thoughts on democracy and neoliberalism. [post #9]


Sam Durant’s installation, “We Are the People,” on view at Project Row Houses in 2003. Photo by Rick Lowe, courtesy Project Row Houses.

The readings this week concern democracy and neoliberalism. They provide case studies and examples, definitions and contestations. I am most interested in the possibilities each of them pose. The projects I am familiar with which make a claim to humanity through the occupation of space excite me, re-energize and invigorate me. I am not sure why a response to these readings is so difficult.

Mark Purcell’s recent book, Recapturing Democracy:  Neoliberalization and the Struggle for Alternative Urban Futures was the foundation for this week’s exploration into the complex relationship between democracy and neoliberalism. It calls for action with an unapologetic association with radical pluralism and condemnation of Habermasian spatial ideals.

Common themes between Purcell, Mayer and Donoso included:

-the relationship between democracy and neoliberalism

-a clearer understanding of democracy or democratic action, which is often as misunderstood as neoliberalism. Purcell goes to great lengths to uncover the misconceptions, breaking democratization down into phases which I believe are most beneficial when viewed as waves.

-and, an exploration of the the ways neoliberalism impacts different spaces

Urban spaces are the focus of the provided case studies. Unlike Rebecca Scott’s research which focused on rural spaces and included gendered analysis, or Alexander’s racially focused study, these urban cases deal largely with class and structural difficulties (schools, policies which usurp a movement’s language, etc.).

Looking for implications or ways to relate to the case studies was much more difficult than grappling with the theory. Seattle, Washington, Chile… they are all so distant from me. It is difficult to relate to the numbers and policies and years and context. The theory’s however, they provided new windows through which I could view the immediate world around me, and most importantly, consider my own position concerning democracy.

My own position grew more distinct and succinct as I read these works. Perhaps it is because I have a slightly firmer grasp on what neoliberalism is or can be. Regardless, I found myself deeply, viscerally, rejecting the idea of representation. I enjoyed the way the readings pulled that out of me in an unexpected way. I also enjoyed the hope in Purcell’s book; he does not shy away from a positive, some would say naïve hoefullness in humanity and our ability to utilize alter-publics to create new realities. I have been sincerely disappointed in most attempts and case studies of resistance—not disappointed in the efforts, but disappointed in the scholars capturing them. We are urged to use the same language, form, and materials to imagine radical new possibilities. I find this problematic.

And if it becomes necessary for intellectuals to turn into snipers, then let them snipe at their old concepts, their old guestions, and their old ethics.

We are not now to describe, as much as we are to be described. We’re being born totally, or else dying totally.

Yet our great friend from Pakistan, Fayiz Ahmad Fayiz, is busy with another question: “Where are the artists?”

“Which artists, Fayiz?” I ask.

“The artists of Beirut.”

“What do you want from them?”

“To draw this war on the walls of the city.”

“What’s come over you? I exclaim. Don’t you see the walls tumbling?”

–Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982


In what is for many, the final post of the semester, I return to the beginning—the Briggs’ article and question what we as scholars inside the sphere of the academia have done to evoke or enact democracy. Would this not result in a new form? Do our words—jargon filled and situated in a learned public sphere—really translate beyond ourselves? Perhaps I have caught a whiff of sociopublic and cypherskoolactivists frustration from last week, but I do not mean to be (solely) critically. I believe another world is possible, I just fear we are too devoted to the comfort of structure, lineages of theorys which are bound by the world they are created in, and the everyday mundane inaction of moving forward to see that the walls are tumbling.

We see hope of this tumbling in Purcell’s assertion that neoliberalism is never total; it articulates within another form, not it’s own, it produces its own contradictions, and it is always resisted. When put into conversation with the overlapping theme of how neoliberalism differently impacts different spaces (schools, urban areas, homes, edges, etc.) there is an interesting relationship between the understanding of neoliberalism and Dorren Massey’s understanding of space. Massey understands space to be: a product of relations, a sphere of possibilities of pluralities, and always under construction.[i]

This always, already relationship to resistance is new and exciting.[ii] There are (additional) examples to this found in Project Row Houses (featured in the photo below) where the struggle is real and the answers are nessecary. This hope also led me to my questions:

Purcell writes that “rights only come into existence when they are claimed by conscious struggle.” I would like to question privledged rights here and the definition of struggle. This takes me back to last week’s discussion of violence, which I see more as a birth or emancipation. Rights seem to have a different ontology. This line of thought is also scene in Mayer’s piece and Lefebverian “creation of rights.” Must rights be created? Claimed? A result of a conscious struggle? And if so, by whom? And when?



[i] Massey, Dorreen. For Space. (pg.9)

[ii] I was reading on a kindle, but believe this is around page 15.

