February 2011 Archives

Siobhan Somerville - Citizenship & Desire

This Friday's lecture by Somerville explored the ways that whiteness and heteronormativity present itself as a central component of the American naturalization process. More specifically, Somerville focuses her attention on the ritualistic practices that made up the naturalization ceremonies that immigrants would participate in to gain American citizenship. A naturalization process that Somerville describes as an "immigrant romance" where for instance native americans were required to "shoot their last arrow" to signify their last day of savagery. In doing so, they would then be given a plow, a purse and a flag to signify their new lives as white men. Native women would then be given the tools that they needed to become "homemakers" or rather the perfect white middle class housewives. These processes were seen as a major rite of passage that invited many spectators (community members, media, newspapers etc...) . According to Somerville these rituals and their subsequent mutations in the contemporary moment would only exemplify the state's fantasy of adjudicating the lines between the Other and whites. What I believe is obvious when listening to the intricacies of these ritualistic processes is that the state aimed to produce a particular type of heteronormative citizen-subject. However, as one audience member asked I am curious about the ways that immigrants have resisted this naturalization process? It appears as Somerville's analysis is not necessarily concerned with the ways that immigrants have found ways to subvert these ritualistic processes or rather reimagine their engagement with them. Why is that not an important part of the conversation?

Thoughts on Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore's talk

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Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore's talk 'Gender Responsive' Prison Expansion: The Case of California" brought up very interesting and intense questions for me surrounding the direction of our feminist interventions as well as the way we position ourselves to research. I very much appreciate Brittany and Ani's questions, but I would like to focus my response on Prof. Gilmore's engagement with her research. The first thing I noted was the confidence and ease from which Prof. Gilmore spoke about prisons, prisoners, and the realities of the prison industrial complex. As someone who has entered various CA prisons to visit family members, I was drawn to her genuine commitment and investment to anti-prison activism. I don't think it is an easy task to speak about prisoners in general, let alone how a "gender responsive" commission became the platform for prison expansion. When Prof. Gilmore bravely stated that "one person in a cage" is "overcrowding," I wondered how many people in the audience agreed with her? I also wondered how many people in the audience would welcome a "freed" prisoner to live in their neighborhood?
I was happy to hear Prof. Gilmore share with the audience that she speaks from various subjectivties, both as someone who "does research" but also as someone who has done the work. Prof. Gilmore's talk made me think of the power of language and why and how we name something "feminist work." It made me think about Cherrie Moraga's theory of the flesh and how at the root of the talk, were mostly Black and Brown bodies in a system that is not interested in the livelihood or rehabilitation of those bodies. How does all this affect them? How are we as feminist studies scholars positioned to those bodies? Prof. Gilmore mentioned several times that it was easier to rally people together to fight for the endangered kangaroo rat, than for anti-prison activism. She also noted that present day, 1 out of 100 people in the U.S. are in a cage. Should we strategize a potential "hijack" of the language of environmental and animal protection groups? Where does this leave feminist scholars?

-reina rodríguez
(Photos courtesy of Idalia Robles De León)

Notes on co-optation, w.r.t Talk by Ruth Gilmore

During the talk by Prof Ruth Gilmore last Friday, she outlined the trajectory through which certain anti-prison activist strategies had been co-opted (or "hijacked", in her words) by the state to justify "gender responsive" prison expansion. As Brittany notes in the earlier post, this challenges the intentionality of activist discourse used by feminists - and raises the question of how one could (or could one?) become more "intentional" in one's strategies. In this context, I thought that two moments in Gilmore's talk stood out for their insight and could be useful for furthering discussion. At some point during the Q & A she remarked on the "inevitability" of getting hijacked, and necessity of learning to deal with it without getting paranoid. This brings to mind a Foucauldian notion of resistance where it is necessarily mobile and relationally varies within the mutable configurations of power-knowledge. While this might be taken to indicate a purely instrumental (or "strategic") notion of resistance, it seemed that Gilmore had a more normative framework in mind as well - especially when she spoke of being "theory puritans and method sluts". This seemed to imply that while activist strategies must be mobile in terms of being responsive to context, this need not mean that "anything goes" - rather, there is a simultaneous emphasis on clarifying and theorizing the underlying concepts and principles that can inform activist strategies in the long run. Of course, this also raises the problem of a theory-method division which is perhaps unsustainable - the methods employed in a particular context inevitably reflect on and inform theoretical understanding, such that one can't just hold on to certain principles in the abstract, unaffected by the messiness of one's strategies. Perhaps it could be fruitfully reframed as not the division between theory (pure, unchanging) and methods (messy, mobile), but rather as that between contingent strategies of action that are situationally responsive, and the process of reflection and abstraction from those particular contingencies that can prepare activists better for the next time around.
(Aniruddha Dutta).

Ruth Gilmore Talk - Making Connections

At Ruth Gilmore's talk on Friday I asked the following question: How did the hijacking of feminism and the language that constructed the claims against radical activism exacerbate existing divides in the discipline? Gilmore responded by making a clear distinction between reformist reform (working within the institution for change) and non-reformist reform (working outside the parameters of the institution for change) as sites where language can be easily lifted and/or distorted to appear to be performing transformative work, while only repackaging the institution itself under a different name. It is sad to hear that in the name of feminism our most radical and transformative activists are finding rhetorical politics to be in many ways their hugest barrier. The cooption of the term feminism by the state in the form of the "gender responsive correction commission" only created a platform for the state to regulate and define how "feminist initiatives" would become realized (reproductive labor and child bearing capacities being central). How can feminist scholars and activists committed to a radical politics become more intentional with their language knowing that in this political conjuncture our disciplinary and activist ethics are being taken to task for being "delusional"?


  • GWSS Course Blogs: 2009-2010

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Idalia Robles De Leon

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Jerod Greenisen

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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