Race and Ethnicity

The Biopolitics of Plasticity

The newest issue of Social Text, “The Biopolitics of Plasticity,” edited by Kyla Schuller and Jules Gill-Peterson, is now available.

Contributors to this special issue argue that plasticity—the capacity of living systems to generate and take on new forms—is a central feature of biopolitics. Moving away from celebrating plasticity’s disorganizing and disruptive features in relation to normalizing and dominating systems of power, the authors investigate how race and state power actually depend on plasticity and enlist its malleability and formlessness to govern living populations and individuals.

In these four essays, the contributors propose a critical reckoning with the racial politics of this important concept to ask new questions about how to understand the organic malleability of the body and categories like race, sex, gender, and sexuality.

Check out the table of contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

Revisiting Written in Stone, A Guest Post by Sanford Levinson

svl55-largeSanford Levinson holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School. In today’s guest post he writes about how his 1998 book Written in Stone continues to be relevant but in constant need of updating. We published a 20th Anniversary Edition in 2018. Through August 31, 2020 we are offering a 40% discount on the book with coupon code STONE40. We hope you’ll consider adding it to your reading list or syllabus.

This fall, for the third time, I will be teaching a “reading course” at the Harvard Law School on “Monuments and Memorialization.” Needless to say, among the readings is my Duke University Press book Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies. Originally published in 1998, the Press published a second edition in 2018, with what turned out to be a new afterword of some 20,000 words, together with a new cover—a picture of Robert E. Lee’s statue being removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans—and a variety of other new photographs of controversial monuments. When the second edition was initially planned in 2016, the thought was that I would write a new afterword of about 5,000 words and that the new edition would be published in early 2018 (at the latest). As John Lennon famously sang, though, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Among the things that happened between initial plan and publication in September 2015 was the massacre in Charleston, the 2016 March in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the ensuing taking down of many monuments, particularly in the states of the Confederacy. And, of course, at the present time the entire country is experiencing the aftermath of the murder by a Minneapolis police officer of George Floyd in Minneapolis, including the renewed attention on monuments (and building names) across the country. For example, Lake Calhoun, in Minneapolis, named after John C. Calhoun, the leading defender of the slavocracy in his long career in American politics, was renamed, though not without controversy, Bde Maka Ska, described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “its original Dakota name.

Written in StoneGiven events in Minneapolis; Richmond, Virginia; Bristol, England; and Brussels, Belgium, to name only and handful of recent locales where monuments have come down or places renamed, friends have encouraged me to prepare a third edition of Written in Stone. There is a good reason for not doing so at the present time: Such an edition, at least at this time, would have to be published in a loose-leaf version! As I prepare my syllabus for the course this fall, I find myself revising it almost literally every day, as new actions are undertaken and arguments presented. Just this week, toward the end of June, 2020, for example, it appears very likely that Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, will drop Robert E. Lee’s name, though, no doubt, some students, both African-American and white, might at least wonder why the slaveowning George Washington deserves continued honor.

And Princeton University, after deciding in 2018 to retain Woodrow Wilson’s name for its eminent School of Public Affairs, announced that it would drop it. Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining his own change of mind. Eisgruber took note of “Wilson’s genuine achievements,” not to mention his centrality to the development of Princeton because of his service as one of Eisgruber’s predecessors. Wilson, therefore, “is a far different figure than John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, people whose pro-slavery commitments defined their careers and who were sometimes honored for the purpose of supporting segregation or racism. Princeton honored Wilson without regard to, and perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.” Eisgruber now believes that “ignorance” was “precisely the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored and turned a blind eye to racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against black people….”  There is nothing innocent about naming programs or buildings. “When a university names its public policy school for a political leader, it inevitably offers the honoree as a role model for its students. However grand some of Wilson’s achievements may have been, his racism disqualifies him from that role.” It is no longer possible to “disregard or ignore racism when deciding whom we hold up to our students as heroes or role models…. Our commitment to eliminate racism must be unequivocal, and that is why we removed the name of Princeton’s modern-day founder from its School of Public and International Affairs.”

