What makes “2020: Sociality at the End of the World” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?
NT: This special issue brings together the diverse voices and experiences of people suffering, resisting, dreaming, and living the catastrophic consequences of the global pandemic shaped by fascist regimes of racial capitalism. Scholars, activists, and artists record vibrant moments of insurrectionary care and sociality, haunting historical memories and personal pain, fervent defiance and protest, and collective action and mutual aid, from India to Singapore, from the US to South Africa, from England to Peru. Diverse times and spaces, people and their concerns, are gathered to stay with the openings that a globally shared predicament made possible—to highlight and keep alive other globally shared connections at the end of the world, even as that world aggressively rushes to return to a normal that was for most the very crisis and catastrophe we were already living with.
What are some topics that readers can expect to find covered in the issue?
JB: It’s a deeply collaborative issue: each piece is written by what we’ve been calling a “pod”—a group of writers in conversation with one another, with each author contributing to a larger collaborative essay. The essay “Andolan Imaginaries,” edited by Anjali Arondekar, for instance, brings together work by artists, activists, and scholars based in India and the US, and reflecting on contemporary forms of resistance. And Ashley Dawson and Rashmi Varma edited the collaborative essay “Cities in Flux.” Many of the sections build on the authors’ existing scholarship on cities and political resistance; the sections also present daily life during the pandemic across a variety of locations, with contributors writing about their personal experiences of pandemic space in Singapore, Delhi, Kottayam, Johannesburg, London, Glasgow, Buenos Aires, and New York City. [Editor’s note: The section “Martial Law Now, as Then” is free to read through the end of July.]
Todd Meyers is the Marjorie Bronfman Chair in Social Studies of Medicine at McGill University. His new book, All That Was Not Her, is a highly personal exploration of the end of the anthropologist’s relationship with a woman he followed for years. It is a book about how stories of health and illness spill over and exceed their borders, saturating other parts of life. Meyers gives an inward-looking account of how the ethnographic record takes shape, and in doing so raises knotty questions about difference, representation, and political urgency in the present moment.
You announce from the start that the focus is you and Beverly, not a general concern with health or illness. Can you talk about the kind of distinction you are making?
For years the attention of my work with Beverly was on illness, specifically on the interaction of multiple medical conditions. I wanted to know how a person living in a situation of serious insecurity—economic, social, political—managed multiple health related problems, and still cared for those around her. I was asking simple questions even if the answers were unimaginably complex. At a certain point I began to rethink the whole enterprise—was my aim just to document the steady unraveling of Beverly’s life? Whatever I thought was important wasn’t, at least in the way I thought. I needed to examine my relationship to her, to let her seep into my questioning. As the concern with health and illness began to blur, other demands came into focus. How was I accounting for the years I knew her? And critically, how was I to speak of her—to her—after her death, in the aftermath of her. The problem of how this mutual record comes into being, for her and me, is central to the book.
What do you expect readers to make of the story you tell, or your relationship with Beverly?
It is less of an expectation and more of a hope. I hope readers recognize the problems I am trying to parse in my time with Beverly. I hope they share my uneasiness with forgone conclusions that give little attention to the lived messiness of human relations. I started this project at a very different political moment, but not so different that a concern with the erasure of black lives wasn’t there from the start. Erasure is still a concern, especially after Beverly’s death. But alongside erasure I have serious worries about representation. As I say in the book, I am the wrong person for the job, but after nearly twenty years I felt an impossible commitment to getting it right. It is now a matter of fulfilling a promise, of seeing the writing through to the end, of risking speech while acknowledging its limits. But I am also attuned to how all the untamable things of living can be so casually domesticated on the page, or can turn the person into a caricature of either virtue or prejudice. I return again and again to Beverly in order to avoid reducing her to some sort of lesson.
Beverly is always “her” in the book, but you refer to yourself with both the first person “I” and the third person “he.” How are you using personal pronouns?
There are many Beverlys in the book, all of them “her” even when they appear to contradict each other. She changes over time and that “her” alongside her. But for me, it’s harder to say. Some of these moments I returned to after years and years felt equal parts foreign and crushing. At times “he” insulates me from their impact on return. By the same token, “I” is a way to give myself over to their force. But it’s also about the shaky point of view that ethnography assumes, the origin of the voice in writing, who speaks and who is spoken about. It was only afterwards that a friend pointed out that Roland Barthes does the same thing in his autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. I’m not trying to draw a parallel, only to say I felt relief that I wasn’t alone in this problem of authorship.
Can you talk a little about the importance of design and typesetting in All That Was Not Her?
