Monthly Archives: September 2018

The invention of race in the European Middle Ages. A research post

* Re-find also that Berkeley professor working on history of business, plantation and corporation.

Canonical critical race theory sees race as a modern invention, and often says it came in with the Enlightenment (sometimes moving back to the early modern period, but not earlier. This is not accurate. (See 261-62 for a list of major theorists who make this claim.)

In principle, then, race studies after the mid-20th century, and particularly in the last
three and a half decades, encourage a view of race as a blank that is contingently filled under an infinitely flexible range of historical pressures and occasions. The motility of race, as Ann Stoler puts it, means that racial discourses are always both ‘new and renewed’ through historical time (we think of the Jewish badge in premodernity and modernity), always ‘well-worn’ and ‘innovative’ (such as the type and scale of ‘final solutions’ like expulsion and genocide), and ‘draw on the past’ as they ‘harness themselves to new visions and projects’.
The ability of racial logic to stalk and merge with other hierarchical systems – such as class, gender, or sexuality – also means that race can function as class (so that whiteness is the color of medieval nobility), as ‘ethnicity’ and religion (Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia), or as sexuality (seen in the suggestion raised at the height of AIDS hysteria in the 1980s that gay people should be rounded up, and cordoned off, in the style of Japanese American internment camps in World War II). Indeed, the ‘transformational grammar’ of race through time means that the current masks of race are now overwhelmingly cultural, as witnessed since September 11, 2001.

This applies to the refusal of race generally:

Or, to put it another way: the refusal of race de-stigmatizes the impacts and consequences of certain laws, acts, practices, and institutions in the medieval period, so that we cannot name them for what they are, nor can we bear adequate witness to the full meaning of the manifestations and phenomena they install. The unavailability of race thus often colludes in relegating such manifestations to an epiphenomenal status: enabling omissions that have, among other things, facilitated the entrenchment and reproduction of foundational historiography in the academy and beyond. (266)

Race is always articulated differently and the Brazilian scholars’ insistence on exceptionalism is misguided: of course racial categories are different there, they are different everywhere (and that doesn’t mean white supremacy, or patriarchy, are not what they are, or are not what these categorizations serve).

There is more to be said.


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Bookmarks for the current paper

I must clean up this browser.

On Charles V, African slavery.
Impact of the slave trade on Africa.
Bhabha: race, time, modernity.
Literary whiteness.
New research on 1518 voyages.
Popes, the Catholic church, and the 1518 voyages.
Slavery in the New Netherlands.
The Iberian slave trade.
From plantation to corporation.
Caitlin Rosenthal.
Slave narratives from Dutch colonization in Indonesia.
Slavery timeline 15th century.
Sugar and slavery in Indonesia.

Other topic, but related.
Raúl Bopp.


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After I finish “Language and the entrepreneurial university” I will write a piece on the non-pecuniary benefits of learning, and some of the beginning ideas are here.

I am working on these ideas in part because somehow I do not feel NOT authorized to do so. I struggle with problems of authority when I author.


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The new competitive online price will enable more students to access our first-rate faculty and curricula. It’s the same great product, just at a far better price,” … said.

The University’s … degree and any future specially priced programs are exceptions to the rate reduction and will continue to operate under a package-price structure.


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Botones de pensamiento que buscan ser la rosa

* The thing is that the very idea of the public, the commons, is what have come under attack from Reagan forward. Now these foundations are trying to rebuild it under their own sign. It all seems cozy, the way working for Apple does while you are under their bubble in the U.S., but … even if the government withers away … these corporations are still ideological state apparati, and only shareholders can vote.

* Also just the way in which universities have gotten more authoritarian. Meetings are no longer held. All conversation is one-on-one. That creates an unprofessional situation with energy-draining gossip, since one there is no straight answer on what priorities are or any group decision on this. This is very manipulative. It is said to be corporate-style management but my friends in business seem to be allowed to talk to each other in a way the way the university no longer wants us to. I learned to be faculty back when there was shared governance, so I am still in the habit of asking questions one could ask back then, as in “Are we planning to…?” Now, these questions are no longer understood as mere requests for information. Instead, they’re hostile questions: how dare a mere professor think about planning, the future, the program, or expect to speak collegially with an administrator?

