Keynote and Seminar Abstracts
Jean Comaroff, Harvard University: Divine Detection: Crime and the Metaphysics of Disorder
Walter Benjamin famously insisted that modern police wielded a “ghostly,” all-pervasive violence, called upon at points where the state was unable to govern by legal means. Yet many African postcolonies are haunted by a different specter: the waning efficacy of enforcement, the ambiguity of authority, and the fear that the state in the immediate future will be incapable of knowing itself or recognizing its subjects. This paper examines the problematic relation of law, detection, and sovereignty in contemporary African polities, especially in post-apartheid South Africa. It focuses on the “metaphysics of disorder” that is palpable in popular culture here, and on the kinds of forensic fantasies it conjures in its wake.
John Nguyet Erni, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong: Cultural Studies With or Without Human Rights
In the persistent (re)turn to questions of representational, identity-based, and political economic justice today, how will Cultural Studies make space for human rights as a global legal and humanitarian practice? Of late, the new and unremitting atrocities linked to state, inter-state, and private violence have precipitated new social movements that act in concert with international human rights law. To these movements, Cultural Studies has had little dialogic or institutional connections. In this lecture, I shall consider the conditions of possibility for overcoming the apparent non-correspondence between critical cultural humanism and rights, and between culture and law. The locution “with or without” in the title is employed to signal a dialectical and contingent, rather than cynical, relation between Cultural Studies and rights discourse and politics.
Jo Littler, City University London: Beyond Meritocracy
Meritocracy today entails the idea that whatever your social position at birth, society ought to offer enough opportunity and mobility for “talent” to combine with “effort” in order to “rise to the top.” This idea is one of the prevalent social and cultural tropes of our time, as palpable in the speeches of politicians as in popular culture. Yet it is not merely a coincidence that a pronounced lack of social mobility and the continual importance of inherited wealth co-exist with the common idea that we live in a meritocratic age. On the contrary: meritocracy has become a key ideological means through which plutocracy—or government by a wealthy elite—perpetuates itself within neoliberal culture. Beginning by outlining some of the historical and geographical genealogies of this cultural trope, and considering how it has come to achieve dominance, the main work of this talk is to ask how we might break this ideological frame and move beyond it into a more equitable settlement. Shaken by the global financial crisis, ideological splinters and cracks in the neoliberal ideology of contemporary meritocracy are apparent; its reassuring certainties are more widely perceived as troubled, if not dismantled.
There are three constituencies of people who are for one reason or another opting out of the meritocratic race. First, for some sections of the “superelite,”and particularly those involved in the financial industries, meritocracy is simply an irrelevant discourse with which they have no need to be concerned. Similarly, although in very different, and frequently culturally maligned fashion, the meritocratic discourse of “effort mobilising talent” can be rejected by those living in poverty who don’t see any persuasive evidence for meritocracy. A third constituency consists of those who are actively rejecting the individualistic, competitive foundations of the meritocratic myth by participating in co-operative, mutual and commons-oriented activities instead. Considering examples from all three groups, this paper asks what possibilities do, and might exist, for the latter two groups to connect together to combat precarious inequality.
Handel Kashope Wright, University of British Columbia: What Has African Cultural Studies Done For You Lately?
This paper takes up African cultural studies as a floating signifier and utilizes autobiography (Hall) to navigate some of its multiple, shifting, historical, spatial, theoretical and practical meanings. The current willfully ignorant (Felman) image text of African cultural studies is one of a derivative yet hermetically sealed singular discourse, limited to a few continental locations, which fitfully emerges in international fora as a tolerable, ineffectual curiosity. Eschewing this reading, the paper invites the reconceptualization of African cultural studies as multiplying and varying discursive trajectories which operate within but also reach well beyond “where salt water licks the shores of the continent” (Asante) and which variously draw on and/or challenge received Anglocentric cultural studies history and theory which is often passed off as global cultural studies. Thus reconceptualized, the politics of difference, for example, requires a shift from African blackness as fixed and foundational—historical raw material for complex contemporary diasporic blackness (Wright, forthcoming) to a consideration of African queer politics, multiraciality, and intersectional identity, hybrid cultural formations, outernational identifications and ironic zenophobic nationalism. Such a re-reading of African cultural studies, the paper concludes, has potentially significant implications for exploring cultural issues in Africa and its diasporas and for the evolution of both African cultural studies (Tomaselli & Wright) and global, transnational cultural studies.
Felman, S. “Psychoanalysis and Education: Teaching Terminable and Interminable.” Yale French Studies, 63, 1982. 21–44.
Hall, S. “Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies.” In Lawrence Grossberg et al (Eds.) Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1992.
Tomaselli, K.G. & Wright, H.K. (Eds.) Africa, Cultural Studies and Difference. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.
Wright, H.K. “Stuart Hall’s Relevance for the Study of African Blackness.” International Journal of Cultural Studies (forthcoming, 2016).
Zethu Matebeni, The University of Cape Town: 67 Minutes of Shame: Mandela’s queers and the quest for freedom
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had a fascinating relationship with queers, most precisely, with gay men. Under disguise in 1962, the year of his arrest, Mandela chauffeured gay political activist and theatre director, Cecil Williams. Upon his release after spending 27 years in prison and eventually taking office as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Mandela personally appointed the openly gay judge, Edwin Cameron, to the high court. Etched in many “gay” people’s minds is his February 1995 meeting with Sir Ian McKellen, lesbian activist Phumi Mtetwa, and anti-apartheid and gay activist Simon Nkoli. The two activists met with Mandela to ensure that sexual orientation, lesbian and gay rights were drafted into the Constitution. At the time of his death international gay activists regarded Mandela as a “gay icon.” Meanwhile in two cities in South Africa, hundreds of (black) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer activists marched to ANC Headquarters as a protest to the legacy of Mandela. On his commemorative birthday where citizens have to give 67 minutes of their time for good will, queers demanded to know why the ANC government, given what Mandela stood for, was silent on violent attacks towards LGBT people. This seminar interrogates the idea and meaning of Mandela for black queers in South Africa. Through extensive archival material and interviews with key activists, this reading of Mandela interrogates the politics of blackness, class, sexuality and gender discourses that shape the ANC’s current ambivalent relationship with the possibility of freedom.