Fortunately, Written in Stone, especially in its expanded second edition, pays extended attention to a number of analyses of policies about monuments that were prepared at a variety of universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, and the University of Texas, as well as by a special committee appointed by the Mayor of New York. I also treat at length an absolutely remarkable speech by former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu explaining his decision to remove a number of Confederate statues from the city’s public space, including the aforementioned one of Robert E. Lee.

At the present time, there are two central issues at the forefront of the controversy over monuments and memorialization. First, who exactly deserves the kind of public honor that is conveyed, say, by a statue in front of a major public building? In New York City, for example, a statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the New York Museum of Natural History that was explicitly considered by the Mayor’s Committee, which recommended against removing it, has now been slated for removal because it demeans African- and Native-Americans in placing them in a decidedly subordinate position to Roosevelt atop his horse. Many statues of Christopher Columbus are being removed, not to mention, of course, the myriad of statues honoring those who took up arms against the United States in 1861-65 and vigorously advocated the maintenance of white supremacy (including lynchings) thereafter. Some of these examples seem quite easy to resolve. Others, as with Roosevelt, Columbus, or Woodrow Wilson, appear considerably more difficult.

But, especially to a lawyer like myself, a second important issue involves the process by which decisions to remove (or maintain) statues or to rename buildings or, as in Minnesota, lakes, should be made. Even if one heartily approves, for example, of attempts to remove the slaveowning and anti-Native American Andrew Jackson’s statue from Lafayette Park, in Washington, one can, at the same time, be disturbed if that decision, in effect, is made by demonstrators (or, as some people might describe them, a “mob”). It is not simply that a structured process would give people an opportunity to make a variety of conflicting arguments, with the final decision made by bodies ranging from a city council to the voters in a local referendum; rather, it is almost certainly also the case that the losers who might lament the demotion of their own “heroes” from the public square might at least feel somewhat mollified if they felt they had a fair opportunity to make their arguments and they lost “fair and square.”

The Virus in Detroit: A May Day Post by Philip Conklin and Mark Jay

For May Day, here’s a guest post by Philip Conklin and Mark Jay, authors of the new book A People’s History of Detroit, which uses a class framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present. 

Peoples History of DetroitSince the outbreak of the coronavirus, two notable strikes took place in the Detroit area. On March 17, bus drivers from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26 walked off the job in protest of fatal work conditions, shutting down Detroit’s public transit system. Among the workers’ complaints were unhygienic buses, lack of access to rest rooms, and forced close proximity to maskless passengers. Detroit is the poorest large city in the US, and due in part to the high cost of auto insurance more than a third of Detroiters can’t afford a car; the result is that, even as the pandemic ravages the city, hundreds of thousands of Detroiters are forced to rely on the underfunded, overcrowded bus system to get around. “This is death walking around here,” Roderick Nash, a city bus driver, said. “And nobody’s taking it serious.” The city government responded to the strike by suspending bus fare collection during the pandemic to limit passengers’ interaction with drivers, providing masks for passengers, and making more toilets (including porta potties) available for drivers. But days after the strike, drivers reported that conditions remained unsafe, with passengers still lacking access to masks. The government’s safety measures came too late for Jason Hargrove, a city driver who, just days after posting a video on social media complaining about safety conditions on his bus, died of coronavirus.

Two weeks after the bus drivers’ strike, 40 workers at an Amazon warehouse in nearby Romulus launched a protest action of their own. According to organizer Mario Crippen, Amazon treats their employees as “expendable.” “It’s a scary, scary place to be right now,” Crippen said. “There’s no hand sanitizer, no face masks given out. We’re limited on glove use. . . . They’re not worried about anyone’s safety, they’re worried about shipping out packages.” Amazon responded to a similar strike in Staten Island by firing the lead organizer and deriding him as “not smart.” Following a precedent set by Henry Ford a century ago, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has decided it’s simply better business to deploy harsh union-busting tactics than to acquiesce to the basic, humane demands of his workers.

