Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two New Critical Animal Studies Titles

Two recent books published you should check out. 

Rodopi Books just released the second title of their Critical Animal Studies Book Series. “Framing Farming: Communication Strategies for Animal Rights” by Carrie P. Freeman.

"To what extent should animal rights activists promote animal rights when attempting to persuade meat-lovers to stop eating animals?

Contributing to a classic social movement framing debate, Freeman examines the animal rights movement’s struggles over whether to construct farming campaign messages based more on utility (emphasizing animal welfare, reform and reduction, and human self-interest) or ideology (emphasizing animal rights and abolition). Freeman prioritizes the latter, “ideological authenticity,” to promote a needed transformation in worldviews and human animal identity, not just behaviors. This would mean framing “go veg” messages not only around compassion, but also around principles of ecology, liberty, and justice, convincing people “it’s not fair to farm anyone”.

Through a unique frame analysis of vegan campaign materials (from websites, to videos, to bumper stickers) at five prominent U.S. animal rights organizations, and interviews with their leaders, including Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Baur, Freeman answers questions, such as: How is the movement defining core problems and solutions regarding animal farming and fishing? To which values are activists appealing? Why have movement leaders made these visual and rhetorical strategic choices – such as deciding between appealing to human self-interest, environmentalism, or altruism? To what extent is the animal rights movement actually challenging speciesist discrimination and the human/animal dualism?

Appealing to both scholars and activists, Framing Farming distinctively offers practical strategic guidance while remaining grounded in animal ethics and communication theory. It not only describes what 21st century animal rights campaigns are communicating, it also prescribes recommendations for what they should communicate to remain culturally resonant while promoting needed long-term social transformation away from using animals as resources."


Chapter 1: Introduction
Part I. Overview of Animal Rights, Vegetarianism, and Communication
Chapter 2: Ethical Views on Animals as Fellows & as Food
Chapter 3: Activist Communication Strategy & Debates
Part II. How U.S. Animal Rights Organizations Frame Food Campaign Messages
Chapter 4: Defining Problems & Culprits, Proposing Solutions
Chapter 5: Appealing to Values – Constructing a Caring Vegan Identity
Chapter 6: Appealing to Altruism or Self-Interest?
Chapter 7: How Movement Leaders Explain Their Strategic Choices
Part III. Strategic Communication Recommendations For Vegan Activism
Chapter 8: Activists’ Latest Insights & Projections
Chapter 9: My Recommendations for Ideological Authenticity in Framing Animal Rights

Carrie P. Freeman is an Associate Professor of Communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Her scholarship on media ethics, activist communication, and representation of animal rights issues has been published in over 15 books and journals. A vegan and grassroots activist for almost two decades, she currently hosts radio programs on animal and environmental protection on WRFG-Radio Free Georgia.

(2) Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed

Religious arguments for animal rights and liberation are fairly common in the literature on the animal question and the animal condition. Meanwhile, arguments considering animal liberation from a deliberately secular perspective are virtually nonexistent. In Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed, Kim Socha initiates the conversation by exploring how the concept of religion is inherently antithetical to animal liberation. She also challenges secularists to view the world differently, free from religion's cultural baggage. Finally, Animal Liberation and Atheism is a call for everyone to consider developing a system of ethics disengaged from anthropocentric and speciesist mythologies so that needless violence against all beings and the environment may diminish.

Kim Socha, Ph.D., Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Women, Destruction, and the Avant-Garde: A Paradigm for Animal Liberation (Rodopi: 2011) and is a contributing editor to Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism (McFarland Publishing: 2013) and Defining Critical Animal Studies: A Social Justice Approach for Liberation (Peter Lang: 2014). She has also published on topics such as Latino/a literature, surrealism, critical animal studies, and composition pedagogy. Kim is an English professor and activist for animal liberation, drug policy reform, and transformative justice.

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Materialism and Anti-Racism

In a recent facebook thread, there was a discussion about speculative realism and new materialism (and allied groups) relationship to feminism, queer theory, and anti-racist philosophy. In that thread, I pointed out some of the obvious new materialist thinkers working on feminist and/or queer theory fields. What I want to do here is collect the works where thinkers use new materialist insights to think through anti-racism. This list will be incomplete, and I welcome anyone who wants to add to the bibliography (I will edit this post as necessary). Also, by new materialists I am using the term in the broadest sense. I mean here thinkers who are broadly engaged in new materialism, speculative realism, non-representational theory, constructivist philosophy, posthumanism, and generally all the headings that can be thought under the metaphysical/ontological/non-human turn. I have also decided to write some very quick summaries of each text. The summaries are not super great, but should give you a sense of how the text deals with race and new materialism.