Nadine Attewell, McMaster University: Caring States: Governance, Embodiment, and the Work of Care (I)
As precariousness proliferates and is generalised as a condition of life, projects of care would seem to take on importance as sites and even modalities of critique, resistance, transformation, and change at multiple scales. At the same time, care(ing)’s history as a gendered and racialized form of labour, a criterion of belonging, a tool of governance, and a key affordance of post-Second World War welfare state capitalism, reminds us that projects of care have entrenched as much as they have interrupted the uneven distribution of power, capital, and other goods along a variety of embodied and geographically differentiated lines. In this, the first of two seminars on care(ing) as a practice and politics, we will draw on the work of feminist, queer, postcolonial, Indigenous, Marxist, and disability studies scholars, and reflect on the provocations of cultural texts such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go (adapted for the screen by Mark Romanek in 2010), as we think about the ways in which care has been practiced, represented, institutionalised, and experienced by different kinds of subjects and collectivities at particular historical junctures. What risks attend the turn to care(ing) as not just a response to precarity, but a means of achieving more equitable futures?
Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Toronto: Knopf, 2005.
Romanek, Mark (dir). Never Let Me Go. 2010. DVD, Fox Searchlight, 2011.
Nadine Attewell, McMaster University: Caring States: Governance, Embodiment, and the Work of Care (II)
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “precariousness” as that state of vulnerability, risk, insecurity, or instability that accompanies a position of dependency: something is precarious when it is “held or enjoyed by the favour of and at the pleasure of another person.” To counter the proliferation and generalisation of precariousness, then, might seem to require that we eschew vulnerability and the experience of dependency. And yet, thinkers like Judith Butler have recently urged us to reimagine community on the basis, precisely, “of vulnerability and loss,” reminding us that “each of us is constituted politically in part by virtue of the social vulnerability of our bodies—as a site of desire and physical vulnerability” (20). In this, the second of two seminars on care(ing) as a practice and politics, we will draw on the work of feminist, queer, postcolonial, Indigenous, Marxist, and disability studies scholars, and reflect on the provocations of cultural texts such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s 2013 short story collection Islands of Decolonial Love, to ask, following Lauren Berlant, how we might “reinvent work and care” so as to “change the affective resonance around dependency” in pursuit of more liveable futures (qtd. in McCabe). Even if everyone is precarious, precarity is not evenly distributed. Given the histories that condition our relationship to, and experience of, dependency, including to whom or what we feel especially vulnerable in our dependencies, can the labour of care(ing) be imagined as a responsiveness to precarity in ways that do not re-entrench the very inequities we would want it to remedy? How do we “struggle on this terrain without destroying” either the people who care or those they care for?” (Federici)
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.
Federici, Silvia. “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint.” In the Middle of a Whirlwind. Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, 2008: 1-9. Web. Accessed March 6, 2015.
McCabe, Earl. “Depressive Realism: An Interview with Lauren Berlant,” Hypocrite Reader. 5 June 2011. Web. Accessed March 6, 2015.
Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. Islands of Decolonial Love. Winnipeg: ARP, 2013.
John Nguyet Erni, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong: Is There a Cultural Studies of Law and Rights?
Following on my keynote lecture, I would like to discuss with the participants how they might see their own projects’ relation to human rights, especially the movements, legal activism, and cultural works associated with rights-based struggles. Specific questions to be explored might include: What are the differences and inter-referential possibilities between “rights” and “justice” in different geopolitical contexts in the global North and South? How would we conceptualize critical politics in relation to legal and extra-legal technologies and apparatuses? Are there counter-hegemonic possibilities embedded in judicial culture?
Erni, John N. “Who Needs Human Rights: Cultural Studies and Public Institutions.” In Meaghan Morris and Mette Hjort (Eds.) Creativity and Academic Activism: Instituting Cultural Studies. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012. 175-190.
Erni, John N. (ed.). Cultural Studies of Rights: Critical Articulations. New York and London: Routledge, 2011.
Davies, Cristyn and Knox, Sara L. (Eds.) Cultural Studies of Law. New York and London: Routledge, 2014.
Matt Jordan, Penn State University, USA: Populism in the Age of Precarity: On the Necessity and Fragility of Shared Purpose
It is said that global culture has entered a post-political age in which pragmatic compromise and technocratic neoliberal governmentality have replaced older modes of democratic governance. Despite the ascendance of this new hegemony, populist politics have remained a remarkably durable and effective feature of national politics. Nonetheless critics from the left and the right have continued to warn of the precarious nature and occasional danger of populist mobilisation. This seminar will examine the history of populism as an idea and work through the major proponents and critics of populism today. We examine the paradoxical importance of populism as a means to mobilise the people to resist the powerful forms of neoliberal governance that have led to dramatic economic inequality and social precarity world-wide. Focusing on two forms of populist identification, heterogeneous and homogeneous, we will interrogate potential strategies for finding common ground and community through the important work of articulating shared purpose.
