OF CONSTITUTION AND CONTRADICTION: THE “SHARED FIELD OF COLONIAL ETHNOLOGY” IN FRENCH INTER-WAR COLONIALISM

Wilder, Gary. 2007. “Colonial Ethnology and Political Rationality in French West Africa.” In Helen L. Tilley and Robert J Gordon (Eds.), Ordering Africa, pp. 336-375. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Wilder’s closing chapter to the edited volume Ordering Africa follows the editor’s encouragement to “move beyond questions of individual or epistemological complicity in colonialism” (Tilley 2007: 15) not by looking outside the frame of disciplinary involvement with the colonial project, but by delving further in it, demonstrating their inextricable intimacy. Wilder shows how a new “political rationality” emerged after World War I in France and its West African colonies in response to international anti-imperial sentiment, an expanded understanding of French nationhood that included the colonies, and wide ranging transformations brought to these latter by generations of colonial domination, which required “novel administrative strategies . . . organized around three interdependent objectives: political order, economic development, and social welfare” (Wilder 2007: 353). Wilder argues that the colonial predicament “provided the very categories of analysis, debate and policy,” giving shape to the theoretical innovations, training programs, data collection, and administrative decisions which all informed each other. More than complicity, anthropology and colonialism constituted a “shared field of colonial ethnology” (p. 337) dedicated to producing a practical science serving to facilitate an increasingly scientific form of administration.

This new orientation was visible at the Institut d’ethnologie – backed financially by the Ministère des colonies and the Ministère de l’éducation – which advocated for a colonial division of labour between “savants and technicians” (p. 338), educating not only ethnographers but also “administrators and colonials . . . to aid the overseas administration” (p. 339) and help it be more humane. It was also visible at the École coloniale, which developed an “ethnological focus” after WWI (p. 342) and “sought to integrate knowledge of native societies into a practical administrative sociology” (p. 343). The development of “‘society’ . . . [as] an object of scientific knowledge” changed the fundamental unit of policy-making from universal, abstract human to historically and culturally particular individuals, requiring detailed, practical knowledge to inform this scientifically oriented, sociological mode of administration (p. 344). “Knowledge production became an explicit priority” both for “overseas officials” (p. 344) concerned with the geographic particulars of native mentality and social structures, and for professional ethnologists concerned with enabling the ennobled colonial project. Within this shared field of activity, ethnographic description and colonial prescription not only influenced each other but “were intrinsically related” (p. 361) in their contradictory imperative to legitimize colonial relations by depicting culturally distinct, static, and socially backward natives, while at the same time transforming them into modern, productive economic actors. It is this fundamental contradiction that Wilder terms “colonial humanism” and which characterizes the emerging post-war political rationality.

This tension runs as a leitmotiv throughout Wilder’s chapter, and demonstrates the irreconcilable contradictions between ethnology and colonialism, the former leaning towards valuing human difference, the latter requiring that this difference be subsumed under a nation’s politico-economic project. The important message conveyed by Wilder’s text – and by the edited volume generally – is that this contradiction by no means precludes coexistence, nor even concerted action. In a sense, it is the contortions it elicits – on individual, institutional, or geopolitical levels alike – that are at the heart of much modern material and discursive formations. This is why Wilder calls it a “constitutive” contradiction. It shows up in Marcel Mauss’s and Maurice Delafosse’s theorizing, torn between the impulse to dignify and protect Native cultures, depicting them as “separate but equal” with their own practices and categories, yet situating them within a civilizational gradient, implying the possibility of social evolution (pp. 341; 347). It appears more dramatically in Henri Labouret who, also stuck between “static and evolutionary understandings of native society,” proposed that “‘methodical purging’ of select agitators” would allow for indigenous societies to naturally evolve towards a more civilized social state (p. 350) – a proposition whose basic tenets are at the heart of many contemporary foreign policies (the U.S government, for example, has had a particularly violent way of exporting democracy and economic prosperity – see e.g. González 2009). The tension shows up in almost pathetic ways in humanist colonial policy-making, struggling as it does with the contradictions of a colonial program whose successful implementation modernizes Native societies, eroding in the process the traditional hierarchical structures on which it relies for control, giving its colonial subjects a mobility and aspirations that threaten the very boundaries constitutive of its rule – eliciting deep anxieties that congeal around issues of citizenship and race (see also Stoler 2002). As Wilder states, “They dreamed of colonial subjects possessed by rational self-interest, consumerist desires and a productivist ethos, who were nevertheless embedded in indigenous relations of production” (2007: 354).

