Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series: Jodi Byrd, "The Beast of America: Sovereignty and the Anarchy of Objects" Response by Kevin Hamilton

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

posted under by John Moore
[On April 22, the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory hosted the latest installment in its 2014-2015 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, "The Beast of America: Sovereignty and the Anarchy of Objects." The speaker was Jodi Byrd, Associate Professor of English, American Indian Studies, and Gender & Women's Studies. Below Professor Kevin Hamilton's (New Media) response to the lecture.]

Playing the "State of Injury"
Written by Kevin Hamilton (New Media)

I am thankful for many things about Jodi’s paper, and this opportunity to discuss it, but I want to focus on just two in my comments here. One is somewhat disciplinary, the other more institutional. Both concern the rather urgent question of how to play in a way that casts light on the conditions that make play possible.

Bioshock Infinite's Columbia

On the disciplinary front, I see in Jodi’s paper a welcome intervention into technology and software studies, a field that at times seems overly-focused on the task of uncovering and translating obscure or opaque technological processes. Through taking on both the examination of a particular sociotechnical object – that of the game Bioshock Infinite – and a critique of a popular critical frame for examination of such objects – that of Object Oriented Ontology – Jodi has made here a crucial contribution to a growing and vibrant field. I will return to this in a few moments.
But first I want to express some thanks for how this paper and its presentation here addresses an institutional question – namely, the question of what we are to do when critique, a primary tool for most of us as scholars, teachers and persons, not only meets with lack of response, but is characterized as injury.
Read more

Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series: Jodi Byrd, "The Beast of America: Sovereignty and the Anarchy of Objects" Response by Nicholas Cragoe

posted under by John Moore
[On April 22, the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory hosted the latest installment in its 2014-2015 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, "The Beast of America: Sovereignty and the Anarchy of Objects." The speaker was Jodi Byrd, Associate Professor of English, American Indian Studies, and Gender & Women's Studies. Professor Kevin Hamilton (New Media) responded. Below are reflections on the event from graduate student Nicholas Cragoe (Sociology/American Indian Studies).]

Written by Nicholas Cragoe (Sociology/American Indian Studies)

In her introduction to Monday's lecture, Trish Loughran (English) lauded the far-reaching and integrative interdisciplinarity of Jodi Byrd’s (English/American Indian Studies/Gender & Women’s Studies) work, saying that “variability is the constant in Jodi’s work.” The description of a scholar’s work as “variable” might in some cases mean that the scholar studies a broad range of different subjects. In Professor Byrd’s case, however, the variability appears in her ability to find overlapping terrain spanning everything from coding and video game programming, to critical theory, to queer studies, to indigenous studies. Byrd’s lecture, “The Beast of America,” brought together modes of analysis and topics of concern from game studies, political science, cultural studies, and philosophy, bringing these diverse perspectives to bear on the complex machine of representative racism, sexism, colonialism, and imperialism that is the recent video game phenomenon, Bioshock Infinite. Her method of personally immersing herself in the game environment as a player, applauded by her introductory and responding speakers, is even reminiscent of a kind of postmodern, digital take on classic anthropological ethnography.

Read more

Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series: Jonathan Xavier Inda, "Racial Prescriptions: Pharmaceuticals, Difference, & the Politics of Life" Response by Rico Kleinstein Chenyek

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

posted under by John Moore
[On February 23, the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory hosted the latest installment in its 2014-2015 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, “Racial Prescriptions: Pharmaceuticals, Difference, & the Politics of Life.” The speaker was Jonathan Xavier Inda, Chair & Associate Professor of Latina/Latino Studies. Professor Monica McDermott (Sociology) responded. Below are reflections on the event from graduate student Rico Kleinstein Chenyek.]

