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.


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.


Banned Books Week 2017: For the Freedom of Speech

On this last day of Banned Books Week, we showcase titles that promote free speech. From civil libertarianism, to the 1960s Free Speech Movement, to the current protests at UC Berkeley’s “Free Speech Week“, these titles inspire us to think critically about the impact of #freespeech on our society’s current intellectual landscape.

Get a 30% discount on these selected titles. #BannedBooksWeek #RightToRead #ReadUP

We Demand: The University and Student Protests by Roderick A. Ferguson

“[D]elivers an incisive and sobering account of reaction, of academic complicity in restoring the status quo and its exclusionary, anti-intellectual structures. Roderick Ferguson’s writing on the university is always on time, always urgent, and always aware that the struggle over knowledge is inseparable from the fight for our lives.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

 

 

 

The Essential Mario Savio: Speeches and Writings that Changed America edited by Robert Cohen

“The connections between activism in the South and activism on the Berkeley campus have never been more vividly expressed than in Savio’s own words.”—Paul Buhle, Brown University

“Insightfully contextualized by Robert Cohen, Mario Savio’s letters and speeches … reveal Savio as an activist and thinker who helped inject new meanings into the idea of American freedom.”—Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, author of The Story of American Freedom

 

 

The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century by Randy Shaw

The firsthand insights here are rich.”—CHOICE

“A must read for grassroots activists, Shaw offers indispensable insights into the strategies and tactics necessary to overcome powerful interests. This new edition significantly expands and updates the original, which is an organizing classic.”—Van Jones, author of Rebuild the Dream

 

 

 

Reflections on the University of California: From the Free Speech Movement to the Global University by Neil J. Smelser

“There is nothing like it in the literature on modern universities.”—Harriet Zuckerman, Senior Vice President, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“This is an important work for the history of higher education and for the University of California by an extraordinary scholar and leader.”—Jonathan Cole, John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and former Provost, Columbia University

 

 

 

The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s edited by Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik

“This is a superb book. We are well-launched into a new generation of ’60s scholarship, and The Free Speech Movement will be at the center of it. The analysis and personal recollection mix well, arguing persuasively for the never-to-be-underestimated place of contingency in history.”—Todd Gitlin, author of Media Unlimited and The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

 

 

 

Transforming Free Speech: The Ambiguous Legacy of Civil Libertarianism by Mark A. Graber

Contemporary civil libertarians claim that their works preserve a worthy American tradition of defending free-speech rights dating back to the framing of the First Amendment. Transforming Free Speech challenges the worthiness, and indeed the very existence of one uninterrupted libertarian tradition.

 


Banned Books Week 2017: Promoting Progressive Change

As part of Banned Books Week, occurring September 24 – 30, we’ll be sharing recommended reading lists that promote the freedom to seek and express ideas. At UC Press, we believe that scholarship is a powerful tool for fostering a deeper understanding of our world and changing how people think, plan, and govern. Our mission is to drive progressive change by seeking out and cultivating the brightest minds and giving them voice, reach, and impact.

During #BannedBooksWeek, get a 30% discount on these selected titles that promote progressive change in feminism, politics, Islam, and free speech. #BannedBooks

What’s your favorite UC Press book that you think should have made the list for Banned Books Week? Let us know in the comment section below.


The Furor Over Conservative Speakers: A Long Choreographed Enterprise

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

This guest post is part of a blog series of contributions by authors in American Studies Now, an e-book first series of short, timely books on significant political and cultural events.


On April 24, 2017 the Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley for cancelling visits by conservative authors Ann Coulter and David Horowitz over security concerns, stating: “Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promotes free debate and the free exchange of ideas, it had breached this promise through the repressive actions of University administrators and campus police.” The suit goes on to state that the administration restricts conservative speakers differently than liberal ones.

It’s important to note that the furor over conservative speakers is a well-and-long choreographed enterprise. Indeed, the movements of that choreography were planned well over forty years ago in former Chief Justice Lewis Powell’s secret but generative document popularly known as “The Powell Memorandum.” In 1971 Powell sent the memorandum to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a private organization of business leaders, warning them about the mobilization against capitalism taking place in U.S. society, generally, and on college campuses specifically.