Matt Jordan, Penn State University, USA: Preserving the Precarious Soundscape: The Paradox of Sonic Mediation and Noise Cancellation
With the release of each new communication technology in our increasingly digitised world, consumer culture sells us the idea that our “smart” devices give us more control over our environment, more ability to mitigate and mediate the sights and sounds that fill our life worlds. Yet this neoliberal dream of a personalised sensorium, free from the intrusion of unwanted stimulation, is not without its problems. In this seminar, we will follow the emergence of the idea of a mediated and controlled soundscape as a desirable feature of everyday life. By examining a range of normative claims from consumer discourse about noise and its relationship to hegemonic ideas of what it means to live the good life, we will begin to question the utility of a sonic world devoid of precarious sounds, an idea realised and reified in today’s “quiet” noise cancellation technology. We will engage in a robust conversation about a normative ethics of listening, one that instead of controlling our sensual world and sensitizing ourselves to the intrusion of the unwanted, opens our life world to the unexpected and contingent.
Jo Littler, City University London: Gender, “Race,” Class and the Meritocratic Deficit
The social movements of the 1970s threatened the political order with their claims for equality in terms of gender, sexuality, “race” and class. Whilst some aspects of these demands have been met (e.g. through anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage and equal pay acts) many others have clearly not been, and new variants of misogyny, racism, homophobia and class disparagement have moved into the ascendant. At the same time, neoliberal capitalism has not been backward in attempting to commodify the impulses and desires of these social movements. In this seminar we will foreground how what could be termed a “meritocratic deficit’” has continued to affect particular groups more than others by discussing corporate populism, black entrepreneurialism and marketised feminism. How exactly have these constituencies been positioned as particularly amenable to competitive meritocratic discourses of “empowerment”? What collaborative alternatives exist or need to be invented to supersede such marketised rhetoric? To what extent are progressive, political co-operative alternatives still dominated by white middle-class men?
Fraser, Nancy. Fortunes of Feminism. London: Verso, 2013.
Gilroy, Paul. “‘We got to get over before we get under…’ Fragments for a History of Black Vernacular Neoliberalism.” New Formations 80-81, 2013. 23-38.
Guinier, Lani. The Tyranny of the Meritocracy. Boston: Beacon Press, 2015.
Littler, Jo “Meritocracy as plutocracy: the Marketising of ‘Equality’ Within Neoliberalism.” New Formations 80-81, 2013. 52-72.
Susie O’Brien, McMaster University: What Do We (Not) Talk About When We Talk About Climate Change?
In March, 2015 widespread media reports alleged that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had banned the use of the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” The revelation provoked mockery and outrage. As University of Miami geologist Harold Wanless put it, “’It’s beyond ludicrous to deny using the term climate change. It’s criminal at this point’”(McCoy). There is indeed something ludicrous about climate change denial—particularly in Florida, where rising sea levels have already caused significant damage. However there is a risk that, in focusing on the problem of those who refuse to acknowledge the risks of climate change, we ignore those powerful agencies who don’t just acknowledge, but embrace them. A growing number of companies, led by Shell, along with governments (especially the US), tout their seriousness about climate change as evidence of environmental responsibility, while they are busy leveraging present and future risks posed by climate change into profits (Cooper, Funk). This seminar will move past the issue of climate change denial to consider what is at stake in its recognition. To this end, we will consider such questions as: what kinds of stories are circulating about climate change? What do they include and leave out? And, perhaps most importantly, who lays claim to the places—and to the biosphere—that these stories purport to describe (Klein)? To answer these questions we will examine texts including Shell scenario plans, Climate Corporation ads, and art and activist movements focused on climate change.
Cooper, Melinda. “Turbulent Worlds: Financial Markets and Environmental Crisis” Theory, Culture & Society 27, 2010. 67-190.
Funk, McKenzie. Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming. New York: Penguin, 2014.
Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Toronto: Knopf, 2014.
McCoy, Terrence. “Threatened by Climate Change, Florida Reportedly Bans Term ‘Climate Change,’” The Washington Post, March 9, 2015. Web. Accessed March 11, 2015.
Susie O’Brien, McMaster University: The Future We Want? The Uses and Dangers of Resilience Stories
In June 2012, world leaders and other delegates met in Rio de Janeiro for the UN “Rio + 20” Conference on Sustainable Development. In addition to renewing and reaffirming goals established in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, their report, titled “The Future We Want,” contains frequent, sobering, references to disasters, and the need to foster resilience in the face of their inevitability. The report’s conclusions inform a series of videos on the UN website titled “Disaster Resilient Societies,” which depicts individuals and cities that have recovered from, are in the process of recovering from, or are working to forestall, disaster. In this seminar we will use the UN videos as a case study to consider the currency of resilience as a key concept for thinking about life in the 21st century. Describing a system’s capacity to retain its basic function and structure in the face of disturbance (Walker & Salt, xiii), resilience has migrated from ecological science to fields of defence, healthcare, and education, coming in the process to signify an essential capacity for individuals and communities to cultivate in order to navigate an uncertain future. Many critics have highlighted the troubling resonance between resilience and neoliberalism (Cooper, Zebrowski, Joseph, Evans and Reid). Others have noted its amenability to feminist, postcolonial and environmentalist politics (Alaimo, Åsberg, O’Brien). In this seminar, we will explore both the dangers and the opportunities resilience presents, remaining open to the possibility raised by feminist and ecocritical scholar Stacey Alaimo that “something good may surprise us.”
Alaimo, Stacey. “Bring Your Shovel!” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities 1.1, 2014. Web. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6496061/Alaimo.pdf
Åsberg, Cecilia. “Resilience is Cyborg: Feminist Clues to a Post-Disciplinary Humanities of Critique and Creativity” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities 1.1, 2014. Web. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6496061/Asberg.pdf
“Disaster Resilient Societies.” United Nations. Web. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://www.un.org/en/sustainablefuture/disasters.asp#videos
Evans, Brad and Julian Reid. Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously. Cambridge: Polity, 2014.
