The (Chronic) Crisis of Legitimacy in Policing

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18, and in relation to this year’s ASC theme of Crime, Legitimacy and Reform: Fifty years since the President’s Commission #ASCPhilly

By Nikki Jones, author of The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption (forthcoming June 2018)

Fifty years ago, in the wake of urban uprisings across the country, the vast majority of which were sparked by a negative police encounter, President Lyndon Johnson charged The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to answer three seemingly simple questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done?

The five problem areas identified then are familiar now: 1) police operations and misconduct in ghetto neighborhoods, 2) police practices that failed to protect Black residents, 3) the lack of effective and transparent grievance processes to report officer misconduct, 4) the lack of clear policy guidelines to direct officer behavior, especially use of force, and 5) the lack of community support for law enforcement.

In answering the President’s charge, the report did not shy away from the topic of race and racism. Instead, the report linked the problem of policing to histories of racist violence (from which millions of Black Americans fled during the Great Migration) and racist housing policies in American cities that turned ghetto neighborhoods into tinderboxes for the urban uprisings the Commission was called on to explain and, ultimately, prevent in the future.

In addition to highlighting the role that systemic racism played in the problems between the police and Black Americans at the time, the report also drew attention to a culture of racism among police departments.

All in all, the report (along with similar state and local reports of the time) had a dramatic impact on policing. Today, America’s largest cities are home to the most well-funded, well-trained, and professionalized law enforcement departments in our nation’s history. State and local law enforcement agencies receive historically unmatched support from the federal government and a vast network of researchers and academics that supports the development and implementation of policing innovations in cities across the country.

While today’s law enforcement agencies are stronger than they have ever been, they are also, if we are to believe some leaders in law enforcement, the most fragile when it comes to responding to charges of racism. This supposed fragility is evidenced in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion that the increased scrutiny of law enforcement (or, it seems, any scrutiny at all) is bad for officer morale as well as other calls to quiet (or quash) serious discussion of the ways that race and racism influence policing today.

Fifty years ago, incisive critiques of law enforcement led to monumental changes in policing. Fifty years later, it is clear that much work remains, including the need to acknowledge the historical role that policing has played in enforcing the racial order and reproducing racial inequality in the U.S. – not just in the South and not just decades ago.

Today, the potential for such discussions is limited by the fragility framework and color-blind criminological sound bites (e.g., the common refrain that there are more police contacts in Black neighborhoods because that is where the crime is) that demonstrate a resistance to discussing anything but implicit racism in policing.

Where will that leave us fifty years from now?


Nikki Jones is Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence. 


The Institutionalization of Young People: 50 Years Later

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Patrick Lopez-Aguado, author of Stick Together and Come Back Home: Racial Sorting and the Spillover of Carceral Identity (forthcoming January 2018)

When the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice released its report in 1967, much of the group’s assessment was devoted to concerns about the juvenile justice system. In this report, the commission stressed avoiding the institutionalization of juvenile offenders, both through limiting the range of offenses that would require court intervention (especially for non-violent offenders), and by taking full advantage of any possible alternatives to incarceration.Their hopes in recommending these measures were to minimize the stigmas attached to criminalized young people, and to prevent law enforcement intervention from isolating these youth from their communities.

However, this is not what characterizes juvenile justice today. Instead, much of the policing of youth crime is carried out through a system known as a school to prison pipeline precisely because of how effectively it funnels children into criminal justice facilities. Within this institutional infrastructure,the formal labeling of youth, and particularly poor youth of color, as criminals is often mandated by zero tolerance policies that require schools to report disruptive or troublesome students to local juvenile probation agencies as criminal offenders. Once inside the juvenile justice system, youth are then frequently marked with gang labels that then subject them to ongoing surveillance, punishment, and exclusion from the public sphere.

But this institutionalization is not limited to the management of the juvenile justice system either, as some of its effects may be experienced even before young people are ever placed in a criminal justice facility. The concentration of imprisonment rates condenses many of its collateral consequences into high-incarceration communities, the consequences of prisonization among them. Here, the persistent gang labels used to categorize residents inside justice system institutions (Norteña/os and Sureña/os for example) also regularly appear in the neighborhood, and are similarly ascribed to young residents. The identities and conflicts that stem from these categories then represent an extended socialization of institutional life that now informs the criminalization of poor communities of color.

