In the News

Summer Reading Recommendations from our Staff

Summer is for popsicles and water slides—and BOOKS! Light-hearted or serious, long or short, brand-new or decades old. Check out our staff members’ recommendations for summer reading!

Cover of Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzu. The dominant background color is green, with blue streaks in the top left and bottom right corners, and yellow and orange dots all around the border. There is an orange-gold outline of a bird in the center.

First up is Journals Marketing Manager Jocelyn Dawson. The book she’s enjoyed the most in 2022 so far has been Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo—not a typical beach read but a good, absorbing novel. It’s the story of Anna, a middle-aged London woman who discovers that the father she has never met was once president of a West African nation. More than anything, Jocelyn loved this book for the mood/atmosphere that hangs over the whole book, totally immersing you as Anna journeys to meet her father. 

Cover of The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan. The cover has a red, left-side border with a floral pattern. To the right is a picture of a lake surrounded by trees and mountains in the background, and a picture of a young Chinese woman superimposed onto this background.

Though arguably a bit heavy for poolside reading, Publicity Assistant Jessica Covil-Manset enjoyed reading Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Other fans of Tan’s will find much about this novel familiar: the split narrative, the excavation of mother-daughter relationships, and the interweaving of collective/national histories with intergenerational familial tales. And with the heaviest elements of this novel—death, ghosts, curses—come poignant reflections on what it means to remember, to lose memories, and to revise or reframe one’s understanding of the past. It’s gorgeous!

Cover of The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner. Forming a border around the cover is a trellis with bight red roses. A woman is walking, her back to the camera, toward a large house in the background. It looks to be dusk, and trees cast shadows across her path.

Perhaps more in-line with summer, Exhibits Manager Jes Malitoris just recently finished the novella The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner, a breezy, sapphic haunted house story by the sea. Strong Shirley Jackson vibes, with a little bit of body horror and a little girl secondary character that Jes would love to read an entire series about.

Cover of The Changeling by Joy Williams, 40th Anniversary Edition. Against a black background are two main figures: a wolf at the top, looking down; and a deer at the bottom, looking up at the wolf's tail. Between them are tall flowers.

Acquisitions Editor Elizabeth Ault recently discovered Joy Williams’s febrile 1978 classic The Changeling in its 2018 Tin House reissue. While Elizabeth can’t precisely say that she “enjoyed” it, she can recommend it as a sort of dizzy replication of what trying to act normal while wading through 95 degree + 95 percent humidity air in a Durham summer sometimes feels like, with occasional flashes of precise humor and observation that she can never quite muster in the heat.

Cover of The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. The cover is taking up completely by an aerial shot of a swimming pool and shows four swimmers training.

Meanwhile, Books Marketing Manager Laura Sell recommends The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. The first section is written in the style of a Greek chorus, echoing the voices of a group of people who all swim at the same community pool, which has developed an unsettling crack in the bottom. The next sections trace the life of one of those swimmers, Alice, and her daughter. Alice suffers from dementia, and one section is written in the second person, detailing the many indignities Alice will face when she enters memory care. The writing in The Swimmers is haunting and unique, and the book is a moving portrait of family, aging, and death. 

Cover of Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, by Dan Charnes (whose name does not appear on the cover). The book's subtitle wraps around all four borders of the cover, with the the main title in large, capitalized letters at the top and bottom of the cover. In the center is a blue grid with yellow dots outlining the face of a man wearing a hat.

Turning up the tunes, Copywriter Chris Robinson recommends Dilla Time, the first biography of the legendary hip hop producer and rapper J Dilla. Dan Charnas not only tells the story of Dilla’s life and his approach to music, he shows how and why his music was so transformational and discusses the complicated legacy Dilla left after his death in 2006.

Cover of LOTE by Shola Von Reinhold. Cover is pearlescent with the title text in large blue letters around a teardrop shaped ornament with a peacock inside it. Text below the image reads “Ingenious; irresistible; a dazzling first novel.”--Naomi Booth, author of Sealed and The Lost Art of Sinking

You call it cheating, we call it truth: Sales Manager Michael McCullough offers up LOTE, one of our very own books—because he loved it so much, because author Shola von Reinhold is a dazzling new talent, and because he had a blast reading it. He confirms that LOTE is hilariously funny, but that it is also deeply insightful about race, gender, class, and art. This book is going to appeal to people who love high society English romps, people who care about Black writers and trans writers, people who like novels about the art world, and people who need a little glamor in these challenging times.

Welcoming Trans Asia Photography to Duke University Press

We are pleased to announce that “Photography,” the first issue of the open-access journal Trans Asia Photography published by Duke University Press, is now available. Start reading “Photography” here.

