The necroliberal university

This is an important article that has to do, of course, with necropolitics. I learned as well that this author has a book an Anti-imperialist modernism I would like to read. I am going to order it from interlibrary loan, even now, because getting things from the library is like having life flow through you.

ETA: This article has important things in it for my research; I thought it was for my activism and service but it is in part about liberal multiculturalism and the elision of racial violence.

As English and Africana studies professor Jodi Melamed reminds us, liberal multiculturalism emerged in the postwar years as a project of race management, explicitly opposed to movements for Black liberation or revolutionary socialism. By advancing policies of desegregation and multiculturalism and promoting a Black and brown professional-managerial class, liberal antiracism became the official language of the US imperial state. The university has had a key role in producing antiracist liberalism as a normative mode of power and the means by which US liberal democracy could be spread abroad. The university, according to Melamed, was structured to produce “reasonable, law-abiding, and good global citizens” who could manage the personnel and capital of transnational corporations—the biopolitical production of multicultural “human capital.” At the very moment when the contradictions of that project exploded into public view with the rise of the third world studies movement and a wave of Black power and antiwar student strikes, the project of liberal antiracism again reshaped itself from one of desegregation and antiracism to one of diversity and individual identity.

Of course, the biopolitical management of liberal antiracism also quietly implies its other, the necropolitical liberal management of racial violence. If the university is a space in which diversity is to be managed, the violence of racism is not challenged so much as elided, moved aside, and kept away from campus as practice but also as discourse. In his famous concurring opinion in Bakke vs. Regents, Justice Lewis F. Powell defined the role of affirmative action as a matter less of racial justice than of optimal academic outcomes: a diverse student body is necessary to equip future managers at J. P. Morgan Chase to manage a global investment portfolio. The quotas he opposed, by contrast, would have moved toward actual racial redistribution. Race became a question of personal and individual rights rather than of group rights. The university thus became a place where, it was imagined, individuals would be stripped of their past, their context, and their communities rather than a place where complex social questions exist and are negotiated. “Educational pluralism,” in Powell’s turn of phrase, is a managerial fiction that covers over the white supremacy of the labor market, police force, and prisons.


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