In the 50 years since the president’s commission, the criminal justice system has wandered far from its stated ideals of minimizing the institutionalization of young people. But it’s never too late to begin moving this system in the right direction. Dismantling the school to prison pipeline stands out as an obvious need, but we also need to interrogate how this status quo has shaped our understanding of youth crime, particularly the need to seek out and control “gang” youth. To this end, the Trump administration’s fixation on “gang members” as folk devils characterizing Latina/o criminality is certainly not encouraging. But we must remember that criminalization is a process that unfolds locally, within the social contexts that we do have the power, and obligation, to change.

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See Patrick at the #ASCPhilly conference during a session on Policing Blackness with his paper on  Constructing Masculine Identity and Performance in the Carceral Social Order on Thursday, November 16, 2:00 to 3:20pm, Marriott, Room 302, 3rd Floor.

And hear more about the book during Patrick’s interview this past July with KZSC Santa Cruz.


Patrick Lopez-Aguado is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Santa Clara University.


Criminology in a World Adrift

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Jeff Ferrell, author of the forthcoming Drift: Illicit Mobility and Uncertain Knowledge (March 2018)

Over the past few weeks two international tragedies have made the headlines. In Bangladesh, the number of Rohingya Muslim refugees driven from Myanmar by a military campaign of physical and sexual terror has now reached one million. Trapped on a strip of muddy land, welcome neither in Myanmar nor in Bangladesh, the refugees talk of being ‘lost in time.’ Meanwhile, Australia announces plans to close its primary detention center for refugees and asylum seekers – a center located not in Australia itself but in Papua New Guinea. There, refugees talk of ‘feeling lost and drifting’ after four years’ confinement. As Australia and Papua New Guinea argue over responsibility for the refugees, an Australian politician agrees that the refugees ‘are stuck in legal and physical limbo.’

Of course these aren’t the only groups adrift from citizenship and legal protection, adrift in time and space, adrift while made to move or made to stand still. Countless Central Americans refugees ride El Tren de la Muerte (the Death Train), a U.S.-bound freight train, up through Mexico. Millions of Syrian refugees, remnants of Syria’s ‘lost generation,’ flood across Europe. Africans crowd rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean, only to find themselves bounced between European borders. Chinese officials work to move 250 million rural residents into Chinese cities – cities where homeless rural migrant workers already occupy abandoned air-defense tunnels and shelter in McDonald’s restaurants.

So pervasive is this global dislocation that the defining trajectory of the contemporary world seems not so much up or down as simply adrift. For North Americans and Europeans this trajectory also plays out, not just in faraway headlines but in their own daily lives. Here urban economic development predicated on spatial privatization and high-end consumerism displaces residents from once-affordable housing and creates a vast army of part-time service workers and temporary employees. The legal regulation of these urban areas in turn operates around risk management and the policing of transient populations, with the razing of refugee and homeless encampments, the use of banishment and dispersal orders, and the aggressive ‘moving-on’ of street populations. Contemporary urban development spawns social dislocation, and the legal controls meant to protect urban development from transient populations serve to make such populations only more transient.

To make sense of all this, criminologists will need theoretical models that can account for drift’s intertwined social, spatial, and legal dynamics. They’ll need methods as fluid and flexible as are the groups to be studied. Perhaps most importantly they’ll need epistemologies attuned to the inherent ambiguity and uncertainty of drift. And in this work of disciplinary reinvention they can find assistance – from drifters themselves. Drifting certainly brings with it the profound pain of dislocation and loss. But as contemporary drifters themselves know and put into practice, drifting also forces open new ways of seeing and living in the world, offering dangerous disorientations that are also critical, cosmopolitan, and alive to possibility.


Jeff Ferrell is Professor of Sociology at Texas Christian University and Visiting Professor of Criminology at University of Kent. He is the author of Crimes of Style, Tearing Down the Streets, and Empire of Scrounge, and co-author of Cultural Criminology: An Invitation.


The Power of Speculative Fiction in Imagining the Future of Climate Change: Culture, Social Movements, and American Studies

By Shelley Streeby, author of Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making through Science Fiction and Activism

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


In the wake of Hurricane Maria and the devastation of Puerto Rico, it is apparent that climate change is now upon us; an analysis of race and ongoing colonialism is required to confront it, and the state will not save the day. What possibilities will arise in the wake of the climate change disaster that is already happening? People of color and Indigenous creators of speculative fictions and social movements have been asking this question and taking action to imagine a post-climate change future for a long time.