Mel Chen: Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Chen explores the ways that we navigate what we consider to be animate, to be living or dead. In so doing she particularly explores the ways that certain material objects come to be racialized, and she explores the ways other beings become de-racialized and neutered.

Michael Hames-García, "How Real is Race?," which can be found either in his book, Identity Complex, or in the edited volume Material Feminisms. In this essay Hames-García engages Barad's work on intra-action in order to think about the ontological realities (and limits) of race.

Donna Jones: The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy: Négritude, Vitalism, and Modernity. Jones explores how vitalist discourses, including in Nietzsche and Bergson, were implicated in racism and anti-Semitism. She also explores the way that vitalism continues in thinkers like Deleuze and Grosz. Furthermore, Jones explores the way that Négritude cannot be fully understood outside of the vitalist tradition.

Fred Moten: In The Break: The Aesthetics Of The Black Radical Tradition, and his essay, "The Case of Blackness." I talk briefly about these texts in this post. Moten work, principally aesthetic, speaks of an "animative materiality."

Jasbir Puar: Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, and also her essay, "'I'd Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess: Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory." In both, Puar uses assemblage theory to try to challenge and extend the concept of intersectionality.

Arun Saldanha: "Reontologising race: the machinic geography of phenotype." Saldanha is interested in understanding race as a material ontology, and as a machinic assemblage.

Okay, what obvious things did I miss? What non-obvious things did I miss, and also need to make sure I read?


I thought about trying determine what counted as new materialist/ontological turn/etc., and if it really dealt with anti-racism. But I decided it was outside of my scope. I will just post the lists suggested from commentators. When lots of suggestions occur for an author, I randomly just chose one, read the comments for more. A lot of these are great suggestions. Also, I highly suggest reading the comments, there are lots of great stuff in there.

Simone Bignall: Postcolonial Agency: Critique and Constructivism;
Bignall and Patton (Eds.): Deleuze and the Postcolonial
Tony Bennett: Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism
Helen Verran: "A Postcolonial Moment in Science Studies: Alternative Firing Regimes of Environmental Scientists and Aboriginal Landowners."
Mario Blaser: "Ontology and indigeneity: on the political ontology of heterogeneous assemblages."
Marisol de la Cadena: "Indigenous Cosmopilitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections Beyond 'Politics'"
John Law: After Method: Mess in Social Science Research
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul

Carlos Amador:
Arun Saldanha and Jason Adams (Eds): Deleuze and Race.
Michael Taussig: Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing 

Jairus Victor Grove:
Glissant Poetics of Relation
Castro, The Enemy's Point of View
Muecke, Ancient and Modern: Time, Culture and Indigenous Philosophy
João Biehl: Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment
Danny Hoffman's The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Sergio González Rodríguez: The Femicide Machine
Octavia Butler: Bloodchild

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oppression and Thing-Power: Some Thoughts on Robin James' Thoughts on Vibrant Matter

I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. -- Frantz Fanon, Black Skins/White Masks, p. 77

Robin James has two great posts up over at her place (here and here) on Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, and you need to go read those. It's fine, do it now, we'll wait.

Oh good, you read it? Awesome.

So, I started trying to write one long post responding, and that got unwieldy. So, instead I am going to focus on one argument in her post, and ideally I will go back and respond to other bits of James' post. However, if you go and look through my blog titles, you will see a lot of "Part I"s and very few "Part II"s. So, the likelihood that I get around to responding to every part I want to seems small.

So, before we go further, I want to say some thing about how I come to this topic. For a while now, I have been trying to think through four different types of philosophical positions. The first is poststructuralist positions found in thinkers like Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Kelly Oliver, etc. The second is new materialist/constructivist positions found in thinkers like Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, etc. The third is decolonial and anti-racist positions found in thinkers like Maria Lugones, Angela Davis, Gloria Anzaldua, etc. And lastly the work of ecofeminists found in thinkers like Lori Gruen, Carol Adams, Chris Cuomo, etc. There are, of course, plenty of thinkers who fit in more than one of those categories (Spivak, Sara Ahmed, Stacy Alaimo, etc.). But the important part is that these four positions often exist in tension with each other, and I don't always have easy answers to those tensions. So, the goal here is to blog out loud about some of the different tensions that James' posts raises for me. One other preliminary point: I am not particularly interested here in some sort of defense of Bennett per se. So, occasionally James' posts seem to move from discussing Bennett and vital materialism, to indicating a criticism of broader understandings of new materialism. And I what I am trying to do here is try to mobilize some of the things I think are helpful or interesting from new materialism (including Bennett). So, this has less to do with disagreeing with James, and more to do with my trying to clarify to myself some of the tensions in my own work. And there is a lot I don't disagree with James about. For example, when James argues:
So while Bennett says “I cannot envision any polity so egalitarian that important human needs, such as health or survival, would not take priority” (104), I’m arguing, via Beauvoir, that precisely what we need to do is de-center the human in practice as well as in theory. And that will probably feel like “death” to those of us accustomed to having our health and survival more-or-less fully supported by the state, by capital, by patriarchal white supremacy, and so on.
I agree in advance.

