Disjointed Responses to Educated Ice

Ice, you two most recent posts were so full of productive ideas I had a hard time narrowing and focusing my responses into something marginally coherent. This post is a collection of responses to various points you made and questions you asked, and it totally fails to cohere together as a whole.

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Representation vs Political Economy

I’m really glad you brought the political economy of the university into the discussion. It’s a really important point, an essential point, and I want to push it in a few ways. You begin by implying that analyses at the level of “the politics of representation” often occlude the role of political economy. For example, you say, regarding Curry and Drabinski’s response to Weaver and Stanley’s NYT piece on racial democracy:

This is not simply a point about the politics of representation, however. Curry and Drabinski argue that attention to work from within the black intellectual tradition would deepen the analysis Weaver and Stanley provide, moving it from a liberal framework – the question of the relation between liberal ideals of inclusion and fairness and the reality of exclusion and unfairness – to a more radical framework that centers on the mutation of white supremacist forms of domination from slavery, through the convict lease system, to the targeting of black liberationists as political prisoners and the growth of mass incarceration: a “racial realist” framework that indicts the very ideals liberalism claims we have simply failed to meet in this or that instance.

I wonder if we can’t apply this to the discipline more broadly. It seems to me that most attention to diversity in philosophy remains within this “liberal framework…of inclusion and fairness” that is mainly concerned with “the politics of representation”: how many women are keynoting your conference? On your syllabus? In your citations? How does this mainly liberal focus on representation–and, let’s just say it, it’s mainly about the representation of able-bodied, cis-gendered white women–obscure deeper problems?

How might this focus on representation occlude the “mutation,” to echo your language, of philosophical white supremacist patriarchy into something like adjunctification/contingency (which disproportionately impacts both students and faculty from underrepresented groups), the production of a permanently indebted class of precarious laborers, or the discipline’s complicity in an institution, the university, that participates in the PIC (e.g., through school-to-prison pipelines), and so on?

I totally agree that it’s really important to bring the political economy of the university into this discussion, and I’m wondering if this is one place to do so. For example, it seems like the focus on the representation issue seems to privilege white women and philosophers of color who aren’t in contingent positions (so, tenured and TT faculty). In other words, “representation” tends to focus on research (publications, keynote talks, etc.), and research is increasingly reserved only for the most privileged faculty at the most elite institutions. Does focusing on representation further marginalize most women and people of color in the discipline, who are in contingent positions? How might we retool our discussions of diversity so they account for the political economy of ‘representation’?

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The Fact

This is both about an ongoing conversation we’ve been having and something I’ve been wondering re: the “new materialisms” and the accusation that PoMo and post-structuralist philosophy/feminist philosophy focuses on “language” to the occlusion of “matter.”

I mentioned in an earlier post that some strains of 20th c French continental get dismissed via feminization. Your points at the end about gender and race not being analogies for one another are really important and good reminders to slow down (which I often need. To my earlier question that you quoted, I think it’s important to add that there’s a TON of great philosophical work by people of color IN FRENCH (Maghreb, n’est pas?). When one devalues 20th c French-language philosophy, as it is fashionable to do in some very trendy subfields in continental and, even, in feminist theory, aren’t you dismissing a really significant point of contact between “continental” philosophy and philosophical work by women and non-white, often non-European men? What are the racial and gender politics of OOO/new materialist moves away from 20th c French traditions in continental philosophy & feminist theory? When people like Barad charge philosophy with ignoring “the ‘fact’ of the matter,” what is the effect of that claim on half a century of commentary on and work inspired by Fanon’s “Fact of Blackness”?

It’s in this context that I want to let this superb point resonate for a minute:

This is really just a side note, but it is superbly ironic – from the point of view of philosophy, anyway – that the broadening of the curriculum to include women and people of color lead to the curriculum being more theoretical, and that this is precisely the problem.

I wonder if the other side of conservative dismissals of “feminism” like Rosenberg’s are progressive, indeed nominally “feminist” dismissals of feminist theory as, similarly, “too theoretical”? How does new materialism impugn, something like, say, Bhabha’s “The Location of Culture” as “too theorietical” or “just about language.” And what are the politics of this move away from PoMo feminism and PoCo theory towards “matter”? And what does “matter” mean if it’s what we attend to in turning away from “merely linguistic” feminism/poco theory/etc? I know Sara Ahmed has talked about some of this, but the question still itches my brain in ways that need some further scratching.

I’m really at the edge of my own knowledge here–I know enough to ask this question, but right now I don’t necessarily know enough to answer it in a way I would find satisfactorily rigorous.

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Respectability

I am super-duper looking forward to that post on respectability. I take it that you’re getting at some of this here:

So, where does this leave “diverse practitioners of philosophy,” as you ask? I love the depiction of them as the eternal irony of the community. We are like Sophia’s unmarriageable sisters, unschooled in femininity (as Hegel said, women gain education mysteriously, like plants, by osmosis, as it were), always asking the wrong questions at the wrong times, in front of the wrong people. We make her look bad. Sophia is just trying to teach her little sisters how to behave, how to have a sense of their place, so as to stop embarrassing her so much in front of her friends.

And this fab image of Sophia teaching her sisters to act like ladies–or at least ladies on the street and freaks in the bed–makes me think back to, um, a really canonical continental text on femininity and style–Derrida’s Spurs. Like Ludacris, Nietzsche and Derrida appropriate some of Sophia’s wild sisters in order to boost their radical cred as philosophers. So if WE want in we have to act like ladies, because only then can the dudes get their, I mean our, freak on?

Your point about Sophia’s unmarriagable sisters made me think more about the relationship between philosophical disciplinarity and marriage. Having a discipline is like having a role in kinship structures. Is makes you intelligible to institutions that dole out property (salaries, jobs, publications, etc.), status, and so on. I often feel like I’m in some netherworld between continental philosophy, musicology, cultural studies, and gender studies. Like, I don’t really belong in any of them, though the first two in the list are the most familiar to me because of my academic genealogy. It’s like going home for the holidays and going through the motions, which feels at once totally familiar and totally alien. That said, I know some really awesome scholars. I read lots of great stuff, and interact with fabulous, brilliant people. But these people are sort of all over the academy. And I wonder if they’re not like my queer family, my chosen family or my ‘chosen discipline.’ So, what I’m asking is: how do queer critiques of marriage pertain to/help us critique institutional disciplinarity? How can we imagine and strengthen ‘queer’ scholarly families?

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A final, completely underdeveloped question:

I wonder what happens when we think together (a) the increased awareness of the need to make philosophy a “safe” space for (mainly white, able-bodied, cis-gendered) women, and (b) the increased framing of women of color/WOC critique as “toxic.”

Last week the CU Boulder climate report came out, as did an article in The Nation about “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars.” This question really is just the outcome of thinking these two phenomena/discourses together. The Boulder report seems to be about protecting women from harassment by male colleagues, and the latter is about protecting white women from so-called harassment by black feminists and other feminists of color. When we talk about making philosophy a healthy and/or safe place for women, how does this play into centuries-long racial politics?

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  1. Pingback: Denken ist (Weiß)männersache: Philosophical Exceptionalism and the Politics of Respectability I | xcphilosophy

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