Joseph, Jonathan. “Resilience as Embedded Neoliberalism: A Governmentality Approach,” Resilience 1.1, 2013. 38-52. Web.
O’Brien, Susie. “Creative Destruction and a Sliver of Hope,” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities 1.1, 2014.
Walker, Brian and David Salt. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2006.
Zebrowski, Christopher. “Governing the Network Society: A Biopolitical Critique of Resilience.” Political Perspectives 3.1, 2009.
Jean Comaroff, Brave Noir World: Crime and the Late Modern Imaginary, in South Africa and Beyond
To the degree that the rule of law is the founding tenet of liberal modernity, the drama of crime and policing has always been central to modernist myth-making. But what, if anything, is distinctive about late modern crime-as-culture, and how might this be related to recent techtonic shifts in relations among state, capital, and governance in our time? This paper argues that a significant sector of crime fiction – in writing and in film – has undergone changes in form and function that enable it to engage in much more ironic, open-ended, even surreal explorations of late modern urges and discontents. So much so, that some of the most profound explorations of economy-and-society, space-and-time, and social being is now finding voice in forensic fantasy. This is perhaps especially true on experimental frontiers of cultural production, like those found in postcolonial contexts: in South Africa, for example, where crime fiction has become a national allegory, and where other, “highjacked” genres are taking shape – like the quirky films I call Jozi Noir.
Johnathan Jansen, University of the Free State, Complex intimacies: race, romance and reprisal inside university residences
The Reitz scandal raised many questions about human entanglements after apartheid, including this: can racism and intimacy co-exist? This paper examines the problems of race, racism and intimacy on campuses through the lens of two powerful institutions—slavery and domestic labour. However, rather than fixate on the dark side of intimacy this research asks a question progressive scholars would rather avoid: what kinds of transformative relationships can and do emerge inside racist institutions and the troubled engagements between white and black South African students as they begin to live and learn and (yes) love together?
Pumla Dineo Gqola, University of the Witwatersrand: From #RhodesMustFall to #FeesMustFall
In post-apartheid public discourse, the tag ‘born-free’ derisively denotes a generation of South Africans who were born or began school post-1994. Gaining currency over the last decade, this label denotes not just a childhood free of apartheid restriction, but also presumably free of the burdens of race. Depending on which political argument and/or election promises are being advanced this freedom from ‘the burdens of race’ either translates into an investment in a colourblind present and future, on the one hand, or insufficiently historicised political consciousness, sometimes just called apathy, on the other. Such dismissive attitude towards young people is nothing new, as previous generations (’76, ‘lost generation of the 80s’, kwaito/Y generation, etc). In this seminar, I analyse key texts, moments and movements that have disrupted these flattened readings of the ‘born-free’ generation, including the non-fiction writing of the most prolific essayists of this generation, among them Malaika wa Azania, TO Molefe, Eusebius McKaiser, Panashe Chigumadzi and the successful strategies of the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements. What emerges from the dynamism of these texts and movements is an impatience with the old logic of non-racialism, rights and reconciliation on which post-1994 South Africa is premised, in favour of radical, decolonialist activism. I’m concerned here with how to make sense of the initial blatant hostility by older left activists (in academia, social movements, the state, and journalism) to the political expressions of the ‘born frees’, and even more so in the grammar of the strategies that have seen this generation successfully contest the narrative, where this has been so slippery before.
Pumla Dineo Gqola, University of the Witwatersrand: The “problem of gender” post-apartheid
This seminar reads three sites throughand against each other in order to build an argument for the contested textures of the gender, sexuality and feminist activism in South Africa since 1994. Whereas some commentators have repeatedly decried the absence of a woman’s movement post-apartheid, this presentation shows that such misdiagnoses invisibilise the proliferation of feminist movements crafting strategies of feminist organizing radically different from women’s mobilising under apartheid. Consequently, the only women’s formation wholly reliant on these established forms, the ANC Women’s League, is misread as representative of the women’s movement. The first of the three texts under analysis is the 2009 Innovative Women exhibition curated by Bongi Bengu, which featured the work of ten Black feminist artists but which was slated by Min Lulu Xingwana, herself a person with a record of gender-progressive activism, as ‘pornographic’ and ‘divisive’. Through a re-reading of the meaning of this moment, I move away from earlier feminist critiques of what was at play in this episode, including some of my own earlier responses. The second is the Black lesbian feminist led ‘die-in’ strategy used to interrupt both the ANC Women’s League March to reenact the historic 1956 Women’s March on the Union Buildings and the Joburg Pride Parade, in August and October 2012 respectively. Although the organizations 1in9 and FEW have used ‘die-ins’ before, there is something especially instructive about this specific events. The third text is the remarkable shift in the tenor of post-apartheid South African poetry, from masculinist terrain that a handful of women populated, to mostly feminist women poets as the organizers, critically acclaimed and award recipients, and face of SA poetry. This noteworthy shift’s importance lies as much in the place of poetry in the public imagination as it does in the strategies that have brought this shift about. These three texts do not readily ‘speak’ to each other, and allow analytical strategies attentive to both reading the granularity of creative archive (rather than against the grain) and to how meaning leaks, to use Gabeba Baderoon’s formulations.
Mary O’Connor, McMaster University: Precarious Everyday Life
The goal of this seminar is to engage scholars in a critical practice of attending to everyday life, its precarity and its potential for change. In everyday life theory, from Georg Simmel through Mass Observation to contemporary Cultural Studies theorists, the objective has been, as Ben Highmore writes, to “rescue the everyday from conventional habits of mind…to attempt to register the everyday in ‘all’ its complexities and contradictions.” This seminar will look to specific theorists of the everyday to identify ways in which to articulate the precarity of our time and ways of imagining and practicing an everyday life in the future that challenges this precarity. Part of the work of the seminar will be to imagine a project that might intervene in everyday life, leading to new knowledge about the structures and the potential of the everyday. What kind of intervention into the everyday—an alternative practice of the everyday (de Certeau)—might bring us new knowledge and new modes of resistance? An analysis of everyday life does not limit itself to the realms of the individual, the privatized, and the personal. It seeks to articulate the relation between the lived life and the structural forces that shape those lives as precarious. And how might the interventions we imagine be resistant to neoliberal demands for individual agency (Elliott), entrepreneurship and even “creativity,” all the while finding and creating resistance?
de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, 1984.