In this inaugural Duke University Press issue, contributors explore photography through the lens of Asia—variously defined as a geographic territory or cultural imaginary—in order to fundamentally rethink the history and nature of photo studies from a different perspective. Examining photography both as a material object and as a concept, the authors cover wide-ranging topics such as photography’s intermediality, transnationality, haptic/audible qualities, vernacular dimensions, and relationship to the “real.”

Trans Asia Photography, edited by Deepali Dewan, Yi Gu, and Thy Phu, is the first and only open-access internal journal devoted to the interdisciplinary exploration of historic and contemporary photography from Asia and across the Asian diaspora. Established more than a decade ago, the journal examines all aspects of photographic history, theory, and practice by centering images in or of Asia, conceived here as a territory, network, and cultural imaginary.

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The Journal of Asian Studies Moves to Duke University Press

The Journal of Asian Studies (JAS), the flagship journal of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), will join the Duke University Press journals program in 2023.

Journal of Asian Studies issue cover

“There are many reasons we have decided to partner with Duke, but one of the most important is Duke’s prioritizing of the academic contributions of its journals. Duke’s academic credentials are stellar, with a global reputation for publishing top scholarly work in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Duke’s prioritizing of the academic market and readership melds with the association’s and journal’s mission of service to the field,” said Hilary Finchum-Sung, Executive Director of the AAS.

Since its founding in 1941, the Journal of Asian Studies has been recognized as the most authoritative and prestigious publication in the field of Asian studies. The journal publishes the very best empirical and multidisciplinary work on Asia, spanning the arts, history, literature, the social sciences, and cultural studies. Experts around the world turn to the journal for the latest in-depth scholarship on Asia’s past and present, for its extensive book reviews, and for its state-of-the-field essays on established and emerging topics. With coverage reaching from South and Southeast Asia to China, Inner Asia, and Northeast Asia, the Journal of Asian Studies welcomes broad comparative and transnational studies as well as essays emanating from fine-grained historical, cultural, political, or literary research and interpretation.

The journal is edited by Joseph Alter (University of Pittsburgh, USA), who said, “Asia’s ever increasing economic and political significance in the twenty-first century highlights the growing importance of Asian studies as a field of critical research. Globalization and rapid change, involving new cultural formations and the creative interconnectedness of people, places, and things, continues to stimulate incredibly innovative scholarship. I look forward to building on a legacy of excellence combined with Duke’s outstanding reputation to position the Journal of Asian Studies on the cutting edge of research that will redefine how we understand Asia’s past, present and future.”

“The Journal of Asian Studies has long been a critically important resource for those working in the field of Asian studies and is an exciting addition to our journals program. We are pleased to partner with the AAS to advance the journal’s mission and bring its scholarship to readers around the globe,” said Dean Smith, Director of Duke University Press.

The Journal of Asian Studies joins Duke University Press’s list of Asian studies journals, which includes Archives of Asian Art; Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; the Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture; the Journal of Korean Studies; positions: asia critique; Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature; Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies; and Trans Asia Photography. The journal will be included in the e-Duke Journals Expanded Collection and will also be available as a single-title subscription.


Logo for the Association for Asian Studies

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) is a scholarly, nonpolitical, nonprofit professional association open to anyone interested in Asia and the study of Asia. With approximately 5,500 members worldwide, representing all the regions and countries of Asia and all academic disciplines, the AAS is the largest organization of its kind.

Duke University Press is a nonprofit scholarly publisher with a focus on the humanities, the social sciences, and mathematics. The Press publishes approximately 140 books annually and around 60 journals, as well as offering several electronic collections and open-access publishing initiatives.

Welcoming Agricultural History to Duke University Press

We are thrilled to announce that the first Duke University Press-published issue (vol. 96, issue 1–2) of Agricultural History, the official journal of the Agricultural History Society, is now available. Start reading this issue, made freely available through August, here.

This inaugural Duke University Press issue covers such topics as Australia’s entanglement in global cotton, weather observation in Argentina in 1872–1915, and the role of the Victory Farm Volunteers program during World War II. The issue also features a roundtable discussion, “Should Agricultural Historians Care about the New Materialism?;” Adrienne Monteith Petty’s presidential address from the 2021 meeting of the Agricultural History Society; and twenty reviews of recent books.

Agricultural History, edited by Albert G. Way, publishes articles that explore agriculture and rural life over time, in all geographies and among all people. Contributors to the journal use a wide range of methodologies to illuminate the history of farming, food, agricultural science and technology, the environment, rural life, and beyond. The articles include innovative research, timely book and film reviews, and special features that unite diverse historical approaches under agriculture-related themes.