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Leadership Essay: Untangling Space [blog 8]

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. “

―Arundhati Roy, War Talk

L E A D E R S H I P   E S S A Y : Untangled Spaces


Roy provides a fitting introductory quote to this weeks’ text assignments; there is something exciting happening, a fluidity, a momentum, a movement is being built around us and by “us” yet, with all this excitement, there seemed to be an air of caution, as if we were working for change while balancing on eggshells. Janet Conway’s book, “Edges of Global Justice” dealt less with justice than with the knowledge’s utilized to re-build counter-spaces to globalization. Focusing on the World Social Forum (WSF) she leads the reader through tough questions of gender, unequal development), the conceptualization of a (global) civil society, autonomous space, and subaltern subjectification.

For the leadership or anchor essay, I am focusing on “The Entangled Geographies of Global Justice Networks (GJN),” by Cumbers, however, each of the readings weave together. According to Cumbers, GJN’s are a series of “overlapping, interacting, and differentially placed resourced networks” that work together, in affinity or solidarity, against a common denominator, if not towards a common goal. Cumbers’ key question concerns the relationship between the global and localized practices—much like Conway’s concern with subaltern identities and Featherstone’s “prefigurative” ethics of solidarity; each of these readings seek to deduce a praxis, a combining of activism and the academy as was put forth in the Briggs’ article earlier this semester.

Key themes which emerge from Conway’s article are space, organization and networks as both a space and an organizing principle or method. Over the weekend I drove to Boone, NC and back for a dear friend’s memorial service. My GPS took me through Rural Retreat’s winding back roads where the sun shone through the sides of worn barns and farmers waved from their tractors. The road, built to accommodate the landscape, literally flowed down the mountain. Similarly, the banjo tunes rolling out of my speakers flowed, note after not in a seemingly autonomous fashion, independent of staunch form found in chamber music or symphonies. Looking strictly at the road, it was not created in a chaotic fashion—there is a reason for the sharpness of the curves, the height of the bridge, the two minute detour around the valley. As for the music, the drop-thumb style of the banjo requires a certain cadence, the wood of the particular instrument beacons a specific tone. In short, flow is not random. As the poet Charles Olson states, the geography “leans in” on us. Here the geography can encompass the political, cultural, linguistic, economic, or social factors… but something is leaning. This is also true in Cumbers discussion of swarming, which is used to describe the decentered movements of the multitude. Where are the topologies of social power (189) leaning? How are they altering the course, guiding the swarm? Does this change our understanding of autonomy? Cumbers seems to allude to the need of addressing this with her statement that structurelessness often becomes a way of masking power. In horizontalist movements, this is seen in the implication that all involved are equals in decision making (188). While terms such as “swarm” and “flow” are interesting, I am cautious to use them, as they all too easily mask the underlying powers.

Spatial organization is a key point in each of the readings: organizational and knowledge tends to occur in places, or with special regards to place based initiatives. Within networks, open space is incredibly important for the hope of equal involvement and the emergence of subaltern identities. This often requires “place based events,” once again intricately connecting the global with the local—the goal of networks (as convergence spaces). Cumbers understands network as a theoretically over-idealized construct, however, we see the implications (if flawed) of networks in Conway’s analysis of the WSF. This returns us once again to a question presented in class a few weeks ago: how do we measure effectiveness?

I end with a question about relevancy. Is Cumbers piece dated? Are we still heralding the possibilities of the internet as a network(ing) space? She notes that passivity isn’t an option in this realm—with the emergence of clicktivism, has apathy entered the most active of spaces?


As Jennibee88 points out, Featherstone “uses the concept of a “prefigurative ethics of solidarity” to describe “a commitment that organizing practices should bring into being the alternative worlds they seek to create” (p. 186).” Are we, ethically, to critique “bringing into being”? In what ways or what examples do we have for a creation (or, bringing into being) story that relinquishes power in a way to establish equal if not equitable relationships?

These readings discuss peripheries and cores and rotation… what do we mean by that? Can we define the “core”? So much is happening at the margins—to the extent that the edge becomes a romanticized space—for both Conway and Cumbers. Why? This is obviously problematic, but why has the center or core been negated as a space for change and possibilities? Is this a continuation of western frontier-ism?

I am struck by two terms: flow and swarm. They have their accepted definitions within the readings, but beyond, outside the domain of this conversations, birds and insects swarm with reason and intent. Water flows due to gravitational, some may say sovereign, undisputed organization. It is not chaos or kismet, there is an order. What is the order within the horizontal swarm behavior Conway and Cumbers describe? What is the direction of the flow of the movements, and most importantly, what is the impact of (cultural, social, geographic, structural) landscapes on movements themselves?