On the issue of Ideal Theory/Oppression. 

Okay, there is a lot going on here, and I am having trouble with the argument. There seems to be two ways that oppression is working here. One is that oppressed people actually make less of a difference on the world, because of the structures of their oppression. The other concerns this word legible. That would seem to indicate that oppressed people make as much (if not more) difference in the world, it is merely that their difference is disavowed. So, if we take the concrete example given:
For example, women have always practiced creative arts, but for most of history (and arguably even still today) creative genres that were predominantly by and/or for women–needlepoint, chick lit, etc.–have been seen as something other than “real” or “fine” art (see Parker & Pollock’s “Old Mistresses” for an early version of this argument). Women’s work doesn’t really “count” as such–the situation of patriarchy prohibits them from positive development, so to speak.
Okay, so in this example women are producing art, but their art is disavowed as mere craft. This is why there are quotations marks around the word count, right? Because of course important art is being done by women in this example. So, if we mean oppressed people's differences are disavowed, it would strike me that theories that try to undo disavowals of who and what makes a difference would be at least a move in the right direction. So if we follow Beauvoir in saying that oppressed people are turned into things, doesn't the move to talk about thing-power mean that the productions of the oppressed become more legible? This leads us into the discussion of Ranciere's critique post-political consensus.

 Okay, so James makes the following comment after quoting Ranciere:
Universal envoicement actually is “not the liberation” from silencing but the “loss” (Disagreement 102) of political mechanisms for addressing oppression. In giving voice to all matter, is Bennett disappearing vital materialism’s constitutive outside (the out-out-side, so to speak) behind a claim for universal envoicement?
There is something to this, but what does one do with Ranciere's support for declarations of rights? If we look at his article, "Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?," we see Ranciere supporting declarations of equality of anyone to anyone. Why? Because, to use a phrase from his On the Shores of Politics, it provides the part that has no part opportunities to create syllogisms of emancipation. The syllogism follows this way, This declaration claims we are all equal, this incident of oppression shows us not being equal, therefore something has to change to make us equal. In other words, universal declarations of equality are important because they allow the chance to produce the logic of tort, to force a recognition of the wrong to come to the fore. This, of course, is also a response to James' critique of the politics of exception. It seems to me that Ranciere would believe that a formal declaration of equality is better than a formal exclusion because at least we would have a better chance of recognizing the wrong in the latter. In the same way, I think that affirming the power of things and nonhuman actors provides us with a chance to recognize those beings who have been disavowed. What matters is refusing to close the political order, and staying open to the reality that our distribution of the sensible needs to change. That there will always exist beings that remain from any account, and that resist the counting order.

And that brings us to the amazing opening line of Fred Moten's In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, where he writes, "The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist." In the introduction of that book, Moten speaks of "animative materiality" (p. 7) and "animateriality" (p. 18). I do not think it would be wrong to say that Moten is forwarding an argument that could be read as part of new materialism. I want to forward this argument a little more by looking at a passage from Moten's later essay, "The Case of Blackness." In it, at one point Moten is exploring the Fanon quotation I used as an epigraph to this post. Moten writes:
What if the thing whose meaning or value has never been found finds things, founds things? What if the thing will have founded something against the very possibility of foundation and against all anti- or post-foundational impossibilities? What if the thing sustains itself in that absence or eclipse of meaning that withholds from the thing the horrific honorific of “object”? At the same time, what if the value of that absence or excess is given to us only in and by way of a kind of failure or inadequacy—or, perhaps more precisely, by way of a history of exclusion, serial expulsion, presence’s ongoing taking of leave—so that the non-attainment of meaning or ontology, of source or origin, is the only way to approach the thing in its informal (enformed/enforming, as opposed to formless), material totality? Perhaps this would be cause for black optimism or, at least, some black operations. Perhaps the thing, the black, is tantamount to another, fugitive, sublimity altogether. Some/thing escapes in or through the object’s vestibule; the object vibrates against its frame like a resonator, and troubled air gets out. The air of the thing that escapes enframing is what I’m interested in—an often unattended movement that accompanies largely unthought positions and appositions. (pp. 181-182)
I'm moving too quickly to give the sort of attention that Moten's texts demand, but I would hope that it might be possible to understand an animative materiality. And this might provide a different way of examining the paradox of both a subject and an object, both a thing and not a thing. And it might also remind us that there is always a fugitive, haunted air that escapes in these vibrating objects.

