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Category: Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology

De-racing the Border

After a few weeks silence due to other commitments, I am returning with the eighth blog post in the series to attend to the themes of borders and mobilities. My comments respond to Reece Jones’s book, Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move which in sum I consider a good example of a lacuna I have observed at the heart of much critical thinking on the nature of borders – their overwhelming failure to consider the centrality of race. I will use the opportunity offered by the reading of this book to consider why I believe a race critical analysis should be central to work on borders and migration, what the dangers of ignoring race might be for an understanding of current urgencies. A broader question of what a reading which conceives of borders as inherently violent without thinking about the racialised nature of this violence means for our understanding of what the border does is one I leave for later on but which is triggered by the reading of this book to which the theme of violence is key. While my comments today will be relatively brief, I see these questions as being of major importance for my wider project on race and relationality; how can we suture in much of the vital work that is done in what we coul call ‘critical border studies’ into a framework that is attentive to race?

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Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider, a response

This week we read Satnam Virdee’s Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider, a book which takes seriously the role of Irish Catholics, Jews, African and South Asian migrants in the British left from the 1700s to the 1980s. I have committed to writing shorter blogs in the interests of leaving room for other work, so this week’s reflections are quite short and respond directly to the book’s content. In particular, I was interested in three elements of the book: the role of nationalism in the cooptation of the white working class into Britishness and away from internationalist class solidarity, the often unspoken significance of whiteness in the construction of class from a left-wing perspective, and thirdly, the legacy of politic; blackness and its discontents.

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Black sousveillance against ‘prototypical whiteness’: Thinking with Simone Browne

This is the seventh blog in the Race Critical & Decolonial Sociology series. This week we are reading Darkmatters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne, recommended and gifted to me by Jessie Daniels (thank you!). This book is a detailed study of how our understandings of contemporary practices of surveillance are deeply enhanced by the historicization of these practices in the history of racial slavery in the United States; it is thus focused on the United States and the particularity of the racialisation of blackness that defines that country. However, in its drawing out of several key themes – the surveillance of blackness, the retaliatory methods of sousveillance whose history can be traced from the slaveships to the present, the questions of epidermilisation, branding and visibility in a digital age against the backdrop of what Browne calls ‘prototypical whiteness’ – the book furthers the work of relationality I have been tracing since the outset of this series. For example, Browne adds to and deepens the critiques of Foucault laid out by Alexander Weheliye, focusing on the deraced reading of panopticism in Discipline and Punish.  Most significantly, she draws a thread between the inscription of race through epidermalisation as a form of control and commodification under slavery to contemporary biometrics as they are used in the implementation of the racialised carceral state today.

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Thinking blackly beyond bio politics and bare life

Alexander Weheliye’s 2014 book, Habeas Viscus is a vital critique of two dominant accounts of the limits and contours of humanity: Michel Foucault’s biopolitics and Giorgio Agamben’s bare life. But beyond providing us with a much needed problematisation of these two theories, what they omit, and the Eurocentrisms they reproduce, this book offers much more. In fact, despite the book’s framing around the critique of bare life and biopolitics, Habeas Viscus in my reading is really a call to see race – and thus the concept of the human – otherwise and a rallying call for Black thought and its centrality for making sense of modernity. Alexander Weheliye, a professor of African-American studies, is primarily a cultural-literary theorist/philosopher. His points of reference and his lyrical, evocative but dense writing style are harder for sociologists to access. Nevertheless, his insistence on placing Black feminist thought at the heart of this theorization of race, the human and the ‘possibilities of other worlds’ (Weheliye 2014: 2) means that there is a lot that race critical students interested in the function of race but also the constant possibility of self-emancipation in the face of its structuring constraints can learn from his groundbreaking book.

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Learning from Lisa Lowe

Lisa Lowe‘s 2015 book, The Intimacies of Four Continents, is the impetus for this week’s blog, the fifth in my Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology series. This groundbreaking work challenges us to unread standard accounts of the development of capitalist modernity and political liberalism. It does not do this only by inserting race, gender and the colonial in order to disrupt these standard accounts. While this work is vital, Lisa Lowe goes several steps further. She reorients official histories by reading the archives against each other and juxtaposes this archaeological work with an unreading of standard texts from literature, autobiography and political philosophy. The Intimacies of Four Continents is not the kind of book that sociologists are used to reading, but neither is it a standard work of history, literature or philosophy as it is profoundly interdisciplinary. The book is an example par excellence of what a relational, interactive or connected account looks like, taking us several steps deeper into the discussion, begun in blogs 3 and 4, about the methodological and epistemological challenges of doing sociology with a truly global orientation.

The Intimacies of Four Continents contains so many multiple layers and such a rich account of interrelated histories that I will be unable to do it justice in its entirety here. I wish instead to focus on three aspects of the book: 1) its methodological contribution, which provides a concrete example of what a truly connected scholarship looks like; 2) most significantly for me, its emplacement of race squarely within liberalism; and 3) its insistence on the impossibility of separating an antiracist, anticolonial praxis from these histories and the consequent scholarship. This third point allows me to build on my comments regarding Du Bois’ activism, begun in my last blog, as Lowe uses Du Bois and C.L.R. James’ work as exemplars of what such active scholarship looks like.