I have to thank Courtney Leigh Richardson who did incredible design work. It was clear from the start that she recognized the tone of the book. But what’s amazing is the way she transformed that sensibility into something visual. Her aesthetic intuition is stunning. The cover art is a painting by Alma Woodsey Thomas entitled Double Cherry Blossoms (1973). Thomas was an extraordinary artist—she was the first African American woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art—and although she made art throughout her life, it wasn’t until she retired from teaching at a junior high school in Washington D.C. that she began to make art full time. She was 82 years old when she painted Double Cherry Blossoms. The cover feels like an echo of Beverly’s story: the glow of petals falling and a carpet of perfumed decay left behind. There’s something devastating and ephemeral about the image. The painted flowers that separate sections give me that same sense of splendor and fleetingness. All of the backgrounds and flowers were hand-painted by Allyson Joy Marshall for the book. There was so much care by others that went into making this book.
The typesetting is essential to the structure of thinking in the book as well. The sections are short and uneven, but they follow a pattern: the respiration of text rising and falling. Often the text will end near the top of the page, suspended precariously above a pool of empty page below. Like I said, there was a lot of care by others to get it right.
It’s interesting how you describe the importance of design because drawing itself is such a powerful motif in the writing. Where does this way of thinking about your approach come from as an anthropologist?
I suppose I have been thinking with lines for some time. I went to art school and continue to make art, mostly drawings, and often write about other people’s art. In the book I don’t distinguish one form of line-making from another: contact, the lightness or heaviness of a mark, erasing and trying again, attempting to find the contours of the person in a line repeated over and over, creating an image that plays at permanence still knowing it can be smudged out of existence so easily—my method as an ethnographer, such as it is, shares these elements with drawing.
Your background in studio art informs a lot of your practice as an anthropologist, but your other books also travel widely across disciplines—from the history of medicine and science, art, film studies, and of course, anthropology. How do you imagine interdisciplinarity for yourself?
I have a strong suspicion that these projects, as disparate as they may seem from a disciplinary perspective, are in fact the same project. At the risk of oversimplifying, they are all concerned with how evidence is secured or made visible, they are about cases, they are about the ways disorder and distress pull other things into their orbit, and finally, I would say they are all about the unstable places from where judgments (medical, moral, or otherwise) are made. All That Was Not Her is no different. All That Was Not Her joins several new titles in the “Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography” series, edited by Vincanne Adams and João Biehl.
To celebrate Open Access Week, we’re proud to spotlight Demography, the journal of the Population Association of America. Duke University Press became the publisher of Demography beginning with its 2021 volume, converting the journal from a for-profit commercial subscription model to fully open access.
Since its founding in 1964, Demography has mirrored the vitality, diversity, high intellectual standard, and wide impact of the field on which it reports. Demography presents the highest-quality original population research of scholars in a broad range of disciplines that includes anthropology, biology, economics, geography, history, psychology, public health, sociology, and statistics. The journal encompasses a wide variety of methodological approaches to research. Its geographic focus is global, and it has a broad temporal scope.
“The conversion of Demography is a significant opportunity for the library community to join with other stakeholders in support of sustainable, open-access, university-based publishing,” wrote Celeste Feather, Senior Director of Content and Scholarly Communication Initiatives at library membership organization LYRASIS.
Demography has the top citation ranking in its Social Sciences Citation Index category for 2020 and the second highest impact factor, 3.984, in the category. The journal was cited 9,798 times in 2020.
“The open-access model received a lot of kudos from researchers everywhere, but especially in Europe and the Global South,” wrote Mark D. Hayward, the journal’s editor. “From my end, I couldn’t be happier with the journal’s new model. I think it gets our results into the field faster and helps the science in major ways.”
“We were excited to see the announcement that Demography had switched to a fully open-access model with Duke University Press,” wrote Colleen Lyons, Head of Scholarly Communications at the University of Texas at Austin Libraries, which is one of the journal’s community partners. “Demography is an important journal in the field and for faculty at our institution, and we are pleased to provide support to make sure this journal can continue to publish great research in a more financially viable way. Efforts like this one move the needle towards a more sustainable publishing system that prioritizes the advancement of human knowledge.”
Contributors to “Reading Sex Work,” a new issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly, theorize sexual labor as both work and a site of labor resistance and transformation. Rather than critiquing sex work itself, they highlight sex workers’ own production of knowledge for navigating racial capitalism, state violence, and economic precarity. In today’s Q&A, issue editor Heather Berg discusses what sets “Reading Sex Work” apart and highlights a few of its contributions. Check out the issue’s contents here, including an interview with femi babylon, which is free through the end of November.
What makes “Reading Sex Work” unique or essential? What does it do that no other collection has done before?
