Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chapter 7

The Other Side of Popular by Gareth Williams, Chapter 7

Operational Whitewash and Negative Community

In this chapter, Williams moves around to many different topics that fall within a subaltern and post-hegemonic realm. In parts I felt kind of lost because of the transition between some of these ideas. He is most interested in this idea of “perhaps”. In quoting Derrida, he states “And there is no more just category for the future than that of the ‘perhaps’. Such a thought conjoins friendship, the future, and perhaps to open on to the coming of what comes – that is to say, necessarily in the regime of a possible whose possibilitization must prevail over the impossible” (275). This idea of perhaps is meant to join together different possibilities rather than whitewash some of these issues. He also goes into the idea of whitewashing to explain some of the ways in which voices of the other and the history of certain nations have been erased in order for progress to happen. When I read this section it made me think about national memory and in particular a book entitled States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering by Stanley Cohen. His book deals a lot with the covering up of certain atrocities (genocides) in order to cleanse the past. It seems that whitewashing is not only conducted by a state, but also by the individuals that live within it. This is not to say that the state has less of a role in the covering up of its own past, but there are many players in this system. We must also be interested in the citizens within the country and how they are complicit in these denials.

Williams also speaks about Autrui (which loosely means other) in order to conceptualize how the other is used in many of these cases. He states “As such, perhaps we would have to take into consideration the singular relation between thought and its objects (between intellectual engagement and subaltern affect)…”(288). We need to both feel connected to each other at the same time that we are distinct individuals. I am still a bit confused with how he examines the portraits at the end of this chapter. El infarto del alma (heart attack of the soul) is images of people in an insane asylum in Chile. He argues that it is a “community of those who have no community” (293). He states that it is “the exposure of abject, impoverished, speechless, yet dignified commonalities grounded in subaltern affect that challenge and undermine the notion of intellectual work and, indeed, make such a notion withdraw before its uncomfortable relations to abject love against all odds and without apparent reason” (295). He, in effect, argues that these images challenge the naturalness of genealogy. I supposed I get confused with what he is trying to argue overall. I think that he is trying to present this as an alternative to the ways in which we think about history and what is natural. These people do not live within a normal community and yet still seem to have a vibrant one within the walls of their asylum. Perhaps we need to challenge some notions of what it means to be normal as well as who gets to be represented in history. He states “Thus we are exposed to the demand to establish critical relations with subaltern affect that do not ground themselves in nor reproduce historically constituted (colonial, national, imperial, or neoliberal) notions of a subsistent ground or of a common measure for being-in-common” (301). It challenges what it means to be in common.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Abstract for paper

Lynndie England’s famous photograph of her pointing at nude prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison with her
thumbs up, cigarette in mouth, and a smile on her face has become an icon of torture on the Internet. If
one types in “doing a Lynndie” on Google, hundreds of images appear of people in the same pose pointing at an assortment of objects and people. England has become a notorious public figure, but little is popularly known about her as a person. This paper examines the production of the affective atmosphere surrounding England’s image and its growth as an Internet meme. Importantly, this paper also look at the effects of the production of this image on her life after the Abu Ghraib scandal. This paper is most concerned about the affective nature of images and how they can create multiple meaning and material effects for both the individuals in the image and the repetition and parody by others. Throughout the paper, this paper uses and challenge notions of the subaltern in order to explore the many nuances of power within her story. We argue that while England is considered the oppressor of those being tortured at Abu Ghraib, she is part of a system of domination that simultaneously dominates her life. She, in some regards, is part of a subaltern group as well. Her image is frozen in time as an instigator of torture and yet larger systems of gendered oppression remain unchallenged. Also, her image has transcended beyond the scandal and has become a parody on the internet. This paper argues that while the Internet can be liberating in terms of challenging systems of domination, it can also reinforce them through de-contextualization.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Sean Watkins

Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-De-Siecle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship by Leela Gandhi

Chapter 3 Sex: The story of Late Victorian Homosexual Exceptionalism

This week I am going to focus on the discussion of Darwinism and late Victorian understandings of homosexuality. She argues that “Replacing the disciplinary parameters of biology with those of anthropology, Darwin’s Descent consoled his agitated readers through two concessions: first, by restoring Man to narrative centrality, and retelling the story of evolution from his perspective, and second, by foregrounding those unique features of human existence exempt, in some measure, from the leveling laws of natural selection” (47). Here, we see the origins of the scientific classification of justified difference. Sexuality and race were put into hierarchical systems that were predetermined through evolutionary means. It makes me think about the ways in which historians have tried in the past to justify certain forms of cultural exceptionalism. Throughout this chapter we can see how sexual ‘deviants’ are forced into specific categories that are lower than those who follow the true evolutionary chain. Both the homosexual and the savage “were exiled to the desert surrounding the heavily policed oasis of western heteronormative civilization, and in the ideological mirages to which this deser was prone, their features slowly began to merge into each other so that no one could any longer say for certain who was the ‘real’ homosexual or who was the ‘true’ savage”(83). There was this othered position for people who did not fit into the sexual norms of the time and it was justified through science.