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As we argue in our A People’s History of Detroit, Detroit has long served as a metonym for the myths and fantasies of urban life in the United States, a sort of endlessly generative symbolic backdrop for our national unconscious—from the industrial miracles of the early 20th century, when Detroit was the manufacturing hub of the world and the birthplace of the manufacturing middle class, to the deindustrialized landscape of poverty, crime, and decay from the latter third of the 20th century up to the present—or, rather, the recent past. Now, Detroit is being hailed as the “greatest turnaround story in American history,” as billions of dollars of real estate investments transform the derelict cityscape into an urban playground of consumption, entertainment, and white-collar industry. In light of this “funhouse mirror” effect (to quote local celebrity journalist Charlie LeDuff), one might wonder, what can the Motor City tell us about the coronavirus epidemic? Indeed, Detroit has also magnified the problems of this virus, as Michigan falls just behind New York and New Jersey in COVID fatality rates, with Detroit tallying 35 deaths per day in early April.

Crises, however universal they appear, have unequal effects, which reflect the inequalities of society more broadly. Much like “natural” disasters, epidemiological ones hit hardest among the most vulnerable sections of the population. On the other hand, crises can also serve as catalysts for coordinated action on the part of these groups. Detroit autoworkers took advantage of the high demand for labor during World War II to jockey for better working conditions at the notoriously dangerous and enervating auto factories that had been converted to produce military equipment, striking despite a nationwide strike ban negotiated by union leaders and government officials behind the backs of the rank-and-file. In early 1944 Detroit workers averaged a dozen strikes per week, making the Motor City the leading center of workplace militancy. That year one workplace death, five amputations, and one hundred serious injuries occurred per day in Michigan.

The two recent labor actions in Detroit highlight a similar dynamic of workplace unsafety and worker power during crises—the essential difference now is the severity of generalized precarity among the working classes. Amazon warehouses are particularly illustrative of the current situation. The corporation has opened several massive “distribution centers” in the Detroit area in recent years. Employees inside these behemoths have denounced their “inhumane” working conditions, decrying the company’s union-busting techniques, as well as productivity standards that force people to stay on their feet all day long and leave no time for bathroom breaks. One undercover reporter described “employees collapsing at work, suffering panic attacks, pulling muscles and more.” Even in the midst of the pandemic, Amazon continues to hire workers for its Metro Detroit warehouses, despite workers’ insistence that the work they’re doing is not essential. “People are ordering the same stuff as usual,” one employee who took part in the strike explained. “If it was purely medical supplies and if Amazon actually stepped up and did that then I’d be much more willing to put myself [on what feels like] the front lines because we get stuff from everywhere, but that’s not what’s going on. . . . It’s people ordering the same cat litter, toys, ramen noodles.” According to another worker, “We aren’t heroes and we aren’t Red Cross workers—we are working people who pack and deliver goods. We’re working through a crisis not by choice but by necessity.”

Although most of the media coverage surrounding these and other workplace concerns have understandably focused on the particulars of the coronavirus, it’s important to bear in mind that deadly work conditions and worker “expendability” are nothing new in Detroit. If there is an abiding truth of the past 100 years of Detroit’s history, it is this: the city’s prosperity is built on its workers, and its hardships have likewise been borne by them. And a cursory glance through the annals of the modern Motor City shows the high cost even of this “prosperity,” which at every turn was wrenched from the living grasp of labor.

A 1973 report by the US Department of Labor found that significantly more people died each year inside U.S. factories than on the battlefields in Vietnam. The report “estimated 65 on-the-job deaths per day among auto workers, for a total of some 16,000 annually.” These deaths pale in comparison to the toll of industrial diseases, which the Public Health Service estimated took a remarkable 100,000 lives each year at this time. Foundry workers, machinists, and coarse-metal finishers were at significantly greater risk of fatal heart disease and lung disease than other workers. These were the jobs that Detroit’s black workers were primarily assigned, making the city’s black population particularly vulnerable to premature death—just as black workers and those living near polluting factories are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus today.

In their struggle for safe and dignified living conditions, Detroit activists have not only come up against profiteering businesses, but also governments who have slashed public programs and the social safety net in favor of subsidies to these same businesses. For decades, organizers such as Maureen Taylor and Marian Kramer, have been leading the struggle for a universal living wage and adequate healthcare for impoverished Detroiters. If their basic demands had been met, non-essential workers would not have to risk their lives by getting on the bus each day to get to degrading, underpaid jobs throughout the metro area. But instead, tax breaks for big business and austerity for the masses have been the order of the day, compounding the devastation of the COVID-19 crisis.

To get a sense of the government’s priorities, consider the fact that in recent years, the Detroit government spent $547 per capita on police, whereas, throughout Michigan, per capita spending on food stamps was $22, and per capita spending on public health was less than $13.

