Bodies, Borders and Boundaries 1. 2007. acrylic and ink on wood panel. 36×36. By Cheryl Schainfeld.
October 19th, 2014
Sutton and Kelly left me thinking as I sat in the local Cracker Barrel. I thought about the forms of oppression and power, possibly alliances and dangers forged, in such a simple space. I sat at the table; and intimate space I claimed for a short time, but at a cost. The social and cultural construct of the place harkens a nostalgic, everywhere and nowhere, past that is found at every interstate exit; and edible yesteryear we can consume while listening to modern county (temporally here, in our lives) but connecting us to a past housed deep in our collective memory. At this table, I put (most likely, unhealthy) food in my body; my own personal, physical space upon which I have the privilege to choose my own boundaries—no to meat, no to sweet tea. Or not. Bodies entered my intimate space of the table, altering the power relationship; the waitress and I were dependent on one another, however I could control her space, her body and temporality in a deliberate, authorial manner.
“Can I get a to-go box?”
“Do you mind bringing me some hot sauce? Thanks.”
“I need a few more minutes.”
What violence was I committing by participating? How could I recognize and change it? I could refuse to be part of the system, or as Kelly shows, I could work from within. What hidden transcripts were enveloped in the kitchen conversations? Were they hidden from me? Bodies, spaces, capitalism, labor… these were all running themes throughout the readings. These reflections stemmed from Barbara Sutton’s Bodies in Crisis: Culture, Violence, and Women’s Resistance in Neoliberal Argentina and Robin Kelley’s, “’We are Not What We Seem: Rethinking Black Working Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South.”
Beginning with Sutton.
A hyper-organized, qualitative, ethnographic project, Sutton addresses how women’s bodies en/counter hegemonic conceptions. Such conceptions include economic, political, gendered, and labor/issues of productivity. Similar to last week’s reading (Rebecca Scott) cultural norms are being read and alternatives are sought. I found a particular connection between images of the Widow Combs (a common image of embodied (female) protest in the coalfields) and Sutton’s conclusion where she writes, “Women in various cultures and geographical areas have been entering or disputing many of the spaces from which they had been implacental or explicitly excluded. They have used their bodies in creative, risky, and compelling ways, navigating the complex and often loaded meanings attached to female physicality” (207). In the widow combs case, she laid down, as close to becoming the space—the cause of her protest—as possible.
While ideas of glocality, a question of female versus feminist versus feminine, the embodiment of consumerism (and why), as well as the role of Evita within the construction of the (ideal?) Argentinian woman (I have no idea) were all issues I wish the text had spent more time with. However, I feel the metaphorical heart of the text is summed up on page 38; “The neoliberal globalization model is built on a disembodied approach to the social world, one more concerned about balances, profits, and alleged rational choices than with real human beings with bodily needs, desires, and emotions. Globalization is not just about technological development, information flows, and financial exchanges. The globalization of the capitalist body depends on human bodies (and other-than-human ones) in order to function.”
Robin Kelley’s essay focused on subversive resistance; a coding of sorts. As Kelley states, “within subaltern studies resistance is hidden ‘onstage’. . . (77)” in hidden transcripts. This infrapolitical, daily means of resisting presented itself in different ways to different viewers.
(Host. 2010. 12x17in. Cheryl Schainfeld.)
Overarching themes between the texts included, bodies, b/ordering of spaces and the impact on bodies, labor; production; which returns to the question, does neoliberalism manifest as hyper-capitalism? Or, is that merely how we feel the effects of neoliberal violence(s)? Questions of visual identity (being identified by one’s race, gender or class) and/or iconicity is central here, just as it was in Rebecca Scott’s piece.
Lastly, space, place, and location (all different things, related by a thread), are key to both Sutton and Kelly’s arguments. Kelly writes that location is “the racialized and gendered social spaces of work and community, as well as black workers’ position in the hierarchy of power, the ensemble of social relations” (96). This immediately brought to mind a piece not required for this course, but that many of you may be familiar with: Judith Butler’s “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street.” Full text can be found here: http://suebellyank.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ola-reader-full.pdf . Here, Butler emphasizes the importance of a structure to support movements; Kelley, especially, relies on space to create mobility or alternative spaces rather than oppositional (84).
I was also interested in how both Kelley and Sutton address what neoliberalism does to a good end for marginalized and minority populations; it creates space, mobilizes and pressures solidarity through segregation (or at least a version of separation at some level). I do not feel like Kelly’s true optimism shines through in “We are not what we seem.” In Yo Mama’s DisFunktional” Kelly reserves an entire chapter to “Looking Forward.” Here he articulates that a modern day urban spaces allow for the precariat (re: Standing) to intensify years of organizing at the grassroots level. My questions after reading are in hopes of creating more than a “neoliberalism is bad/resistance is good” binary. Deconstructing neoliberalism would reveal a continuum of sorts; what would happen if we were to search for the positives—the radically subversive possibilities—within neoliberal politics, thoughts, policies and powers?
I return to Cracker Barrel, where I wonder, can resistance cross spaces? Can resistance become more powerful than the spaces we inhabit and move through? How can the “master’s tools” be wielded and made for an entirely new purpose? I believe this calls for a new definition of resistance. Maybe we need to rethink the definition of “tools.”
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I am currently taken aback by the work of Cheryl Schainfield. For more of her art, please visit her website: http://cherylschainfeld.com/artwork/1606252_Bodies_Borders_and_Boundaries_1.html