What I hoped to do with this issue was to turn a sex work lens outward rather than a civilian (non-sex worker) gaze in. There’s a lot of fatigue in sex worker communities with the academy’s fascination with sex workers’ stories. One of the things this issue is interested in is that proliferation of scholarly interest. The pieces focus less on learning new things about sex workers than they do sex workers’ confrontations with outsiders’ ideas about their work. That comes through most directly where the authors theorize from their own locations as sex workers. It also comes through in pieces where authors engage fieldwork or literature to think about the politics of knowledge production about sexual labor. What happens when the material realities of sex work run up against theoretical ideas conceived outside that context? How does a sex work lens shift how we read Marxist political economy on the wage, feminist theorizing on gendered performance, or queer of color theorizing on pleasure politics?
The issue is also turning away from making appeals for inclusion or trying to convince anti-sex worker readers to shift their perspective. As crucial as those strategies are, they can leave little room for the stickier questions I wanted to foreground in this issue. Svati Shah’s piece gets at this tension directly, asking sex work scholars to rethink our participation in “the debate.” This is in line with a broader turn in sex workers’ own political strategy, where volumes such as the recent We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survivalare more and more refusing to try to convince readers who aren’t coming in good faith anyway. The essays included in this issue take as a given that sex work is work (if also sometimes anti-work), and the issue’s address is to readers who are already ready to meet us on those terms.
How do you imagine “Reading Sex Work” could be used in courses or as a basis for future scholarship?
I hope the issue is useful to sex work scholars, who will find fresh perspectives on big questions that are vexing the field. Vanessa Carlisle and femi babylon’s pieces, for example, engage in different ways with what we mean when we call sex work “work.” I think this marks an important departure from (again, really crucial) writing that fights so hard to show that sex work is just work that it can’t ask that question. Julian Glover and Jayne Swift’s pieces will offer new insights on the politics of pleasure, and disrupt the common idea that only workers who have all their material needs met care about it. This shifts, I think, how scholars and organizers might talk about pleasure and survival in what we call the “whorerarchy.”
I also hope that scholars who don’t write or teach about sex work will use the issue to think about what sex workers’ encounters with knowledge production might have to say about the questions that are most immediate for them. Those interested in platform economies will find new insight about workplace control and resistance in Kate Hardy and Camille Barbagallo’s essay, while those interested in informal labor will find in Svati Shah’s essay key interventions on how we should think about the state.
Finally, the issue is as much for sex worker readers (paywall withstanding) as it is for those curious to learn more. I hope sex working readers will find pieces that feel generative, even as those of us in the academy wrestle with questions of extraction that can’t be easily smoothed over.
Don’t miss all our exciting new releases in August!
In three long-form poems and a lyrical essay, fahima ife speculates in Maroon Choreographyon the afterlives of Black fugitivity, unsettling the historic knowledge of it while moving inside the ongoing afterlives of those people who disappeared themselves into rural spaces beyond the reach of slavery.
Rachel Zolf activates the last three lines of a poem by Jewish Nazi Holocaust survivor Paul Celan—“No one / bears witness for the / witness”—to theorize the poetics and im/possibility of witnessing in No One’s Witness.
In Amkoullel, the Fula Boy, Malian writer Amadou Hampâté Bâ—one of the towering figures in the literature of twentieth-century Francophone Africa—tells in striking detail the story of his youth, which was set against inter-ethnic conflict and the arrival and installation of French colonialism.
In The Politics of Decolonial InvestigationWalter D. Mignolo provides a sweeping examination of how colonialty has operated around the world in its myriad forms between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries while calling for a decolonial politics that would delink from all forms of Western knowledge.
Laurence Coderre explores the material culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in Newborn Socialist Things to show how it paved the way for rampant commodification and consumption in contemporary China.
Carolyn Hardin offers a new way of understanding arbitrage—the trading practice that involves buying assets in one market at a cheap price and immediately selling them in another market for a profit—as a means of showing how its reliance upon taking on risk is fundamental to financial markets in Capturing Finance.
Monica Huerta draws on her experiences growing up in her family’s Mexican restaurants and her life as an academic in Magical Habits to sketch out habits of living that allow us to consider what it means to live with history as we are caught up in it and how those histories bear on our capacities to make sense of our lives.
The contributors to Long Term, edited by Scott Herring and Lee Wallace, use the tension between the popular embrace and legalization of same-sex marriage and the queer critique of homonormativity as an opportunity to examine the myriad forms of queer commitments and their durational aspect.
In Domestic Contradictions Priya Kandaswamy brings together two crucial moments in welfare history—the advent of the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—to show how they each targeted Black women through negative stereotyping and normative assumptions about gender, race, and citizenship.
In Policing ProtestPaul A. Passavant explores how the policing of protest in the United States has become increasingly hostile since the late 1990s, moving away from strategies that protect protestors toward militaristic practices designed to suppress legal protests.