In a way, the colonial fantasy was the reverse of the ethnographic one. While Mauss – hoping to salvage what remained of pre-colonial societies – wished for cultural fixity mixed with social fluidity (a Native distinct yet amenable to the civilizing project), the colonial project required cultural flexibility mixed with social fixity – i.e. a Native adopting Western cultural categories (e.g. the rational, self-maximizing individual) embedded in traditional social structures. Stated more generally, “Administrators sought to promote socio-economic individuality without creating legal and political individuals” (p. 354). That this depiction of inter-war French colonial policy sounds eerily similar to Brown’s (2006) analysis of so-called neoliberalism in the U.S. is perhaps no coincidence. While Wilder’s argument about colonial humanism – which as a political rationality mobilized Native welfare no longer solely as a justification for colonial rule but as an economic strategy – tells us something about the specific relation of French ethnology to colonialism at the time, it also highlights the profound constitutive tension inherent to the overlapping of a capitalist ethos, enlightenment ideals, political rule, and knowledge production. What Wilder’s analysis seems to suggest is that while the specific contortions to which this tension gives rise are contingently variable through time and space in important ways, the underlying “constitutive contradiction” might point to an irresolvable strain that politics and knowledge production – writ large – put on each other. Perhaps this is less an argument for the death of anthropology – which, perhaps more than any other discipline, straddles that particular fault line – than one in favor of a different socio-political ethos.

WORK CITED

Brown, W. 2006. “American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization.” Political Theory 34 (6): 690–714.

González, Roberto J. 2009. American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain. Paradigm 34. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2002. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. Berkeley: University of California Press.

ETHNOGRAPHY, ETHNOLOGY, AND COLONIAL DOMINATION: A RESTLESS INTIMACY

Sibeud, Emmanuelle. 2007. “The Elusive Bureau of Colonial Ethnography in France, 1907-1925.” In Helen L. Tilley and Robert J Gordon (Eds.), Ordering Africa, pp. 49-66. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

In this chapter, Sibeud follows the editors’ aim for the volume’s contributing authors “to move beyond questions of individual or epistemological complicity in colonialism . . . to incorporate broader structural and institutional dynamics” (Tilley 2007:15). Indeed, Sibeud’s account – which opens the section on “metropolitan agendas and institutions” – takes us through some of the negotiations, maneuvers, and situated interests of the various actors involved in the interaction between “French domination in colonial Africa and the reshaping of a French ‘science of humanity’ in the first decades of the twentieth century” (Sibeud 2007:49). Sibeud’s premise is that, in the decade preceding WWI, a gap opened up in the institutional distribution of anthropological knowledge that revealed the dialectic at work between metropolitan academic practice, colonial domination, and on-the-ground field research.

As Sibeud’s chapter makes clear, this dialectic can be seen to operate on many fronts. It was part of the disciplinary competition between a sociologically oriented ethnology and a culturally inclined ethnography for the legitimate succession to anthropology, which was then concerned mostly with anatomical matters. While the Société d’ethnographie and the Société d’anthropologie were both founded in 1859, the former began its declined in the 80s and had faded into marginality by the turn of the century. Disciplinary legitimacy was the inevitable gateway to paid academic positions and funding for research. Some, like Maurice Delafosse, became colonial officers for lack of academic positions available to ethnographers. Others, like Ernest Théodore Hamy, who in 1906 resigned from his post as first curator of the Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro for lack of funding, exemplify ethnography’s marginality at the time. But the fact that prominent ethnologist Marcel Mauss – professor and chair at the École Pratique des Hautes Études – applied to become his successor signals that a significant shift was underfoot.

According to Sibeud, Mauss recognized that a revival of ethnography was under way and began working towards bringing it under academic control. His essay of 1913 in the Revue de Paris that called for the creation of a Bureau of Ethnography – around which Sibeud’s narrative is constructed – shows the complicated gambit Mauss was attempting. Responding to the growing movement of “colonial officers who claimed to be ethnographers in their own right” (p. 49) – organized around Maurice Delafosse and Arnold van Gennep – he created with Durkheim and Verneau the Institut Français d’anthropologie, which provided ethnography with a stamp of academic legitimacy, gave colonial ethnographers the metropolitan recognition they were looking for, just as it made them accessories to his academic ethnology. His essay also appealed to colonial authorities, by arguing that the ethnography he was proposing offered tools for “enlightened colonization” (p. 49), avenues for recording disappearing Native cultures, and would not require additional funding as it already had a chair (his own) and would be staffed with colonial officers.