It was rewarding to see Cumbers address ability, even if briefly (186). I am curious, are there thoughts on abilities privileged within specific networks? How can this be disrupted? How do we recognize oppression of those with dis/abilities within autonomous spaces? Can spaces be autonomous if they are not accessible?


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Bodies and Boundaries, Revisited. [Blog #7]


 “Driving through this part of Louisiana you can pass four prisons in less than an hour. ‘The spirit of every age,’ writes Eric Schlosser, ‘is manifest in its public works.’ So this is who we are, the jailers, the jailed. This is the spirit of our age.”

– CD Wright, One Big Self, introduction.


(images from One Big Self, by CD Wright.)

Violence is visceral, political, well organized and self-fulfilling. More importantly, violence is dependent on agents. These texts address how agency within the modern political and social systems support and even sustain the structures which violently act against specific individuals.

With the new law passed in Pennsylvania (literally, this week) our reading of “The New Jim Crow,” “Queering Prison Abolition, Now?” and “Social Death” are extensions of last week’s discussion of biopolitics and even Rebecca Scott’s understanding of race and racial oppression.

By speaking prisoners are considered to be “taunting” their victims. This is largely public due to the graduation speech at Goddard College a few weeks ago. I am a proud graduate of Goddard—and I am glad Mumia Abu-Jamal’s voice was heard by the 2014 graduating class. With that said, Abu-Jamal was presented as a “cop killer” by Fox News and hatred towards… was supported by many, including the wife of the police officer Mumia was convicted of murdering. Her plea was that hearing Abu-Jamal’s voice on the radio ripped open a scab. What is learned here is that the constitution can be used against one person, and can be used to make prisoners voiceless, less than “man” in our society; or, a form of social death. For one to be “dead” socially, they are no longer validated as a human.

The texts focused on racial “blindness” as the attribute of the new Jim Crow. Blindness can be described as:

Sightless,  having less than 110 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses, unable or unwilling to discern or judge (such as being blind to a lover’s faults), blind loyalty, having no regard to rational discrimination, guidance, or restriction.  Lacking a directing or controlling consciousness, drunk, made or done without sight of certain objects or knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance or cause bias (as in a blind taste test), having no knowledge of information that may cause bias during the course of an experiment or test, difficult to discern, make out, or discover, hidden from sight, having but one opening or outlet, having no opening for light or passage.[1]

I assert, one is not blind to race, but part of a methodical action of looking away— a choice to shield our eyes from violence, a choice to declare the inability to comprehend a history. This makes Abu-Jamal’s case even more compelling. Turning one’s ears away—to not hear– is nearly impossible.[2] What we see today is the beginnings of a muting, the controlling of sonic space, the loss of voice, on an unprecedented level.  We can see… we choose to look away. When we cannot shield voices of those we have deemed voiceless, we take away our “ability to hear” by creating policies of silence rather than laws of compassion.

What does this have to do with neoliberalism? The texts seem to speak to the psychological conditions and ideologies which allow for the material (visceral) violence(s) which occur in systemic and systematic ways in America (these writings did seem to focus on conditions within the US). The timelines coincide with neoliberalism in a few ways—the Reagan administration’s advancement of the War on Drugs, the impact of politics and policies, economics… however, it is much deeper than that.

These texts reveal ways in which knowledge is controlled and how neoliberal mindsets are controlling. Reminiscent of Benedict Anderson’s declaration of map-making and museums as creations of the (n)ation, Alexander and Cacho offer understandings of the ways ideologies and common knowledge serves as power to dictate how spaces inscribe otherness on a person—not to mention the ways race has been constructed an an “other” or an “alien” always, already without rights, always, already criminal, devalued, socially unborn.

Further, violence and capitalism are dependent upon one another. If neoliberalism’s materiality manifests as hyper-capitalism, the violence is multiplied, conditioned as necessary—banality, systematic looking away and muting is necessary for business as usual. Breaks in this cycle come in the form of compassion, radicalism, opting out… violence?

Intrinsically connected to neoliberalism is a loss, or lack of morality. Just as the morality of Mountain Top Removal mining was void from discussions of violence (according to Scott), here facts and data—arrest number, precedents based on illegal (immoral?) searches support violence because the morality of it has been dismissed.  Power as control is a key aspect of these readings—but for whom, against what? Neoliberal ideologies present agency as power, and offers systems power to silence or justify egregious acts. This is at the core of sexual violence, policing, silencing, dehumanizing, criminalizing bodies, and consuming—all evident in the readings throughout the semester, but particularly clear in Alexander’s text.