Across the country, and the world, urban landscapes have been vacated to stop the spread of coronavirus, with images circulating online showing abandoned streets in usually bustling areas. The eerie emptiness of tourist traps and national landmarks is enough to spook even a nonbeliever. But ghostly landscapes are nothing new in Detroit. A New York Times writer recalled being “unnerved” by the emptiness of Detroit’s downtown back in 2001. “It felt like the beginning of a zombie apocalypse movie,” he wrote.

Starting in the 1940s, the “Big 3” auto companies fled Detroit precipitously, first to the suburbs, then increasingly to low-wage areas across the world. By the late 20th century, after decades of federal cutbacks and failed initiatives to lure investment to the Motor City, signs of this corporate abandonment were unmistakable. This dramatic situation led to a range of competing visions for the future Detroit.

One vision was to make the city a spectral theme park of decay. Camilo Jose Vergara, the famous Chilean photojournalist and author of American Ruins, made the following suggestion for Detroit in the April 1995 edition of the leading architectural magazine Metropolis: “As a tonic for our imagination, as a call for renewal, as a place within our national memory, a dozen city blocks of pre-Depression skyscrapers [should] be stabilized and left standing as ruins: an American Acropolis…Midwestern prairie would be allowed to invade from the north. Trees, vines, and wildflowers would grow on roofs and out of windows; goats and wild animals—squirrels, possum, bats, owls, ravens, snakes and insects—would live in the empty behemoths, adding their calls, hoots, and screeches to the smell of rotten leaves and animal droppings.” Coronavirus has given us a glimpse of this dramatic vision, as animals have ventured into urban spaces formerly occupied by humans.

Against this fetishization of decay, a second vision for Detroit’s future was proposed by the late activist Grace Lee Boggs, who saw in Detroit’s abandonment the seedbed of revolution. Boggs was inspired by the fact that, as Detroit hollowed out, activists were responding in a myriad of inspirational ways, by repurposing vacant buildings, creating communes, community schools, starting small businesses, and planting urban farms:

Detroit, which was once the symbol of miracles of industrialization and then became the symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization, is now the symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other . . . When you look out and all you see is vacant lots, when all you see is devastation, when all you see—do you look at it as a curse, or do you look at it as a possibility, as having potential?

Boggs’s vision is a powerful one; but it was not only activists who saw potential in the city’s emptiness. “Detroit has bottomed out,” Dan Gilbert’s business partner John Linkner wrote in Forbes in 2012, “so now, there’s nothing but upside.” In recent years, investors have pounced. Gilbert has led the way, purchasing around 100 buildings in the city, making him the owner of more than half of downtown Detroit. Even after Gilbert wrangled hundreds of millions in government subsidies, at one point even threatening to move his company QuickenLoans to Cleveland, the corporate media has hailed Gilbert’s efforts. The Atlantic wondered if he was “Detroit’s New Superhero,” while the New York Times called him a “missionary.”

Repudiating Vargas’s American Acropolis, companies and wealthy individuals are buying up the quintessential subjects of ruin porn photography to enact their own vision. And there is no more dramatic ruin than Michigan Central Station, which, when it was built in 1913, was the tallest train station in the world. Closed in 1988, the abandoned train station has for decades been a mecca for urban spelunkers, the subject of myriad investigative reports, and a go-to backdrop for post-apocalyptic Hollywood action films. Now, in an almost too-perfect metaphor for the current remaking of Detroit, Ford plans to turn the train station and its surrounding area into a 1.2 million-square-foot “innovation hub” geared toward “mobility solutions that will shape the future of transportation.” According to a local columnist, “Ford’s act of faith in Detroit’s future with the enormous investment it will bring signals a new era.… From now on, redevelopment will occur as the natural and expected outcome in a city once again on the move.” Corporate investment is seen by those in power as the solution to Detroit’s abandonment. But even while these investments have failed to address the needs of poor Detroiters, the coronavirus epidemic has shown just how fragile this “solution” is even for those on the receiving end of its benefits.

