Group-centered leadership formation in contemporary racial justice organizing

I recently returned to some collaborative writing from the “Breaking Consent” project. Our first paper from the project will be on group-centered leadership formation in contemporary racial justice organizing. The intention is to produce a contribution to academic and movement-relevant literatures that Ohio Student Association organizers can smoothly incorporate in the political education and leadership development processes of the organization.

The article intervenes in the context of “horizontalist” and “verticalist” arguments about social justice organizing (arguments quickly described at the outset of this post on the Mobilizing Ideas blog). Contemporary racial justice organizing in the United States is remarkable in part for how it fundamentally challenges the terms of this debate. Although contemporary racial justice organizing is often interpreted as “leaderless” in the mold of Occupy, and is sometimes revered for its spontaneous quality by people who presume to speak for the movement, people contributing to U.S.-based racial justice organizing since 2012 have explicitly described the work as “leader-full.” With this descriptor, racial justice organizers are naming a post-liberal turn towards group-centered leadership formation that revives subjugated histories of the Black Freedom Movement and disobeys the dichotomy in social movement theory and practice between “vertical” and “horizontal” modes of political engagement.

Our article maps connections between subjugated histories of Black Freedom struggle and contemporary organizing practices, and identifies challenges facing racial justice organizers who promote group-centered leadership formation. We are informed by an array of movement-relevant literature and data (video reflections, journals, fieldnotes, and interviews) from our process of “strategic reflection” in the Ohio Student Association. Our analysis follows post-Althusserian currents in political theory to characterize hero-centred charismatic leadership as a technology of policing, echoing a paper I presented at the 2016 Mini-Conference on Policing and Race in Cincinnati. In contrast, we characterize group-centered leadership formation as a mode of politicization. By framing group-centered leadership formation this way, we emphasize that, while these processes clearly disrupt an unjust configuration of the world, group-centered leadership formation is even more significant for how it ensures both escalation in movement moments and stability in organizational moments.

Group-centered leadership formation is not, however, an easy solution to organizational shortcomings of “leaderless” protest. Activists promoted leaderlessness because it seems to promise relief from ubiquitous oligarchical forms of political engagement. Organizers of “leader-full” campaigns have developed organizing practices that appear to address the problems of accountability, sustainability, strategic uncertainty, and individualism associated with “leaderless” protest, but they also must skillfully negotiate tendencies towards mediation and individualization that have historically been established through the lionization of charismatic leaders.

Readers interested in these themes might also enjoy the “Social Movement Leadership” forum on the blog Mobilizing Ideas.

Posted in action-research, Activism, My publications or presentations, Policing, Political Geography, Politics, Posts (uncategorized), Resistance Studies, Social Movements, Young People | Leave a comment

‘Critical Geographies in Latin America’ – Journal of Latin American Geography 16(1)

The Journal of Latin American Geography has just released a new special issue on ‘Critical Geographies in Latin America,’ which is part of a very intentional turn in the editorial position of the journal (as detailed here in JLAG 15[1]). In their introduction to the special issue, the guest editors Johnny Finn and Anne-Marie Hanson assert their intention for the special issue, “to decenter critical geographic knowledges by emphasizing the multiplicity of long-term histories and trajectories that underlie globalized cultural and political projects in Latin America.” They continue, “a truly critical geography makes visible the connections between spatial practices that not only control territories, but also bodies, knowledges, imaginaries, and experiences.”

Zoe Pearson and I contributed a short article to the special issue, on “The Challenge of Feminist Political Geography to State-Centrism in Latin American Geography.” I cut-and-paste our abstract below.

Abstract

Since the 1990s, feminist political geographers have done ethnographic research to examine the state as an effect of everyday practices, and have accordingly challenged statist theories of the political that reproduce a myth of the state’s autonomous power to determine the coordinates of political life. This article promotes a feminist turn in geographical research on state power in Latin America. We reflect on the stakes of moving away from a masculinist epistemology of the state for the regional literature, and present evidence from our research in Bolivia and Mexico that helps us theorize the state as a contingent set of social relations that ordinary people participate in naturalizing. Our analysis shows how this set of social relations may be reproduced in everyday life, and also highlights how ordinary people may organize their lives in excess of social-spatial orders given to the exercise of state power. We conclude by arguing for critical geographies of/in Latin America informed by feminist insights on the exercise of state power, both to appreciate the role of struggles over social reproduction in recent political developments in the region and also to denaturalize a social-spatial ordering of everyday life that sustains injustice.