The stakes in this discussion are high: in many ways, agency is twisted to become an agent of oppression. Agency is mis/construed as ability or opportune space. I thought of the term prison, just as I did “blind.” What does it mean to imprison someone, and how does confinement alter one’s being—here there is an obvious connection to psychiatry (psychiatric facilities) and schools. We are given the freedom to choose through the capitalist system, but the choices are already drawn out—as if we were part of a monopoly game, “Do Not Pass Go” is part of the script for many, independent of their choices, and definitely independent of their hopes. Within neoliberalism a false sense of agency looms over everyone, but literally traps women, people of color, “non-normative” thinkers, those with different abilities, and many more.

I am left with questions that cannot be answered: How do we interject, intervene? Grieve the violence’s we commit? How do we alter our agency to allow for optimum capacity of others? How do we ethically survive? How can we create a system in which debts are paid and our “selves” are not dependent on a relation to those in debt? What does a social look like–sound like–that is neither born nor dies?


(above: from



[2] See: Adorno for a full discussion on the inability to mute one’s soundscape.









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Bodies, Borders, Resistance [blog #6]

Schainfeld 1

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.

Schainfeld 2

(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: . 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.”

[word count: 1034]


I am currently taken aback by the work of Cheryl Schainfield. For more of her art, please visit her website:

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Relationships; Or, (Re)writing Languages of Power in Appalachia’s Coalfields.

Lung X-Ray

image from: <>

These readings trace, or track evidence of neoliberalism (with special attention to the occupation of Appalachia’s coalfields) in different ways. I am reading these three pieces (Removing Mountains by Rebecca Scott, “Is Another Place Possible” by Barbara Ellen Smith and “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy” by Wendy Brown) while preparing a class discussion on activism and coal. We will make lists of pros and cons and watch Harlan County USA. We will even take a trip to Kayford Mountain, West Virginia where students can see a Mountain Top Removal site. However, after readings these texts I am left asking: what is our relationship to a place we can travel to and flee from with ease? Feeling helpless while tracing the strength and mis/use of the region through these readings, I struggled with my own positionality. Can academics ever stand in solidarity with those they serve or study? Is the best bridge always one that could be, or in creation– never actually being.

Leaving home was never a dream but I felt it was also not a choice. I had to leave. I didn’t imagine my life after high school. I didn’t dream of going to college, but it seemed to be the only option. Just like hundreds of my classmates and thousands across the region each year I was uprooted by rhetoric of progress and opportunity. I did not grow up in coal country, but in the shadow of a mill town where power manifested in subtle ways: bus numbers, parking lot spots, lake houses, afternoon jobs. I came to know myself through my relationships with this place, rural America, rather than within this place.

It wasn’t always a relationship worth noting.

Relationships are traced through-out the works; mapped as connections and disruptions. This said, the following relationships which particularly stood out to me are not meant to be read as binaries, rather they are conversations between two positions. As Kathleen Stewart writes of “spaces of critique”:

This is a system that is not either/or but both/and: both global and local, both tactile and imaginary, both set and fleeting, both one thing and another. It is a system in which moments of cultural naturalization and denaturalization are fundamentally interlocked (Culler 1975), a place where centripetal and centrifugal forces (Bakhtin 1981) form a unity of opposed forces (Gates1988). It depends at once on a radical condensation or intensification of meaning in text and performance and on the persistence of gaps in code and concept that elicit a continuous search for meaning. [1] (emphasis added)

Stewarts work is not only cited throughout Removing Mountains, but Scott seems to share much of her theoretical foundation with Stewart, specifically around this concept of place-making. This is where Smith’s work becomes crucial as a geographer; what is labors geography and what is the laborers relationship to the place that is created? By focusing on the coalfields we see that through the severing or forming of relationships social and cultural orders are (re)created. There are too many deeply complex relationships; I cannot do them all justice in this post. I am sure I have overlooked or ignored some, but the following appeared consistently:memory to consumption, human to nature, industry to unions, insiders and outsiders, the relationship to coal, work and labor, earned and obtained, and the mind and the body. I will briefly explore the relationships of race, gender and (self )identity.


image from <>

The sections of the reading concerning gender focus on the manipulation of masculinity and oppressive forces which dominate female/feminine identities. The damage—violence—to concepts of gender begins with the sacrifice of the body as a means to survive. Brown explains[2], “[t]he body politic ceases to be a body but is rather a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers . . . . which is, of course, exactly how voters are addressed in American campaign discourse.”[3] Here, power is defined by discourse. The relationship between the body and work is closed (the two become one) as the body becomes a producer (here of coal, thus of capital) and communal relations are distanced, if not severed.