Molecular Vital Politics of Race: Affirming Life Through Biopower and BiDil 
Written by Rico Kleinstein Chenyek (Phd/MD Student: Institute for Communications Research, Medical Scholars Program, & Latina/Latino Studies)

In the age of genomics and individualized genetic health sciences, scholars have begun to explore the implications of new forms of medicalized racialization. Jonathan Inda’s (Latina/Latino Studies/ Anthropology) Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory Distinguished Faculty Lecture, "Racial Prescriptions: Pharmaceuticals, Difference, & the Politics of Life,” addressed the double-edged effects of recent scientific research to develop pharmaceuticals targeted at racial minorities, such as the drug BiDil, which was marketed to African Americans. Following an introduction by Alejandro Lugo (Anthropology/Latina/Latino Studies) who located Inda’s current research on race and medicine work within the context of his earlier and ongoing research on immigration, criminalization, governmentality, and the regulation of citizenship (see Targeting Immigrants, among others), Inda introduced the main object of his study: isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine HCL, or BiDil®.

Prof. Inda’s talk and its title were drawn from his recent monograph, which explores the politics of dealing with health disparities by developing and marketing pharmaceuticals targeted at specific racial minorities. BiDil is a pharmaceutical drug developed by Dr. Jay Cohn to treat congestive heart failure by opening blood vessels so the heart does not work as hard, thereby relieving some of the symptoms. In the late 1990s, after initial clinical trials designed for the general population produced inconclusive results, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) rejected the drug. However, Dr. Cohn later developed a study for BiDil with only self-identified African Americans. This study showed a significant increase in survival and quality of life for those who took BiDil in comparison with the controlled placebo group. In fact, as the homepage for BiDil.com for health professionals advertises in one of their “Did You Know” facts, “the African American Heart Failure Trial (A-HeFT) was terminated early following a recommendation from the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board due to a significantly lower mortality rate in the BiDil group.” In other words, since the study showed quick and pronounced benefits, the trial was cut short. With these new results, Dr. Cohn returned to the FDA seeking approval for the drug. He also buttressed his case by drawing the support of numerous Black professional, political, and medical organizations, who were motivated by the urgent need to address racial health disparities in their community. Cohn received approval of the drug for use only for self-identified African Americans, making it, in June 2005, the first and only pharmaceutical approved by FDA for a specific racial group to this day.

Image taken from Bidil.com homepage
Inda argues that the BiDil case study is crucial to understanding new forms of the biologization of race in the wake of the mapping of the human genome in 2000 and the renewed impetus given to genetic solutions to racial health disparities. Inda points out that we must approach the case of BiDil with caution because while this research is driven by the effort to improve the health of racial minorities, such efforts may reinforce the biologization of race and allow for the economic exploitation of racial minorities. Building on Michel Foucault’s concept of “biopower” via Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose, Inda examines BiDil as imbricated in the new racial politics of life, where the racial body becomes an object of vitality. Foucault’s biopower shows how a series of measures aimed at improving health and increasing wealth can also contain a murderous and exclusionary underside. Rose and Rabinow situate biopower as a logic of vitality in the context of genetic and biological sciences that envision life to be molecularly artificial thereby rendering vitality readily engineerable. Placing this work in conversation with Duana Fullwiley’s observations about the contemporary “molecular inscription of race,” Inda considers the racial politics of BiDil’s development and marketing. As a project of biological citizenship and a biochemical materialization of hope, BiDil was touted by its backers as something that recognized African American lives as worthy of health care while aiming to reduce cardiovascular health disparities within the group. BiDil was supported by Black and other minoritized professionals and by Black political, health, and medical organizations.

However, Inda contends that BiDil is far from problem-free on both scientific and political fronts. Scientifically, through its approval as a drug only for African Americans, BiDil gives the impression that it will work for all African Americans and only for African Americans, thus flattening out the heterogeneity of Blackness, genetically and otherwise. Furthermore, in standing out as the only drug approved solely for African Americans, it ignores the overwhelming consistency in drug response across racial difference as demonstrated by Steven Epstein. Ultimately, in approving BiDil solely for those that self-identify as African Americans, a process of racialization and self-identification that is extremely varied gets reduced to a specific biological difference whose genetic basis remains uncertain to this day. (There is no genetic or otherwise biological marker that determines BiDil sensitivity in people with congestive heart failure based on self-identification.)