In A Black Intellectual’s Odyssey Martin Kilson—the first tenured African American professor at Harvard—takes readers on a fascinating journey from his upbringing in a small Pennsylvania mill town to his experiences as an undergraduate to pursuing graduate study at Harvard before spending his entire career there as a faculty member.
In Whiteness Interrupted, Marcus Bell presents a revealing portrait of white teachers in majority Black schools to outline how white racial identity is constructed based on localized interactions and the ways whiteness takes a different form in predominantly Black spaces.
Jennifer C. Nash examines how the figure of the “Black mother” has become a powerful political category synonymous with crisis, showing how they are often rendered into one-dimensional symbols of tragic heroism and the ground zero of Black life in Birthing Black Mothers.
Transnational Feminist Itineraries, edited by Ashwini Tambe and Millie Thayer, demonstrates the key contributions of transnational feminist theory and practice to analyzing and contesting authoritarian nationalism and the extension of global corporate power.
In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine’s possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa.
Lynden Harris is the founder and director of Hidden Voices, an arts collective that collaborates with underrepresented communities to create performances, exhibits, and media that explore difficult social issues. Her new book Right Here, Right Now, part of the project Serving Life: ReVisioning Justice, collects the powerful, first-person stories of dozens of men on death rows across the country.
Right Here, Right Now is born out of the collective you founded, Hidden Voices, and, more specifically, out of the Hidden Voices project “Serving Life: ReVisioning Justice.” Can you talk about how the “Serving Life” project came to be?
One of the men living on death row read an article about us and gave it to the psychologist who oversaw programs. That psychologist, who was very insightful and therapeutically oriented, emailed me and asked if we would develop a project for the men. At the time we were in the final stages of a statewide project called None of the Above: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline. I said if he could wait six months, we would come develop a project with the men. And I invited him to one of the performances.
Late that fall we met with six men and together worked through the “Hidden Voices Process,” the stakeholder collaboration model we’ve developed over the years. By the end of two sessions, we had a pretty good idea of the outcomes everyone wanted to see, the outputs we might create together, and the outreach—who needs to speak and who needs to listen?
All these years later, we are still working off that initial visioning. The most important outcome the men identified for the larger community was: “We want them to know we aren’t monsters.” And I think that reality becomes very clear once one reads these stories.
Other “Serving Life” initiatives have taken the form of live performances or visual art exhibitions. What do you hope will be the effect of circulating these stories in book form?
As part of every Hidden Voices project, we create a story cycle: a series of extremely short first-person monologues that bring the listener on a journey through the many perspectives surrounding a pressing social issue. These story cycles can be read aloud by any group of people, sitting in a circle in a classroom or a church or in a breakout at a conference. Each individual story offers a particular insight into the issue at hand; for the Right Here, Right Now story cycle, each story points to a lived experience with what we might label racism, family violence, hunger, failed educational policies, police misconduct, housing instability, and more. But the men who shared these stories don’t look at their experiences through this lens of conceptual labeling; for them, the stories are simply life as it is lived, whether funny or violent, sweet or troubling.
A most insightful colleague, Jayne Ifekwunigwe, participated in a reading and asked if I’d ever thought of publishing the stories. Gisela Fosado, the Editorial Director at Duke Press, asked if I could find enough stories to fill a book. So, I combed through pieces men had written, recordings of meetups, notes from phone calls, stacks of letters. I planned to choose 100 stories, but then I settled on 99. That was a number that felt unfinished, and I wanted to leave the reader with the sense that there was yet another story waiting to be told. For me, that story is the story the families hope and pray for, the story of the day these men walk through the prison doors and return to their communities.
By sharing the stories in book form, I hope the voices will reach into classrooms and book clubs, into church classes and civic discussions. I hope the stories will lend momentum to the growing movement toward abolishing the death penalty, ending life in prison without parole, and re-visioning so many of the inhumane policies and practices that prevent families and communities from healing from violence
You write, “Absent a specific image of the speaker, we more easily and viscerally allow the deeper truth of the story to penetrate.” These anonymous stories are particularly heartbreaking because they do become universalizable. In your story selection process what, if anything, had to be left out?
So many poignant, funny, and heart-breaking stories were left on the cutting room floor. I decided the best way to share these stories was to bring the reader on a chronological journey from infancy to execution, so the structure dictated the selection. I wanted to make sure each story was just that: a story, a personal experience, not an intellectual reflection on an issue, however passionately argued. I wanted to retain the original speaker’s “voice,” the feel of their authentic dialogue even if the story was only a few paragraphs excerpted from an hour-long conversation. I wanted the reader to feel this human being, his story, his palpable life.