Okay, two counter-arguments to what I wrote above (remember when I said I am just talking aloud about some tensions that I haven't completely answer to myself yet?)

(1) The movement to try and say, "Well, if oppression proceeds by turning marginalized people into things, then we should understand the power of things" reflects a similar problem that occurs in critiques of humanism within critical animal studies. So, in the beginning of Alexander Weheliye's recent Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human, he argues that animal studies and posthumanism proceed as if Man is a category that all human beings have equal access too, and that the failure to recognize that is not the case undermines their arguments (pp. 9-11). Now, I think he is being a little too dismissive here, but I also think his main point is a serious one. If we look at the tradition of decolonial philosophers like Fanon, Wynter, Césaire, and Maldonado-Torres we see some of the strongest and best critiques of humanism. We also see, however, a constant move to argue for a better humanism, as well. Those of us on the critical animal studies side are always wanting to say something like, "We agree with the critique of humanism, lets move on from there." And this is something I have talked about before (see, for example, here). I don't have a good answer, but I do think that any movement that does not take seriously questions of dignity alongside questions of who has the protection to be able to declare "I am an animal," or "I am an a thing" are going to end up in bad spaces. But, that is still not an answer.

(2) The other critique to what I wrote is linked with the post I made, "The Right of Obscurity Must Be Respected." Making ourselves more attuned to other beings also needs to take into account the sorts of violences that Glissant understood to happen under the idea of comprehension, and also respond to the problem of what Hartman class hypervisibility. There is a type of violence that can come from refusing intersubjective recognition, but there is also a type of violence that can come from refusing the right of opacity (of that air that escapes).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CFP: Panel for When Species Invade at AAG

Call for Papers: Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, 21-25 April 2015, Chicago Illinois
Session Title: When Species Invade: Towards a Political Invasion Ecology.
Session Organizer: Matthew Rosenblum (University of Kentucky), Adam Keul (University of Connecticut- Avery Point)

Scholars from a range of fields loosely organized under the banner of ‘political ecology’ have become increasingly attentive to the lives of non-human actors. Political ecologists in geography have situated their research in sites as diverse as the laboratory and the slaughterhouse, spaces where non-human life is made and unmade, to the end of showing the relevance of non-human bodies in socio-spatial processes. The turn toward affect, experimentation, and liveliness in the ecological humanities and social sciences has produced fruitful accounts of the intimacies involved in ‘when species meet’ but has left much about the being ‘out of place,’ the radically contingent, irredeemably destructive, or so-called invasive species, yet to be said. What has been said is often preoccupied with the existing vocabularies of invasiveness and the ways in which the rhetoric of invasion ecology is linked to rhetoric’s of colonialism, nationalism (Olwig 2003, Groning & Wolschke-Bulmahn 2003), xenophobia (Subramaniam 2001), etc. Of course the link between the discourses of the natural sciences and modes of human marginalization is important since such taxonomic strategies have facilitated “beastly behavior toward the animalized and the naturalized” (Coates 2006; 135). But beyond the narcissistic anthropocentrism which problematizes invasion ecology because of its effect on human communities are the violently excluded bodies of the invasive and the feral. In many ways the popular discussions of invasiveness have abounded to the detriment of exploring questions of how metaphor and discourse motivate agents to act upon the world (Bono 2003) and whether or not those actions are commensurate with a worthwhile ethical framework. After all, “the search for a precise lexicon of terms and concepts in invasion ecology is not driven by concerns for just semantics” (Pyšek et al. 2004; 131), it is about action, and surely a process of categorization that is meant to decide which beings belong and which do not has real, felt, material, consequences. While the discursive focus takes furry, leafy, and other invasive bodies as its object, these beings are, ironically absent. Discussions about what nomenclature is best suited to categorize certain forms of nonhuman life have virtually ignored the fact that the practice of invasion ecology implicates humans as well as nonhumans in an economy of violence directed at the attainment of a certain ecological ideal (Robbins & Moore 2013) through the use of “quarantine, eradication, and control” (Elton [1958] 2000; 110). In this light, even many of the most critically aware scholars has failed to ask questions about the value of invasive lives and whether killing them is in line with a truly political ecology, one that views “ecological systems as power-laden rather than politically inert” (Robbins 2012; 13) and one includes non-human lives as subjects of politics rather than objects.