Jonathan Xavier Inda (Photo Credit: Rico Chenyek)
Politically, the argument for BiDil is extremely tenuous as well. On one hand, following the work of Jonathan Kahn, as scientists and health providers and researchers increasingly understand health disparities through the lens of genetics, the social, physical, and environmental origins of racial health disparities lose the attention and resources required for structural change. On the other hand, following the work of Sharona Hoffman, Inda argues that BiDil could contribute to the same racial stigmatization and discrimination Black people experienced in finding employment and insurance coverage following the imagined genetic associations made between sickle-cell anemia and blackness.

Following Dr. Inda’s talk, Monica McDermott (Sociology) provided a response commenting on the importance of critiquing how science and medicine assert power within our current political reality, especially as they appears to foster life rather than explicitly seeking to eradicate it. Thus, McDermott contends that in a postracial era that figures race as a legacy of the past that is no longer tied to ongoing discrimination, not only does medical racialization do violence to non-white subjects, but it also justifies the withdrawal of necessary social welfare and support. While McDermott understands how Black people and organizations welcomed the targeted research and recognition of African American health inequalities in the development of BiDil, she reiterates Inda’s critiques. She observes that BiDil is capable of producing a crisis of identity in, for example, a hypothetical self-identified African American seeking an effective treatment through BiDil based solely on racial identification, but who does not respond favorably to the drug. McDermott further argues that such biological renderings of race reify racial admixture as somehow less real. They also contribute to the same line of thinking that produces the white supremacist desire to locate particular combinations of genes, such as a “warrior gene,” that would identify and explain the source of violence and aggression in Black and Latino inner-city youth.

Following the formal lecture, attendees engaged in thought-provoking discussion linking Inda’s research to developments in epigenetics that explores how the environment may become coded in one’s DNA and how such a line of thinking may similarly bolster arguments about cultural deficiency or poor childrearing as the cause behind racial health disparities. Questions also yielded discussions regarding the possible future discovery of a biological factor linked to BiDil sensitivity that would then potentially show race to be irrelevant to BiDil efficacy. Another thread in the discussion focused on the overall failure of BiDil to bring awareness about congestive heart failure or to reach the global market as developers had initially hoped. Inda pointed out that strategies of moving pharmaceutical drugs to racially-specific markets overseas have emerged such as in the case of Iressa, a drug used in lung cancer treatment, which was developed in the US and later marketed in Asia as racially specific for Asians. The discussion concluded with Inda’s reflection on the connection between his earlier work and this research as being shaped by a concern with examining processes of racialization.
Read more

"New Research on the Black Death at the Intersections of Science and History" Response by Elizabeth Elaine Tavares

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

posted under by John Moore
[On January 29, the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory and Medieval Studies co-organized a lecture and roundtable to mark the inaugural issue of The Medieval Globe, “Pandemic Disease in the Medieval World: Rethinking the Black Death” (ed. Monica H. Green) and to explore ways to promote research at the intersections of science and the humanities. Robert Hymes (Columbia) gave an opening lecture, “Diagnosing Plague in 13th-Century China: Medical Practitioners, Medical Terminology, and the Problem of Identifying a New Disease,” and later joined a panel of Illinois faculty in discussing ways to advance research that crosses the boundaries between the sciences and the humanities. Below are reflections on the event from graduate student affiliate Elizabeth Elaine Tavares.]

New Research on the Black Death at the Intersections of Science and History
Written by Elizabeth Elaine Tavares (English)

Two events on January 29 demonstrate the possibilities for collaborative research at the intersection of science and the humanities: a lecture by Robert Hymes (Columbia) on the origins of plague in China in the thirteenth century, and a panel discussion by UIUC faculty from the sciences and humanities, reflecting on new findings on the Black Death published in the inaugural issue of the UIUC-based journal, The Medieval Globe.