Each story gives insight into a specific aspect of a much larger system and helps us understand how we create violence in our society, how we can heal the harm already caused by violence, and how we can disrupt the systems that perpetuate harm. Again, you could go back through each story and label it as “about” racism, or addiction, or under-resourced schools, or the lack of mental health facilities, and I did exactly that during the years of working with these stories. But those labels don’t offer the kinds of pathways toward embodied understanding that actual lived experiences do. Lived experience is intimate, authentic, specific. It invites us to enter another world, experience it as our own, and leave with a new, richer understanding.
You describe both “Serving Life” and the specific narratives in Right Here, Right Now as a kind of call-and-response. The book is the call; the response is up to the reader. Have any responses to the “Serving Life” project stood out to you?
We wanted to create a dialogue between public audiences and these most hidden members of our communities. But at the time, there were no phones on death row; the men were only allowed one 15-minute phone call a year, in December. Family members would drive across the state to be in the room when that call came, just to hear their loved one’s voice. The only means of communication was writing letters.
So, finding ways to connect was challenging, which is what led to the idea of a call and response. After every performance, every reading of the stories, and at each exhibit installation, we would ask the audience to write a response to the men. We would collect the letters, copy them, and send them back inside.
Here is one comment that has stayed with me. There are many hundreds of others:
Gentlemen, thank you for your story, your vulnerability, your willingness to remind ignorant and selfish people like me how beautiful each and every life is. You have taught me so much with your words, and your legacy will stay with me for the rest of my life. Your stories transformed my understanding of prison, death row, and life. The power and witness of your stories have resonated in this room. . . . You are not invisible. I feel so honored to know your story, and I will never forget.
Society renders death row inmates invisible. But context provided in the Afterword by Timothy B. Tyson about very visible instances of systemic injustice and anti-racist protest in 2020 connects the lives of the storytellers directly to our moment. Has the shape of the “Serving Life” project changed at all as the contemporary moment casts new light on old problems?
I don’t think society renders these speakers invisible. I think there’s an intentional misdirection of our attention away from these institutions and those who live there. That’s why outside access is so severely limited and facilities are typically placed far from the public eye. Out of sight and out of mind. It’s better if we don’t question the location and design of these facilities, the use of unpaid labor, the dangerous and overcrowded housing, the systemic injustices, the lack of decent legal representation, the reality of innocent people living inside, the children we’ve sentenced to die.
It’s a form of misdirection, a pointing away from these unremittingly unhealthy and stressful environments—unhealthy not only for those living there, but for those working there. It’s no surprise that correctional officers have the shortest lifespan of any police. We have managed to create a system that damages the most damaged. As one friend said, “You can’t kill all the wounded people.” And yet, we seem to be trying.
So, this moment—right here, right now. It’s an incredible time for these voices and stories to be published. For the first time, in my life anyway, there is a broad willingness to consider and question our role as the only Western country that kills its own, to wonder whether we need to be #1 in the world in incarceration. The most common response I hear to these stories is, “I’ve never thought about this before.” Even people who drive by a prison every day will say they never wondered who was there and whether there was another, better option. Now, people are starting to wonder. I think the civil rights movements of 2019 and 2020 have been instrumental in forcing us to look directly at some of the realities that shape our justice system. And once we begin to see, we can’t unsee. But we can find our way to a new vision of actual justice and a more humane, compassionate, and healthy society.
There is a conscious choice in Right Here, Right Now to privilege inmate voices rather than critical or scholarly analysis of the death penalty and the American carceral system. In the Hidden Voices model, building relationships with real people through honoring their stories is the first step. What might the next step entail?
Sharing these stories helps undermine our unhealthy “rush to judgment” as Jason Flom puts it. We seem to have two frameworks at play in our society, one that views these people as inherently broken, flawed and irredeemable—in other words expendable. But there’s also a radically different framework, a more experientially-based view, that understands humans, like all living organisms, can heal and grow. Indeed, must heal and grow to survive. Human beings are complex systems of constant change; change may be what we most fundamentally are. This framework believes we should put that natural flow to work for us.
We are innately creative, curious, and hard-wired to explore. Trying to shut down those innate impulses is an unwinnable strategy. We need to look for ways to increase and strengthen healing and growth by supporting relationships—between families and their loved ones, between those living inside, between those of us on the outside and those currently living behind bars. We need to increase opportunities for emotional healing, for learning and exploration. There are other carceral systems where correctional officers serve as mentors to prisoners; they eat together, recreate together; work on life goals together. There are systems where prisoners (including those who have been convicted of murder) live together in group housing and learn new ways of relating to their environment, their families, their own self-care. Even here in the US, some of the most successful programs for men living inside prison have been programs where the men tend other living creatures, from training service dogs to rehabbing horses to gardening. In other words, we need to ask how our natural tendency toward growth, healing, and change can be allowed to flourish and thereby strengthen all our communities.