Not to get onto a tangent, but this entire chapter brings to light the importance of putting science up to a critical lens. I feel that people are not taught enough in school about these historical events that have helped us to construct a certain view on science and humanity. Many of these themes have caused incredibly strife and hardship simply because we believe that “science” is the objective truth. Perhaps there needs to be more discussion about these issues in order to really push citizens to think about some of these truths they have taken for granted for so long. In particular, we understand that race and ideas of the subaltern have been perpetuated through science. Science believed that there were major differences between races which justified the subjugation of large populations and we have mostly moved past that time period, but are we still questioning these fields as much as critical studies are questioned? This is not to say that we shouldn’t be questioning ourselves as well, but here I argue that we need to be even more self-reflexive now that we have the tools to do so. While this is incredibly hard to do, we need to challenge the power of the sciences in order to be able to question the legitimacy of their findings. At the very least, we should understand why there is so much more credit given to certain disciplines than others and contextualize this for our time period.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Second Paper

Sean Watkins

Second paper

The past few weeks have been incredibly important for my growth as an academic. I have begun to think about several different ways for me to connect to my own work. Several projects that have been stuck on hold have started to emerge as viable pieces of academic work. It is interesting to understand affect in terms of connections between bodies or ideas and watch them organically grown in your own life. Here, I think it is important to talk about the connection between one’s work and life. In my short communication experience, I have been exposed to many debates over the objective vs subjective nature of academia. Scholars create binaries between these ideas in order to distinguish themselves from each other- I blame capitalism, but I suppose ego (shall I be daring and also connect this to patriarchy?) can be thrown into the mix as well. Anyway, critical scholars have gone the route of subjectivity in their epistemological understandings of the world. We connect to our work in varying levels. Often there is debate within how far we can connect to our work. Ethnography is fine, but autoethnography pushes the boundary too far! There is a limit to how much we are allowed to talk about ourselves in our work, because otherwise it becomes too much about ourselves. I tend to agree with this, but at the same time our work is something that is a part of us. The further invested I become in my work, the more my body responds to it. I wake up with knots in my shoulders the more stressed out I become. Probyn really brings up some significant points to the shame of writing. She argues that: "My argument here is about writing shame, a phrase I use to capture both the affective, bodily feeling of betraying interest, and also about how we might envision writing shame as part of an ethical practice" (73). The ethical practice, for me at least, is the idea that my work will eventually get the point to where it can directly inform large groups of people. I feel like I have two forces going on in my head at the same time. The first is the activist, idealistic, ‘who gives a shit’ attitude that wants to push the boundaries of academics. This part of me wants to do important work that reaches a great deal of people, it doesn’t care about getting a job in order to pay the bills, and it isn’t afraid to stand up against unnecessary abstractions that push us further from praxis. The other half is scared that I am an imposter, and that I am only doing this because I can afford to and that the second I have real responsibilities (family, large SUVs) that I will abandon my principles and get a job teaching public speaking. I feel this battle and it physically hurts me. However, it seems the danger of this is to forget our areas of study and simply talk about ourselves. It sometimes shames me that I complain about my own position when people have it much worse off. I know that ‘worse’ is truly subjective, but there needs to be a balance or at least a connection between our suffering as academics and the suffering of those we write about.

With this, I think it is important to point out the affect we feel toward other’s work. Here, I use the term affect to mean emotional connection. While reading Logics of Empowerment – Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India by Aradhana Sharma, I got really excited because she was doing the type of work that I think would be most useful to me. While her theoretical work seemed a bit pieced together, it helped me to better understand my own position to nonprofit work. I feel like we are all being taught to pull together theories rather than create our own. Some of our mentors push us toward thinking in binaries and through the voices of white dead men rather than come up with new and fresh ideas. It makes me think of how Stuart Hall talks about how we sometimes need to abandon theory because it no longer works in certain cases. I know some of this sounds harsh and by no means do I want to blame ALL mentors, but it seems that part of the game is to please your superiors. However, Sharma does an amazing job of connecting her experiences to greater issues in Indian society as well as the neo-liberal market. While I don’t always agree with all of her interpretations, I felt myself being pulled to this book because I could tell that she was grappling with the same sorts of issues that I have been for the past few years. I found her chapter on looking at the MS workers to be really significant to my own work. She questions: “How does mobilizing empowerment on the ground affect the self-image and work lives of MS personnel and alter the very meaning of empowerment?” (62). To her, empowerment is directly connected to the minds and bodies of MS workers. I would really like to interview the people the work at the Medical Foundation in order to get at some of these complexities. I was recently given permission to start talking to the webmaster at my organization. I hope to use some of the emotions I had while reading Sharma’s book to inform my future interactions with Medical Foundation staff.