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A Seat at the Table: Race and Top Chef, a Guest Post by Anita Mannur

The reality cooking show Top Chef finished its nineteenth season on June 2. Anita Mannur, author of Intimate Eating, is an avid viewer of the show and offers this guest post. Mannur is Associate Professor of English at Miami University, author of Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, and coeditor of Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader

Top Chef 15

Late last week, I tuned in to watch the season finale of Top Chef with a little more than the usual nervousness I often feel when watching the finale. I have watched all 19 seasons of Top Chef since it began airing in 2006 and have even taken in some of the spin-offs such as Top Chef Masters, Top Chef: Just Desserts and even Top Chef Family Style. I enjoy watching Top Chef because, even though contestants of color get eliminated more often than not, it seems to be the one cooking show that is interested in showcasing food, and not some gimmick around food that would act like seeing people run around a grocery store to collect items is even vaguely interesting. Top Chef showcases innovative and interesting cuisine, often at the hands of talented chefs across the country. The fact that the show is hosted by an Indian American, Padma Lakshmi—who has become a fierce advocate for marginalized peoples and important social issues—makes it even more meaningful. But my love-hate relationship with the show boils down to one simple fact: I find it incredibly frustrating to root for the contestants of color only to see them sent home much earlier than they should be. It is not that the people who win the contest are not talented; rather it is simply a case of wishing that there were more opportunities for chefs of color, and particularly women of color, to thrive in an industry that is dominated by cishet white male chefs. Whenever a person of color wins the season, I am relieved. When one roots for the person of color on reality TV, one is all too familiar with the feeling that they will not win the big prize. So, when they do win, it feels more like a relief than anything else.

This season I was especially excited because there seemed to be a record number of people of color on the show. About two-thirds of the season’s contestants were people of color. Week after week, I watched in surprise to see many of them remain on the show until, by some miracle, there were six remaining contestants—all of whom were people of color.  With apologies to Lauren Berlant, every time I watch Top Chef (or for that matter, any reality TV show), I often feel like I am engaging in a form of cruel optimism. Despite knowing better, I always hope against hope that the people of color will not be eliminated. And yet each week, my optimism fades as I see my favorites get eliminated. While it is certainly the case that there have been several people of color who have won Top Chef (and among them several Asian Americans), rarely do Black or Latinx women ever win. Though some may go on to have success in the culinary field, few—if any—get to hear the words, “you are top chef.” To date, no Black or Latinx women have won the title of Top Chef. And frankly, given the ways that Black and Latinx women have shaped America’s culinary history, that is outrageous.

Top Six

So, it was with considerable surprise and growing interest that I watched Season 19 unfold until, finally, there were six contestants left and every single one of them was a person of color. This moment felt unprecedented. At that point it seemed that it was inevitable that a person of color was going to win Top Chef—the finale would include three chefs of color. I was elated. And then I was reminded of the Top Chef spin-off, Last Chance Kitchen, a 10- to 15-minute show that airs on after the conclusion of each episode. As its title suggests, it is the last chance for eliminated chefs. Each week an eliminated chef competes against a previously eliminated chef. If they survive, they compete against the next eliminated contestant until finally a winner of Last Chance Kitchen is crowned and re-enters the main competition. I began watching LCK, and that old familiar feeling came back as I watched the contestants of color, one after another, lose their second chance until finally a winner was declared. Sarah Welch, a quirky white woman who had been eliminated early in the contest, re-entered Top Chef. While interesting in spirit, the whole premise of LCK seems to be that it offers a second chance to a deserving person. But in a moment when this country offers few second chances to people of color, and when different kinds of subjectivities are under erasure, it felt egregious to see that the concept of “deserving” is rooted in a narrative of talent. The dishes are purportedly tasted blindly, suggesting that a kind of equity is at play. And yet I cannot help but think that this utilizes the same logic as color blindness. What would it look like, in a country that is most certainly not color blind, to be more intentional about accessing a narrative of equity that extends to racial inclusion in determining who deserves a second chance? What if the idea of the “second chance” was not rooted in an apolitical and decontextualized narrative about who usually ascends to positions of power, but in one that would think about the political and affective resonance of having three incredibly deserving chefs of color make it to the end? Why, in the end, is it so unimaginable to have a major cooking competition decide that all its finalists will be people of color?

Top Chef

When Welch returned to the contest, there were five people of color: three African Americans (Ashleigh Shanti, Nick Wallace and Damarr Brown), one Latina (Evelyn Garcia) and one Asian Australian (Buddha Lo).  This was unprecedented. In its 16-year history, there had never been this many African Americans left in the contest at this late stage.  But then the old patterns reemerged, and one by one, each black chef was eliminated, and it became apparent that the finale would include a Latina woman, an Asian Australian man, and a white woman. Though I personally liked Welch and her quirky humor (and her deep commitment to showcasing different kinds of miso), I was a little disappointed. And to be honest, the finale was beautiful. All three contestants clearly respected one another and were rooting for one another in ways that felt more reminiscent of The Great British Bake Off than say, The Amazing Race. There is a real and palpable comradery among the contestants, and it was apparent that Garcia, Lo and Welch were invested in each other’s success. The expressions of intimacy and care felt genuine and were a welcome change from the backstabbing and snark that one often comes to expect in US-based reality shows and in several of the early seasons of Top Chef.