Because, isolating people into prisons doesn’t just affect those who live and work there—it affects their children, parents, grandparents and grandchildren, their neighbors, teachers, faith leaders, the health of community economies, and on and on. Keeping such an unhealthy, stressful, damaging system alive costs us all.
Now through May 7, 2021 you can get 50% off Right Here, Right Now and all our in-stock titles with coupon SPRING21. After May 7, you can save 30% off the paperback with the coupon E21HARRIS.
As 2020 (finally!) comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 10 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.
As your title makes clear, your book argues that we are living under militarized global apartheid. You explain in your Introduction that your concept is (as might be suspected) modeled after South Africa’s apartheid, which extended officially from 1948 to 1994. How might the term apartheid, and the South African paradigm it references, contribute to an understanding of current global networks? And why might it be preferable to other words like imperialism, globalization, and transnationalism, which, as you mention, have been formerly utilized in your field?
The reason for defining the system I analyze as militarized global apartheid is to highlight the ways in which imperialism, globalization, and transnationalism are race-based projects. Imperialist projects over the past 500 years are projects of racial differentiation and racist domination; projects of capital accumulation enabled by globalization use hierarchies created by racial differentiation as a tool of extraction and domination; and transnationalism presumes nationalism, which, as I show, has become a racially coded identity in most parts of the world. As scholars such as Cedric Robinson, Charles Mills, Deborah Thomas, and Kamari Clarke have shown brilliantly in various ways, globalization has proceeded over the past 500 years through the creation and imposition of race-based hierarchies in ways that reinforce white supremacy and benefit the global north rather than the global south through the control of mobility and labor. Using the term ‘apartheid’ places race at the center of analysis of how power and capitalism work in our contemporary world.
Your project is built around a conceptual division of the world between the global north and the global south. As you yourself remark, the global south is a contested geographical category and not at all homogenous. Why is it important for you, nevertheless, to utilize this concept? What does the category miss, and what does it get right?
Global north and global south are obviously roughly drawn terms that nevertheless I find useful for making my theoretical argument. I draw on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s definition of the global north and Jean and John Comaroff’s definition of the global south in recognition of the historical fact that the forces of capital extraction and finance emanate primarily from the global north and that most of the global south experienced colonization and neocolonization of one kind or another by countries in the global north. Of course, these terms carry the danger of reductionism and overgeneralization. Categories like these miss the class interests shared by elites across these divides, which is a critically important component of the contemporary world. These categories also run the risk of reinforcing dangerous assumptions about global north supremacy and global south impoverishment, which the book seeks to deconstruct. But I hope my use of these broad categories to describe the global patterns of militarized structures of control over mobility and labor clarify whose interests are being served and which parts of the world are being harmed.
You argue that our current framework of militarized global apartheid rests heavily on racialization, which is increasingly tied to nationality; long-standing systems of white supremacy, then, encourage heightened policing and militarization to contain people of the global south within geographical borders according to their perceived national belonging. Would you say that mobility, in the face of containment, is a human right? And how can we imagine “belonging,” as you title your first chapter, outside of the boundaries of national borders?
Yes, absolutely, I consider mobility to be a human right. Everyone should have the right to move. As for how to imagine belonging outside the boundaries of national borders, all we have to do is look at how much work has gone into constructing nationalism and national identities over the past century and a half alone. The monumental effort expended to cohere groups of people into accepting national identities as not only legitimate but primary suggests the power of alternative—and competing—sensibilities of mutuality, belonging, and commonality, often rooted in kinship, locality, language, religious affiliation, or other things. The notion of belonging carries a commitment to mutual responsibility, care, and social recognition; a sense of shared basic values; and a willingness to co-participate in problem-solving. We don’t need nation-states to create these things.
In your introduction, you draw a connection between “security fears about immigrants, and the disproportionate incarceration of Black men in the United States.” Can you say more about this link? How can your concept of militarized global apartheid inform ongoing critiques of policing and incarceration within the US that systemically target Black people, despite their national citizenship?
This issue—the connection between the racialized policing and control of mobile populations and the racialized policing and control of internal populations—is really the crux of the book. Security imperialism—in the form of mobility controls wielded against mobile and potentially mobile populations from the global south by countries of the global north—is tightly and intricately connected to carcerality within nation-states of the global north. Racialized language and militarized security innovations characterize both arenas. The use of mass incarceration as a tool of social control in some parts of the global north, most particularly the US, is reproduced in the carceral forms spreading across the global south as imprisonment and containment become the norm for disciplining political dissent, removing populations whose presence is threatening to capitalist interests, and meeting the demands of the global north for constraining mobility. I call this security carcerality, and argue it is the new form of imperialism of our era.