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As workers in Detroit, and around the world, protest against deadly workplace conditions, capitalists are using the crisis as an excuse to justify automation. This is nothing new. There is a long history of capitalists using worker protests against inhumane conditions as a pretext to invest in labor-saving technology, leading to unemployment and an increasingly hectic pace of work, as human labor is forced to adapt to “the inhuman speed of the machine.” Under the banner of public health, the current wave of automation is sure to reproduce these same effects, barring coordinated government intervention or a robust response from workers’ movements.

As people around the world attempt to maintain their work and their lives during the pandemic, they are forced to find creative ways to adapt to the limitations imposed by the crisis. While the ensuing innovations are an encouraging sign of our collective imagination and resilience, one can’t help but wonder whether these adaptations will serve to further the encroachment of labor-saving technology into new realms. To give just one example, academic workers are being forced to find ways to provide instruction virtually. This happens amidst an already prevalent trend toward online education; as the CEO of online learning platform Coursera has explained, “The current crisis will accelerate this trend.” The implications for the casualization of academic labor attendant to this trend are already being felt. At UC Santa Cruz, the pandemic hit in the middle of a months-long labor action by underpaid graduate student workers, and the move to a virtual learning and working environment has undermined their ability to withhold their labor and to disrupt the functioning of the university, which insists on “business as usual” during the pandemic.

What first appear as “innovations” and “creative adaptations” to the pandemic, take on another valence: they are forced accommodations to a “leaner”, more exploitative regime of capital accumulation. In effect, workers are being compelled to participate in their own devaluation. In the last half-century, political elites of deindustrialized American cities dealt with its growing “surplus population” and the recalcitrance of radical labor activists by hounding them with police and throwing them in prison. With millions more workers slated for redundancy as the coronavirus accelerates automation, and amidst unprecedented (and ever-increasing) ecological catastrophe which threatens humans and ecosystems across the globe, we shudder to think how the coming crises will be resolved.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the fault lines of our unequal society, it’s no wonder that Detroit, which has long been a benchmark of the extremes of urban life in America, has been hit harder than most cities by the coronavirus, and also had already evinced many of the crisis tendencies wrought by this virus. Deadly working conditions, abandoned urban landscapes, structural unemployment due to automation, and extreme precarity—these have been the order of the day in Detroit for the better part of the last 100 years, coronavirus or not. Today in Detroit, a corporate revival is hailed as the answer to the city’s protracted decline, but this has proved tenuous for the Detroiters hardest hit by recent dispossessions. Even as the New York Times acknowledged that “there are no real assurances that gains will be spread democratically across the city, or that city planning and public resources will serve the needs of everyday Detroiters,” it found solace in the vague “hope . . . that private individuals will keep the greater good in mind.” If this hope seemed far-fetched before, in the midst of the devastations wrought by COVID-19 it now appears so remote as to appear ridiculous.

Leaving aside the fact that a primary source of pandemics lies in the ravages of the capitalist system, we can see that COVID-19 is an accelerator of global capital’s rampaging devastations. However, like other crises, it also presents an opportunity for workers to assert their power, for the animation of our political imaginary, and for a radical restructuring of society’s priorities. 52 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1968, 4,000 workers walked off the job in protest of deadly conditions at the Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck. DRUM’s actions inspired dozens of other anti-capitalist unions to form across the city, and they all eventually coalesced into the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, an organization committed to challenging the power of the “parasitic, cannibalistic, vulturistic corporate elites who ruled Detroit. If the latter continue to have their way, crisis will remain the norm for most Detroiters.

Mark Jay is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Philip Conklin is a PhD student in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. After attending the University of Michigan, they met while working as tutors in Detroit public schools. They lived and worked in Detroit for about seven years, during which time they founded a small literary magazine and continued their work with Detroit’s youth. A People’s History of Detroit is available for 50% off during our Spring Sale with coupon SPRING50.

New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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Our Editors Pick Their Books of the Decade

As we come to the end of a decade, our editors look back at some of the most influential books we’ve published since 2010.

Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director

In the WakeI’m proud to have worked on a great number of field-changing and prize-winning books this decade, many of which had sway far beyond the academy. The one title that stands out for me is Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake. I’d worked with Christina on her exceptional first book Monstrous Intimacies so knew there was more brilliance to come. I can still picture the room at MLA in Vancouver where I first heard her present In the Wake’s powerful poetic text, compelling at so many layers at once. We were awed by her ability to move from the deeply familial and personal to the scale of world history without losing either the tone or the theory; by the stark realism of her account of Black death; and by the call to live on despite the weather. The book came out in November of 2016, by mid-March of the following year, artist Cauleen Smith had adopted the book’s title for her contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial.  I’ve since seen Sharpe’s work deeply engaged by Torkwase Dyson and other artists. Her narrating of the wake, the ship, the hold, and the weather — along with the idea of wakework itself — has been taken up by writers, critics, activists and readers, who felt Sharpe had named something for their lives. This quick recognition —the sense of being recognized, seen, or heard — is unusual and deeply special.  The book is an extraordinary gift to our ongoing political moment, one that will resonate for many years to come.

Courtney Berger, Executive Editor

Vibrant MatterIt’s been 10 years since we published Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (January 2010).  When I first read the manuscript, I knew it would be important. I knew that Bennett’s generous and reflective way of thinking and her engaging writing style would widen its audience beyond political theory (Bennett’s home discipline). But I had no idea how influential the book would be, setting the stage for a decade of conversation and debate about “thing-power” and the agential capacities of the nonhuman. Bennett’s plea to recognize the influence of nonhuman forces and things in the political realm and to decenter the human resonated with me and many others seeking new ways of thinking about our relationship to our environment. Influential books often provoke debate and this one certainly has done that. But, for me, the books that matter in the long run are the ones that invite me to think with them. Vibrant Matter is that kind of book. Bennett’s ideas have generated critique, disagreement, and reflection, all of which has pushed scholarship in new and important directions.  Notably, Mel Chen’s Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (2012) builds upon Bennett’s attention to the affective dimensions of the nonhuman material world, but shows us how race, sexuality, and disability have shaped our notions of liveliness and of who and what matters in this world.  In The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (2017) Kyla Schuller extends this critique, illustrating how the 19th century sciences of “impressibility” and animacy helped to solidify ontologies of racial difference, ideas that have had an often unacknowledged afterlife in new materialist philosophies.  Moreover, Bennett’s work has helped to lay the ground work for innovative book series like ANIMA, edited by Mel Chen and Jasbir Puar, which brings queer, race, and disability theory to bear on our understanding of life and matter, and Elements, edited by Stacy Alaimo and Nicole Starosielski, which foregrounds the material elements as lively forces that shape politics and culture.

My task was to name one book of the decade, and as you see, instead I named one book, and two more, and then two book series. Maybe that’s my way of dodging the task. But it also speaks to the expansive and generative quality of books, as they travel, intersect, and influence one another, as well as the vibrancy of the scholarly conversations I’m so privileged to be a part of. I can’t wait to see which books make their mark in the coming decade. . . .

Gisela Fosado, Editor

Light in the DarkGloria Anzaldúa’s brilliant book Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro is a work that is decades ahead of its time.  Published in 2015, but written before Anzaldúa’s untimely death in 2004, the book engages feminist and queer aesthetics, ontologies, epistemologies, and ethics, offering a new decolonial vision for our world.  It’s a must-read for all feminist scholars.

Elizabeth Ault, Editor

My book of the decade is Kristin Peterson’s Speculative Markets. I arrived at Duke Press in 2012, mere weeks after Speculative Marketsdefending my dissertation in American studies (focused on Black-cast sitcoms of the 1970s). I was pretty burnt out after 6 years of grad school, and feeling a little distant and alienated from the political passion and the joy of intellectual inquiry that had put me on an academic path in the first place. Speculative Markets was one of the first books I got to work on at the Press. Peterson’s book, an ethnography of pharmaceuticals in Nigeria, wasn’t an obvious fit with my areas of expertise. But the book begins with a blistering account of structural adjustment in the global 1970s and 80s, providing African perspectives on the global rise of neoliberalism, which had loomed large in my previous work. Thinking neoliberalism, the durability of colonial forms, speculation, and global anti-Blackness from Nigeria with Peterson introduced me to what cultural and medical anthropology and African studies can do. The book reoriented my perspective, introduced me to new conversations, and reminded me of the power of scholarship. It’s helped me chart the course that has comprised my career here at the Press over the past 7 years, which is why it’s my book of the decade.