The aim of this session is to move beyond the mere discourse of invasiveness and explore alternative ways of both politicizing the science and practice of invasion ecology and bringing invasive entities, both alive and dead back into the discussions that implicate them. Topics might include, but should not be limited to:
-Queer critiques of ecological futurism

-Emotional geographies of ecological loss

-The ‘invasavore’ movement

-Non-constructivist approaches to invasiveness

-The biopolitics of invasive species management

-New directions in the discussion of the rhetoric of invasiveness

-The conflict between environmental ethics and animal ethics

-Invasiveness and landscape studies

-Animal Diaspora and non-human mobility

-Political ecologies of bordering

-Hunting power

-Invasiveness and the politics of the Anthropocene

-‘Novel ecologies’ and engagements with scientific concepts such as equilibrium, resilience, etc.  

Anyone interested in participating in this session should send a 250 word abstract to Matthew Rosenblum (matthew.rosenblum@uky.edu) by 15 October 2014. We will notify the authors of selected papers by 20 October 2014 and ask them to register on the AAG website and send us their pin by 1 November 2014.

Bono, J. J. "Why Metaphor? Toward a Metaphorics of Scientific Practice." Science Studies: Probing the Dynamics of Scientific Knowledge. Ed. Sabine Maasen and Matthias Winterhager. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2001. 215-33.
Coates, Peter. American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006
Elton, Charles S. The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. Chicago: U of Chicago, [1958] 2000.
Groning, Gert, and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn. "The Native Plant Enthusiasm: Ecological Panacea or Xenophobia?" Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 75-88.
Olwig, Kenneth R. "Natives and Aliens in the National Landscape." Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 61-74.
Pyšek, Petr, David M. Richardson, Marcel Rejmánek, Grady L. Webster, Mark Williamson, Jan Kirschner, Petr Pysek, and Marcel Rejmanek. "Alien Plants in Checklists and Floras: Towards Better Communication between Taxonomists and Ecologists." Taxon 53.1 (2004): 131.
Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2012.
Robbins, Paul, and S. A. Moore. "Ecological Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosing the Politics of the Anthropocene." Cultural Geographies 20.1 (2013): 3-19.
Subramaniam, Banu. "The Aliens Have Landed! Reflections on the Rhetoric of Biological Invasions." Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 2.1 (2001): 26-40.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CFP: 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North American Conference

14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference
April 17 – 19, 2015 @ Binghamton University
To SUBMIT: e-mail an abstract of no more than 500 words and short bio of no more than 150 words to icasnorthamerica@gmail.com.
The 2015 Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference is inviting papers, presentations, and workshops from scholars, activists, and artists working on ethical and political issues concerning non/human animals alongside the socioeconomic concerns that impact human populations. This year’s venue in Binghamton, NY offers a unique opportunity to investigate the intersections of oppression in a community with a rich history of campaigning for social justice for both non/human and human alike.
Critical Animal Studies as a field has become a powerful canopy for many convergent arenas of thought, politics, scholarship, and activism. In partnership with Binghamton University’s nationally ranked speech and debate program, the conference will seek to explore how the law has both served as an impetus and a hindrance to advancing the cause of social justice. The conference also aims to explore the tactics, strategies, and theories that exist outside legal instruments for change. The goal is to create an effective dialog and collaboration between people with differing viewpoints and opinions and not to create an echo chamber for a single-sided viewpoint on how non/human liberation can be achieved.
Presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length. We are receptive to different and innovative formats including but not limited to panels, performances, workshops, and public debates. You may propose individual or group presentations, but please specify the structure of your proposal. To submit e-mail an abstract of no more than 500 words and short bio of no more than 150 words to icasnorthamerica@gmail.com by January 10th, 2015. Please be sure to include your name(s), title, organizational affiliation(s), field of study or activism, and A/V needs in your submission.
We welcome presentations, panels, and workshops from a variety of academic and non-academic fields, including but not limited to:
Activism and advocacy
Aesthetic are artistic expressions of liberation theory
Biopolitical thought
Bioscience and biotechnology
Critical legal studies
Critical race theory
Cultural studies
Disability studies
Ecology and environmentalism
Ethics (applied and/or philosophical)
Feminist theory
Film and media studies
Intersectional streams of thought
Literary theory
Non/human liberation
Pedagogical approaches to teaching liberation
Political economy
Politics of incarceration
Postcolonial studies
Poststructuralist theory
Queer theory
For any questions concerning submission relevance, conference details, or in general e-mail us at icasnorthamerica@gmail.com.
We are also interested in soliciting people, groups, and organizations who are interested in tabling during the conference. If interested please contact us. More information concerning tabling will be forthcoming.
Please spread and share this information with anyone who may be interested in submitting or attending. Authors who have worked on edited collections are encouraged to submit panel proposals on the books with contributing authors presenting.