You acknowledge early on that migrants resist militarized apartheid in diverse and creative ways, but that this resistance is not the focus of your current project. What brought you to the decision to aim your attention at global systems of containment, rather than on sites of contestation?
There have been so many studies of migrant resistance, strategies, experiences, and tragedies, including by me. Migrants have been in the spotlight for decades, but especially since the so-called migrant ‘crisis’ of 2015 in Europe, and some scholars, like Shahram Khosravi, are calling for scholars to recognize a migrant ‘right to opacity’. The focus on the migrant can be seen as reproducing the perception that migrants are the problem, when in fact they are not. The problem is a global system which unequally apportions capital and the power of some over the livelihoods of others, controls mobility, and determines who has the right to move and whose mobility is blocked. The problem is a global system in which the lives of people in the global south are seen as sacrificable for the benefit of people in the global north. My choice in this book is to focus on the real problem, the global system of militarized apartheid.
Who do you hope reads your book?
I hope the book will be useful for teaching, which is why it is short. Chapters can be excerpted and taught separately. I hope the book reaches a cross disciplinary audience, speaking to geographers, critical race and globalization theorists, migration scholars and advocates, journalists, and people working in critical security studies. I hope the book stimulates a range of new studies, and especially studies that push forward the discussion about alternative futures opened in the book’s final chapter. My 90-year old stepfather was the first family member to read this book, and he read it in two days and then phoned with a long list of questions. I hope people of all ages read this book and then get in touch with their list of questions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected work and has amplified existing labor issues. We asked Leon Fink, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, how the journal is responding to the COVID-19 crisis and what role labor history scholarship plays in conversations about the pandemic.
As the leading journal in our field and intellectual representative of the Labor and Working Class History Association, we have indeed taken note of the pandemic’s relevance to labor history. COVID-era headlines inevitably invoke many different workers and occupations. In the forefront of the nightly cable news roundup are the medical professionals—doctors and nurses and their virtual army of supporting role players: EMTs, ambulance drivers, aides, janitorial and dietary staff, etc. Also suddenly prominent are a host of service occupations—such as grocery clerks, home health care workers, nursing home aides, restaurant staff, and delivery drivers.
Less noticed, but equally relied upon and designated by their state governments as “essential workers”—i.e., those working at critical infrastructure operations required to remain open—are the warehouse workers from Amazon, Walmart, and Target filling in otherwise-broken supply chains. Also deemed essential, upon a direct order from the president, are the meatpacking and food processing plants.
Two other professions have also received heightened attention. Especially as parents attempt to cope with the still-uncertain trajectory of the current school year, the central role of teachers (and day care providers) to the national economy is highlighted. Finally, of course, we have all been reminded of the impact on our civic health of the actions of the municipal police—not to mention special forces deployed on presidential orders—in either containing or exacerbating social conflict.
If together composing a ‘public’ workforce—not by source of employment, which encompasses both public and private employers, but by common impact on the public welfare—this parade of workers is otherwise highly differentiated. Quite apart from issues of pay, itself a subject of vast differentiation, a considerable disparity—one might even say a vast chasm—separates these work groups on a spectrum of workplace authority. Each of these groups faces not only a distinct micro-environment based on the product or service rendered but is governed by different sets of industrial relations, whether shaped by collective bargaining contracts, government laws and regulations, or one-sided employer determination.
Given the tensions accentuated by pandemic conditions, the inequalities of workplace voice—quite apart from the material disparities of economic reward—take on enhanced prominence and wider public repercussion. How much voice and/or control, we are obliged to ask, should employees themselves have over their jobs, their health and safety on the job, and their employment security? These are all issues which will inevitably help to compose the coming generation of labor history research and scholarship.
The journal has already responded to the current crisis in two significant ways. First, and fortuitously, we were able to move a magnificent article by Liz Faue and Josiah Rector on an SEIU nurses campaign for protections from needlestick injuries during the HIV crisis into our next issue (vol. 17, issue 4). But we also quickly decided to go for broke with a future special issue on Pandemics and Labor History, for which we’ve recruited a most distinguished group of contributors. They include Samuel Cohn (University of Glasgow), an authority on the Black Death; Aditya Sarkar (University of Warwick) on the bubonic plague in Bombay 1896–1901; Gabriela Soto Laveaga (Harvard University) on Mexico City health politics; Laura Goffman (University of Arizona) on the colonial Middle East; and Jacob Remes (New York University) with a summary piece connecting the COVID-19 pandemic to the North American working-class history of disaster. Although still in a formative stage, we expect this issue to be one of our most important yet.
As the days cool and leaves turn so should your new book pages! This month our new book titles will go great with your favorite hot drink.