However, in the last few weeks of the season, I went from feeling excited about the prospects of a finale including only chefs of color to feeling deflated that it was all for naught and that Top Chef was once again merely pandering and would eliminate the remaining contestants of color for spurious reasons. At the end of each season, viewers are often told that the smallest details can send a person home. For chefs of color, that often takes the form of being sent home for not being “true to their origins or heritage,” a standard that is rarely applied to white chefs who are often praised for having knowledge of diverse cuisines.

In the end, the right person (I think) won. Buddha Lo’s food was inventive, took stock of his racial and ethnic heritage and was beautifully plated. But I was also disappointed not to see Garcia win—not just because she is Latina but because she was an exceptional chef in every way. But of course, only one person can win, even if the runners up do not have to hear the odious phrase, “please pack your knives and go.”

To the show’s credit, they made remarkable strides in showcasing so many talented chefs of color. And my guess is that, despite not winning, many of them will go on to have amazing careers.  But it remained disappointing to see that it took 19 seasons for the producers of the show to keep six people of color in the running, only to then get rid of them one by one, all the while conveying to the audience that a deserving white person needed to be at the final judging panel. Groundbreaking as it was to have this many contestants of color in one season, it was disappointing that it didn’t go further. To have the show come so close to doing something truly transformative, only to thwart expectations and desires at the last minute, was disappointing.

While I will not stop watching Top Chef anytime soon, it also does not escape my attention that we may not see a season like this again.  At the end of the day, it is not too much to ask to see more chefs of color standing in front of the judge’s table as a small, but important, gesture that would remind us that whiteness does not always have to be at the table.

Mannur coverTo read more from Anita Mannur, buy Intimate Eating from our site and save 30% with coupon code E22MANNR.

Pride Month Reads

Happy Pride Month! We’re proud to share some of our recent titles that focus on queer studies, trans studies, and LGBTQ+ histories.

978-1-4780-1808-7_prIn Gay Liberation after May ’68, first published in France in 1974 and appearing here in English for the first time, Guy Hocquenghem details the rise of the militant gay liberation movement and argues that revolutionary movements must be rethought through ideas of desire and sexuality. The book is translated by Scott Branson and includes an introduction by Gilles Deleuze.

Queer Fire: Liberation and Abolition, a special issue of GLQ edited by Jesse A. Goldberg and Marquis Bey, considers prison abolition as a project of queer liberation and queer liberation as an abolitionist project. Pushing beyond observations that prisons disproportionately harm queer people, the contributors demonstrate that gender itself is a carceral system and demand that gender and sexuality, too, be subject to abolition.

978-1-4780-1781-3_prIn Black Trans Feminism, Marquis Bey offers a meditation on blackness and gender nonnormativity in ways that recalibrate traditional understandings of each, conceiving of black trans feminism as a politics grounded in fugitivity and the subversion of power.

Shola von Reinhold’s lush queer novel LOTE won several prizes in the UK and is finally available to U.S. readers. Novelist Torrey Peters calls it “a totally fresh, funny, urgent iteration.” The perfect summer read!

In There’s a Disco Ball Between Us, Jafari S. Allen offers a sweeping and lively ethnographic and intellectual history of Black queer politics, culture, and history in the 1980s as they emerged out of radical Black lesbian activism and writing.

978-1-4780-1783-7_prMarlon B. Ross explores the figure of the sissy as central to how Americans have imagined, articulated, and negotiated black masculinity from the 1880s to the present in Sissy Insurgencies.

In Atmospheres of Violence, Eric A. Stanley examines the forms of violence levied against trans/queer and gender nonconforming people in the United States and shows how, despite the advances in LGBTQ rights in the recent past, forms of anti-trans/queer violence is central to liberal democracy and state power.

Lindsey B. Green-Simms examines films produced by and about queer Africans in the first two decades of the twenty-first century in Queer African Cinemas, showing how these films record the fear, anxiety, and vulnerability many queer Africans experience while at the same time imagining new hopes and possibilities.

rhr_142_prIn Visual Archives of Sex — a special issue of Radical History Review edited by Heike Bauer, Melina Pappademos, Katie Sutton, and Jennifer Tucker — contributors study the visual histories of sex by examining symbols, images, film, and other visual forms ranging from medieval religious icons to twenty-first-century selfies. They argue that engaging BIPOC, antiracist, queer, and feminist perspectives of the past is vital to understanding the complex historical relationships between sex and visual culture.

Nicole Erin Morse examines how trans women feminine artists use selfies and self-representational art to explore how selfies produce politically meaningful encounters between creators and viewers in ways that envision trans feminist futures in Selfie Aesthetics.