Monday, September 15, 2014

CFP: Kentucky's Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference

The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group invites you to participate in the fifth annual


February 26 – February 28, 2015
University of Kentucky | Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Keynote Address: Dr. Kimberly Tallbear (Anthropology, University of Texas)

Plenary Panel: Dr. Irus Braverman (Law & Geography, University of Buffalo), Dr. Jake Kosek (Geography, University of California, Berkeley) & Dr. Shiloh Krupar (Culture & Politics Program, Georgetown University)

Other conference events include: Paper sessions, Workshops, Round-table discussions, Panels, Undergraduate research symposium, Paper competitions and Field trips.

Online conference registration will open Monday, October 6, 2014 and close on Monday, November 17, 2014. The conference registration fee is $35 for graduate students and $70 for faculty and non-academics/practitioners. There is no fee for undergraduate participants.


The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group strongly encourages participants to organize their own sessions. To organize your own session, please:

1. Draft a call for papers (CFP). For guidance, reference the wide variety of CFPs from last year's conference available via the political ecology working group website.

2. Email your CFP to the political ecology working group at ukpewg@gmail.com. We will help you to circulate your CFP by posting it on our website and via our twitter feed, but you should also distribute it among your colleagues and to relevant disciplinary listservs.

3. When you have finalized the details, please send the Google Form on our website to confirm the final orientation of your panel, including participant names, institutions, abstracts, titles, discussants, organizers, chairs and other relevant information. Please be as detailed as possible and send this information before the final registration deadline, November 17th, 2014.

4. All participants in your session must have registered and paid by the regular registration deadline. As such, we suggest having the deadline to respond to your CFP at least a week prior to the conference registration deadline.

Suggestions and reminders for session organizers:
When thinking about your panel remember that each session is 100 minutes long, and we strictly limit you to two session slots for reasons pertaining to space and time constraints.
Please feel free to think more broadly than traditional paper sessions - consider workshops, panel discussions, lightning talks or other alternative session styles. Please email the political ecology email address if you have questions or concerns about organizing a session.
Also please keep in mind that undergraduates are strongly encouraged to submit their papers to our annual Undergraduate Symposium.
DOPE participants can only present in one paper session, and at the maximum, serve as a discussant or panelist in one additional session. We ask that participants limit themselves to two conference activities at most due to scheduling limitations.


While we strongly encourage participants to submit abstracts in response to CFPs being circulated (see above), we will continue to accept individual abstracts. Abstracts submitted to the conference rather than in response to specific CFPs will be sorted thematically, and are not guaranteed placement in the conference schedule.

Abstracts or proposals should be 200-300 words in length and include titles and three to five keywords.  Please submit only one abstract. The deadline for abstract submissions is the conference registration deadline: Monday, November 17, 2014.

Please visit www.politicalecology.org to register.

Follow us on Twitter at @ukpewg or on Facebook as the University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group.

Please send any questions to the DOPE organizing committee at ukpewg@gmail.com.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whose Joy? Whose Sadness? Building Livable Communities

How do we build inclusive, joyful communities? I believe that building communities where flourishing, livable lives are possible are important projects for us to undertake. But the ideas of joy and sadness are not given terms.

* * *

Todd May recently weighed in on L'Affaire Cogburn.  In his comments, Todd May wrote:
As Foucault once remarked, one does not have to be sad in order to be militant. One can go further: a sad militancy is one of those ways the left has developed whose major contribution seems to be to increase our marginalization.
Sure, I remember that, from his preface to the english edition of Anti-Oedipus. But May's interpretation here (and perhaps in Foucault's original stance), this assumes we know what joy and sadness are, and that they might be the same thing for the same people.

Let's look at two quick footnotes from Steven Shaviro's excellent book, Without Criteria:
This implies that Whitehead rejects Spinoza’s basic principle of conatus, the claim that “each thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being,” and that this striving is “the actual essence of the thing itself” (de Spinoza 1991, 108: Ethics, Part III, propositions 6 and 7). For Whitehead, things strive not to persist in their own being, but rather to become other than they were, to make some alteration in the “data” that they receive. An entity’s “satisfaction” consists not in persisting in its own being, but in achieving difference and novelty, in introducing something new into the world. (p. 19, n3)
Whitehead’s rejection of Spinoza’s monism in favor of William James’s pluralism goes along with his rejection of Spinoza’s conatus in favor of James’s (and Bergson’s) sense of continual change, becoming or process, or what he also calls creativity. (p. 22, n6)
We could potentially affirm that both are true, that for some joy consists in preservation of the self, and for others joy (or satisfaction) consists in difference and becoming otherwise. And all of this, of course, will change what you see as sad, or joyful, militancy. If you see joy as persisting in your being, than anything that seeks to change how that being interacts and relates, and anyone who seeks to create new relationships, can only be perceived as killjoys.