Examining black performance practices that critique Western humanism, R. A. Judy offers an extended meditation on questions of blackness, the human, epistemology, and the historical ways in which the black being is understood in Sentient Flesh.
In Sensory Experiments, Erica Fretwell examines how psychophysics—a nineteenth-century scientific movement originating in Germany dedicated to the empirical study of sensory experience—became central to the process of creating human difference along the lines of race, gender, and ability in nineteenth-century America.
Brigitte Fielder presents an alternative theory of how race is constructed in Relative Races with readings of nineteenth-century personal narratives, novels, plays, stories, poems, and images to illustrate how interracial kinship follows non-heteronormative, non-biological, and non-patrilineal models of inheritance in nineteenth-century literary culture.
The Sense of Brown, which he was completing at the time of his death, is José Esteban Muñoz’s treatise on brownness and being as well as his most direct address to queer Latinx studies. Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong′o have edited the book and written an introduction.
Lyle Fearnley situates the production of ecological facts about the likely epicenter of viral pandemics inside the shifting cultural landscapes of agrarian change and the geopolitics of global health in the timely new book Virulent Zones.
Amalia Leguizamón reveals how the Argentine state, agribusiness, and their allies in the media and sciences deploy narratives of economic redistribution, scientific expertise, and national identity as a way to gain the public’s consent to grow genetically modified soybeans despite the massive environmental and social costs inSeeds of Power.
Drawing on ethnographic research with policy makers, politicians, activists, scholars, and the public in Manchester, England, Hannah Knox in Thinking Like a Climate confronts the challenges climate change poses to knowledge production and modern politics.
In Wild Things Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which the wild—a space located beyond normative borders of sexuality—offers sources of opposition to knowing and being that transgress Euro-American notions of the modern subject.
Saiba Varma in The Occupied Clinic, explores spaces of military and humanitarian care in Indian-controlled Kashmir—the world’s most militarized place—to examine the psychic, ontological, and political entanglements between medicine and violence.
With Cowards Don′t Make History, Joanne Rappaport examines the work of a group of Colombian social scientists led by Orlando Fals Borda, who in the 1970s developed a model of “participatory action research” in which they embedded themselves into local communities to use their research in the service of social and political organizing.
Vanessa Freije explores the causes and consequences of political scandals in Mexico from the 1960s through the 1980s in Citizens of Scandal, showing how Mexico City reporters began to denounce government corruption during this period in ways that defined the Mexican public sphere in the late twentieth century .
In Building Socialism, Christina Schwenkel analyzes the collaboration between East German and Vietnamese architects and urban planners as they attempted to transform the bombed-out industrial city of Vinh into a model socialist city.
Political theorist and anticapitalist activist Sabu Kohso uses the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to illuminate the relationship between nuclear power, capitalism, and the nation-state in Radiation and Revolution, showing how nuclear power has become the organizing principle of the global order.
In Black Diamond Queens Maureen Mahon documents the major contributions African American women vocalists such as Big Mama Thornton, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, and Merry Clayton have made to rock and roll throughout its history.
Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan in The Globally Familiar examines how the young men of Delhi’s hip hop scene construct themselves on- and off-line and how digital platforms offer these young men the means to reimagine themselves and their city through hip hop.
In essays addressing topics ranging from cinema, feminism, and art to hip hop, urban slums, and digital technology, Sujatha Fernandes in The Cuban Hustle explores the multitudinous ways ordinary Cubans have sought to hustle, survive, and create expressive cultures in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
In Genetic Afterlives, Noah Tamarkin illustrates how Lemba people in South Africa give their own meanings to the results of DNA tests that substantiated their ancestral connections to Jews and employ them to manage competing claims of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, African indigeneity, and South African citizenship.
Shane Denson examines the ways in which computer-generated digital images displace and transform the traditional spatial and temporal relationships that viewers had with conventional analog forms of cinema in Discorrelated Images.
Media Primitivism by Delinda Collier finds alternative concepts of mediation in African art by closely engaging with electricity-based works since 1944.
Writing in Space, 1973-2019 gathers the writings of conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady as edited by Aruna D’Souza, including artist statements, scripts, magazine articles, critical essays on art and culture, and interviews.
Acknowledging the difficulty for artists in the twenty-first century to effectively critique systems of power, in The Play in the System Anna Watkins Fisher theorizes parasitism—a form of resistance in which artists comply with dominant structures as a tool for practicing resistance from within.
Filled with advice from over fifty contributors, this completely revised and expanded edition of our popular book The Academic’s Handbook guides academics at every career stage, whether they are first entering the job market or negotiating post-tenure challenges of accepting leadership and administrative roles. The volume is edited by Lori A. Flores and Jocelyn H. Olcott.