examines the spatiality of sound and the ways in which the sonic is bound to perceptions and constructions of geographic space, showing how people can use music and sound to challenge and transform dominant conceptions of place.

Attending to diverse practices of everyday living and doing—of form, style, and scenography—in Jacques Rancière’s writings, Davide Panagia explores Rancière’s aesthetics of politics as it informs his radical democratic theory of participation in Ranciere’s Sentiments.

In Reclaiming the Discarded Kathleen Millar offers a comprehensive ethnography of Jardim Gramacho, a sprawling garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where self-employed workers, known as catadores, collect recyclable materials and ultimately generate new modes of living within the precarious conditions of urban poverty.

978-0-8223-7036-9Bianca C. Williams’s The Pursuit of Happiness traces the experiences of African American women who travel to Jamaica and form affective relationships with Jamaican men and women that help construct notions of diasporic belonging and a form of happiness that resists the damaging intersections of racism and patriarchy in the United States.

We Wanted a Revolution: New Perspectives is the companion volume to the acclaimed Sourcebook, both of which accompany the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–1985. New Perspectives includes new essays that place the exhibition’s works in historical and contemporary contexts, poems by Alice Walker, and numerous illustrations. The exhibition is at the California African American Museum until January 14 and then travels to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

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Transpsychoanalytics

ddtsq_4_3_4_coverThe most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies QuarterlyTranspsychoanalytics,” edited by Sheila L. Cavanagh, is now available.

While psychoanalysis has traditionally been at odds with transgender issues, a growing body of revisionist psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice has begun to tease out the trans-affirming potential of the field. “Transpsychoanalytics,” features essays that highlight this potential by simultaneously critiquing and working within the boundaries of psychoanalytic concepts and theories guiding clinical work. Featuring a range of clinicians and scholars, this issue centers on questions pertaining to trans experience, desire, difference, otherness, identification, loss, mourning, and embodiment.

The contributors explore these questions through topics like Tiresian mythology, bathroom bans, ethics, popular culture, and the Freudian couch. By setting up this dialogue between psychosocial studies and trans cultural studies, this revisionist work may radically transform psychoanalytic theory and practice.

Read the introduction, freely available online, and browse the table of contents.

Three New Journal Partnerships for 2018

In 2018, Duke University Press will begin publishing three journals: the Journal of Korean Studies, English Language Notes, and Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism. Read on to learn more about these new journal partnerships.

ddjks_22_1The Journal of Korean Studies, edited by Theodore Hughes, is the preeminent journal in its field, publishing high-quality articles in all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences on a broad range of Korea-related topics, both historical and contemporary. Korean studies is a dynamic field, with student enrollments and tenure-track positions growing throughout North America and abroad. At the same time, the Korean peninsula’s increasing importance in the world has sparked interest in Korea well beyond those whose academic work focuses on the region. Recent topics include the history of anthropology of Korea; seventeenth century Korean love stories; the Chinese diaspora in North Korea; student activism in colonial Korea in the 1940s; and GLBTQ life in contemporary South Korea. Contributors include scholars conducting transnational work on the Asia-Pacific as well as on relevant topics throughout the global Korean diaspora. The Journal of Korean Studies is based at the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University.

ELN-54.2-cover-bleedA respected forum of criticism and scholarship in literary and cultural studies since 1962, English Language Notes (ELN) is dedicated to pushing the edge of scholarship in literature and related fields in new directions. Broadening its reach geographically and transhistorically, ELN opens new lines of inquiry and widens emerging fields. Each ELN issue advances topics of current scholarly concern, providing theoretical speculation as well as interdisciplinary recalibrations through practical usage. Offering semiannual, topically themed issues, ELN also includes “Of Note,” an ongoing section featuring related topics, review essays or roundtables of cutting-edge scholarship, and emergent concerns. Edited by Laura Winkiel, ELN is a wide-ranging journal that combines theoretical rigor with innovative interdisciplinary collaboration.

Meridians15Meridians, an interdisciplinary feminist journal, provides a forum for the finest scholarship and creative work by and about women of color in U.S. and international contexts. The journal, edited by Ginetta E. B. Candlario, engages the complexity of debates around feminism, race, and transnationalism in a dialogue across ethnic, national boundaries, and disciplinary boundaries. Meridians publishes work that makes scholarship, poetry, fiction, and memoir by and about women of color central to history, economics, politics, geography, class, sexuality, and culture. The journal provokes the critical interrogation of the terms used to shape activist agendas, theoretical paradigms, and political coalitions.

Visit dukeupress.edu/journals to subscribe to these journals.

Borders and Margins

ddmew_13_3_coverThe most recent special issue of Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” is now available.

This issue approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

New Books in November

Another month, another batch of great new releases! Check out all the new books we have coming out in November.

978-0-8223-7016-1In Black and Blur—the first volume in his consent not to be a single being trilogy—Fred Moten engages in a capacious consideration of the place and force of blackness in African diaspora arts, politics, and life, exploring a wide range of thinkers, musicians, and artists. The other two volumes in the series will be out in the spring.