Keywords: Bolivia, feminist political geography, Mexico, the state

Resumen

Desde la década de los 90, los geógrafos políticos feministas han realizado investigación etnográfica para examinar el estado como un resultado de prácticas cotidianas y, como consecuencia de esto, han desafiado las teorías “estatales” de lo político sobre el estado que reproducen el mito de que el estado tiene el poder autónomo para dictaminar las coordenadas de la vida política. Este artículo promueve un giro feminista en la investigación geográfica sobre el poder del estado en Latinoamérica. En él, reflexionamos sobre las implicaciones de alejarse de una epistemología masculina en la crítica sobre la región y presentamos evidencia de nuestra investigación, en Bolivia y en México, que nos permite teorizar el estado como un sistema contingente de relaciones sociales naturalizadas por la gente común. Nuestro análisis muestra que este sistema de relaciones sociales se reproducen en la cotidianidad, y resalta la manera en la que la gente común puede llegar a organizar su vida a partir de un exceso de órdenes socio-espaciales dadas para garantizar el ejercicio del poder del estado. Concluimos defendiendo la importancia de estudios geográficos críticos sobre el ejercicio del poder del estado informados por perspectivas feministas de y en Latinoamérica. Esto permite, por un lado, apreciar el papel de las luchas sobre la reproducción social en acontecimientos políticos recientes en la región y, por otro, permite desnaturalizar el ordenamiento socio-espacial de la cotidianidad que sostiene la injusticia.

Palabras claves: Bolivia, geografía política feminista, México, el estado

Posted in Bolivia, Critical Human Geography, Mexico, My publications or presentations, Political Geographies of the State, Political Geography, Politics, The Americas | Leave a comment

‘Objects of Inquiry: Ways of Seeing, Ways of Knowing in the Humanities’

I will contribute to a panel this evening at the University of Wyoming Art Museum, about the status of objects in humanities research. The occasion for our panel is a visit from Jim Harris, the Andrew W Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator in the University Engagement Programme of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in the University of Oxford. The Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research also hosted Jim in December 2014, when he gave this talk (video below). My comments tonight will draw in part from my thinking on the materiality of archives. Thank you to Isadora Helfgott (UW History) for organizing the panel.

Posted in Aesthetics, Archives, Research Design, Teaching, University service | 1 Comment

Seeking Visiting Faculty in Physical Geography at University of Wyoming

The Department of Geography at the University of Wyoming invites applications for a one year appointment at the rank of Visiting Instructor/Visiting Assistant Professor, depending on qualifications, Fall, 2017 and Spring semester, 2018.  The successful candidate will contribute to teaching and academic life in the department and will have expertise in Physical Geography with an emphasis in fluvial geomorphology.  This position is from August 20, 2017 to May 15, 2018. Because this position is temporary for one year, it may not have the potential for renewal.

Candidates should be capable of teaching courses across our physical geography curriculum and supporting Master’s students in a variety of activities that range from geomorphic processes to water development. Applicants with prior teaching experience in large introductory physical geography classes will have a preference.  . The main duties for this position are to teach classes in introductory physical geography, geomorphology and fluvial geomorphology. Additional courses will be flexible depending on the qualification and interests of the candidate. A demonstrated specialty in fluvial geomorphology with at least a Master’s degree in Geography or related discipline is required. Salary will be compensatory based on qualifications. Applicants who are appointed to UW will be required to provide an official certification of successful completion of all degree requirements prior to their initial appointment with UW.

Founded in 1886, The University of Wyoming is nestled between the Laramie and Snowy Mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains in Laramie, Wyoming. The University of Wyoming is Wyoming’s only four-year university in the state with over 13,000 students. A land-grant institution with over 40 graduate programs and 12 research centers or programs. The Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC) is known throughout the West as an example of a state-of-the-art clearinghouse for environmental and natural resource applications. The EPSCoR-NSF sponsored Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics is a leader in water research and development in the state. The Department of Geography at the University of Wyoming has excellent computational, research and teaching facilities, with strong connections to the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Interdisciplinary Program in Water Resources.

The natural character of Wyoming provides a wide range of opportunities to examine landscapes from the pristine and spectacular, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, to those in which excessive development have left them in need of rehabilitation. The Central Rockies location of Wyoming has the diversity of basins, mountains and plateaus that were both a challenge to pioneers and an attraction to adventurers. The Denver Metropolitan area is 3-hours away by car. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping, skiing, and wildlife watching opportunities are within minutes of town.