But colonial imperatives, ethnographic insight, and academic ethnology proved difficult to conciliate. While colonial ethnographers criticized metropolitan intellectuals for being ignorant of field conditions, they also side with them against the “racialist schemes” of colonial authorities “in defense of the cultural dignity of African societies” (p. 62). Indeed, and ironically, the evolutionist framework that had informed both the “modern, secular and republican science of humanity” (p. 50) and the theological argument for “primitive revelation” was being challenged by the accounts of wide human diversity that were being reported back from the colonial field. Just as Mauss and Delafosse worked against racialist science and such “Catholic missionary ethnology [as] showcased in [the journal] Anthropos” (p. 60), so did the colonial administration work in the opposite direction. The tension between secular republican ethnologists and Catholic ethnology also showed up in the movement against King Leopold’s crimes in the Congo, which made salient the “conflict between republican principles and colonial practice” (p. 61). The missionaries’ “primitive hypothesis” went against the “dignity of human culture” which emerged from the new science of humanity, a tension which resonated in the discourse held by the Revue indigene or by the Ligue des droits de l’homme, both concerned with “the rights of indigenous people” and with the “undemocratic management of colonial matters which threatened Republican principles as well as international peace” (p. 61). “Colonial lobbies” pushed back against this by promoting a scientific apology of their administrative practices, through the work of missionaries as “specialists of the indigenous soul” or through “‘scientific’ racial policy” (p. 61). The Ministry of Colonies encouraged ethnographic work in this direction, and “relaunched the Société d’ethnographie in 1913 to maintain control over ethnography,” employing missionaries as an alternative to having to deal with “prominent and committed intellectuals like Mauss” (p. 62). Paradoxically, the Ministry’s efforts to “commission surveys that were overtly political, hardly scientific, and which allowed no scope for colonial ethnographers” served to alienate these and push them further in the direction of the Parisian ethnologists (p. 62). Conversely, the new partnership created between colonial ethnographers and academic ethnologists also nourished the gap between these recently legitimated colonial ethnographers and their colonial administrators, which increasingly tended to view the former as “too academic to be efficient in colonial agency” (as in the case of Delafosse, who was denied the post of governor in 1919) (p. 62).

Sibeud’s narrative highlights what is perhaps a key element of the dynamic relationship between anthropology and colonialism. While the former was undeniably, and constitutively, tied to the latter, their relationship was far from straightforward. The momentary disjuncture that occurred at the turn of the century seems to suggest that while ethnography was mostly borne out of colonial conquest, the sensitivity it fostered was antithetical to the colonial project, and eventually promoted resistance to it. Conversely, the knowledge it produced – in its partnership with the more theoretically minded ethnological institutions in the metropole – proved distasteful to colonial authorities. Despite the popularity of the ethnographic “cultural turn” in French anthropology discussed above – or perhaps because of it – the dynamic relationship between the colonial field, the academic establishment, and colonial rule led to its dissolution into the “academic turn” of the late 20s and 30s, a turn marked by the creation of the Institut d’ethnology de la Sorbonne in 1925, which effectively instituted the replacement of ethnography by academic ethnology, “which received colonial subsidies but was not otherwise involved in colonial administration” (p. 63). Ethnology’s retreat into academia was a way to remove itself from the practical concerns of colonial administration; at the same time, “colonial authorities promoted their own research institutions,” which provided them with the means to control researchers (colonial officers) and to exclude those of metropolitan academia (p. 63), sheltering their work from political or epistemological considerations. In effect, it would seem that in the particular juncture discussed by Sibeud, colonialism and anthropology disengaged and recoiled from each other – to the extent that their contemporary epistemological and political space would allow – until both were forced back into their dialectical dance in the post-war de-colonial moment.