* The real question here is not who did what but whether in cases of abusive faculty and/or chairs there are systems in place to protect students, academic programs, and institutions of higher ed in general. Having a strong faculty voice in the evaluation and retention of chairs and deans seems like a key element that’s missing, according to this account. I have no idea how that works at NYU but this article leads me to think that is not the case.

* I was troubled that the author of this piece seems to accept that universities operate without shared governance. (“The university belongs, like the church and the military, to the social institutions that are situated at a considerable distance from democracy and adhere to premodern power structures.”) Thanks but no thanks. This is why I’m committed to AAUP and fighting to protect the role of the faculty in governance and within this issues such as academic due process, a recognition of academic freedom in governance speech, etc.

* Right, although I don’t think we succeeded everywhere in doing away with feudal underpinnings. This appears to be the case particularly at private schools and in the more insular regional places. The corporatization seems to really exacerbate the feudal elements, and in grotesque ways too, since in actual feudalism the lord had obligations to the vassal!

* Agree with you both! I remember when the phrase on my campus was “FACULTY governance.” Then it became “SHARED governance.” Then presidents became CEOs and provosts became CAOs, and the “governance” piece apportioned to faculty were limited to curriculum only, with first deans and then provosts deciding on most other issues (such as positions and position descriptions).



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A comment on my once and future book

For the new year (this is the Jewish new year) I had hoped for a new beginning and I got, by random chance, comments on the blocked book manuscript that wrought such havoc on my life.

I confess to just having looked it up and skimmed a bit — you write well. For your conceptual blockbusting: deconstruction, à la Derrida, relies on a reified Cartesian self that can be sullied and broken (= Freud). Most of Latin america does Lacan, not Freud, which has the notion of a plural and situated self (see Kristeva and Black Sun). It’s also a Catholic thing and a Marxist thing, neither of which fits Derrida. Look at Deleuze — What is philosophy. The subject does not exist, it arises from being a position in (there) a discipline or a symbolic order (Lacan’s version). Thus subject POSITIONS are critical, not SUBJECT. If Vallejo ventriloquizes different subjects, it’s because he’s interested in post-Marxist concepts of plural subjects. I’ll stop now. I don’t know Vallejo but have worked with enough LA-ists to ask pointed questions. It’s not non-Western, it’s collectivist Western, which lost in Europe and Anglo-America (Calvinist countries all – “all about me”) which half of France (Deleuze/Foucault/Bourdieu half) remembers, too.

This is Vallejo.

Graniza tánto, como para que yo recuerde
y acreciente las perlas
que he recogido del hocico mismo
de cada tempestad.

No se vaya a secar esta lluvia.
A menos que me fuese dado
caer ahora para ella, o que me enterrasen
mojado en el agua
que surtiera de todos los fuegos.

¿Hasta dónde me alcanzará esta lluvia?
Temo me quede con algún flanco seco;
temo que ella se vaya, sin haberme probado
en las sequías de increíbles cuerdas vocales,
por las que,
para dar armonía,
hay siempre que subir ¡nunca bajar!
¿No subimos acaso para abajo?

Canta, lluvia, en la costa aún sin mar!


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Critical university studies, and Avital Ronell

1/ I spent the entire day (Saturday) at a meeting about HE in this state and too many people there were too taken in by the pro-privatization speech of the higher-ups and not well enough informed or armed. I was feeling bad the whole time not to be spending the day on research and realized that if I were to claim critical university studies as a research field I would feel less bad. I am going to consider this. Watch me roar.

2/ I am shaken by AR’s former chair’s description of the horror that was that department, even though nothing he said was unexpected or not already familiar in some way. Did UC Berkeley know what she was like when they handed her off to NYU? Some students there did, but were faculty already aware at that point?

3/ I have been told NEW research shows you cannot learn a foreign language if you are not exposed to it and do not practice it. Memorizing a set of grammar rules, taking a dictionary and trying to translate your thoughts to that language will not work. This is a NEW discovery, I was told.



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