Elliott, Jane. “Suffering Agency: Imagining Neoliberal Personhood in North America and Britain.” Social Text 115, 2013. 83-101.
Highmore, Ben. Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
Mary O’Connor, McMaster University: Precarious Futures in the Archive
“What isn’t an archive these days?” writes Rebecca Comay in her Introduction to Lost in the Archives. And with convincing, anxious caution, she points out that, “In these memory-obsessed times—haunted by the demands of history, overwhelmed by the dizzying possibilities of new technologies—the archive presents itself as the ultimate horizon of experience.” There is violence in the archive, the violent power of selecting and rejecting, of constructing the order of what will be knowable and what will not (Derrida), an order that constructs the norms and realities we live (Sekula). With particular attention to the technology of photography, we will ask how to read archives of everyday life as archives of precarity, or how might an archive of everyday life acknowledge and resist precarity. Jacques Derrida is explicit about the politics and power of the archive: “There is no political power without control of the archive.” With attention to issues of memory and media technology, the seminar will attend to the futurity of the archive: its calling out to future readers, its responsibility for a future, its aspiration (Appadurai) but also its violence in prohibiting the telling of certain histories in the future, and finally its potential for testimony where no testimony is deemed possible.
Appadurai, Arjun. “Archive and Aspiration.” Information is Alive: Art and Theory of Archiving and Retrieving Data. Ed. Jake Brouwer and Arien Mulder. Rotterdam: NAj Publishers, 2003. 14-25.
Comay, Rebecca. Introduction. Lost in the Archives. Alphabet City, 2002.
Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Sekula, Allan. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39, 1986. 3-64
Gil Rodman, University of Minnesota: Why Cultural Studies?
From the very beginning (regardless of where one believes that to have been), the range of work done in the name of cultural studies has been too diverse to allow for simple and straightforward definitions of the enterprise. While cultural studies isn’t completely unbounded, it also doesn’t have a clearly identifiable center: there is no single object of study, body of theory, or methodological paradigm that lies at the enterprise’s core. This seminar will engage the very old definitional question from a relatively new angle: i.e., not by trying to pin down the “what” (or the “where” or the “who”) of cultural studies, but by wrestling with the slipperier questions of “why.” Why do people claim “cultural studies” (and not some other, more traditional disciplinary identity) as the label for their work? Why did cultural studies’ earliest practitioners (at Birmingham and elsewhere) make the specific choices (of research objects, theoretical frameworks, methodological approaches) they did for their projects? Why does the cultural studies “brand” matter today? In the very limited time available, of course, we will not be able to provide definitive, final answers to these questions. But our discussion will hopefully help us come away with a richer understanding of what makes cultural studies a unique and valuable approach to political and intellectual work.
Gil Rodman, University of Minnesota: The (In)Stability of Race
Race is one of those “natural” categories of identity that people are socialized, almost from birth, to recognize instantly and automatically. Of course, for a “natural” phenomenon, the ways that racial categorization functions—what criteria are used to identify and sort people; how racial hierarchies are organized; what economic, political, social, and cultural imbalances result from those hierarchies, etc.—vary dramatically from one geopolitical and historical context to another. Enough so to effectively undermine the notion that race is a natural phenomenon at all. Still, despite being a socially constructed phenomenon, race has very real, material consequences—both locally and globally—for the distribution of resources, justice, education, healthcare, and so on. This seminar will examine the question of how race (and racial difference) is rendered visible in some contexts (and invisible in others) as part of larger efforts to keep those unjust racial hierarchies in place.
Kris Rutten, Ghent University: The Ethnographic Turn (Revisited): Practice-Led Artistic Research for Precarious Futures
Since the 1990s an increasing wave of challenging art events occurred that shows significant similarities with anthropology and ethnography in its theorisations of cultural difference and representational practices. At the same time, there has been growing interest in anthropology for contemporary art that started from a problematisation of the different possible ways to communicate ethnographic findings and insights. This interest has been referred to as the sensory turn in anthropology and ethnographic research and is exemplified by anthropologists who are collaborating with artists, by artists who are creating projects generating anthropological insights, and by art projects that are produced as outcomes of ethnographic research. As Marcus and Meyers (1995: 1) predicted: “Art has come to occupy a space long associated with anthropology, becoming one of the main sites for tracking, representing, and performing the effects of difference in contemporary life.”
In this seminar, we will focus on the ethnographic turn in art with a specific focus on practice-led research. We will address questions such as: What does it imply to create art in an age of so-called “superdiversity”? How can art become a space for exploring the effects of difference in contemporary life? How can art create a different “language” and “imagery” to problematise cultural differences and to thematise precarious futures? We will discuss work from artists, theorists and researchers who engage critically with the ethnographic perspective in their work and we will discuss to what extent contextualization is relevant when dealing with the display of alterity, diversity and outsiderness. The main focus is on discussions pertaining to the ethnographic turn but we will also reflect on artistic practice-led research in a broader sense.
This seminar is based on a thematic strand of the journal Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies. The course material will consist of previously published issues within this thematic strand.