The contributors to Asian Video Cultures: In the Penumbra of the Global examine Asian video cultures—from video platforms in Indonesia to amateur music videos in India—in the context of social movements, market economies, and local popular cultures, showing how Asian video practices are central to shaping contemporary experiences and mainstream global media.

Melanie Yergeau’s Authoring Autism challenges the academic and cultural stereotypes that do not acknowledge the rhetorical capabilities of autistic people, and shows how autistics both embrace and reject the rhetorical, thereby queering the lines of rhetoric, humanity, agency, and the very essence of rhetoric itself.

978-0-8223-7021-5Reckoning with one’s role in perpetuating systematic inequality, in The Beneficiary Bruce Robbins examines the implications of a humanitarianism in which the prosperous are the both the cause and the beneficiaries of the abhorrent conditions they seek to remedy.

In Domestic Economies Susanna Rosenbaum examines how immigrant Mexican and Central American domestic workers in Los Angeles and the predominantly white, upper-middle-class women who employ them seek to achieve the “American Dream,” underscoring how the American Dream’s ideology is racialized and gendered while exposing how pursuing it lies at the intersection of motherhood and domestic labor.

In Epigenetic Landscapes Susan Merrill Squier follows the cultural trail of C. H. Waddington’s “epigenetic landscape” metaphor from its first visualization by the artist John Piper to its use beyond science, examining how it has been used to illustrate complex systems that link scientific and cultural practices: graphic medicine, landscape architecture, and bioArt.

In Passionate and Pious Monique Moultrie explores the impact of faith-based sexual ministries on black women’s sexual agency to trace how these women navigate sexuality, religious authority, and their spiritual walk with God.

978-0-8223-6898-4.jpgIn Saving the Security State Inderpal Grewal traces the changing relations between the US state and its citizens in an era she calls advanced neoliberalism, under which everyday life is militarized, humanitarianism serves imperial aims, and white Christian men become exceptional citizens tasked with protecting the nation from racialized others.

In Sounds of CrossingAlex E. Chávez explores the contemporary politics of Mexican migrant cultural expression manifest in huapango arribeño, a musical genre from north-central Mexico that helps Mexicans build communities on both sides of the US border and give voice to the transnational migrant experience.

N. Fadeke Castor’s Spiritual Citizenship explores the roles African religious practice play in the formation of social and political identities play in post-independence Trinidad and Tobago, showing how Ifá/Orisha practitioners build and perceive a sense of diasporic belonging that leads them to work toward black liberation and a decolonial future.978-0-8223-7150-2

In Street Archives and City Life Emily Callaci maps a new terrain of political and cultural production in mid-twentieth-century Tanzanian cities. While the postcolonial Tanzanian ruling party adopted a policy of rural socialism—Ujamaa—an influx of youth migrants to the city of Dar es Salaam generated innovative forms of urbanism through the production and circulation of street archives.

We are excited to publish a tenth anniversary expanded edition of Jasbir K. Puar’s pathbreaking book, Terrorist Assemblages—which features a new preface by Tavia Nyong’o and a new postscript by the author. Puar argues that configurations of sexuality, race, gender, nation, class, and ethnicity are realigning in relation to contemporary forces of securitization, counterterrorism, and nationalism.

978-0-8223-7034-5In Test of Faith photographer Lauren Pond documents a Signs Following preacher and his family in rural West Virginia, offering a deeply nuanced, personal look at serpent handling that invites a greater understanding of a religious practice that has long faced derision and criticism. The book is the eighth winner of the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography.

978-0-8223-7001-7Paul Rabinow continues his explorations of “a philosophic anthropology of the contemporary” in Unconsolable Contemporary by examining the work of German painter Gerhard Richter. Defining the contemporary as a moving ratio in which the modern becomes historical, Rabinow uses Richter’s work to illustrate how meaning is created within the contemporary.

The contributors to Unfinished, edited by João Biehl and Peter Lockeexplore the ethnographic essay’s expressive potentials by pursuing an anthropology of becoming, which attends to the contingency of lived experience and provides new means to represent what life means and how it can be represented.

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Women’s Equality Day Reads

Saturday is Women’s Equality Day, and we couldn’t be more glad for an occasion both to commemorate strides in women’s rights and to renew the call for further progress. Today we’re contributing to the cause by sharing some of our most recent scholarship in women’s studies.

In the 1970s a group of pioneering feminist entrepreneurs launched a movement that ultimately changed the way sex was talked about, had, and enjoyed. Boldly reimagining who sex shops were for and the kinds of spaces they could be, these entrepreneurs opened sex-toy stores like Eve’s Garden, Good Vibrations, and Babeland not just as commercial enterprises, but to provide educational and community resources as well. In Vibrator Nation Lynn Comella tells the fascinating history of how these stores raised sexual consciousness, redefined the adult industry, and changed women’s lives.

While news of the Rwandan genocide reached all corners of the globe, the nation’s recovery and the key role of women are less well known. In Rwandan Women Rising Swanee Hunt shares the stories of some seventy women—heralded activists and unsung heroes alike—who overcame unfathomable brutality, unrecoverable loss, and unending challenges to rebuild Rwandan society.