The University of Wyoming is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Applicants must include a cover letter, C.V., a separate statement of teaching qualifications and philosophy and list of three (3) references by April 22, 2017 for best consideration.  Send materials to:

Search Committee

Department of Geography

Rm. 207 A&S Bldg.

1000 E. University Ave.

University of Wyoming

Laramie, WY 82071-3371

geographydept@uwyo.edu

Questions can be addressed to Dr. William J. Gribb, Department of Geography, Rm. 207 A&S Bldg., 1000 E. University Ave., University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071-3371. 1.307.766.3311,  Email: planning@uwyo.edu

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New chapter on “Political education in protest camps”

9781447329411-278607-300x400 Protest Camps in International Context: Spaces, Infrastructures, and Media of Resistance will be published at the end of this month on Policy Press. I have contributed a chapter from my research in Mexico City.

The editors (Gavin Brown, Anna Feigenbaum, Fabian Frenzel, and Patrick McCurdy) have organized two sessions at the upcoming meeting of the Association of American Geographers in recognition of the new book. More information about those sessions can be found in the preliminary program, here and here.

I cut and paste the first paragraph of my chapter for the book below.

***

Political education in protest camps: spatializing dissensus and reconfiguring places of youth activist ritual in Mexico City

Protest camps require and facilitate political education. But political education can also undermine the potential of protest campers to elicit radical change. This chapter examines several protest camps in post 1968 Mexico City to reveal how young protest campers cooperate in political education to the effect of reconfiguring places of activism and cultivating spaces of politics. It shows that protest camps can productively stage encounters between difference senses of the world, and that political education can intensify spatial expressions of political antagonism. At the same time, the chapter also shows how political education can sometimes obstruct the reconfiguration of places of activism. Here, political education is a mode of social reproduction that carries with it the tendency towards stability. On the one hand, then, I examine practices of political education through which protest campers prefiguratively embody alternative ways of being that challenge established vocabularies and identities of the place in which they are situated. On the other hand, I show that, as a ‘protest camp pathology’ (Feigenbaum et al, 2013, 229), political education maintains parts of the social-spatial order against which protest campers have ostensibly converged.

Posted in Activism, Critical Human Geography, Mexico, My publications or presentations, Social Movements | Leave a comment

Judith Butler on identity/difference and solidarity

This recent interview with Judith Butler suggests an approach to solidarity — or for Butler, ‘alliance’ — that resonates with the arguments of some human geographers (see relevant posts, here, and here). The following quote from the interview is especially suggestive for thinking solidarities that exceed likeness:

[How] do we think about these loose alliances that are most emphatically not based on love or even identification[?] My sense is that we have too often presumed that we must identify with those with whom we ally. But if we insist on identification in this way, we tend to reproduce communitarian politics, allying only with those who are already similar to us, and refusing to confront those whose views and whose lives may well seem quite different. My political sense is that an expanding coalition has to be one in which we presume that we are not the same.  This is as important for producing a multi-racial and cross-generational alliance as it is for bringing in people who have been de-politicized for a long time or whose politics have in many ways differed from one’s own.

The interview has also been circulated by Verso.

Rassemblement, de Judith Butler, interroge les rapports du corps et du politique, la dimension politique des foules et des manifestations. Ainsi, ce livre repense un certain nombre d’idées rattachées au corps et au politique mais aussi l’espace public et les conditions du sujet politique. Judith Butler y développe des analyses particulièrement fécondes du social et […]

via Judith Butler, interview : «Il est réjouissant d’assister au surgissement d’une volonté populaire», «It is joyful to see an outbreak of the popular will» — DIACRITIK

Posted in Convocatorias, Critical Human Geography, Political Geography, Politics, Social Movements | Leave a comment

CFP: Knowledge/Culture/Ecologies

Discard Studies

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Welcome to Knowledge/Culture/Ecologies – the 4th conference in the Knowledge/Culture series, a sequence of international conferences created by the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), Western Sydney University, Australia.  The conference is taking place in Santiago, Chile from 15-18 November and is hosted by Universidad Diego Portales in partnership with Pontificia Universidad Católica; Núcleo Milenio de Investigación en Energía y Sociedad (NUMIES); and Centro de Estudios de Conflicto y Cohesión Social (COES).

Ecological change and catastrophe are proliferating in a world in flux and crisis. These new socio-ecological assemblages are creating forms of interspecies intimacy and environmental emergency that challenge existing knowledge practices and demand different modes of collaborating and acting. If life on earth is changing for everybody and everything how can we invent different habitats, milieus, ways of being together that enable more things to matter and make a difference? How are novel forms of social cohesion emerging…

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