Rutten, Kris, van Dienderen, An, and Soetaert, Ronald, “Revisiting the ethnographic turn in contemporary art Part 1,” Critical Arts: South North Cultural and Media Studies 27(5), 2013: 459-473. Web. http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rcrc20/27/5#.VIU_6tKUeF8
Rutten, Kris, van Dienderen, An, and Soetaert, Ronald, “Revisiting the ethnographic turn in contemporary art Part 2,” Critical Arts: South North Cultural and Media Studies 27(6), 2013: 627-640. Web. http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rcrc20/27/6#.VIVAKNKUeF8
Susan Spearey, Brock University: Re-imagining Precarity
One thread of Judith Butler’s work since Precarious Life has been an interrogation of discursive practices that render invisible multifarious experiences of precarity in which we are all implicated and to which we are always at least potentially subject, practices that often reproduce individualist and communalist formulations of subjectivity and agency. Recently, Butler has argued that “when I act ethically, I am undone as a bounded being. I come apart,” and that “neither consent nor communitarianism will justify or delimit the range of obligations” subjects hold towards those who are proximate as well as those at a distance, especially in circumstances of “up-againstness” or “unwilled adjacency,” where probabilities of future violence abound. Similarly, in Slow Violence (2011), Rob Nixon calls for a complication and recalibration of the rules of recognition according to which vulnerability to violence might be conceived and acted upon. Where spectacular violence, which is “highly visible,” “event focused, time bound and body bound” (3)—commands the attention and elicits the responses of multiple and dispersed audiences, the media, activists and policy makers alike, even as it serves the interests of militarised forms of “turbocapitalism”—Nixon argues for a political, imaginative and theoretical rethinking of precarity that is attuned to the “incremental and accretive,” “pervasive and elusive,” “attritional” and “exponential” forms of slow violence, the effects of which operate as “threat multipliers,” are complex in terms of attribution of causality, and are “dispersed across time and space” (3; 2; 3). This seminar investigates the possibilities opened up by such re-imaginings of precarity, and how they might be mobilized, especially in relation to considerations of intersectionality, intersubjectivity and affect.
Butler, Judith, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.
Butler, Judith, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2009.
Butler, Judith, “Precarious Life, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Cohabitation.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 26.2. 2012. 134-51. Web.
Nixon, Rob, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Susan Spearey, Brock University: Addressing Precarity
This seminar explores how texts that respond directly to contexts of heightened precarity experiment with modes of address or solicitation in order potentially to precipitate realignments in the understandings, as well as the lived practices, of community, solidarity, and ethical obligation on the part of their respective—and spatio-temporally dispersed—audiences. Readings of key passages from pertinent theoretical and artistic texts will trace recurrent critiques of (ostensibly) emancipatory agendas that mobilize a politics of victimhood rooted in rigid identitarian categories through to the summons to prospective audiences to explore affectively what Brian Massumi terms “the virtual co-presence of potentials,” especially through readers’ encounters with these texts and with one another (212). Included are Michael Rothberg’s critiques of the “zero-sum struggle” of competitive memory, and his elaboration of the corrective methodology and practice of multidirectional memory (3); Mamoud Mamdani’s critiques of “victor’s justice,” and his exploration of the possibilities afforded by what he terms “survivor’s justice” (271; 272); Judith Butler’s critiques of responses to the 911 attacks that centre on the “narcissistic wound” dealt to the American psyche, and her exploration of an alternative framework rooted in an experience of shared potential for precarity (7); Brian Massumi’s critiques of future-oriented and outcome-based conceptions of hope and his re-orientation of hope in the domain off affect; and Kelly Oliver’s critiques of attempts to bear witness to suffering that focus too narrowly and too literally on “the what is said” of testimony and that ignore its performative and inter-subjective dimensions and its calls to “response-ability” (91).
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.
Mamdani, Mahmood. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2002.
Massumi, Brian. “Navigating Movements.” In Mary Zournazi, Hope, New Philosophies for Change. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Oliver, Kelly. Witnessing: Beyond Recognition. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2009.
Shirley-Anne Tate, University of Leeds: Black-White Mixed Race Women’s Bodies and the Nation
This seminar focuses on discussing the Black woman’s athletic body and its place in the nation through looking at two British athletes—lighter skinned, Black/white “mixed race,” Jessica Ennis MBE and darker skinned Jeanette Kwakye. The interest that their bodies hold for this seminar is thinking through their very skin about how it is that “race” still matters for who can represent the national Great Britain brand and become its global icon for the Olympic Games, as well as how through branding racially ambiguous beauty can come to represent the nation even given continuing racism. In analysing this skin trade the chapter focuses on the continuing coloniality of “raced” gender dynamics through the salience of skin colour that defines national identities in contemporary “post-race” times. Why is it that skin shade still impacts on whose body can extend to the white nation as proof of social change? Is the in-between of the binary “racial certainty/ambiguity” a tool of selling the nation to itself as tolerant and multi-cultural? What does this “browning” of the nation do in terms of whiteness as the beauty ideal? As a part of this discussion the seminar will look at the nation as a brand and the continuing racial branding of bodies today.