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The scholars, scholarship and scholarly histories denied

W.E.B. Du Bois

This is the fourth blog post in my Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology series for my course at The New School Department of Sociology in Spring 2017. This week we are beginning to discuss books, mainly new works, in race critical studies. The rest of the syllabus is here (leave a comment if you want access to the Google folder with all the readings). This week we are beginning with  discussion of Aldon Morris’s The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. My review of the book can be read here. And you can listen to Aldon Morris discussing the book here. In this post, I attempt to link Morris’s discussion of Du Bois’s intellectual legacy for global sociology to a discussion of both the race blindness of sociology and, Zine Magubane puts it, its paradoxical foundations in wholly racial social contexts. I ask what Du Bois’s invocation to treat race as central, and not marginal, to sociology (and the social sciences in general) signals in terms of the challenges facing sociology today in the face of the pressing need for a truly global sociology attentive to the formational role played by race and coloniality. In this I am guided by the vital work of Gurminder Bhambra and would like to thank RCDS student William Borstall for suggesting the work of Zine Magubane on ‘America’s Racial Ontology’ which I did not previously know.

“Racism is more objected to than understood in sociology” (Barnor Hesse 2014: 141).

“For the rest of his very long life, Du Bois was to be politically and theoretically as actively engaged in the global, world-systemic series of ‘gaze from below’ anti-color line, therefore anti-colonial cum antiapartheid struggles, as he was to be in his own ‘local’ U.S. one – a position Fanon would similarly adopt” (Wynter 2015: 51-2).

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On relationality in race research

This is the third contribution to the Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology blog series. In it I look at the argument advanced  by David Theo Goldberg (2009) that a relational approach to the study of race and racism reveals more than a comparativist approach does. I propose, however, that before being able to discuss the relative adequacy of either approach, we must have a good understanding of what is being researched when we centre race in accounts of historical or contemporary social, political and economic processes.

In 2014 I published an article, Postracial Silences: The Othering of Race in Europe, in a book I co-edited with Hamburg sociologist Wulf D. Hund, Racism and Sociology.

I examined work by mainstream ‘migration, ethnicities and minorities’ (MEM) scholars in Europe. Through institutes and departments often aligned with policy-making, these scholars often receive the lion’s share of the funding to research issues which, from a race critical perspective, are wholly about race. Yet their work mainly tends to neglect, elide or even deny the salience of race. In my view there are three main reasons for this:

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Decolonising epistemologies

The second post in the Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology blog series is a round-up of some of the central debates in postcolonial and decolonial thinking about epistemology. The class had a very interesting discussion where for example the historicity of Ramon Grosfoguel’s timeline was interrogated. Students also tackled the thorny question, raised also by Arif Dirlik in his critique of postcolonial studies, about the validity of criticisms of imperialist or Eurocentric or what Boaventra De Sousa Santos calls ‘abyssal’ thought made by scholars who, while originating from the Global South (though not always) work at universities in the rich North, mainly the United States. We surmised that that this is a bind that we are essentially all mired it. However, that it is important to be aware of the real possibility for the coexistence of theorising and activism, thus not merely lauding the work of social movements in books and articles, but using any leverage we may have in the university to make space for them to represent themselves and to guide theory-making. This linked to the previous week’s discussion ‘Black Study, Black Struggle’ and the possibility of subverting the university to facilitate rather than thwart study in the socially transformative sense of the word.

What are the possibilities for social and political critique opened up by the decolonial approach.I shall examine the interconnections between postcolonial theory and the decolonial, uncovering the trajectory that began with Indian subaltern studies and Latin American autonomous social science, for example. I shall also examine the impact of a critical focus on race, gender and sexuality on the opening out of decolonial approaches. This work will go towards asking questions about the epistemological implications of taking a decolonial approach as well as examining the possibilities for transformative social and political action.

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Reflections on Black Study, Black Struggle

‘Black Study, Black Struggle’ by Robin D.G. Kelley

This is the first in a series of posts for my graduate course, Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology offered during my Hans Speier Visiting Professorship at The New School in New York (Spring 2017). See the syllabus here.

In Session 2, we discussed Robin D.G. Kelley’s article in The Boston Review and the responses to it from the perspective of the current challenges facing the United States and the world unleashed by the white supremacist Trump regime and asked what the role of the University could be from a race critical perspective.

Jenny Munro and panelists at the launch of the Free University of Western Sydney. Photo by Adriana Abu Abara.

In April 2016, the Free University of Western Sydney was launched by a group of local people – activists, teachers/educators and students – critical of the neoliberal university’s capacity to be a site for free study. I was honoured to be in attendance at the launch event which purposefully was a panel discussion between Aboriginal activists to address ‘the foundation of Australia’s racist architecture to aid in the development of a collective understanding of racial oppression.’ The discussion addressed the truth that, just as white Australia was built on the systematic dispossession of Aboriginal land, people and culture, its knowledge structures, including those within the university, serve to perpetuate these dispossessions. As such, no learning within the university, no matter how radical in purpose or tone, can on its own dismantle the structures of domination on which the persistence of Australia as a white settler colony depend. To think of an example that is relevant in my own teaching, in the context of my undergraduate course at Western Sydney University, The Racial State, it is insufficient to critique attachments to ‘Australia Day’ often displayed by students or to question the frequently repeated misconceptions about Aboriginal people (e.g. all Aboriginal people are given university places above members of all other groups irrespective of their attainment) in a room where Aboriginal students are either absent or in an extreme minority. It is insufficient to acknowledge country or even welcome Aboriginal speakers into the classroom to (for example Aunty Jenny Munro who came to talk about the struggles of the Redfern Tent Embassy) without asking why I, a recent migrant to Australia, with a European Union passport, is teaching on the continuities of race and racism rather than any number of Aboriginal scholars.

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Race Critical and Decolonial Sociology Syllabus

Race Critical and decolonial sociology is premised on the idea that to understand politics in western modernity requires placing race and coloniality central to analyses. The course will therefore be grounded in political sociological, theoretical and historical sociological readings of race, racism, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, genocide, and immigration and borders…

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Alana Lentin