Miriam Angress, Associate Editor

RemnantsOne of the books I’m joyful to have worked on is Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering, written by Rosemarie Freeney Harding with her daughter Rachel Elizabeth Harding. The author—an influential civil-rights activist—believed in the unity of all great spiritual teachings, and practiced multiple religions herself; she looked for the compassionate underpinnings of these traditions, such as the link she saw between Tibetan Buddhist teachings and lessons she learned from her mother as they visited dying relatives. Remnants incorporates stories of her civil rights leadership, co-founding an early integrated community center in Atlanta with her husband Dr. Vincent Harding, and working with friends and colleagues including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Anne Braden, Dr. Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman, and Sweet Honey in the Rock singer Bernice Reagon.

Rachel Harding (Associate Professor of Indigenous Spiritual Traditions at University of Colorado) worked with her mother on the memoir for a decade before Freeney Harding’s death in 2004. After that, she excavated her mother’s voice from journals, previously published material, recordings, and her own memories.

Sandra Korn, Assistant Editor

Normal Life2011 was the year I realized that I was queer, and the year that I officially scrapped my parents’ dreams that I would become a scientist, when I switched my undergraduate major to Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies. It’s also the year that Dean Spade first published Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law with South End Press. Same-sex marriage legalization and hate crime laws covering gender identity were slowly sweeping the U.S. state by state. Yet Dean Spade taught me that waiting for the courts to grant legal equality (the model adopted by the gay and lesbian rights movement) would never be sufficient to address the root causes of violence against trans people across the planet. Instead, Spade argues that trans liberation requires a grassroots movement, led by trans people most impacted by criminalization, surveillance, and detention and deportation. Duke Press published the second edition of Normal Life in 2015, and this book feels just as necessary as we head into 2020.

 

 

New Books in December

‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.

Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.

In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.

In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.

Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.

Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.

With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.

In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.

In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic—first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time—Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s.

In The Licit Life of Capitalism Hannah Appel uses a case study of U.S. oil industry in Equatorial Guinea to illustrate how inequality makes markets, not just in West Africa but globally.

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Now Available: Syllabi from Duke University Press

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In the spirit of University Press Week’s “Read. Think. Act.” theme, we’re thrilled to unveil a project that our team has been working on for months: staff-curated syllabi of incisive work on some of today’s most critical issues.

All journal articles and issues in these syllabi are freely available online until September 30, 2020. And you can save 40% on featured books and journal issues through the end of 2019 using coupon code SYLLABI at dukeupress.edu.

Our team at the Press sees scholarship as a powerful basis for understanding our current sociopolitical climate and working toward a brighter future. We encourage you to read and share the content we’ve selected, and we hope you find it valuable in preparing courses.

New Books in June

Looking for some compelling reads this summer? Check out these new titles coming out in June!

Presenting ethnographic case studies from across the globe, the contributors to Anthropos and the Material, edited by Penny Harvey, Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, question and complicate long-held understandings of the divide between humans and things by examining encounters between the human and the nonhuman in numerous social, cultural, technological, and geographical contexts.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The contributors to Captivating Technology, edited by Ruha Benjamin, examine how carceral technologies such as electronic ankle monitors and predictive-policing algorithms are being deployed to classify and coerce specific populations and whether these innovations can be appropriated and reimagined for more liberatory ends.

Focusing on Costa Rica and Brazil, Andrea Ballestero’s A Future History of Water examines the legal, political, economic, and bureaucratic history of water in the context of the efforts to classify it as a human right, showing how seemingly small scale devices such as formulas and lists play large role in determining water’s status.

In Making the World Global, Isaac A. Komola examines how the relationships between universities, the American state, philanthropic organizations, and international financial institutions inform the academic understanding of the world as global in ways that frame higher education as a commodity, private good, and source of human capital.

Therí Alyce Pickens examines the speculative and science fiction of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due in Black Madness :: Mad Blackness to rethink the relationship between race and disability, thereby unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive.

In Entre Nous, Grant Farred examines the careers of international soccer stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, along with his own experience playing for an amateur township team in apartheid South Africa, to theorize the relationship between sports and the intertwined experiences of relation, separation, and belonging.

In The Fixer, Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a visa broker in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program. The lively stories shed light on current immigration debates.