Works Cited

Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham [N.C.: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

Sharma, Aradhana. Logics of Empowerment: Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008. Print.

Affect Theory - chapter 3

Writing Shame By Elspeth Probyn

I will write more about this in my two page piece of brilliance, but after reading this chapter for a second time it really hit a cord with me. She calls it writing shame, but perhaps I look at it as academic shame. There is an emotional burden that some of us have, epsecially in dealing with the importance and relevance of our work. The idea that we have responsibility beyond the walls of the ivory tower is a feeling that is sometimes unbearable.

  • She starts by talking about Darwin and his many illnesses related to writing.
  • The author then relates it to her own troubles with writing.
  • "My argument here is about writing shame, a prhase I use to capture both the affective, bodily feeling of betraying interest, and also about how we might envision writing shame as part of an ethical practice" (73).
  • "How can you represent a sense of emotional and affective intensity if the feeling in question is generalized in the amorphous category of Affect?" (74).
  • We need to talk about different types of affects!
  • Compares Foucault with Stephen King in terms of the relationship between words and things.
  • King was shamed by his teacher for writing junk.
  • To King, honest writing is writing that attempts to connect to meaning.
  • Writing affects bodies.
  • She goes into talking about Deleuze and his description of T.E. Lawrence and his connection to shame and glory.
  • Lawrence as "the subjective disposition"
  • Shame and the body becomes the same thing.
  • To describe Lawrence, Deleuze uses a quote from Kafka "It was as if the shame of it must outlive him" (82).
  • Primo Levi's experience of being in Auschiwitz and his eventually supposed suicide encompasses his shame of writing about his life.
  • He thought it was wrong to write for oneself.
  • He didn't really talk about emotion or affect - there was not enough time in the camps for this.
  • "The blush of having failed to connect with readers should compel any writer to return to the page with renewed desire to do better - to get better- at this task of communicating that some of us take on" (89).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sharma Chapter 3

Logics of Empowerment – Development, Gender, and Governance in Neoliberal India by Aradhana Sharma

Chapter 3 – Empowering Moves: Paradoxes, Subversions, Dangers

This chapter is really interesting because the author moves inside of the GONGO in order to talk about the experiences of those who work for MS. I find this to be very useful because in my own work I would like to talk to those who work for a nonprofit because their experiences help us to better understand the neo-liberal market and the plight of the nonprofit. This is an interesting case because the nonprofit bleeds into a governmental organization that both hurts and helps those workers. What is fascinating is the way in which power flows between the workers, clients and governments. It seems that everyone is vying for some sort of power, and they all have some power, but some actors automatically are in ‘charge’ or at least they think they are.

· Importantly, empowerment programs effect both the lives of the clients AND those who work for the organization

· It is interesting to look at the workers as a space between the all powerful state actors and the subaltern classes.

· “How does mobilizing empowerment on the ground affect the self-image and work lives of MS personnel and alter the very meaning of empowerment?” (62)

· Field level personnel often use MS as a governmental organization or a nonprofit depending on their needs on the ground.

· Workers at MS have to define their work identities in different situations.

· They have to decide on how to identify the work program in different situations.

· She argues that working for empowerment groups is a double-edged sword. It has the potential to deradicalized empowerment, but at the same time empowerment is always about politics so it is always inherently political.

· Almost all workers at MS are women.

· MS workers try and distance themselves from the idea of state bureaucracy.

· The workers are denied certain benefits of state workers because they are not truly part of the governmental system. In this way they are exploited by the government.

· The workers understood the benefits and slights they would get as a nonprofit.

· MS workers have tried to unionize, but their efforts were crushed by the government. If they had won, other development projects workers would have demanded similar benefits.

· The author observes different situations in which MS workers describe themselves as either an NGO or a GO depending on what they need. Sometimes this would backfire, like when they needed a place to rent and they were asked for more money than it was worth.

· Interestingly, while the program is qualitative in nature, quantitative strategies are used sometimes to get people to participate like counting people in villages.

· Even though they sometimes used different identities, they most often saw themselves as working for an impassioned NGO.

· However, they were not allowed to participate in antistate struggles by subaltern women.

· They would get around this by taking days off or supporting the subaltern people in alternative ways (buying food, etc)

· She goes into the nature of state agencies and the caste system in India and how it prevents MS from successfully doing their job. She explains stories of MS workers being attacked or raped by upper class caste members and having trouble trying to bring them to justice. The social class system creates a significant problem to their empowerment work.

· She argues that the overall system both empowers and control MS workers simultaneously.