Artist and theorist micha cárdenas considers contemporary digital media, artwork, and poetry in order to articulate trans of color strategies of safety and survival in Poetic Operations.

tsq_9_1_prThe t4t Issue is a special issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly edited by Cameron Awkward-Rich and Hil Malatino. Originating in Craigslist personals to indicate a trans person seeking another trans person, the term “t4t” has come to describe not only circuits of desire and attraction but also practices of trans solidarity and mutual aid. Contributors to this issue investigate the multiple meanings associated with t4t, considering both its potential and its shortcomings.

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.

Samer_coverIn Lesbian Potentiality and Feminist Media in the 1970s, Rox Samer explores how 1970s feminists took up the figure of the lesbian in broad attempts to reimagine gender and sexuality by studying feminist film, video, and science fiction literature.

Queer Companions by 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.

Final Day of Our Spring Sale

Image reads: use code SPRING22, Spring Sale, 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues through May 27

Today is the final day of our Spring Sale. Use coupon SPRING22 to save 50% on all in-stock books and journal issues and be sure to shop before 11:59 pm Eastern Time. Please note that due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Press is closing at 1:00 pm on Friday. You’ll still be able to order from the website after that time, but not by phone.

Customers outside North and South America can use the SPRING22 coupon through today at our UK-based distributor Combined Academic Publishers to save on shipping, particularly in Europe.

Cover of LOTE by Shola Von Reinhold. Cover is pearlescent with the title text in large blue letters around a teardrop shaped ornament with a peacock inside it. Text below the image reads “Ingenious; irresistible; a dazzling first novel.”--Naomi Booth, author of Sealed and The Lost Art of Sinking

If you still aren’t sure what to buy, check out recommendations from our editors Elizabeth Ault, Courtney Berger, Gisela Fosado, and Ken Wissoker.

And consider these new books that were just released this week: LOTE, an award-winning queer novel by Shola von Reinhold, The Small Matter of Suing Chevron by Suzanna Sawyer, Gridiron Capital by Lisa Uperesa, The Surrounds by AbdouMaliq Simone, Grammars of the Urban Ground edited by Ash Amin and Michele Lancione, and In the Shadow of the Palms by Sophie Chao.

See the fine print and FAQs here. Don’t delay, shop now!

Q&A with the Authors of “The Impasse of the Latin American Left”

Impasse authorsFranck Gaudichaud is Professor of History and Latin American Studies at Universite Toulouse-Jean Jaurès.

Massimo Modonesi is Professor of Sociology at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Jeffery R. Webber is Associate Professor of Politics at York University.

Gaudichaud, Modonesi, and Webber are the authors of The Impasse of the Latin American Left, a new book that explores 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.

Throughout the book, you explain that recent political shifts in Latin American countries indicate an “end of the cycle” for progressivism in the region. Do you see historical developments as occurring in cycles? What kinds of lessons can be learned from previous cycles?

Gaudichaud coverThe notion of cycles is more of a metaphor, equivalent to that of a wave. It is borrowed from biology and economics. In the field of the study of political processes, it does not refer to circularity, but to phenomena that experience ups and downs, expansions and contractions. In this sense, it is a notion that allows visualizing a historical process, in the absence of another more effective one. Latin American progressivism experienced a cycle of ascent-descent of approximately 15 years, depending on the case. Leaders, parties, and governments emerged, expanded, consolidated, and eventually entered into crisis. Their crisis occurred hand in hand with a rightward shift in the political scene that contributed, together with the contradictions accumulated within progressivism itself, to close a stage in recent Latin American history.

This shift to the right was not consolidated, however, due to the inability of the right to formulate a hegemonic project that would give it legitimacy and durability. As a result, the door was opened, in recent years, to a partial return of Latin American progressivism, in part from the same forces that led the earlier cycle (think of the return of the Movement toward Socialism to office in Bolivia, or the return of a variety of Kirchnerist-Peronism to office in Argentina, or the likely return of Lula in Brazil in the October elections this year). Elsewhere, Latin American progressivism has formed governments in countries that were largely outside of the earlier cycle (Gabriel Boric in Chile, Pedro Castillo in Peru, and Xiomara Castro in Honduras, all of whom will likely be joined by Gustavo Petro in Colombia in elections later this month).

But this return of earlier progressive governments and the rise of new ones are occurring in a different and less favorable political and economic context, and progressivism has assumed more moderate, less ambitious forms. Historical cycles do not merely repeat themselves. Marx claimed, half seriously and half in jest, that they appear first as tragedy and then as farce. We know that the progressive cycle had some tragic traits, insofar as it wasted the momentum of the popular movements. Let us hope that the constitutive processes of the current cycle are not a farce. In any case, a significant determination of the correlation of class forces in Latin American societies occurs outside electoral conquests and use of government agencies and state institutions, through processes of consciousness-raising, mobilization, and organization of the subaltern classes that pass through but also escape the institutional dynamics of progressivism.