I’LL SHOW YOU MY EPISTEME IF YOU SHOW ME YOURS (OR EVEN IF YOU DON’T): A REVIEW OF BOURDIEU’S HOMO ACADEMICUS

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1988. Homo Academicus. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

In his book on the constitution of French academia as it was revealed in the epistemic space opened up by the crisis of May 1968, which challenged the previously unquestioned “correspondence between the objective structures and personal internalized structures” (or doxa, p.182), Bourdieu offers us an account which is at once empirical, theoretical, and methodological. It is empirical in that it is a detailed analysis of the specific historical and structural conditions leading up to the crisis, which are particular to the French university. It makes a theoretical claim that the structural relations made salient by his analysis have generalizable principles – about temporal and scientific power, their relation to knowledge production, and the dynamics of institutional reproduction – which hold true across instances (other universities in other times). The theoretical bleeds into the methodological as Bourdieu must import the core principle of his analysis – that no situation is reducible “either to the structural forces of the field or to individual dispositions” (p.150) but is conditioned by the agents’ contingent position within “rival principles of hierarchization” (p.11) which operate in any field – into his own scientific project. In other words, Bourdieu’s critique of the tacit political determinations of academic life and of the lack of reflexivity about its knowledge production is at once a topical exposé and a methodological demonstration. His book, then, is as much about objectifying the structural relations effective in the French academic field in the late ’60s (and of the changes it was undergoing) so as to extract, beyond its empirical specificities, its relational principles, as it is about objectifying the process of objectification itself, thereby rendering visible “the operation of construction of the object” (p.7).

Most of Bourdieu’s analysis is channeled through the discursive opposition between poles – between “scientific” and “ordinary” knowledge (ch.1), between political power and cultural prestige, between academic (institutional) power and scientific (oriented towards research) power, between orthodoxy and heresy – with the occasional reminder that actual relations are in fact progressively distributed between them (see, e.g., p.181). The important distinction of which this caveat reminds us is the one found between what Bourdieu calls epistemic space – constructed by the researcher, with finite properties selected for the purpose of scientific analysis – and empirical space, which contains the real objects the constructions are meant to represent. Bourdieu’s critique here is not of the epistemic reductions of scientific investigation themselves – which provide both rigor and transparency – but of the manner in which they can be mistakenly transposed to the empirical domain. In the social sciences – which navigate between common criteria of the social world and “scholarly” one’s of scientific research – this confusion can be particularly problematic. The epistemic construction, by selecting a finite set of properties, creates the conditions for epistemic clarity. The object constructed therein “contains nothing evading conceptualization,” a “self-transparency [that] is the corollary of reduction” (p.23). When the carefully objectified constructions of scientific deliberation are mixed in with the “ordinary” knowledge of empirical common sense, the result is a space of “partial objectification” (p.4) leading to “semi-scholarly taxonomies” (p.12), reductive subjectivist interpretations, or generalized and unexamined anthropomorphized collective categories (pp.149-150).

A key problem which this relation between scientific and ordinary knowledge uncovers – and one that is inherent to the academic field – is that the epistemic work of construing categories of understanding, a contingent and arbitrary process in and of itself, acquires objective reality in its institutionalized form, which becomes the ground for “the classificatory strategies through which the agents aim to preserve the space” (p.18). In other words, there is always a naturalized pre-condition to both political contest and knowledge production which is itself the result of tacit, unexamined epistemic work. In the case of knowledge, Bourdieu’s solution is to objectify objectification. In the case of “politics,” it is to examine the structural pre-conditions which affect the field of power one must negotiate from a given position within the field, and the aggregate of habits and embodied pre-disposition which one is socialized into from their respective positions (“habitus” and “hexis,” respectively). Where purportedly detached scientific knowledge mixes with politics – which is the structural given of the academic field, and the particular terrain of the social sciences – Bourdieu will “choose systematic circumlocution” and opt for “synoptic” and “epistemically polyonomous” concepts – i.e., incorporate in the act of classification and nomination both the “system of relations which characterizes it objectively,” and the competing viewpoints (p.27). In other words, he will disengage from the symbolic struggle for nomination – the struggle for the legitimacy provided by having one’s viewpoint naturalized and one’s epistemic designations misconstrued as empirical ones – knowing full well that both “practical knowledge of the social world” and “symbolic competition . . . obey . . . a reductionist tendency” (p.14), through the coherence reached for in alliances across domains as well as through the polarizing divisions effected by opposition which “cuts into the vagueness of relations” (p.181).