The first event was a talk given by Robert Hymes, at 4:00pm, in Lincoln Hall, Room 1090. His talk, “Diagnosing Plague in 13th-Century China: Medical Practitioners, Medical Terminology, and the Problem of Identifying a New Disease,” revisited and extended his earlier hypothesis, published in the special issue on the Black Death in The Medieval Globe. In his talk, Hymes corroborated the findings of microbiologists Yujun Cui et al, that plague’s causative organism, Yersinia pestis, originated in the Qinghai/Tibet plateau between 1142 and 1339. Hymes argued that the plague-causing pathogen can be traced to the Mongol invasion of the Chinese Tangut Xia state in the early thirteenth century. His rationale is, in part, that this period is coterminous with the westward conquests of the Shah of Iran’s empire and the increased associations of the Mongols with disease in the written record.

Read more

Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series: Catherine Prendergast, "Writer, Painter, Banker, Thief"
Response by Kaia Simon

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

[On November 10, the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory hosted the second lecture in the 2014-2015 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, "Writer, Painter, Banker, Thief: The American Arts Colony in the Public Account." The speaker was Catherine Prendergast, Professor of English. Professor Kathryn Oberdeck (History) responded. Below are reflections on the event from graduate student Kaia Simon (English).]

Writer, Painter, Banker, Thief: The American Arts Colony in the Public Account
Written by Kaia Simon

The origin story of the Yaddo artist colony is steeped in romanticism, the natural, and the supernatural. It lauds the benevolence of the rich in creating and preserving a space for the development of art and artists. The origin story runs like this: during a walk in the Yaddo woods surrounding her home, Katrina Trask (a wealthy married woman and prolific author of poetry and plays) sees a divine vision that instructs her to leave Yaddo to artists. She grabs her husband’s arm and pointing to the trees, claims to see a vision of men and women among them, “creating, creating, creating!” Spencer Trask, her husband, moved by his wife’s vision, agrees to bequeath the estate for an artists’ retreat. Thus, Yaddo is founded as an idyllic site for the development of artists and has since yielded a rich harvest of 68 National Book Award winners, 67 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 108 Rome Award winners.

Prendergast demystifies this origin story and offers a counternarrative of its founding and legacy. She argues that a study of the material conditions surrounding the acquisition of the Yaddo estate and its eventual incorporation is crucial to understanding that the economic and the cultural are not separate realms in American life but intricately connected. Prendergast’s account brings to light the material conditions that made and continues to make Yaddo possible. She contends that rather than being a story of divine intervention and the affirmation of artistic work, Yaddo was built on the economic panic of “second-tier robber barons”--the Old Money Yankees whose fortunes could not compete with the New Money of J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and the Guggenheims, but who wanted to use philanthropy to protect their wealth during the economic booms and busts of the end of the Gilded Age. These second-tier robber barons might not have been able to amass art collections or endow libraries across the nation, but they were able to buy up rural properties on the cheap—and found many of these artist colonies.

The Yaddo Mansion, ca. 1905
Prendergast arrives at this claim after careful and detailed study of the documents containing the economic transactions and court cases related to the Yaddo estate, and by examining the Saratoga locals’ response to the Trasks and the Yaddo estate. By assembling an archive of documents that detail the material conditions of acquisition, development, staffing, and maintenance of this estate, Prendergast is able to argue that it is the very fraught history of the conflict between the economic and political interests of the Trasks and the people of Saratoga that enabled Yaddo to exist and, eventually, to thrive. Her research sheds light on the complex interconnections between business and charity, New York and Saratoga, and Spencer Trask, Katrina Trask, and George Foster Peabody. These linkages, much more than divine vision and noblesse oblige, offer a clearer material history of the founding of Yaddo.