From 1965 through the early 2000s, the late, great science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler crafted speculative fictions in the form of novels, stories, and the deep archive of material, including drafts, notebooks, diaries, letters, and research envelopes of newspaper clippings, filling more than 350 boxes, that she left to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. I have been lucky to participate, among poets, scholars, sound artists, cartoonists, dancers, novelists, and others inspired by Butler, in an efflorescence of recent events in Butler’s memory, including the “Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Interdisciplinary Field” conference co-organized by Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey on what would have been Butler’s 70th birthday this past June. On this occasion and in this book, I situate Butler as a major climate change intellectual whose extrapolations from her present, theorizing of climate refugees, and speculative memory-work illuminate blind spots in 1970s to early 2000s climate change conversations and have much to teach us today.

Notably, Butler saved in her “Disaster” files many articles about how global warming would increase the intensity and frequency of catastrophic weather events such as Hurricane Maria. In 1989, for instance, she archived an article about how global climate change would create super storms like Hurricane Hugo, which that year caused fifty deaths, left one hundred thousand people homeless, and was the most expensive storm up to that point to hit the United States. Butler carefully underlined in green sentences that explained how a warmer ocean causes more evaporation and that warmer air can hold more water vapor, both of which increase the power of hurricanes. She also underlined the article’s warning that warming ocean and air temperatures will increase wind speeds 20 to 25 percent and their maximum intensity by as much as 60 percent. “We can’t avoid it and we aren’t preparing for it,” she worried, fearing the addition of climate change to all the “usual stuff,” including “racism” (which she crossed out), “earthquakes, social turmoil, etc.” She used this research in writing her famous novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, in which she also imagined symbiotic possibilities for shaping change in a world transformed by the greenhouse effect.

As Director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Institute, I learned a lot about imagining the future of climate change from meeting adrienne maree brown, a brilliant writer of visionary speculative fiction and social movement organizer who uses Butler’s work to partner with communities and movements, using direct action to confront climate change and environmental racism and co-create what she calls “symbiotic relationships based on our needs and our dreams.” In this way, she builds on Butler’s imaginings of symbiotic entanglements among humans, critters, and the Earth that belie myths of isolated, competitive individuals as she labors to create linkages between groups such as the Arctic Indigenous Youth Alliance and the environmental and social justice organization the Ruckus Society.

Similarly, the authors of the statement “Let Our Indigenous Voices Be Heard,” which they issued on Earth Day 2017, envision a “productive symbiosis, based upon mutual respect, between Indigenous and Western knowledges that could serve shared goals of sustainability in the face of climate change.” Indigenous science, fiction, and futurisms shaped the #NoDAPL struggle led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, as well as other worldwide struggles over oil, water, and resource extraction, including in Māori contexts. Indigenous-helmed movements practice world-making through taking direct action, working in indigenous science and technologies, and imagining decolonized futures in the wake of climate change disaster in many different kinds of speculative fiction across multiple media platforms.

Direct action, which may take such forms as protests, sit-ins, blockades, boycotts, and hacktivism, is an important tactic for social movements wary of making the state the horizon of possibility. It has its roots in anticolonial, antislavery, and labor struggles that extend backwards in time for centuries. In the 1910s, the Industrial Workers of the World made it central to their radical world-making. It was a keyword for Martin Luther King, Jr., and for the Black freedom struggles of the 1960s as well as for antiwar and environmental movements ever since. It was also a key tactic for the American Indian Movement and the American Indian Youth Council. The Standing Rock Youth Council takes “non-Violent Direct Action” to advance their “voices in decisions made about the future of Indian Country.”

In Imagining the Future of Climate Change, I tell the story of imagining the future of climate change by focusing on movements, speculative fictions, and futurisms of Indigenous people and people of color. Although this is a selective lens, it is a richly illuminating one that yields important insights and possibilities that we miss when the focus is only on nation-states, transnational corporations, research scientists, and politicians as significant agents and explainers of change. In focusing on social movements and cultures of climate change, I build on “social movements and culture” methodologies used in American Studies. As modeled by scholars such as Michael Denning and George Lipsitz, such methodologies look for meaning in the connections people make between cultural texts and the important social movements of their times. Today a transnational movement from below, significantly led by Indigenous people and people of color, is one of the most powerful forces opposing the fossil fuel industry’s transnationalism from above. My goal is to introduce the history and most significant flashpoints in imagining the future of climate change over which these movements currently struggle.