Bourdieu’s overarching analytical point is that there is no purely deterministic structural mechanism nor individual willful calculation and manipulation of circumstance, but an aggregate of embodied socialized habits (habitus) implicitly working towards the safeguard of the respective fields on which their reproduction depends. As already explained, the contest takes place both on the overt grounds of the pre-existing field, and in the epistemic work which constructs the objective ground on which the contest takes place. The orchestration is emergent – i.e., a pattern that is enacted within a particular set of historical and relational contingencies. The subtle yet crucial distinction which Bourdieu labors at throughout the book – one situated somewhere between, and in the marriage of, structuralism and constructivism (p.xiv) – is one which has grown out of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge – later dubbed Science and Technologies Studies – and Feminist scholarship, who, in their dedication to mapping out both the material and discursive contingent conditions of possibilities behind normative claims and their effects, have argued that it is not only knowledge that is socially constructed, but the facts themselves (Roosth and Silbey 2009; Law 2009), leading to a gradual move from epistemology to ontology (see Mol 2013; cf. Bessire and Bond 2014; Weinberg 2009 traces a genealogy of this thought back to Garfinkel and his ethnomethodological colleagues (p.295, footnote 2)).

Whatever side one chooses in that particular discussion – a debate which does sometimes resonates with Bourdieu’s “symbolic struggle of nomination” – the ultimate point is that the epistemic work performed tacitly within academia is more than an epiphenomenon to the material conditions of our lives, but has an objective existence with real political import. Careful objectification, epistemological vigilance, attention to the interests inherent in one’s own structural position, and the desire to produce a science valuable for its renunciation of “social benefits” (Bourdieu 1988, p.16) are certainly all powerful strategies towards decolonizing social sciences. However, as Bourdieu makes clear, producing objective knowledge about power – by highlighting the doxic nature of another’s epistemic viewpoint – is itself a form of power, and one inevitably situated in competing fields of interest. In the end, whether one chooses – as an anthropologist, since that is the central object of this seminar – to defuse the political charge of scholarly intervention by objectifying the conditions of its production, or to accept its potential potency and take the ethical leap of faith by putting it squarely in the political field (and hopefully in the “right” place), is perhaps a question that is best left without a systematic answer – as long as one remains attuned to the constitutive effects of both those interventions and the temporal power they contribute to reproducing.

Work Cited

Bessire, Lucas, and David Bond. 2014. “Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique: Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique.” American Ethnologist 41 (3): 440–56.

Law, John. 2009. “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” In Bryan S. Turner (ed.), The New Blackwell Companion to Sociological Theory. Blackwell Publishing.

Mol, A. 2013. “Mind Your Plate! The Ontonorms of Dutch Dieting.” Social Studies of Science 43 (3): 379–96.

Roosth, Sophia, and Susan Silbey. 2009. “Science and Technology Studies: From Controversies to Posthumanist Social Theory.” In Bryan S. Turner (ed.), The New Blackwell Companion to Sociological Theory. Blackwell Publishing.

Weinberg, Darin. 2009. “Social Constructionism.” In Bryan S. Turner (ed.), The New Blackwell Companion to Sociological Theory. Blackwell Publishing.

THE POLITICS OF CONSENT: A REVIEW OF STEVEN SALAITA’S “NORMATIZING STATE POWER: UNCRITICAL ETHICAL PRAXIS AND ZIONISM.”

Salaita, Steven. 2014. “Normatizing State Power: Uncritical Ethical Praxis and Zionism.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 217-235). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Along with the chapters by Pulido and Abowd already discussed on this blog by my classmates Basile and Poulin, and as pointed out by the latter in her post, the chapter by Salaita speaks to the issue of academic containment. Drawing from his own experience of having had his tenure application denied on account of his controversial political engagement, Salaita locates containment in the normative structures which tacitly support the economies of academic professionalization, which function as a transparent means of socializing “faculty into particular modes of thinking” (p. 218). These structures – which work through anything from professional advancement and publication to academic funding mechanisms – tie researchers to the imperatives of institutional legitimacy, and as such render the academic environment vulnerable to state interests. Central to Salaita’s discussion are the interests of the Zionist cause, whose advocates he understands as being “without question the largest impediment to the development of justice oriented intellectual communities in American universities” (p. 224).