Developed in the United States in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. In The Look of a Woman Eric Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons as they move from consultation and the operating room to postsurgery recovery. Plemons demonstrates how FFS is changing the project of surgical sex reassignment by reconfiguring the kind of sex that surgery aims to change.

In Politics with Beauvoir Lori Jo Marso treats Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist theory and practice as part of her political theory, arguing that freedom is Beauvoir’s central concern and that this is best apprehended through Marso’s notion of the encounter. Beauvoir’s encounters, Marso shows, exemplify freedom as a shared, relational, collective practice.

In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal churches in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.

wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists, contributors imagine a world where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men. The issue challenges the perception that women are not policymakers by showcasing the voices of female experts and leaders. Contributors to this issue address topics such as feminism in Chinaabortion laws across the Americascombating violent extremism by working with religious leaders, and women in media. The issue also features a conversation with Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritus.

In The Economization of Life Michelle Murphy provocatively describes the twentieth-century rise of infrastructures of calculation and experiment aimed at governing population for the sake of national economy. Murphy traces the methods and imaginaries through which family planning calculated lives not worth living, lives not worth saving, and lives not worth being born. The resulting archive of thick data transmuted into financialized “Invest in a Girl” campaigns that reframed survival as a question of human capital. The book challenges readers to reject the economy as our collective container and to refuse population as a term of reproductive justice.

Lori Merish, in Archives of Labor, establishes working-class women as significant actors within literary culture, dramatically redrawing the map of nineteenth-century US literary and cultural history. Delving into previously unexplored archives of working-class women’s literature, Merish recovers working-class women’s vital presence as writers and readers in the antebellum era. She restores the tradition of working women’s class protest and dissent, shows how race and gender are central to class identity, and traces the ways working women understood themselves and were understood as workers and class subjects.

Among Arab countries, Egypt has witnessed the largest production of feminist writings as Egyptian women begin to write in the mainstream. A themed section on Egyptian women writers and feminism from the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies features three articles about Egyptian women writers and their novels, which investigate the role of gender assignation in late twentieth-century Egyptian society. These literary works interrogate assumptions about the ways in which men and women are seen and are expected to behave.

For more books and journal articles on women’s issues, check out our Read to Respond post on feminism and women’s rights. These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017.

Read to Respond Wrap-Up

R2R final logoSeveral months ago we launched our  “Read to Respond” series to highlight some of our most groundbreaking scholarship engaged with today’s pressing issues. Each topic, from student activism to racial justice, is highlighted with a reading list that encourages students and teachers alike to join the conversation surrounding these current events. 

Revisit your favorite “Read to Respond” topics so far and share these resources in and out of the classroom. These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017.

New Books in July

Happy summer to you! July brings some great new books for you to enjoy. Check them out:

In Dust of the Zulu, LouiseMeintjes w border Meintjes traces the history and the political and aesthetic significance of ngoma, a competitive form of dance and music that emerged out of the legacies of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa, showing how it embodies Zulu masculinity and the expanse of South Africa’s violent history.

Nick Nesbitt’s collection The Concept in Crisis—which includes contributions from Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Emily Apter, Warren Montag, and Bruno Bosteels—reconsiders the landmark 1965 work Reading Capital and renews its call for a symptomatic critique of capitalism and culture for the twenty-first century.

Garcia

David F. Garcia’s Listening for Africa examines the work of a wide range of musicians, dancers, academics, and activists between the 1930s and the 1950s to show how their belief in black music’s African roots would provide the means to debunk racist ideologies, aid decolonization of Africa, and ease racial violence.

James R. Barrett, in History from the Bottom Up and Inside Out, rethinks the boundaries of American working-class history by investigating the ways in which working-class people’s personal lives intersected with their activism and religious, racial, ethnic, and class identities.

Marso w border

In Politics with Beauvoir, Lori Marso treats Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist theory and practice as part of her political theory, arguing that freedom is Beauvoir’s central concern and that this is best apprehended through the notion of the encounter.

Originally published in 1937, C. L. R. James’s World Revolution is a pioneering Marxist analysis of the revolutionary history in the interwar period, the fundamental conflict between Trotsky and Stalin, and the ideological contestations within the Communist International and its role in the Soviet Union and international revolution. Published to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this definitive edition of World Revolution features a new introduction by Christian Høgsbjerg and includes rare archival material, selected contemporary reviews, and extracts from James’s 1939 interview with Trotsky.

Price w border

Distinguished anthropologists Richard and Sally Price, in Saamaka Dreaming, look back at their first years living among the Saamaka maroons in Suriname in the late 1960s and retell the evolution of their personal lives and careers, relationships with the Saamaka, and the field of anthropology.

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Read To Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights


R2R final logoOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This post focuses on feminism and women’s rights with articles tackling topics from abortion laws, maternity leave, Islamic feminism, and more. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

Feminism and Women’s Rights

These articles are freely available until December 15, 2017. Follow along with the series over the next several months and share your thoughts with #ReadtoRespond.