In The African Roots of Marijuana, an authoritative history of cannabis in Africa, Chris S. Duvall challenges what readers thought they knew about cannabis by correcting widespread myths, outlining its relationship to slavery and colonialism, and highlighting Africa’s centrality to knowledge about and the consumption of one of the world’s most ubiquitous plants.

In Experiments with Empire, Justin Izzo examines how twentieth-century writers, artists, and anthropologists from France, West Africa, and the Caribbean experimented with ethnography and fiction in order to explore new ways of making sense of the complicated legacy of imperialism and to imagine new democratic futures.

Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey traces how indigenous and postcolonial peoples in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands grapple with the enormity of colonialism and anthropogenic climate change through art, poetry, and literature by using allegorical narratives in Allegories of the Anthropocene.

The Romare Bearden Reader, edited by Robert G. O’Meally, brings together a collection of newly written essays and canonical writings by novelists, poets, historians, critics, and playwrights, as well as Bearden’s most important writing, making it an indispensable volume on one of the giants of twentieth-century American art.

Terry Adkins: Infinity is Less Than One, which we are distributing for ICA Miami, accompanies the first institutional posthumous exhibition of the sculptural work of Terry Adkins (1953–2014), one of the great conceptual artists of the twenty-first century renowned for his pioneering work across numerous mediums. The catalogue is edited by Gean Moreno and Alex Gartenfeld.

The contributors to Racism Postrace, edited by Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser, and Herman Gray, theorize and examine the persistent concept of post-race in examples ranging from Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” to public policy debates, showing how proclamations of a post-racial society can normalize modes of racism and obscure structural antiblackness.

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Interrogating “Diversity”

pcl_31_2_coverThe newest issue of Public Culture, “Interrogating ‘Diversity,’” edited by Damani J. Partridge and Matthew Chin, is available now.

Since the 1970s, the global practice of diversity has sparked a number of inclusion initiatives, such as affirmative action in universities, implemented to redress historical inequality. Contributors to this special issue argue that, in recent years, these initiatives have shifted away from their original intent toward a concept of “diversity” in which inclusion systematically denies access to minoritized populations.

“At elite institutions and in high-paying jobs in various global contexts, diversity has come to mean a sprinkling of color or the contingent presence of the ‘disadvantaged’ in otherwise majoritarian ‘White’ or upper-class/high-caste institutions,” write the editors in their introduction.

“Our call to interrogate diversity has also led us to collectively think beyond, outside, and in spite of diversity,” the editors continue. “It is not that we are against inclusion, but we cannot justify forms of inclusion that necessarily (even systematically) limit access. This includes forms that do very little to create possibilities for those who have systematically faced barriers that deny entrance. Interrogating diversity cannot mean sustaining existing institutions as we already know them. This process must be engaged in an activist, collective, and participatory project of social transformation.”

Read the introduction, freely available, or browse the table of contents.

New Books in April

We’ve got great new reads in April in anthropology, religious studies, sociology, feminism and women’s studies, and much more.

978-1-4780-0390-8_prIn Deported Americans legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

In Makers of Democracy A. Ricardo López-Pedreros traces the ways in which a thriving middle class was understood to be a foundational marker of democracy in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, showing democracy to be a historically unstable and contentious practice.

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Maura Finkelstein examines what it means for textile mill workers in Mumbai—who are assumed to not exist—to live during a period of deindustrialization, showing in The Archive of Loss how mills and workers’ bodies constitute an archive of Mumbai’s history that challenge common thinking about the city’s past, present, and future.

Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century polar explorers, showing in The News at the Ends of the Earth how ship newspapers and other writing shows how explores wrestled with questions of time, space, and community while providing them with habits to survive the extreme polar climate.

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In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical conditions for the persistence of art’s autonomy from the realm of the commodity by showing how an artist’s commitment to form and by demanding interpretive attention elude the logic of capital.

In a revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Exploring a wide range of sonic practices, from birdsong in the Marshall Islands to Zulu ululation, the contributors to Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes, reorient the field of sound studies toward the global South in order to rethink and decolonize modes of understanding and listening to sound.

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In Dance for Me When I Die—first published in Argentina in 2004 and appearing here in English for the first time—Cristian Alarcón tells the story and legacy of seventeen year old Víctor Manuel Vital, aka Frente, who was killed by police in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities.

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