Both Smith and Scott’s discussions of gendered spaces and identity’s within the coalfields (often gendered itself) harkens the writings of Elizabeth Grosz who adds an additional layer to the exploration which has been ever present in our classroom discussions; time. Grosz writes, “[S]pace, time, and things are conceptually connected: space and time are understood to frame and contextualize the thing, they serve as its background, and they are, as it were, deposited by or inherent in things and processes.”[4] In these processes (such as neoliberalism or extraction) we are able to find hope in their plurality; Grosz reminds us that space and time are plural, in the making, unfixed, and as Smith suggests and presents, ripe with possibilities such as the anti-MTR movements discussed.

The relationship to oneself, or self- identity is not beyond the grasp of neoliberalism, fetishization, and oppression, and is interestingly explored through the frame of place within these readings. The loss of space between the body and production causes a rift in the relationships in communities or the natural relationship between humans and the environment (for example, mining). This is similar to Scott’s explanation of “white trash” versus “American cultural citizens.” I believe space is crucial to these relationships. Scott pays careful attention to the ways in which “white trash” populations are portrayed (much like Kathleen Stewart) paying close attention to dirtiness and trailers—the spaces where people live and their occupations. Smith shares a similar spatial understanding through the description of the loss of the commons. The “self-identification” of communities was lost with the closing of post offices in rural areas and the consolidaton of schools. As Smith points out, the commons were spaces of hunting, gathering and cultivation—I believe that can be applied metaphorically for what is lost as the public is lost to fenced off, privatitized spaces.

Dream, Jen HoferDream, Jen Hofer

Dream, Jen Hofer from: <>

This leads to racialized relationships and racialized rhetoric within the coalfields. Scott echoes these self-identifying process through her discussion of “Appalachian identity” which is still largely mis/understood nds considered “mountain white.” Rachel Ellen Simon writes of the contestations to the “whitewashing of Appalachian identity” in Appalachian Voices:

Even the federal government has come to embrace a broader understanding of the region’s demographics; in response to a petition filed by Appalachian scholar Fred Hay in 2005, the Library of Congress officially changed its Subject Heading that referred to the people of Appalachia as “Mountain Whites” to “Appalachians (People).” This seemingly minor triumph indicates a much greater one — Appalachia’s long-whitewashed image is finally being colored in to reveal a more nuanced, accurate portrait of the region and its history.[5]

Scott’s discussion of whiteness is a questioning of “white trash” within cultural citizenship and racial construction and identity within the coalfields (169). She did not address the re/claiming of hillbilly (i.e. revivalists, “hillbilly revolution,” the pseudo-hippness of mason jars, flat footing and urban chicken coops) and the commodification of the cultural construct. However, confusion surrounding the diversity of Appalachia is an area of study which cannot be stressed enough and Scott’s work make’s great strides in consciously unraveling some of the key issues.

Relationships between the self and power is manifest through the (re)writing of spaces, power, and self(s). Within each of these relationships language is key; the rhetoric of war (Brown, 47), religion, and gender, words that cause the mind to disconnect from the body and earth, words that empower and provoke and cause actual shifts within the economy— words that legally protect mountains and protect those who remove mountains—it is clear that language and translation are weapons. As Wendy Brown writes, “through discourse and policy promulgating its criteria, neoliberalism produces rational actors and imposes a market rationale for decision making in all spheres.”[6] This happens everywhere, however Appalachia—specifically the coalfields—provide a hyper-intense landscape upon which we can see the ecological and relational effects of language.









And history makes fun of its victims/ And its heroes/ Takes a look at them and passes by/ This sea is mine/ This moist air is mine/ And my name- Even if I spell it wrong on the coffin – Is mine. As for me, Now that I am filled with all the possible Reasons for departure – I am not mine. I am not mine I am not mine… (Mural)   Serene Huleileh.

–Mahmoud Darwish



[1] Stewart, Kathleen. A Space on the Side of the Road. (20)

[2] Brown relies on the work of Lempke to support her biopolitical arguments.