Shelley Streeby is Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Radical Sensations and American Sensations and a coeditor of Empire and the Literature of Sensation.

Imagining the Future of Climate Change is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


Academic Freedom in the Era of Trump

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


Something unthinkable happened in the United States in the last few years: hundreds of academics, senior scholars, graduate students, and untenured faculty came forth in support of an academic boycott of Israel. Beginning in 2013, the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions expanded rapidly with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott and adopting resolutions in solidarity with the Palestinian call for an academic boycott.

But this movement emerged several years after Palestinian academics, intellectuals, and activists called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004—and after years of military occupation, failed peace negotiations, ever-expanding and illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, ongoing home demolitions, the building of the Israeli Wall, repression, and military assaults. All of these events and the military occupation of Palestine itself have been endorsed, defended, and funded by Israel’s major global ally, the United States. The academic boycott and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are thus embedded in a significant aspect of the U.S. political and historical relationship to the Middle East, and in a particular, cultural imaginary of Palestine, Palestinians, and Arabs in general, that has become an increasingly central concern of American studies.

I consider this progressive-left academic solidarity to be a potential expression of academic abolitionism. The notion of academic abolitionism is not focused on redeeming the U.S. academy—just as it is ultimately not focused on redemption for the U.S. imperial state—as much as it is ongoing beyond the liberal discourse of academic freedom to highlight other kinds of freedoms, and un-freedoms. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit with occupation and apartheid is only one component of a larger politics of refusal grounded in academic abolitionism. An abolitionist view challenges the complicity of the U.S. academy with global militarism, carceral regimes, and settler colonial circuits of power, in which Israel is a key player.

Indeed, the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Trump’s victory spurred more vigorous and vocal progressive mobilization on campuses and in communities, with solidarity campaigns binding together movements against police violence and militarization, and for racial justice, immigrant rights and sanctuary, gender and sexual rights, indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and freedom in Palestine. The historic Women’s March in January 2017, which mobilized masses of people to come out in the streets against Trump after his inauguration, was called for by prominent feminist activists such as Angela Davis and Palestinian American Linda Sarsour, who have advocated for BDS as part of a feminist politics. The International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2017, explicitly included a call for “the decolonization of Palestine” in its platform, and for the dismantling of “all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.” These campaigns build on the solidarities that were created in previous years as the BDS movement made linkages with Black Lives Matter, the antiwar and prison abolition movement, labor unions, faith-based activists, and feminist and queer groups.

As “White supremacy” became a term permissible in discussions on major cable news networks about Trump and his alt-right followers, there were also growing conversations about Zionism, the ways it can become imbricated with anti-Semitism on the right, and the need to challenge racial supremacy and White privilege. Palestine has become central to all of these major contemporary debates and resistance movements. Omar Barghouti writes about the struggle for liberation, equality, and dignity waged through BDS:

The global BDS movement for Palestinian rights presents a progressive, antiracist, sophisticated, sustainable, moral, and effective form of nonviolent civil resistance. It has become one of the key political catalysts and moral anchors for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of ending the law of the jungle and upholding in its stead the rule of law, reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality, and dignified living.

Our South Africa moment has finally arrived!

There really is no turning back.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Boycott! is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


Teaching Public History with The Public Historian

For the past few months, articles from The Public Historian (TPH) have been featured in a blog series by the National Council on Public History showcasing how TPH articles have been used effectively in the classroom. With the American Studies Association conference this week, we thought it fitting to highlight the first three blog posts in the teaching series, along with their accompanying TPH articles. Learn more about The Public Historian at tph.ucpress.edu, and follow the rest of the blog series on the NCPH blog History@Work.


Exploring the historic and current landscape at Paneriai, outside Vilnius. Image credit: Aaron Shapiro

Paneriai, Poland, and “Public History and the Study of Memory”
By Aaron Shapiro

I find The Public Historian indispensable not only for keeping up with the field but also for introducing students to public history scholarship. And while I regularly assign more recent articles, I often return to David Glassberg’s “Public History and the Study of Memory” (vol. 18, no. 2, Spring 1996) in my undergraduate course, “Introduction to Public History.” Continue reading…

 

 

Scott Joplin Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo credit: Kevin Saff, CC BY-SA 2.