Shirley-Anne Tate, University of Leeds: Black Women Faculty in Predominantly White Universities
This seminar will look at another arena for the precarious future of Black women’s bodies and also Black feminist thought as Black Critical Race Theory (BCRT) within HEIs in terms of racist exclusion. Black liberation thought is foundational for BCRT which is crucial for unpicking the operation of white power in organizations as we struggle to identify racism’s invisible touch. That is, where to touch is, to leave a discernible mark or effect through contact, to stir emotionally/affect the emotions, to adjoin, to come up to, to treat briefly, to tinge, to be pertinent to. Black feminist critical race conscious intellectual work in the academy is precariously positioned because post-race sensibilities present us with slippages in which “race” no longer matters, racism does not exist and BCRT is not theory whilst teaching on “race” and racism is mainstreamed and Black feminist thought is reduced to sound-bites in Women’s and Gender Studies curricula. The relationality of distance and proximity is at work here in always already knowing the other before perceiving her through body contact. Racism is indeed so ordinary as to be transmitted through the flinching away from Black touch, whether as theory or body contact, a movement away which even if slight contains within it a moment of contempt/disgust. Such dirty affects are the basis of shaming encounters in which both the racialized other and feminist BCRT are located as not quite right, without any word being spoken. “As Fanon has so provocatively put it, black defiance to black dehumanization has been historically constituted as madness or social deviance. Blackness and in specific form the black [woman] thus function as the breakdown of reason which situates black [women’s] experience ultimately in a seemingly nonrational category of faith” (Gordon, 1997: 5).This is the ordinariness of racism where BCRT is aligned with the Black feminist body and theory so as to alienate it from the academy and erase its decolonizing impetus.
Gordon, Lewis R., “Introduction: Black Existentialist Philosophy” in Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy. Lewis R. Gordon (Ed.). New York: Routledge, 1997. 1-11.
Keyan G Tomaselli, University of KwaZulu-Natal: Theoretical Hoaxes and Article Stings: Cultural Studies’ Precarious Futures
Academia is subjected to hoaxes of all kinds. The most infamous was Piltdown Man that disorientated archaeology for 50 years. In Cultural Studies, the hoax perpetrated by physicist Alan Sokal is illustrative of partial denial. Science already has social, political and economic legitimation; not so cultural studies or even the Humanities in general. The Humanities are seen by policy makers as “soft” and therefore useless, not contributing much to scientific, social, technological and economic development. What Sokal briefly dangled was a chimera of scientific legitimacy, a way that the Humanities could get their just rewards (funding, recognition, promotion) by examining theory rather than having to make better bombs (as do many scientists) or causing economic meltdown (as do some economists and financial cowboys). In the process, however, some Humanities scholars have developed a convoluted language that is impenetrable to those who don’t speak it.
This session will teach students how to write postmodern and offer a five step method to writing gibberish that will convince any willing examiner. It will also add to the precariousness of cultural studies, but participants will have a lot of fun. The dangers of poor research will be discussed with regard to retractions of published papers, stings on journals by forensic scholars and the implications of these for academics.
Morningstar, Chip. “How to Deconstruct Almost Anything. My Postmodern Adventure” 1993. Web. http://www.fudco.com/chip/deconstr.html
Sokal, Alan D. “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” Social Text 46/47,1996. 217-252.
Sokal, Alan D. “A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies” Lingua Franca. May/June 1996. 62-64.
Tomaselli, Keyan G. “The UKZN Griot – Of Hoaxes and Parody,” UKZNdaba April 2011: 8. http://ccms.ukzn.ac.za/files/articles/Griot/ukzndaba%20march%202011.pdf
Keyan G Tomaselli, University of Johannesburg: Re-Africanizing Cultural Studies
De-westernising cultural studies was the trendy term initially invoked by James Curran and Nick Couldry. But what does it mean? Is “de-westernisation” just a simple transfer of Western methods and theories to new under-reported contexts? (see Willems 2014). How well does this transfer adapt, or get re-articulated into, local contexts, ontologies and paradigms? (Tomaselli and Mboti). More effective is the term “de-colonising methodologies” (Smith) which got short shrift at the 2014 Birmingham CCCS50 conference. So, how does the non-West make sense? Why does the West make non-sense of the non-West? What global structural conditions, for example, generated Cultural Studies in Africa? Why are these derivations marginalised as “area studies”? If the sub-altern are expected to “speak” by Cultural Studies, why does this so rarely occur? “Western” approaches often for us in the Global South are associated with auto-erotic textual pleasures known as WANXERS: Western, Anglocentric, Normative, Xenophobic, Eurocentric, Rich, and Spoilt. This session connects with a long-standing de-stabilising “de-centring Birmingham” debate (Wright; McNiel; Tomaselli) and a series of discussions published in Critical Arts and Cultural Studies (2008, 22/2) on identity and difference. In seeing value in the “precarious,” the workshop will engage in a “critical cut” that fracture any notion of stability for cultural studies (see Chambers).
Chambers, Iain, “Cultural Studies Under Mediterranean Skies.” Critical Arts 28.5 (2014): 871-874. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02560046.2014.970816#.VOdNZnyUeVY
Curran, James, and Myung-Jin Park (Eds.) De-Westernizing Media Studies. New York and London: Routledge, 2000.
Rutten, Kris, Rodman, Gilbert B., Wright, Handel K., and Ronald Soetaert.“Cultural Studies and Critical Literacies.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 16.5, 2013: 443-456.
Smith, Linda T. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books, 1999.
Tomaselli, Kehan G. “Recovering Praxis: Cultural Studies in Africa.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 1.3 (1998): 387-402.
Tomaselli, Kehan G., and Nyasha Mboti. “‘Doing’ Cultural Studies: What is Literacy in the Age of the Post?” International Journal of Cultural Studies, 16.5. September 2013: 521-537.
Willems, Wendy. “Provincializing Hegemonic Histories of Media and Communication Studies: Toward a Genealogy of Epistemic Resistance in Africa.” Communication Theory 24.4. November, 2014: 415-434.
Wright, Handel K. “Dare we de-centre Birmingham? Troubling the ‘Origin’ and Trajectories of Cultural Studies.” European Journal of Cultural and Media Studies 1.1, 1998: 33-56.
Also see also Handel Wright’s special issues: “Continental African Identity: Whose Diaspora?”