Prendergast’s archival research captures the complexity of personal and business relations at this time, and offers rich details to help us understand the personal and economic motives that inform the development of Yaddo. Some of the most compelling details center around the Trasks’ marriage: that they used the estate and the people who staffed it to “play medieval” (even addressing each other Lorde and Ladye in their correspondence); that Spencer encouraged his wife’s affair with George Foster Peabody as Spencer himself kept residence in his office on Bowling Green; and that Spencer’s death may not have been the train “accident” it was reported as in newspapers. These details plot the unrest between Yaddo and the Saratoga locals, explain Katrina’s eventual marriage to Peabody, and illuminate Peabody’s role as president and chairman of both the Yaddo Board and the Broadway Realty Company.

Yaddo’s documented economic history started in August 1873. The mansion and land were auctioned to buyers who Prendergast likened to those who bought vacation property in Florida in 2005. Yaddo’s property immediately lost 70% of its value in the subsequent September 1873 market crash, paving the way for Spencer to buy the mansion and surrounding property on foreclosure in 1881, and then eventually buy up the surrounding lots at deflated prices from owners who could no longer afford them. Prendergast documents one conflict between Spencer and a landowner named Hamilton, who not only refused to sell his lot but also took Trask to court for changing the course of a stream and flooding that very land. This conflict speaks to the way the Saratoga locals resisted the entitlement the Trasks exercised.The Trasks did not endear themselves to the residents of Saratoga in any way: not only did they take advantage of their misfortune in acquiring the land, they insulted their employees and orchestrated moralistic anti-gambling campaigns targeting their activities and practices. The people of Saratoga resisted them in multiple ways: in the papers, in court, and even through civil disobedience (which, Prendergast said, is a nice word for vandalism).

The Yaddo pergola
Amid this complex interplay of forces, Prendergast argues, Yaddo was born as an artist colony. The central conflict between Yaddo and the people of Saratoga centered on Yaddo’s claim for tax-exempt status as a charitable organization, long before the first artists were installed there. After being denied tax-exempt status by the city of Saratoga on the claim that Yaddo was functioning only as a private residence with no evidence of artists in its quarters, a series of court decisions forced Peabody to actually work to incorporate and develop Yaddo. Because of the public's and the court’s scrutiny, Peabody appointed a board of directors for the charitable organization, held meetings, and developed the land, all to save face for what had been initially a tax shelter for the Broadway Realty Company. After eventually winning the court cases and achieving tax-exempt status, Yaddo accepted its first artists in residence during 1926. The public of Saratoga did not collect any tax money from the estate, essentially subsidizing it.

Prendergast does not intend this story to be a critique of artists’ colonies or of support for the arts in the United States—quite the opposite, in fact. She uses this story to argue that without an understanding of the material history of public support and funding for the arts, the arts can too easily become pawns in others’ economic battles, while the actual public support for the arts goes unaccounted for. Prendergast shows that the public of Saratoga made and continue to make Yaddo possible: by not collecting taxes from it and by working there while surrendering the use of the land for other public uses or good. Ironically, despite its continued investment in Yaddo—whether willing or not—the public receives no credit in the enshrined origin story of Yaddo. The benefactors and donors do. Prendergast wonders what the actual cost of such stories of altruistic purity are, and how they continue to obscure the public support that sustains the arts.
Read more

Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series: Asef Bayat, "Revolutions of Neoliberal Times"
Response by Rohini S. Singh

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

[On October 27, the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory hosted the first lecture in the 2014-2015 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series, "Revolutions of Neoliberal Times." The speaker was Asef Bayat, Bastian Professor in Global and Transnational Studies (Sociology). Professor Jessica Greenberg (Anthropology) responded. Below are reflections on the event from graduate student affiliate Rohini S. Singh (Communication).] 