Teaching uncomfortable narratives in public history courses
By Jennifer Black

…As I set to work revising my syllabus, I searched for readings that could appropriately set up public investment in the telling of history, while outlining the role of public historians in framing that narrative. I selected an article on Civil War reenactors as a lead-in to our discussion of the current flag debates, and the article by Timothy Baumann, Andrew Hurley, Valerie Altizer, and Victoria Love, “Interpreting Uncomfortable History at the Scott Joplin State Historic Site in Saint Louis, Missouri” (The Public Historian 33, no. 2 (2011): 37–66), as a bookend to the discussion. Continue reading…

 

Display from “St. Louis in the Gilded Age” exhibit, Missouri History Museum, curated by Katherine T. Corbett, St. Louis, Missouri, 1994. Photo credit: Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

“A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” in the public history classroom
By Jeff Manuel

When Tammy Gaskell posted to the History@Work blog asking public history educators to recommend articles from The Public Historian that work well in the classroom, I immediately replied with several options. At the top of my list was Katherine Corbett and Dick Miller’s “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry,” which appeared in the winter 2006 issue. I teach an introductory public history course at a regional public university in Illinois. Continue reading…


A Virtual Film Quarterly Reader

To introduce the membership of the American Studies Association to the oldest U.S. film journal in continual publication (next year marks its sixtieth anniversary), the editors of Film Quarterly have chosen a selection of recent articles to introduce the journal to you and demonstrate its relevance to your studies, thinking, and curricula. These are essays on film, episodic television, and museum installation work that are deeply concerned with questions of representation as well as its relevance to social justice, gender and sexuality studies, aesthetic strategies, industrial histories, cultural studies, and the place of popular culture in personal, national, and transnational memory. We are making these essays available to you without a subscription for a limited time.

If you enjoy this selection, please consider subscribing yourself and getting your institution to subscribe, either to the digital or paper (which includes digital) edition. ASA members are invited to save 20% off the individual subscription rate by using discount code FQASA at checkout.

Film Quarterly is published quarterly and is a peer-reviewed journal which also solicits essays, publishes targeted dossiers, covers film festivals, and reviews the most important books published in the field.

Please click on the articles below or access the virtual reader on Film Quarterly’s site.

A Sense of Place: Paz Encina’s Radical Poetics
Natalia Brizuela

Baldwin’s Rendezvous with the Twenty-First Century: I Am Not Your Negro
Warren Crichlow

Cosmologies of Black Cultural Production: A Conversation with African Surrealist Filmmaker Christopher Harris
Terri Francis

Subverting Hollywood from the Inside Out: Melvin Van Peebles’s Watermelon Man
Racquel Gates

Wave After Wave After Wave: The Multi-Channel Immersion of Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves
Joseph Livesy

Of Stars and Solitude: Two Mexican Documentaries
Paul Julian Smith

The Original Brexit: Rediscovering The Jewel in the Crown
Bilal Qureshi

Jewish, Queer-ish, Trans, and Completely Revolutionary: Jill Soloway’s Transparent and the New Television
Amy Villarejo

Sketchy Lesbians: Carol as History and Fantasy
Patricia White


ASA, Interdisciplinary Associations, and American Studies Now

By Roderick A. Ferguson, author of We Demand: The University and Student Protests

UC Press is proud to be part of the Association of American University Press’s sixth annual University Press Week, whose overreaching theme this year is #LookItUp: Knowledge Matters. Today’s theme is “Producing the Books That Matter,” exemplified by the new series American Studies Now. We encourage you to also visit our fellow university presses blogging on this theme today: University Press of Kansas, Georgetown University Press, UBC Press, University of Michigan Press, Fordham University Press, Yale University Press, and MIT Press.

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


The question at this historical moment is can we really engage in difficult work. By “difficult,” I mean the ethically and intellectually hard task of unpacking and confronting social regulations and exclusions in their various locations—in nation-states, in academic fields, and in communities. Historically, interdisciplinary fields have demonstrated a greater capacity for this difficult labor as they have been the ones to engender and demand the creation of languages for race, sexuality, gender, class, disability and so on, developing those languages so that various publics might engage social, political, and economic challenges.

“We Demand” by ASA president-elect Roderick A. Ferguson is the first volume in the American Studies Now series.