Rainer Winter, University of Klagenfurt: The Critical Qualitative Inquiry of Cultural Studies
We live in precarious times and expect precarious futures. From the beginning the project of cultural studies has been obliged to ways of changing the world for the better, to hope and to emancipation. Qualitative inquiry, social criticism and political intervention have closely been bound by the ideas of resistance, of abolishing existing forms of injustice and of creating better ways of life. In my seminar I want to discuss the different methods and methodologies of qualitative research in the transdisciplinary field of cultural studies. Ethnography, autoethnography, performance studies and different perspectives of textual and contextual perspectives are being presented and compared. I will show how the different methods follow critical methodologies that reconstruct how personal experiences and troubles are connected with the power structures and forms of domination in late capitalism. Qualitative inquiry can be a form of critical resistance against precarious futures in neoliberal times.
Denzin, Norman K. The Qualitative Manifesto. A Call to Arms. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2010.
Grossberg, Lawrence. Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
Johnson, Richard, Deborah Chambers, Parvati Raghuram & Estella Tincknell (Eds.) The Practice of Cultural Studies. London: Sage, 2004.
Winter, Rainer. “Cultural Studies” In The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis. Uwe Flick (Ed). London: Sage, 2014. 247-261.
Handel Kashope Wright, University of British Columbia: Identity Matters
The title of this seminar is meant to simultaneously suggest both an exploration of the topic, the ways and the extent to which identity matters and an assertion of an assumption that may have become a presumption, namely that sociocultural identity matters. From identity politics through diversity to the politics of difference, from critical race theory to multicultural national social policy to queer sociology and philosophy, from feminist pedagogy to indigenous research paradigms, from essentialist through anti-essentialist to strategic essentialism and anti-anti-essentialism approaches and conceptions, identity and identity based discourses appear ubiquitous and hence virtually indispensable in academic disciplines and work, political, social and cultural organization, and activism for representation and social and global justice. On the other hand some figures have given us pause and pointed to the limit, especially of identity politics: identity, Zygmunt Bauman asserts, is neither natural nor essential but a relatively recent construction (and indulgence?); Stuart Hall has much to say about identity (and the related and for him preferred concept of identification) but he does not necessarily take it up as given nor as absolutely and universally essential, asking instead “Who needs identity?” and when it comes to the work identity politics does, Larry Grossberg has asked, “is that all there is?” In this seminar we will explore identities- ours and others’ and whether identity is useful and if so for what purposes and to what extent and when and why we utilize it and in some cases even eschew it, deciding that “identity is no longer my love object.”
Hall, Stuart and Paul du Gay (Eds.) Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage, 1996.
Hall, Stuart. “Who Needs ‘Identity?’” in Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (Eds.) Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage, 1996.
Fan Yang, University of Maryland: China and/in Globalization
China’s re-integration into the global economy since the late 1970s has generated divergent speculations on its role in shaping the world’s geopolitical and ecological futures. This seminar invites participants from wide-ranging backgrounds to consider China’s complex relationship with and ongoing engagement in contemporary globalization. Not only do we ask what a cultural studies approach might offer in deepening our understanding of “China’s rise,” we also seek to mobilize “China” as an impetus for further globalizing cultural studies. How, for instance, should the field’s long-standing critique of capitalism and its neoliberal configuration respond to the discourses and practices of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (Dirlik; Lin; Zhang and Ong)? How may China’s historical experience of Maoism, Third-Worldism and revolution continue to inform political struggles inside and outside of China (Liu; Frazier)? How can the field’s ongoing concern of class, race, gender, and national differences shed light on the newfound visibility of a non-Western nation-state widely perceived to be contending with the U.S. for global hegemony?
Since this is the first time that the ACS Institute is held in Africa/Global South, the question of China and/in globalization is of particular pertinence. The growing involvement of the Chinese state and Chinese migrants on the continent has received increased global media attention (e.g. French). How may this involvement be understood beyond the (simplistic) characterization of neo-imperialism (Lee)? What relations of power may continue to offset the (optimistic) vision for China to promote a grand economic convergence between the West and the rest (Arrighi)? By critically reflecting on these and other issues, this seminar aims to encourage more imaginative re-thinking of China’s relationship to global futures.
Arrighi, Giovanni. Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century. London/New York: Verson, 2007.
Dirlik, Arif. “Postsocialism? Refelections on ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,’” in Marxism and the Chinese Experience: Issues in Contemporary Chinese Socialism, ed. Arif Dirlik and Maurice J. Meisner (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1989).
Frazier, Robeson. The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.
French, Howard. China’s second continent: how a million migrants are building a new empire in Africa, first edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Lee, Ching Kwan. “The Spectre of Global China,” New Left Review 89.II. October 2014: 28-65.
Lin, Chun. The Transformation of Chinese Socialism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
Liu, Kang. Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and their Western Contemporaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.
Zhang, Li and Ong, Aiwha. Privatizing China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.
Zethu Matebeni, The University of Cape Town: Yek’aban’iPride? To Whom Does Pride Belong?
Pride, often-called “gay” pride or pride march/parade, is a very contested and important moment in lesbian, gay, bisexual and to some extent, transgender life. It forms the main calendar event highlight for many LGBT or queer people across the world. Resistance, transgressive, subversive, claiming space, celebration, desirability, consumption or visibility often are the main key themes scholars focus on when considering pride (De Waal and Manion, 2006; Kates and Belk, 2001; McFarland and Bruce, 2013, Nyanzi, 2014). Undoubtedly, pride events are geared around all these as well as to challenge “dominant attitudes towards homosexuality” and to “contest an existing power” (McFarland Bruce, 2013:613, 619). Drawing on the GALA (gay and lesbian memory in action) archive, participant observations and interviews with numerous pride participants, vendors and organisers, this seminar seeks to shift the gaze on pride in South Africa, over thirty years since its inception, by taking seriously the role that social movements play in reshaping a “queer” Africa.
* Provisional list. The final list of abstracts will be posted in due course.