* * * 

I have written before about Sara Ahmed's provocative and compelling essay, "Feminist Killjoys and other Willful Subjects" (the essay was expanded in The Promise of Happiness, and, Ahmed has just published a new book entitled Willful Subjects).  Ahmed wishes to "take the figure of the feminist killjoy seriously." She goes on to argue:
The figure of the feminist killjoy makes sense if we place her in the context of feminist critiques of happiness, of how happiness is used to justify social norms as social goods (a social good is what causes happiness, given happiness is understood as what is good). As Simone de Beauvoir described so astutely "it is always easy to describe as happy a situation in which one wishes to place [others]." [...] To be involved in political activism is thus to be involved in a struggle against happiness. Even if we are struggling for different things, even if we have different worlds we want to create, we might share what we come up against. Our activist archives are thus unhappy archives. Just think of the labor of critique that is behind us: feminist critiques of the figure of "the happy housewife;" Black critiques of the myth of "the happy slave"; queer critiques of the sentimentalisation of heterosexuality as "domestic bliss." The struggle over happiness provides the horizon in which political claims are made. We inherit this horizon. [...] We can consider the relationship between the negativity of the figure of the feminist killjoy and how certain bodies are "encountered" as being negative. Marilyn Frye argues that oppression involves the requirement that you show signs of being happy with the situation in which you find yourself. As she puts it, "it is often a requirement upon oppressed people that we smile and be cheerful. If we comply, we signify our docility and our acquiescence in our situation." To be oppressed requires that you show signs of happiness, as signs of being or having been adjusted. For Frye "anything but the sunniest countenance exposes us to being perceived as mean, bitter, angry or dangerous."
You can see two currents here. The first is that the feminist killjoy, or more generally the activist killjoy, is the one who is constantly struggling against situations that are declared to be happy. The second current is that oppression often demands that the oppressed declare their happiness in their own oppression (we will return to this second current later). The first current allows us to examine May's original quotation in greater context. It comes as part of this whole paragraph:
To add another example, I know people whose general commitments I would call feminist reject that label because they see feminists as angry man-hating types who just want to make men feel bad. Now, of course, I don't lay all that at the doorstep of feminists. The right does an excellent job of slurring feminism. But I have had the experience of being language-policed when it seems to me inappropriate (ex. by people who would never have escorted women into abortion clinics, as I have). And I think this does not do us credit. As Foucault once remarked, one does not have to be sad in order to be militant. One can go further: a sad militancy is one of those ways the left has developed whose major contribution seems to be to increase our marginalization.
The rather odd thing is the lack of transition that takes us from the discussion of feminism to the discussion of sad militants. He does not do the work to posit why someone challenging his discourse (even someone who lacks May's ethos), leads to sadness. But someone is sad here. Is it May? It is the feminist who "language-policed" him? There exists an ambiguity of where the sadness comes from, and who it is affecting. This leads us to this great blog post by Ahmed. In it, Ahmed argues that when someone points out a problem, it is often the person who perceives the problem who is then perceived by others as the problem. Another long quotation:
When you expose a problem you pose a problem.  I have been thinking more about this problem of how you become the problem because you notice a problem. For example, when you make an observation in public that all the speakers for an event are all white men, or all but one, or all the citations in an academic paper are to all white men, or all but a few, these observations are often treated as the problem with how you are perceiving things (you must be perceiving things!). A rebuttal is often implied: these are the speakers or writers would just happen to be there; they happen to be white men but to make this about that would be to assume that they are here because of that. And so: by describing a gathering as ‘white men,’ we are then assumed to be imposing certain categories on bodies, reducing the heterogeneity of an event; solidifying through our own description something that is fluid. For example: I pointed out recently on Facebook that all the speakers for a Gender Studies conference were white. Someone replied that my statement did not recognise the diversity of the speakers. When perceiving whiteness is a way of not perceiving diversity, then diversity became a way of not perceiving whiteness. [...]  This is why the feminist killjoy remains such a negative stereotype (we affirm her given this negation): as if feminists are speaking out because they are miserable; or if feminism is an obstacle to our own happiness, such that she is what is in the way (feminism: how women get in the way of ourselves). It is implied that you would become well-adjusted if you could just adjust yourself to this world. Smile! The task then becomes self-modification: you have to learn not to perceive a problem; you have to let things fall. 
This last point from Ahmed is interesting and useful. Namely, there is something strangely perverse about the demand that people be joyful in intolerable situations. Of course, such demands for resilience are rather commonplace these days.