You write that, in the early- and mid-2000s, left-progressive movements rose to power on a wave of popular support. Given that popular support, what accounts for the inability of the Latin American left to fully transform domestic and international economic order?

In the book we outline a series of objective, structural impediments to domestic and international transformation that the Latin American left faced in the early decades of the twenty-first century. These should not be understood as static and insurmountable obstacles to transformation, but dynamic and contradictory constraints, the transcendence of which would have required revolutionary ruptures in social, political, and economic relations, and which could never have been overcome overnight.

Among the many dynamic barriers of this kind, we discuss the inherited productive structures of primary-export commodity economies in many Latin American countries, rooted in over a century of their subordinate incorporation into the world capitalist system. Relatedly, the ongoing uneven development of capitalism and inter-imperialist rivalry (today, most importantly, between the United States and China) has created a world system of states based on hierarchy and exploitation, in which imperialist powers use whatever resources available to them to reproduce their domination of the system and thus the ongoing subordination of weaker states, including Latin American countries seeking more autonomy and a modicum of self-determination.

Uneven capitalist development and associated nationalist competition internal to Latin America, furthermore, was another important reason behind the strict limits encountered by the various region-wide initiatives for change, such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).  More proximately, the Latin American left in the early twenty-first century operated within a novel class structure in all countries, one that had been transformed by decades of neoliberal economic restructuring. Peasant dispossession and proletarianization, widescale rural-to-urban migration, the decline of formal, unionized urban employment, and the florescence of atomized informal economies were some of the dominant trends. This new class terrain made it difficult to organize and sustain radical left politics and presented a challenge for left social movements and political party formations alike. Nonetheless, through invention and experimentation, with tactics and strategies adapted to the new era, popular class recomposition proved quite successful on the social movement front in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Alongside the dynamic structural elements, the book also explains subjective, political factors that weakened the possibilities of Latin American progressivism achieving further reaching social and political transformation. By the late 1990s, the political left in Latin America had suffered through generations of fierce repression that disarticulated its formal political organizations through brute repression. Recall the bureaucratic authoritarian regimes of the Southern Cone during the 1970s and 1980s, or the counterinsurgencies of Central America in the same period, both of which were necessary military precursors to the technocratic roll out of neoliberal economic programs. Ideologically, the idea of socialism had been widely discredited by the early 1990s through its association with the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, and with the crumbling of the latter, the “end of history” had been confidently pronounced by liberals around the world.  The Latin American left therefore had to rebuild new projects of transformation out of the rubble of the past, using bold and militant experimentation to eventually find a way to recompose itself on the unsteady ground of the early twenty-first century.

Despite these structural obstacles and enduring legacies of past political defeats, a social, extra-parliamentary left, constituted by increasingly militant social movements, emerged, grew, and consolidated over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, disrupting the smooth political reproduction of neoliberal regimes. This growing social power of the left was eventually translated, albeit in distorted form, into the rise of an institutional, electoral left, with the formation of a whole series of centre-left and left governments in the mid-to-late 2000s.

That the rise of new left governments coincided with an international commodity boom, driven by rapid industrialization in China, was a gift and a curse at the same time. On the one hand, it stoked dynamic capitalist growth which enabled states to skim rent from the extractive sectors and achieve significant temporary improvements in terms of poverty and income inequality, as well as in health and education coverage for the popular classes in a number of cases. On the other hand, the easy rents from the extractive sectors also allowed the new progressive governments to avoid, for a period at least, a sharper confrontation with domestic and international capital, even while improving the living standards of their popular bases. This was the material basis for passive revolution, we argue, so long as the commodity boom endured.

The Latin American progressive governments of the first decade of the twenty-first century were agents of passive revolution, in the Gramscian sense. That is, they governed processes that combined a certain combination of transformation and conservation carried out from the state so as to pre-empt the escalation of class struggle. Patterns of capitalist accumulation were altered at the margins through socioeconomic reform that benefitted the subaltern classes, but these reforms were carried out from above in a manner designed to demobilize, control, and pacify the popular classes through their subordinate incorporation. The basic underlying productive and property systems and associated class structures of society were largely unaltered by progressive rule. When the commodity boom ended, the easy rents lubricating these passive revolutions dried up, class antagonisms reemerged more sharply, and progressive governments were unable to secure ongoing support from their popular social bases while they also lost the confidence of capital; thus a window was opened up for right-wing restoration, however unstable that restoration has ultimately been.