For me, this is where interdisciplinary organizations like the American Studies Association and the American Studies Now book series join forces. In addition to producing the languages necessary to confront the social forces that have threatened the survival of various minoritized communities, it has been associations like the ASA that have mustered the courage to speak uncomfortable truths about the modes of violence arising from the state as well as from the regimes of race, gender, sexuality and class. Collectively, the interdisciplines—much more so than the disciplines—have assumed the crucial task of confronting domination. In a nation and a world that increasingly prohibits honest and critical encounters, interdisciplinary associations like the ASA are needed now more than ever, needed to produce intellectuals at all levels who will refuse to accept—as Edward Said put it—“the smooth, ever-so-accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwilling, but actively willing to say so in public.”

The stakes of this commitment to critical articulations were made clear by the old woman in Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel address, the one who offers a lesson about the vital importance of language, the one who warned that yielding to the confirmations of the powerful could only lead to what she called “tongue-suicide.” This murder of critical thinking, she said, is “common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts, for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.” In this moment, we need a network of cultures whose primary purpose is to studiously reactivate the deep and public obligations of critical intellection.

American Studies Now is poised to be an access point within this network of cultures. If the series is designed—as the editors argue—to “refuse the distinction between politics and culture,” then one of the of the ways in which it embodies that is by creating books written for undergraduate audiences, books designed to give undergraduates the tools to raise the level of social discussion. As such, American Studies Now participates in a larger interdisciplinary culture whose job is the creation of intellectual networks that can actively develop critical and imaginative publics within and outside our scholarly associations.


Roderick A. Ferguson is Professor of American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He was Associate Editor of American Quarterly from 2007 to 2010 and is president-elect of the American Studies Association.


A Deeply Divisive Victory One Year Later

One year since the electoral victory of Donald Trump, the nation remains divided as ever as both the left and right endeavor to process and understand what the 2016 outcome says about our current political condition. These new releases explore inequality and power in America,  taking a longer view at how we got here and the politics that brought Donald Trump to power.

Race and America’s Long War examines the relationship between war, politics, police power, and the changing contours of race and racism in the contemporary United States. Spanning the course of U.S. history, these crucial essays show how the return of racism and war as seemingly permanent features of American public and political life is at the heart of our present crisis. In the epilogue, author Nikhil Singh addresses the deeply divided country and what he calls the two Americas:

Long before Trump emerged, the GOP was the most politically entrenched, racially homogeneous far-Right political party in the Western world, one that mobilized and welded together social conservatism, a near-fanatical commitment to upward wealth redistribution, climate-change denial, the rejection of socially useful public spending, hostility to taxation in support of transfer payments to the poorest and most vulnerable, racially coded appeals to law and order, and anti-immigrant animus. Its ascent was aided by opposition to gains in formal equality, particularly the reproductive rights of women, the civil rights of racial and sexual minorities, and the ethno-racial diversification of U.S. public institutions and public culture—including schools and universities. Republican public policy was informed by moral panics about crime, drugs, and welfare, and legal resistance to moderate reforms such as affirmative action, antidiscrimination remedies, voting-rights protection and abortion rights. The last time the Republican Party controlled all three branches of government was in 2001, and we know what ensued then. Before that, the last occurrence of this special alignment was 1928, right before the Great Depression. . . .

Donald Trump, who led a consistent and consciously racist opposition to Obama’s presidency, is now in ascendancy. With Trump, the violent contradictions of the inner and outer wars are laid bare. For unlike Obama, Trump based his appeal on the promise to intensify divisions along lines of race, nation, and religion. His additional vow to abandon climate-change mitigation denies the very problem of the imperiled ecology that humans share. Trump poses an old question: who is entitled to freedom and security—or, more precisely, to the freedom of an unlimited security and the security of an unlimited freedom? One of the hallmarks of liberal-democratic claims to superior civilization has been the commitment to mitigate boundless violence in the name of boundless freedom for everyone. Though the oppositions between Obama and McCain, or Obama and Bush, or Obama or Clinton and Trump, are convenient shorthand for all those characteristic efforts to distinguish good from bad U.S. nationalism (that is, the civic from the racial, the patriotic from the jingoistic, the democratic from the statist), Trump reminds us that one feature is constant: to make (American) history, one still needs the stomach to make victims. Read the first chapter here.