* * *

Resilience is rapidly becoming one of the key ways of understanding present ways of governing the world. Robin James has taken up the concept of resilience in understanding how feminism and anti-racism on social media is seen as 'toxic' and 'vampiric.'
A similar claim has been (in)famously leveled against “feminism,” especially “intersectional feminism”: it vampirically drains the lifeblood of the progressive, radical left. [...] Resilience is a specific form of subjectification that normalizes individuals and groups so that they efficiently perform the cultural, affective, and social labor required to maintain and reproduce a specific configuration of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. More simply, resilience is the practice that makes you a cog in the machine of social reproduction. [...] In both essays, feminists, especially feminists of color, are tasked with manufacturing the raw materials–negative affects like guilt or anxiety–on which “good” subjects labor, and, through that labor, generate human capital (e.g., radical cred, moral/political goodness, proper femininity, and so on). They bring us down so we can then perform our upworthiness for liking, favoriting, clicking, sharing audiences. Resilience is part of the means of production, and the “toxicity” of WOC feminists is the first step in this supply chain. Black women do the labor of generating the toxicity that then becomes the raw material upon which white women work; white women do the affective/emotional labor of overcoming, which then translates into tangible employment (writing gigs, etc.)
This narrative of overcoming can be seen in the way that those who are concerned with inclusive language are labeled as policing language, engaging in newspeak, score-keeping, and political correctness. This posits those who are attacking inclusive language as being rebels, truth tellers, concerned about the issues and philosophy. And the failure of social justice movements get laid at the feet of those who want inclusivity. Yet, I really do believe both groups want to create joyful communities.

* * *

The struggle to build communities that create livable lives is not an easy one. And I do believe that many complicated questions about how to go about building such communities are ahead of us. But, a lot of this discussion is centered around the notion of calling out. Let us look at Todd May's last paragraph:
This last bit should not be taken to mean that we should never confront people on their language. My point is rather that in the question of whether to confront, a little judgment is called for, and perhaps a little fellow feeling for people whose behavior actually puts them in the right (i.e. left) camp. It's one thing to call out a racist who uses an offensive racial stereotype. It's quite another to call out someone who aligns her behavior with a sensitivity to LGBT issues and, among a set of like-minded friends, calls something "gay." We are none of us moral saints (thank goodness), and, if our politics are in the right place, I think we can afford to let some things go. (To be sure, language can shape perception. But not all instances of it do.) And alternatively, we need to be aware that not letting certain things go is no substitute for committed political work.
I want to address the last point, first. I am not sure how many people confine their only work to not letting things go on the internet. I am sure there are some. But because many of us primarily only meet each other in our words (I have only briefly met in person only one person I have cited or talked about in this post), it can seem like all we do is reflect on language. Building communities can never be about just getting the language right. I agree with May on this point. But I do believe if we are going to create the sort of inclusive and joyful communities we want, we have to affirm the right to be to those we include. And for people that society has systemically learned to unhear, unsee, and unknow (or to only hear, see, and know in particular pregiven narratives), creating spaces where different narratives can be understood is not a given. And sometimes it is going to require getting the language right. But let us look at May's other point, that we shouldn't call out people whose politics are in the right place, maybe the dialectic is not one of either calling people out or letting things go.

A comment on the original blog post by Cogburn written by "anonladygrad" suggested an article, "Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable," written by Ngọc Loan Trần and published on Black Girl Dangerous. They write:
Because when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed. I picture “calling in” as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes; a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal. And yes, we have been configured to believe it’s normal to punish each other and ourselves without a way to reconcile hurt. We support this belief by shutting each other out, partly through justified anger and often because some parts of us believe that we can do this without people who fuck up. But, holy shit! We fuck up. All of us. 
I fully admit to having been called out (and called in) on all sorts of statements, beliefs, and behaviors in my life. Sometimes it has been over stuff that I still passionately think I was right on. Sometimes it has been stuff that was incredibly awful for to have said or done, and I have mumbled excuses and apologies, and felt more than a little shame. And sometimes, I have been called out on stuff, and been sure of my rightness, that I got very defensive. And it wasn't until later that I realized I was in the wrong. In general, I have been gifted with friends, colleagues, and mentors who have been incredibly generous to me. They have understood my mistakes, and have often called me in. They have put up with my bullshit, or confusion, or the sort of epistemic parallax that does not let me understand the weight and scars of certain histories, words, and knowledges. And because they are truly generous, they didn't just put up with, but worked to change me, and in so doing gave me the sort of joy and satisfaction that comes from difference and becoming otherwise. They didn't have to do that. Far too often we expect the most marginalized members of our society to have to constantly explain and justify the necessity of their existence. And I hope we can fumble together, to build different worlds, different futures, and different narratives.