[3] Brown, Wendy. “Neoliberalism and the Endo of Liberal Democracy” (43)

[4] Grosz, Elizabeth. (134)

[5] Simon, Rachel Ellen. “Whitewashing Reality: Diversity in Appalachia” Appalachian Voices. Feb. 7. 2014. <>

[6] Brown, Wendy. “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy” (40)




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repeating and resisting. [blog #4]

“Justice is what love looks like in public.” –Cornel West

image from

I found these readings (chapters 1,3,8,& 9 from Meg Luxton’s “Social Reproduction,” two articles by Annelise Orleck and a 1913 manifesto) to be about resistance, domesticity, labor, work, and value. However, they left me thinking of (if not seeking) justice. These readings are about injustices done for the sake of… social reproduction? The status quo? The sustaining of space between “us” and “them?” I am not totally sure. The idea of welfare queens and speaking up/out, and the power of raising and perhaps for the first time hearing one’s voice, allow a glimpse of what it is like to resist the powers-that-be in the neoliberal era. These articles and chapters come together to guide readers through the themes of dismantling the welfare state and feminist resistance; at first glance, I assumed feminist resistance would be the agent to dismantle the welfare state, or rise above the need for assistance. I realized after reading that it is in fact neoliberal policy(s) which dismantle the progress of welfare (programs) and interrupt the promise of grassroots organizations, all while creating and maintaining the forces which feminist movements must try to resist.


I begin by saying I was struck by the form of Annelise Orleck’s work. We often question “the master’s tools”[1] in class, rarely applying that to our own form and methodology as (hopeful) scholars. Combining knowledge’s and voices was encouraged in Laura Briggs’ article “Activisms and Epistemologies: Problems for Transnationalism’s,” and in Orlecks interview with Duncan we see this manifest as a space is made through the form of the text—the reader becomes a third party, privy to language and “hearing” Duncan’s voice. Additionally, Briggs’ understanding of the misguided actions of scholars who “give activists or oppressed people too much credit for always having a good analysis of their situation and always resisting it . . . on the one hand, and too little credit for their [activists] intellectual work, on the other hand”[2] is sadly seen here in the dismantling and demanding of a specific type of education by the state (in the Reagan/Bush regime). Briggs argues that this results in a romanticism of activists and an intellectual elitism claimed (perhaps even unaware) by scholars. In today’s readings Orleck works between these assumptions utilizing ethnographic methods, offering a timely example.

Secondly, it was interesting to see how these readings picked up where my concern regarding our open-ended discussion about the all-inclusive yet non-defined precariat had left me; cautious of movements which focus on the relationship between people and their rung on the ladder, rather than people and their relationships between one another. (Metaphorically) if we ignore the ways in which we march towards change and why we maneuver differently, we simply see the distance between ourselves and the finish line—not the spaces between people, the ways in which we touch, endanger and protect one another. These readings began to address that consciousness both theoretically and empirically. As we concluded the Precariat readings I was concerned voices would be lost without the ability to “join” the mega-class. This reading was assured in Luxton’s declaration that feminist movements often “ignore or deny the salience of class and the feminist possibilities of reproduction,”[3] bringing me to what I found as central themes throughout the readings: (understanding) social reproduction, the relationship between (gendered) labor and work, and the role of the female citizen in neoliberal states.

The letters A through E appear on an image associated with this question.

DNA replication.

(image from:


Social Reproduction

Dedef Arat-Koc calls upon the biting work of Cindi Katz to begin her chapter “Whose Social Reproduction? Transnational Motherhood and Challenges to Feminist Political Economy.” By doing do, the chapter begins with a naming of “vagabond capitalism.” This phrase turns the system into a mobile, lurking, drifting, unsettled entity. Bob Dylan’s “Rolling Stone” plays in my mind when I hear the term “vagabond” and yet, it offers capitalism power when paired together—it does not become a blurred concept, but a flexible system with options and the ability to slip out of one’s grip. This term perplexes me. There is also a puzzle here: is “vagabond” describing the process, product, producer or concept of capitalism? Regardless, such capitalism is a large part of (western) social, economic and political construction, and thus a part of social reproduction, or “the range of activities that ensure the daily, generational, social, emotional, moral, and physical reproduction of people.”[4]

This phrase is still unclear. If the “greatest achievement of feminist political economy has been to talk about social reproduction to make visible and to problematize what would otherwise be invisible or seemingly trivial to the economy, to society, and even to (liberal) feminist theory.”[5] What is social reproduction and how does it differ from social production? Assuming the replication of vagabond capitalism, the process is mobile and divisive. The case studies shed light on the ways in which oppression is reproduced in this system. I was struck by the comment that oppression doesn’t equal exploitation. Further, the notion on page 18 that liberation can never be fully realized shed light on the power of reproduction, replication, the over-and-over process of producing and consuming.

There is hope in these articles. David Featherstone defines solidarity as “a relation forged through political struggle which seeks to challenge forms of oppression.”[6] Featherstone sets forth a “path” for practices of solidarity which includes 1) transformative relations, 2) a need of being “forged from below or through pressure from without, and 3) a refusal to stay within the nation-state.[7] Thinking of previous readings about solidarity and the aforementioned problems of a relationship to production over relationship to one another, the question arises: is the work of Duncan and to an extent the work of the Canadian women an example of social production through solidarity?