"Tahrir Square Was a Revolution – Right?" 
Written by Rohini S. Singh 

People speak often of the "Arab uprising" and the domino series of revolutions it set off throughout the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. However, the key takeaway from Asef Bayat's talk on Monday was that we might not be correct in calling what happened in Egypt a revolution. Instead, argued Bayat, the people involved in the Arab Spring uprisings critiqued the impact of neoliberalism on their lives in ways which conformed ultimately to neoliberal logics. As such, these protesters did not effect meaningful change of the sort usually brought about by revolutions. Rather than unseat political regimes or overhaul economic systems, they merely voiced dissent without enacting tangible changes in existing power structures. 

This ineffectual behavior might seem counter-intuitive, said Bayat, especially in light of the increasing income inequality wrought by neoliberalism, the global economic phenomenon which places the principles of free market capitalism at the center of social and political life. After all, neoliberalism's espousal of capitalism has generated incredible exclusion and inequality. Bayat cited a Forbes survey which found that the 400 richest people possess as much wealth as half the American public and argued that this kind of inequality can be found everywhere in the world. However, in spite of this stark inequality, there seems to have been little challenge mounted against this system.

Bayat hypothesized that this is because neoliberalism generates dissent that is itself conditioned by the structures and logics of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, explained Bayat, has commoditized emotions, relationships, and even social movements. It is a kind of governmentality that structures thinking and decision-making to the point where people cannot imagine a feasible alternative to it. By undertaking, as Michel Foucault called it, the "application of the economic grid to social phenomena," neoliberalism treats every institution as a business enterprise, whether it is a school, a hospital, or the state itself. It manifests in hierarchical structures, the constant striving for unlimited growth, the production of goods for exchange, fierce competition, the prioritization of self-interest, and the pursuit of efficiency. Hence, in its focus on individual effort and interest, neoliberalism seems to lack notions of society, community, the collective good, and real democracy (as opposed to formal democracy). 

Asef Bayat
In an effort, perhaps, to address this lacuna, two types of movements have arisen in response to neoliberalism. In places where neoliberal policies are mixed with autocratic regimes, we have seen revolutions aimed at regime change. However, in more liberal democracies, we have seen movements protesting the effects of neoliberalism while functioning within its structures. It is this latter group that we tend to see more in twenty-first century politics. Thus, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S protested the involvement of money in politics as well as the effects of neoliberal projects (such as unemployment and inequality) without systematically or adequately questioning the capitalist system that lay at the root of this inequality. While the Occupy movement expressed a profound distrust of liberal democracy, the movement focused more on highlighting the crisis of political representation in the U.S. than on articulating a radical critique of liberal democracy or outlining the alternative system they wanted. 

Similarly, in Egypt, it was not the economic model but the political regime that was the early target of the revolutionaries. The irony is that despite being targeted, these regimes did not change. The revolutions of the “Arab Spring” were not revolutions in terms of effecting changes to the state led by the people. Instead, the protesters here sought a mix of revolution and reform: Bayat characterized these protests as “refolutions” or "revolutions without revolutionaries." These protagonists, he argued, had not read deeply about revolutions, unseating regimes, or questioning ideologies. They found themselves caught up in the revolutions of 2011, overtaken by events rather than instigating them consciously. Given that they had not had much experience with past revolutions, these protesters therefore had no idea how to wrest the state back from the power-holders in government. Thus, Bayat observed that the language of revolution in Egypt's most recent revolutions remained mild and innocuous compared to earlier revolutions because the newer revolutionaries lacked the intellectual resources and vision to transform the incumbent regime. The social and economic vision of leaders in the Arab Revolution differed little from that of the old regimes, in contrast to revolutionaries in Cuba, Russia, China, Nicaragua, and Eastern Europe, who advanced different ideologies from the regimes they sought to topple. 