Through the memorandum, Powell attempted to give business leaders a primer on “best practices” for garnering ideological support for corporations and the executives that run them. The category “balance” was central to that effort. Balance would become a powerful ideological tool in that offensive. In the memo, Powell used the category to construct American colleges and universities as inhospitable to and therefore in need of conservative viewpoints. As he stated, “The difficulty is that balance is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservative or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” As an ideological weapon, “balance” was a neutral sounding category that helped to construct business elites as vulnerable minorities against powerful liberal and leftist bullies. In a moment of minority insurgency, “balance” would encourage people to see the business community as a minority among minorities but one that needed to be liberated from its peers.

Part of the ideological offensive represented by “balance” involved using the category to reorganize knowledge within the university so that it would favor conservative social projects. For instance, in a discussion of why a “continuous program” for evaluating social scientific textbooks is necessary, Powell stated, “The objectives of such evaluations should be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to academic freedom. This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism, and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are biased, superficial, and unfair.” The memo is important because it reveals how the issue of balance was never simply about the rights of a singular group of speakers or the free circulation of a particular set of viewpoints. “Balance” was designed from the very beginning to leverage institutional and social conditions so that conservative formations might enjoy dominance while maligning and subjugating their critics.


Roderick A. Ferguson is Professor of American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and African American Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He is also the co-director of the Racialized Body research cluster at UIC. From 2007 to 2010, he was Associate Editor of the American Studies Association’s flagship journal American Quarterly. Beginning this July, he will serve as president-elect of the American Studies Association for a year before becoming president of the organization in July 2018.

His book We Demand: The University and Student Protests is available as an e-book now, before the print format publishes this August.

 


Heading to OAH? Save 40% on These U.S. History Titles

If you’re headed to the annual Organization of American Historians conference next month in New Orleans (April 6-9), be sure to visit UC Press at booth #219 for a 40% discount on our U.S. history titles. During the conference, follow @ucpress and  on Twitter as we share guest posts from our authors, exploring the ways in which the historical events of our past continue to shape our current day policies, politics, and culture.

Want to get a headstart on the conference? Take 30% off today on these new and bestselling titles, a selection of just some of the books you’ll find at the conference. Enter discount code 16W6596 at checkout.*

Continue reading “Heading to OAH? Save 40% on These U.S. History Titles”


We Demand: The University and Student Protests

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

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Denver. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on November 20th.

UC Press is proud to be part of the AAUP’s fifth annual University Press Week. Check out our blog and social media channels through Nov. 19th (plus follow hashtags #ReadUp #UPWeek), and learn how we, along with 40 of our scholarly press colleagues, work diligently to publish vital works benefitting educational, specialized research, and general interest communities.


On August 23, 1971 Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. issued a confidential memorandum entitled “Attack on the Free Enterprise System” to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a conservative and pro-business lobbying group. Popularly known as the Powell Memorandum, the document provided a defense of what it considered to be the “broadly based and consistently pursued” assault on the free-enterprise system by activists on college campuses.

By all accounts, JusticWe Demande Powell was a mild-mannered man, an ironic detail given that his memo would usher in some of the most conservative transformations that our society has ever seen, and in this regard, the memo is a kind of Rosetta stone. If you’ve ever wondered where the idea that corporations are not—well, corporations—but “people” with rights that must be protected or where the conservative network of lobbyists, think tanks, scholars, radio hosts, and tv personalities were first conceived, you will find those answers in a thirty-four page document that was written and disseminated behind closed doors.

My book We Demand: The University and Student Protests looks at documents like the Powell Memorandum to make sense of not only the past but also how it has shaped the present moment of student activism and the emergencies that activate it. This is a past in which progressive students were actively and deliberately constructed as the antitheses of a healthy society whose wellbeing could only be guaranteed by capitalist economic formations, which—as far as Powell was concerned—were more important than the actual people who live in the society. This book turns to the Powell Memorandum and documents like it to revive a question that the writer Toni Cade Bambara posed in the 1990s: “The question that faces billions of people at this moment, one decade shy of the twenty-first century, is: Can the planet be rescued from the psychopaths?”


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.

UC Press will publish We Demand: The University and Student Protests in August 2017.