Labor and Work

As I am teaching about the industrial revolution, I am preparing to discuss unions and work in the United States’ “capital periphery,” Appalachia. I do so by reading the following passage:

. . . [t]hat labor has historically reflected the class and economic diversity of the region…[8]

The problem with focusing the study of labor relations exclusively on unionization and contractual procedures is that labor unions have historically only been able to claim a small percentage of American workers . . . labor and the perception of labor history underwent dramatic change by the late 1960s. Within this broadened conceptual framework, labor scholars explored more fully how workers built and lived within their own communities.[9]

With the exception of articles on slave and convict labor, only limited attention is given to unpaid labor. . . Work entails more than the physical activities of producing and distributing goods or services; it also involves the social relations that result from production, distribution and service activities. Thus, labor issues reach beyond mine, mill and hospital ward into the homes and neighborhoods of workers, influencing their values, belies, traditional and identities.[10]

Domestic work was featured in the articles. Work seemingly belonging to women is at stake—in order to compete women must work harder, labor harder to get “ahead.” However, how different are the terms labor and work? Are they space specific? If, to Appalachian scholars, labor issues reach beyond the mine, does work? And if so, why is it not compensated (as the 1913 article points out)?

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Woman as Citizen as Neoliberal Denizen: Citizenship—who becomes a worthy or eligible (?) citizen in the neoliberal system?

What does this mean for women? What can we learn from these case studies and analyses? The answers are grim, but the possibilities hopeful if one is willing to imagine the impossible as possible, the radical as the obtainable. For women, neoliberalism has meant “to work more.” With rights taken away, I believe the case can be made that women left without support become what Guy Standing would refer to as a denizen created and maintained by the neoliberal state. Through this reading it became clear that neoliberalism isn’t a passive ideal that people adopt, rather it actively silences, quiets, and ends movements.

I end this readings thinking about justice and reaction and resistance. How are they related? How do they conflict and conflate one another?



[1] In relation to the question posed by Audrey Lorde; “Can the master’s tools dismantle the master’s house?”

[2] Briggs, Laura. “Activisms and Epistemologies: Problems for Transnationalism’s.” Social Text 97. Winter 2008. (81)

[3] Luxton, et. Al. (12)

[4] Luxton (174)

[5] Arat-Koc, 1st page, chapter 3

[6] Featherstone, David. “Thinking Solidarity Politically” (5)

[7] Ibid. (5)

[8] Encyclopedia of Appalachia “Labor” (551)

[9] Ibid. (552)

[10] Ibid. (553)

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Precarious Times, Precarious Bodies

[blog # 3]


I don’t want to suggest that the position of the outsider is always or only negative,or necessarily critical, or bound up in envy, a yearning for an inside position. The outside is capable of great positivity and innovation.

Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture from the Outside


[tertiary wings]

As I read Guy Standing’s provocative book, “The Precariat: Rise of a Dangerous Class” and think about labor for this class and another blog, I find myself laboring to work, working to labor. I arrive on campus at 6:00 am. Men are already working on the concrete outside Sub Station II and McDonalds. They will be gone soon. I will be gone soon, relatively. To “stay,” to have tenure would be to be employed, fixedly. Walking to my office I pass a sign for the cafeteria. “Interviews Today” it reads. Students, locals… Standing would argue the precariat are applying, or at least a specific type of precariat individual. I hear my peers consistently ask professors and mentors, “What do we do in a professional climate like this?” There are few jobs and many of us (Standing would assert due to the dumbing down and handing out of certificates and degrees). The question and concern perplexes me. I have never known a sense of security in the job market—and what a strange way of naming the process, as if jobs were on the market. Surely we are not so naïve to not see that we are the market, being chosen, ignored, picked over.

As I walk, I remember the jobs I have had—cleaner, painter, daycare worker, busser, cashier, store clerk, waitress, intern, dossier, and “student worker” in more positions than I can recall. I remember clocking in, being constantly (and openly) surveyed through cameras being fed into the bosses office. I would clock out for lunch, clock back in. I have shifted to a different space within the precariat which confuses the term flexible. I have shifted from flexible pay to flexible time. Here I walk to the coffee shop at my leisure. The confusion of “leisure” and “labor” was difficult for me. It took a very long time to accept that this is real, back breaking work, too.[1] According to Standing, I would be a member of the precariat mass. I am not so sure. Agency seems to be lacking in his analysis. Motivation, direction is lost. We are dangerous because we are not organized (yet) and know only what we resist, not what we stand for. I am not so sure. I find that I am here in this third class, tertiary space because of my passions. None the less, the reading provided an interesting position, despite the assumptions and often over generalized and mis/used terms.