Tahrir Square Protest, 2013
In addition, Egypt's protesters used the language of the markets to critique the political regime, thus resisting their governments while adhering to the principles of the capitalist system by which these regimes functioned. Bayat described how one of the revolutionary groups went so far as to use marketing techniques to “sell” the protests. In doing so, the Egyptian “revolutionaries” borrowed from the 1998 Serbian uprising which also used branding through street art as a way to promote their movement and its aims. As such, the Arab Spring revolutions remained fairly pro-business, both in their tactics and impact. Bayat noted that the Arab Uprising resulted in a minimal flight of capital or investment during the revolutions, with only eight factories taken over in Egypt versus hundreds in previous revolutions in Iran, Chile, Algeria, and Portugal. Bayat closed by noting that the unparalleled number of protests instigated during the Arab Uprising hardly translated into actual revolution or regime change. 

Jessica Greenberg's response asked what the clout of neoliberalism meant for the possibility of a coherent politics or effectual social movements. She argued that modern social movements have shown that if anything, we must abandon existing definitions of revolutions and question the value of revolutions as a means of social change. She suggested that we should shift our understanding from the definitional to the situational by focusing on the everyday lived experiences of people involved in revolutions. To that extent, she argued that for many activists, the important thing is not to ask what revolution means, but what it does. The lesson she drew from this was that the question is not what to do about neoliberalism, but how to live with it. 

The ensuing questions touched on the role of violence in revolutions and the fault-lines of neoliberalism. To the first, Bayat responded that revolutionaries in Egypt were adamant that they did not want to resort to violence in their protests, but that they did fight back when faced with physical intimidation by the regime. When thinking about the possible fault-lines of hegemonic neoliberalism, Bayat mused that neoliberalism's effects are seen in the unprecedented inequality it has generated around the world. Thus, in the dissents of the Arab world, the key issue was not just the dictatorial regime in power but the consequences of neoliberal ideology for the middle-class poor. Bayat urged the audience to realize the importance of engaging in the "long revolution" by seeking changes in laws and systems of power to push for lasting social transformation. 

[Bayat's talk was part of the Unit for Criticism's ongoing 2014-2015 Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series. The next lecture is on Monday, November 10, at 4pm, in the Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom, where we will hear from Catherine Prendergast (English) on "Writer, Painter, Banker, Thief: The American Arts Colony in the Public Account."]
Read more

Cliven Bundy, King of Nevada

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Written by Nicholas Cragoe (Sociology)

It’s been a few months since we heard anything much about Cliven Bundy. He’s fading farther and farther from the front page, being quickly forgotten by the media and the public. But for a few weeks in the Spring of 2014, he held court on the dry plains of Nevada grazing country. All the same, a quick refresher: Bundy was and is a cattle rancher near Bunkerville, NV, who decided one day that he’d had enough of being pushed around by federal legislation he had little say in. The straw that broke the rancher’s back seems to have been an attempt by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to curtail ranching ranges in Nevada in order to protect the endangered desert tortoise.
Cliven Bundy
Bundy decided to protest what he saw as federal overreaching by grazing his cattle on federally owned land without providing the necessary paperwork and fees. This was an illegal action under federal law, but through every microphone that would come near him, Bundy proclaimed his refusal to recognize the authority of the US federal government, believing Nevada to be a “sovereign” state and the highest authority to which Bundy would pay allegiance (or anything else). Bundy quickly became a cause-celebre and the mouthpiece for disgruntled anti-government types across the nation, making headlines and giving interviews, receiving support from conservative politicians and media outlets, and whipping the far right into a frenzy.
When the government wrangled Bundy’s cattle and tried to make some arrests, an armed standoff ensued near Bundy’s home involving the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), law enforcement officers, and a small militia of Bundy’s family and supporters. Ultimately the government opted to return the cattle and retreated from the scene. Bundy became the darling of the anti-political right, at least until he made some ill-advised and, frankly, surreal comments about the history of race and slavery, at which point Fox News was seen sprinting in the other direction as fast as possible, along with most of Bundy’s more mainstream supporters. In the months since, Bundy’s fame has faded, but the political and cultural conflict surrounding the Bundy family ranch remains genuinely bizarre and unsettled.
Read more