In How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump, Laura Briggs says we can’t understand the rise of Trump, or combat the forces he represents, without attention to reproductive politics. Briggs brilliantly outlines how politicians’ racist accounts of reproduction were the leading wedge in the government and business disinvestment in families.

When Donald Trump, vying for the Republican presidential nomination, first hit the front page of every paper in 2015 and generated Twitter storms, it was by saying that Mexico was sending “rapists” to the United States. Aside from strumming an old string in US politics by seeming to defend a violated, victimized (white) womanhood from a racialized other (the lynching story, or before that, the Indian captivity narrative), he also got it wrong in an interesting way: the majority of migrants from Mexico to the United States are women, in significant part because changes in reproductive labor in the United States have made the work of caring for the house, the children, the elderly, and people with disabilities something that, increasingly, someone had to be hired to do—and Latinas, in particular, got those jobs. Our public conversations about race, immigration, and same-sex marriage center around questions of children, households, and families. (Or, to put it the other way, our conversations about reproductive politics are deeply about race, just as they are about sexuality.) When we think about feminism and careers, abortion, and assisted reproduction, it is perhaps more obvious that we are talking about reproduction, but I want to argue that we are thinking as much about the politics of how to raise children and the economy at large as we are the simple facts of pregnancy and birth. When we talk about the economy, we are talking about reproductive politics, because families and households are where we live our economic situation. Reproductive politics are, in fact, so powerfully central to everything else we talk about in the United States that whether we look to wealth and poverty, schools and policing, financial speculation in the housing market (and single mothers as a particular niche market to be targeted for subprime mortgages), or even foreign policy (think about overpopulation and development, international adoption, the ever-renewable fight about aid funding for birth control and abortion, or burqas and the politics of modest dress and family relations in the Islamic world). In the United States, there is no outside to reproductive politics, even though that fact is sometimes obscured. Read the first chapter here.

While Donald Trump insists that Chicago is a “total disaster” and evokes the “carnage” on its streets,  author Andrew J. Diamond says the city evokes so much that is patently American. His book Chicago on the Make: Power and Inequality in a Modern City traces the evolution of urban societies and the history of neoliberalization that created stark inequalities. It is a quintessential modern American city.

As the symbol of a triumphant industrial past, Chicago also emblematizes another of the country’s grand narratives: its long tradition of immigration and cultural pluralism. If in recent years the increasing economic insecurity of middle-class Americans has fueled the growth of anti-immigration sentiments, especially in the southwestern states along the Mexican border, the cherished idea of the United States as a country of immigrants persists. Well recognized is the fact that waves of immigrants and African American migrants worked many of the jobs that made Chicago and the United States with it an industrial giant during the American Century. The urban landscape in the minds of most Americans is a multiethnic place that mixes distinct ethnoracial communities and cultures, and in this sense Chicago once more appears as the prototypical American city. . . .

The term neoliberalization is invoked not merely to connote the implementation of a package of economic-minded policies that had inadvertent social and political consequences—such policies were in fact implemented and they did have important social and political consequences, especially beginning in the early 1990s under Richard M. Daley. A more important dimension of the story of neoliberalization being told here involves revealing how market values and economizing logics penetrated into the city’s political institutions and beyond them into its broader political culture. This political history of Chicago seeks to understand from both the top down and the bottom up how this happened and how the advance of neoliberalization crippled the political forces standing in opposition to it: labor unions, municipal reformers, neighborhood planning boards, civil rights organizations, and a range of other political organizations that sought to challenge injustices within the prevailing social and political order. Read the introduction here.


Debuting at ASA 2017: American Studies Now, a New Series

Taking the 2017 American Studies Association conference by storm the new series edited by past presidents of the ASA American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present offers short, timely books on the issues that matter today.

“We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.”—Lisa Duggan, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture—focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices on the other. With a short production schedule, the titles in American Studies Now are able to cover these political and cultural intersections while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

“Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.”—Curtis Marez, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Learn more about this exciting, new series in this Q&A with series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and visit UC Press at booth 405 to browse the books. Heading to the conference? Be sure to check out the following session:

  • American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present
    Fri, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm
    With UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper, series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and series authors Scott Kurashige, Sunaina Maira, Barbara Ransby, Shelley Streeby, and Macarena Gomez-Barris
    View session details here

For more author sessions at ASA, and to see what else we’ll have on view, head here.