April 2011 Archives

Sandra Soto - Whats Wrong with Arizona?

On April 21st Sandra Soto gave a powerpoint presentation entitled "Wearing Down Arizona" where she explored the xenophobic nature of recently passed Arizona laws HB2281 (ban against ethnic studies programs) & HB1070 (new immigration law most known for requiring Mexican Americans to carry "papers"). I am particularly interested in the Soto's comments on HB2281. One of the most important claims that she makes in regards to the theoretical work that Arizona's ban on ethnic studies has done is its commitment to the claim that any attention to race or racism, even as a topic of study, is in itself racist. A common form of colorblind rhetoric that I believe right wing conservatives use in order to displace the conversation of identity politics and the problematics of racial hierarchy in the current conjuncture.

Overall I found Soto's presentation to be very compelling, but I was particularly interested in the following claims that she made. First, in describing the conjuncture she states that the neoliberal state aims to create and perpetuate dead citizenship. By dead citizenship Soto is describing a conjuncture where instead of inviting rigorous public debate and critique as a necessary component of democracy the nation has moved toward a more privatized and symbolic form of political engagement. Second, in describing the campaign strategies of HB2281 chief author Tom Horne, Soto points out the ways that through narrative illustration Horne uses images of "militancy" as defiant, disrespectful and hyper masculine to reaffirm the idea that ethnic studies programs are a divisive project. This narrative of militancy is used to defend Arizona's need to dismantle ethnic studies programs, which are allegedly teaching students to "misbehave". It is also worth noting that these representations are clear linkages to the "militancy" of radical black and brown movements of the 1970s and 1980s social movement era, which became the birth place of ethnic studies programs.

As former Chair of the 2010 Twin Cities Ethnic Studies Week committee and now National Coordinator, I am particularly interested in the ways that this xenophobic language becomes a part of the nations popular discourse, which the media disseminates. I am also working to think more critically about the ways that the "left" finds itself disabled by this type of colorblind rhetoric, which is well-known for recycling civil rights rhetoric for its own political gains. If anyone knows of any recent articles that I should look toward to further explore this topic please let me know!

The colloquium presentation "Auntie Justice: Performances of Adjudication in a Muslim Women's Arbitration Center" by Katherine Lemons posited a complex argument about forms of gendered authority and power in an arbitration center in Delhi, North India. Based on ethnographic research at a 'Mahila Panchayat' in a Muslim neighborhood of Delhi that operates under the aegis of the NGO Action India, Lemons analyzed how terms and discourses of kinship and family enter the performance of justice - underscoring the gendered authority of senior married women ("aunties") as arbitrators on one hand, and ideals of marital harmony and normative gender roles on the other. Thus, even while the adjudicating "aunties" investigated complains about domestic violence, neglect by husbands and so on - often directly addressing and reprimanding the husbands in question - they also advocated adjustment and compromise on part of the women within their expected marital roles, rather than divorce or similar measures that would forsake ideals of family for women's rights and autonomy. This suggested a complex overlap between the women's authority as arbitrators and the normative gender roles that their decisions often seemed to reproduce, and departed from any strict interpretation of the liberal feminist discourse espoused by the overseeing NGO (Action India) and its funders. Thus, on one level, echoing David Mosse's argument about development, Lemons' presentation showed how development policy does not determine practice - in this case, the liberal feminist precepts of NGO policy seems to be overridden in favor of a more 'conservative' practice of correction and compromise that might be more practicable and acceptable for families and communities. However, as the Q&A session and ensuing discussion suggested, the performance of adjudication or the function of these spaces could not be understood just in terms of the final decisions reached. The 'performance' of arbitration itself often offered a space for women to air their complaints to a receptive audience, and provided for demonstrations of repentance and promises of betterment by their husbands. This goes beyond the ends-centered approach of policy-making and rights discourses, such that the practice of arbitration is not measurable in terms of its guiding policies.

On Friday, April 1, 2011 I had the pleasure of hearing Katherine Lemons present her working paper on a network of women's arbitration centers in Delhi. Lemons aimed to highlight the ways that the liberal feminist agenda posited by this particular network of NGOs (challenge forces perpetuating gender inequality and violence for empowerment) was not realized in the actual arbitration hearings, but rather highlighted the ways that the mahila panchayats, regendered legal authority and recentered norms of marriage and the family. Although I found her project compelling I was particularly interested in a comment that Professor Desai made during the question and answer portion. Instead of thinking about the ways that gendered norms were being reaffirmed in a space that was created to displace those norms for women's empowerment, Desai suggested that we not focus on the judgment or outcome of the hearing, but the place and function of testimony. Desai was highlighting the different ways that women might be transforming these arbitration spaces for other purposes, particularly as a site where women can make their voices and perspectives realized for those closets to them to witness. A form of testimony where a woman's individual silences break free from a place of oppression and then becomes a transformative act. As Audre Lorde states in her essay the Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, "I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect."


  • 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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