The leitmotiv that runs through Salaita’s discussion is how, in the course of his tenure evaluation, his work was qualified as “political.” The implication he resents, and which he identifies as the principle mechanism by which the boundaries of acceptable academic activity are policed, is that there can be a such a thing as a neutral, non-political space from which to judge the degree of objectivity and validity of politically engaged academic work. By naturalizing one particular political arrangement, the institution can then effectively discipline any threat to its legitimacy while retaining the apparent impartiality of its commitments. As such, the most pernicious form of policing is not located in overt political contest – which would make visible the university’s colonial affiliations – but works through the more liberal proponents of academic freedom who delineate a realm of proper academic conduct, the transgression of whose bounds is then critiqued as “political” – i.e. un-academic. The author is unequivocal in his statement that any use of the term “political” to qualify the controversial character of one’s scholarship “inevitably” comes from individuals who are “in the thrall of state power” (p. 221, emphasis added).

Part of what this makes clear for the author is that there is an important gap between the discursive performance of academic subjects – in publication or otherwise – and their actual engagement in the communities in which universities are embedded. This gap between scholarship and activism is where he locates the sort of controversies that have inhibited his own professional advancement and those of many others. In the current political climate where security discourse has distinct ethnic overtones, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – itself almost a euphemism for what the author understands as a near-genocidal settler-colonial project – is virtually anathema. Crucial to the political interests which muzzle academic dissent in this case is the picture of Israel as a prototypically modern, enlightened, and civilized frontier within a sea of barbaric, irrational, and archaic terrorists (see also Puar’s discussion of “pinkwashing,” in this volume). Such a normative depiction precludes the possibility of critique, and as such legitimizes the colonial violence exercised by Israel – or indeed the United States – as a necessary defense of the fruits of civilization – progress, liberty, democracy (see, for example, Fukuyama and Bloom (1989) and Huntington (1993) for well-known representatives of this sort of argument). The dynamics of naturalization and legitimization of this geopolitical project function in very much the same way as those within the imperial university. What the author calls “the global dictatorship” is “enforced by the interchangeable axes of American imperialism, Zionist colonization, neoliberal economies, and corporate warfare” (Salaita 2014, p. 233). Within this constrictive environment where unspeakable crimes are committed, Salaita argues that academia needs to be “unaffiliated to institutional power,” which otherwise puts limits on both the pursuit of knowledge and that of justice, and that academics focusing on controversial issues should have protection to do so.

To be sure, Salaita’s argument for an academic environment free from imperial influence where scholarly inquiry and commitment to social justice can flourish is uncontroversial in itself. What remains unaddressed – aside from fending off the virtually all-pervasive corruptive Zionist influence that the author so diligently denounces – is how exactly this freedom and justice is to be achieved. Underlying Salaita’s discussion is the expectation that justice is a right rather than a relational quality that is to be achieved and maintained through continual work. As such, his politics reproduce the extractive, polarizing interactional modes that can be found across the spectrum of institutional power: identify, target, and remove the enemy. What is excluded from the equation is the manner in which political intervention works to shape the political opponent and the possible outcomes of the encounter. To give the most obvious example – but one à propos to Salaita’s discussion – Israeli military intervention against Palestinian “terrorists” – or more generally US anti-terrorist intervention worldwide – while meant to eliminate subversive elements, also works towards perpetuating the conditions that foster armed resistance. Contrary to Salaita’s assumption, there is a wide spectrum of political intervention whose quality can be assessed aside from whether it threatens the legitimacy of the establishment. So even though his argument about the normatized disciplining of scholarly activity is a valuable one, the manner in which he conducts his critique – which by painting a binary, Manichean political field, is polemical indeed – closes down its own set of possibilities, much like his opponents do, which in the end weakens his argument. And this is the point. If we start from the principle that our social existence is necessarily and always already constituted of political relations, then the goal of activists concerned with social justice might be more to tailor their interventions to the environment they inhabit in order to make them more fruitful and productive – and as such incrementally work towards fostering a more just environment – than to perform their uncompromising ethical obligations, regardless of the outcomes. As one seminar participant pointed out, there is no pre-political world to which we may aspire – academic knowledge is itself a form of power that can never exist in a free and unproblematic way. Power, and the social inequalities it produces, is everyone’s domain, and it serves us little to demonize, two-dimensionalize, and exclude those who hold it at the moment from our utopian visions of the future.

Work Cited
Abowd, Thomas. 2014. “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and Violations of Academic Freedom at Wayne State University.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 169-185). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1989. “The End of History?” The National Interest.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, 22–49.

Puar, Jasbir. 2014. “Citation and Censure: Pinkwashing and the Sexual Politics of Talking about Israel.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 281-297). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Pulido, Laura. 2014. “Faculty Governance at the University of Southern California.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 145-168). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.