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Violence, Social Movements, and Black Freedom Struggles

Ten Theses toward a Research Agenda for Scholars of Contention Today

AK Thompson

George Floyd’s murder by police on 26 May 2020 set off a cycle of struggle that was notable for its size, intensity, and rate of diffusion. Starting in Minneapolis, the uprising quickly spread to dozens of other major cities and brought with it a repertoire that included riots, arson, and looting. In many places, these tactics coexisted with more familiar actions like public assemblies and mass marches; however, the inflection these tactics gave to the cycle of contention is not easily reconciled with the protest repertoire most frequently mobilized during movement campaigns in the United States today. This discrepancy has led to extensive commentary by scholars and movement participants, who have often weighed in by considering the moral and strategic efficacy of the chosen tactics. Such considerations should not be discounted. Nevertheless, I argue that both the dynamics of contention witnessed during the uprising and their ambivalent relationship to the established protest repertoire must first be understood in historical terms. By considering the relationship between violence, social movements, and Black freedom struggles in this way, I argue that scholars can develop a better understanding of current events while anticipating how the dynamics of contention are likely to develop going forward. Being attentive to these dynamics should in turn inform our research agendas, and it is with this aim in mind that I offer the following ten theses.

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The Alchemy of a Corpus of Underwater Images

Locating Carysfort to Reconcile our Human Relationship with a Coral Reef

Deborah James

Abstract

Through an ecocinema lens, an unconventional corpus of photographs of Carysfort Reef, one of seven iconic coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract, represents something of an extreme time-lapse series. In the absence of a cohesive underwater documentary record at the time when the Florida Reef Tract is undergoing the most extensive reef restoration in the world, speculation allows us to search for patterns in damaged places with incomplete information and practice a form of multispecies storytelling of our encounters. Taken in 1966, 2003, 2014, and 2019, these images are evidence of cultural moments in our changing relationship with this reef in the context of anthropocentrism, the emergence of an alternative environment spectatorship of awareness, and a baseline for localized social change.

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Marie-Luce Gélard

Abstract: This text touches on the consumption of dry or dried products from the point of view of valorization and dessication as a norm of the “good”. Dried foods are also those which can circulate in the intra- and extranational migratory contexts thus allowing the commonality of sharing in absence. They also allow us to establish a clear distinction between human foods and demonic foods. And at last, they are the only ones to possess healing powers in the universe of therapeutic rituals linked to alimentation.

Résumé : Ce texte propose d’aborder la consommation des produits secs et/ou séchés dans une perspective de valorisation de la dessiccation comme norme du « bon ». Les nourritures séchées sont aussi celles qui peuvent circuler dans le contexte migratoire intra et extranational permettant le partage au travers de la commensalité des absents. Elles permettent d’établir une nette distinction entre nourritures humaines et nourritures démoniaques. Enfin, elles seules possèdent des pouvoirs de guérison dans l’univers des rituels thérapeutiques liés à l’alimentation.

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American Quarantine

The Right to Housing in a Pandemic

Bonnie Honig

Abstract

In the US, quarantine requires we stay home, but many do not have homes to stay in or may lose theirs due to job or wage loss. For this reason, moratoria have been put on evictions. At the same time, after the latest police killings, and during ensuing protests against racist policing in June 2020, some were arrested for curfew violations, many pulled off the streets but others out of their homes or off their stoops. A real right to housing addresses both homelessness and uncurbed police powers that round up and break in. To address current emergencies and correct larger wrongs of American life, a rent jubilee would better protect tenants than a moratorium. It could be construed as a “taking,” allowed by the 5th Amendment, compensating landlords for their properties’ being taken to serve a “public use.” Popular takings, too, are rising up on behalf of a right to housing that goes beyond rent moratoria for some and the provision of low-grade “public housing” for others.

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Laura T. Di Summa

Abstract

This article investigates the relationship between philosophical accounts of criticism, largely within the analytic tradition, and the practice of criticism. Specifically, I am interested in the performative, subjective, and often idiosyncratic nature of such a practice and in the advantages it can deliver in the understanding of works of mass art, in the inquiry over the nature of aesthetic judgments, and in initiating aesthetic appreciation. Promoting such a connection is also, in turn, a way of at least partially bridging the divide between analytic approaches and the kind of work more typically conducted by scholars in film studies.

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Linda Gruen

Abstract

This article explores the ways in which nineteenth-century Argentine author, Eduarda Mansilla de García, engaged with the issues of women and modernity in her 1882 travelogue, Recuerdos de viaje. It argues that the practice of travel writing served a dual purpose for Mansilla. Publishing a travelogue about the United States enabled Mansilla to trouble Argentine period gender restrictions while at the same critically evaluate North American females. Drawing from theorizations regarding travel writing as a place of power negotiations, I unveil how Mansilla employed her travelogue as a means of validating the cultural capital of Latin American geocultural space in comparison with that of the United States. Consequently, this nineteenth-century Latin American travel narrative did more than the task of light entertainment; it engaged with significant, ongoing period transnational debates regarding modernity, gender, and nation.

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Artificial Intelligence

Faith in Machine or Man?

Jan Martijn Meij

Lovelock, James. 2019. Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

McKibben, Bill. 2019. Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? New York: Holt.

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Babies and Boomers

Intergenerational Democracy and the Political Epidemiology of COVID-19

Toby Rollo

Abstract

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how public health decisions in mass liberal democracies always reflect a political trade-off between protecting privileged groups and leaving more marginalized groups precariously exposed. Examining the “political epidemiology” of COVID-19, I focus on the ways that the lives and well-being of children are sacrificed to secure adult interests. I argue that in our efforts to protect older adults we have endangered children and abandoned the future of today's youth. This, I conclude, is indicative of a liberal preoccupation with adults and adult forms of agency, a defect that can only be adequately challenged by working toward more robust forms of democratic inclusion that include children and youth.

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“Banal Apocalypse”

An Interview with Author Ta-wei Chi on the New Translation of The Membranes

Jane Chi Hyun Park and Ta-wei Chi

This interview is based on a series of email exchanges in November 2019 between Taiwanese writer and scholar Ta-wei Chi and Korean American scholar Jane Chi Hyun Park about Chi’s queer speculative novella, The Membranes. The first section provides a summary of the novella, which was recently translated into English by Ari Heinrich. The second section paints a picture in broad brush strokes of the contexts in which Chi wrote The Membranes — taking into consideration key cross-cultural influences and critical reception in Taiwan in the 1990s. It also examines the cultural and political relevance of Chi’s creative predictions about the future within the present historical moment. Finally, it explores afterlives for the novella in the form of sequels and possible cinematic adaptations.

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The Battle of El Herri in Morocco

Narratives of Colonial Conquest during World War I

Caroline Campbell

What does the French massacre of Amazigh people at El Herri in November 1914 reveal about broader patterns of colonial conquest? How do such patterns demonstrate the beliefs of French officers about the best way to conduct war at the beginning of World War I? Using extensive archival research, published primary sources, and Amazigh oral tradition, this article provides a narrative of the Battle of El Herri that analyzes the physical, sexual, and gendered violence that French troops exacted against Amazigh tribes. It argues that leading French military figures spun the “battle” to create a narrative that was racially inflected and self-serving. Led by Resident-General Lyautey, these leaders claimed that their philosophy of conquest was the only one that could result in successful war in Morocco, and by extension, Europe itself.