Of course, this general synthesis necessarily obscures many of the specificities of different cases that we examine in closer historical detail in the book. The processes of pacification and control from above, for example, need to be differentiated so that the distinctions between, say, the social-liberalism of lulismo in Brazil and the more advanced moments of social struggle in Bolivia under Evo Morales or Venezuela under Hugo Chávez can be made clear, just as the chasm separating social democratic governance under the Broad Front in Uruguay and the nepotistic authoritarianism of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua can be properly understood. In this sense, theoretical generalizations and propositions are made in the book, but not at the expense of attentiveness to the important differences separating each case under the broad label of “progressivism,” each with their unique social actors, political parties, levels of control from above and participation from below, and particular socio-historical traditions of class struggle.

The progressive movements have recently been overtaken by a variety of right-wing actors, who operate without a “coherent project of political rule and vision of economic development” (6). Do you think the rise of the right in Latin America will lead to a return to a capitalist-neoliberal order or something else?

In many senses, there was never a full break with neoliberalism even during the hegemonic phase of Latin American progressivism. The right that has returned to office in recent years in many countries consists of a spectrum ranging from the technocratic neoliberalism of a relatively orthodox variety (think of Mauricio Macri’s administration in Argentina from 2015-2019) to more explicitly authoritarian, far-right populism (think of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, or the second-place finisher José Antonio Kast in Chile). Both the technocrats and the far-right populists represent different flavours of neoliberal rule.

However, while neoliberal policies were sometimes able to produce periods of modest capitalist expansion in parts of Latin America in the 1990s, today the region is mired in a social and economic crisis to which the neoliberal project cannot provide a solution, even on its own perverse terms. While the new right governments, therefore, are intent on reproducing neoliberalism, their attempts to do so will be structurally impeded by recessionary trends in the global economy and defensive resistance from popular movements.

The present interregnum is characterized by an impasse with no secure hegemonies, whether left or right, and all of Gramsci’s morbid symptoms are robustly on display. The electoral left continues its adaptation to the center, so that even when it wins, it tends to lose. For its part, the center-right is increasingly eclipsed by far-right formations, new and old. The most promising explosive moments suggestive of the possibilities for a more radical left have taken the form of wide-scale rebellions, such as those in Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia in late 2019. Each of these instances, though, were defensive in character, and ultimately ran up against their own limits of political articulation. The absence of lasting popular organizational forms emerging out of their milieus is one indication of this fact.

Outside these important before-and-after moments of mass upheaval, uneven transnational expressions of ecological movements and popular feminisms have proved to be the most sustained and transversal expressions of extra-parliamentary class struggle in the region. In their overlapping yet distinct ways they implicitly bend in an anti-capitalist direction; the totalizing logic of the issues animating their resistance demands that they, on occasion at least, condense the problems they face into a sharp singularity: capitalism or life. That this is the real choice faced in Latin America today, as in the rest of the world, has only become more apparent in light of the pandemic.

Populism is mentioned throughout your discussion of Latin American politics. To what extent are the political developments discussed in the book the result of popular movements and/or influenced by foreign actors? How difficult is it to disentangle the various influences on the politics of the region?

The notion of populism has a properly Latin American history. It is not an imported political form in the region. Latin American populism is historically progressive, nationalist, statist, integrationist and class-conciliatory, unlike the right-wing populism that sprouted strongly in Europe and the US in recent decades. This ideological distance of the phenomena does not allow for any generalization or theorization that assimilates the separate trends, beyond the fact that they share certain discursive and gesticulatory resources and the search for the support of the popular sectors, especially the unorganized popular sectors.

We must also distinguish the totally endogenous cases of progressive governments which most closely fit the classically “populist” profile, such as that of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, from Kirchnerist Peronism in Argentina, Lulismo in Brazil, Pepe Mujica in Uruguay, and now Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, where relatively typical politicians transformed themselves into charismatic and paternalistic presidents once in office, deploying the entire repertoire of classical populism.

At the same time, there may be not so much direct influence but a certain emulation in the cases of an emerging “populist” right-wing in Latin America. They saw a particular political opportunity with the rise of Trump. Surely there is something of that in the emergence and trajectory of Bolsonaro who, although his impact can easily be exaggerated. The Bolsonaro effect seems to have been replicated to a certain extent in the appearance of characters such as Kast in Chile and Javier Milei in Argentina. It remains to be seen to what extent these reactionary, neoliberal, authoritarian and culturally regressive populisms will be able to install a populist form of doing politics that is antithetical to the more traditional, more progressive, plebeian and multi-class version, which continues to show strength in the region.

You write a post-conclusion about the disproportionate effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Latin America. How do you see the pandemic, and the recovery from it, affecting political developments in the region in the future?

By now it’s well known that over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic Latin America has, by many metrics, suffered more than any region in the world, with extremely high rates of contagion and mortality. Less well remembered, perhaps, is that the pandemic arrived in the midst of an economic crisis that was already full-blown. According to data from the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), for example, between 2014 and 2019 the sub-region of South America experienced its lowest five-year growth rate ever registered, with an average of only 0.3 percent GDP growth, and negative GDP per capita.

The pandemic dramatically worsened an already dire scenario, such that 2020 saw the worst ever regional contraction of GDP across Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. In this context, poverty, inequality, and food insecurity soared to new heights. Existing axes of inequality were exacerbated, with more and more of the population’s access to basic services, health, education, and housing foreclosed. In 2020, 52 million additional people fell into poverty, according to Oxfam, while the richest Latin Americans added $48.2 billion to their pockets. Capital will always try, and will sometimes succeed, at profiting from disaster.

The limited but real social gains of the first Pink Tide era, in the context of a commodities boom, had already been in steady reverse since 2014, but the pandemic has simply annihilated any remnants. The scale of social regression in the region has been phenomenal. World trade fell by 17 percent between January and May 2020, and Latin America was the developing region most affected by this contraction, with a decline of 26.1 percent in exports and 27.4 percent in imports. Aggregate regional GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean declined by 7.5 percent in 2020. According to the International Labour Organization, there were roughly 25 million net employment losses in the region that year, with approximately 82 percent of these translating into permanent exits from the labour force – that is, 82 percent of people who lost their jobs in 2020 have been unable to find any new employment. Again, recall that these trends are in addition to those of regional decline since 2014.

The closure or bankruptcy of millions of small and medium sized firms meant that the counter-cyclical absorptive capacity of the informal economy to soak up some of the surplus labour pushed out of the formal economy in previous capitalist crises was diminished, at least for the first year of the pandemic. Women, youth, lower-qualified, and migrant workers suffered most severely under these conditions.

With a relative recovery of commodity prices mid-way through the year, the opening-up of economies after pandemic closures, and expansionary fiscal measures by most governments in the region, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced GDP growth of 6.0 percent in 2021.

But employment growth continued to lag, and the job growth that did occur was largely isolated to the informal sector. In many Latin American countries, over 70 percent of net job creation since 2020 has been in the informal sector. Even with this relative informal growth in jobs, at the close of 2021, both formal and informal employment levels were persistently lower than pre-pandemic years in most countries of the region. The unemployment rate remained elevated at 10.0 percent in 2021, and even optimistic projections suggest that the unemployment rate will continue above pre-pandemic levels at least through 2023.

World market conditions are likely to be considerably worse in 2022 for Latin American economic prospects than in 2021, although just how much worse is unclear, and only getting murkier. The IMF growth forecast for the world economy at the outset of 2022 was only 4.9 percent, down from 5.8 percent in 2021. This was before the system-shaking events toward the end of February, when Russia launched its imperialist invasion of Ukraine, considerably heightening extant inter-imperial rivalries in the world system – anchored as they are by the primary rivalry between the United States and China. Innumerable new complexities and uncertainties have been added to an already-unstable world market. Accelerating military spending and sky-high food and energy prices may be just the beginning.

Read the introduction to The Impasse of the Latin American Left for free and save 50% on the paperback with coupon code SPRING22, now through May 27.

Reproductive Rights Syllabus

Today, Duke University Press publishes our Reproductive Rights Syllabus.

The books and articles in this two-part syllabus address the impact of various global challenges to reproductive rights. The first section includes research studies from social science journals addressing contraception access, the impact of abortion bans on pregnancy-related mortality, and repercussions of state-level restrictions. The second section features work from fields such as cultural studies, postcolonial studies, feminist theory, and African American studies. Topics include reproductive justice, the people-of-color-led reproductive rights movement, abortion narratives, surveillance and social control, and reproductive coercion.

The articles included in the syllabus are either open access or freely available through October 31. All book introductions are freely available. Start reading here.

Spring Sale Continues Through May 27

Image reads: use code SPRING22, Spring Sale, 50% off all in-stock books and journal issues through May 27

Have you shopped our Spring Sale yet? All in-stock books and journal issues are 50% off through May 27 with coupon code SPRING22.

Since the start of the sale we’ve released some great new titles. Check out The Impasse of the Latin American Left, in which Franck Gaudichaud, Massimo Modonesi, and Jeffery R. Webber explore the region’s Pink Tide as a political, economic, and cultural phenomenon. 

Kelli Moore’s Legal Spectatorship  traces the political origins of the concept of domestic violence through visual culture in the United States. 

Passionate Work by 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.

And 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.

Our distributor in the UK, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific, Combined Academic Publishers, is pleased to extend the same 50% off discount to our customers there. Since overseas shipping can be slow and expensive, we highly encourage everyone in their territory to order directly from them using the same SPRING22 coupon code.

Here’s the usual fine print: The discount does not apply to apparel, journals subscriptions, or society memberships. You can’t order out-of-stock or not yet published titles at the discount. Regular shipping rates apply.

If you have any difficulty ordering via our website, you can call our customer service department at 888-651-0122 during regular business hours (Monday-Friday, 8-5 Eastern Time).

Happy shopping!