The entire concept of a precarious proletariat, or Marx’s working class revisited, is exciting. It offers possibilities and proves that the system is shifting, perhaps breaking, most definitely fracturing. Standing’s overarching themes included space and time, a mission to situate large groups of people within the precariat (migrants, youth, women) and a broad sweeping historiography of the precariat. The accompanying essays focused on moments of organizing and gender—synthesized, how subsets of the precariat organize.

Space and time are intrinsically intertwined. Both are constructed and manipulated, often dependent of one another. Standing seems to treat the globe as an evenly developed space with regards to the emergence of the precariat; a diverse, dualistic group denied full citizenship rights and caught in the turmoil of flexibility and capitalism. I believe place is crucial to this discussion—it could possibly dismantle Standings belief that the precariat is a super-diverse, pan-global group. The Agrarian legacy which supports much of Standings historiography were to be refuted it would drastically alter Standing’s assessment. Further, if language, definitions and systems were to be taken into account (as well as understandings of space and time) Standings declaration that “a defining feature of all denizens is absence of rights” would be questioned (273).

Throughout all of the readings I was continuously struck by the toll the “curse of flexibility” has taken on our bodies, brains, and psyches. Precariatism it is a short term state with inability to think long term. Does one remember? Standing believes technology is to blame and it is not a question of memory but attention (31). Bodies in labor, bodies at work, minds lost in time, lost to time… these concepts were particularly alluring.[2]


[photo by Jordan Laney. Roanoke, VA.]

Standing’s discussion of voice was problematic for a number of reasons. Unlike the articles we have read about resistance (particularly about the Italian Anarchist community) there seems to be no thought given towards as possible post-modern critique. While “voice” is not indexed, the phrase “lack of voice” is used many times. Notably, Standing declares a “lack of voice” following the 2008 recession. Later, he writes, “Denzins lack Voice. Except when desperate, they keep their heads down, hoping not to be noticed as they go about their daily business of survival” (193). This is not true of the articles, protests in LA, the occupy movement, and language justice movements. I am learning this is a common mistake (declaring an entire group lacking in voice), so common, that I am beginning to question my adamant belief in metaphorical voice and subversive speech.

In the end, I return to the term: Labor. I am curious in the temporality and spatiality of our definitions. If certain spaces acknowledge us, make us “people” do certain spaces also create laborers? Is it possible to remove oneself from labor? What are we to make of maldistribution and misrecognition?[3] What is work, what constitutes as work and why? Does the gendered text demand a separation of labor and work? How much of this struggle is tied up in our language? Does Standings argument that “Citizenship is about the right to possess an identity, a sense of knowing who one is and with whom one has shared values and aspirations” clash with intersectionality? Diaspora studies? The identity of displaced people? And why is the assumption being made that one must have the right to possess and identity? Is an identity even something one can possess?


The poet Jill Magi confuses and clarifies my question(s):

Saying “no repair is too

much no repair too much” so that when they approach down the hallway through the gate from under the sign from under the logo with an eviction notice with an evaluation form with a sentence a settlement a complaint.

With the snap of branches comes a flash of white light —-

What is the opposite of labor of struggle?[4]


Helpful texts:



[1] This acceptance was affirmed and has been consistently re-enforced through the words of Silas House in his blog post “Real Work” found on his blog, “A Country Boy can Surmise.”

[2] For a more detailed discussion of temporality and the modern condition, Sarah Sharma’s 2014 publication “In the Meantime: Temporality and Cultural Politics” is very helpful.

[3] Here, I am calling upon the work of Nancy Fraser, particularly

[4] Magi, Jill. Labor. New York: NY. Nightboat Books, 2014. (76)


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Thoughts on Disruptions [blog 2]

Neoliberalism Interrupted: Thoughts on Disruptions


Neoliberalism Interrupted offers an interesting linguistic turn. We are not discussing a reversal, upheaval, demolition or strategic dismantling of Neoliberalism in the examples provided, but rather exploring interruptions. While reading both the Neoliberalism, Interrupted and “The Chicago Boys” article, I found myself thinking of three things: what it felt like to stand in a crowd chanting “Si Se Puede” while skipping class at an undergraduate institution, violence, and structure. This was a difficult reading—economics and Latin America are not familiar territory. The examples, names, regimes and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were foreign to me. Striving to place the theories and thoughts presented in the readings within a context I can most thoroughly explore I will begin from those spaces I know.

The major themes I found in my reading of Neoliberalism, Interrupted and the supplemental essay were continuations of previous conversations: violence, structure, production, and myth or genesis. There were brief and interesting conversations on art and the place of aesthetics (labeled “culture”) within the book, however I feel the context of that discussion is overwhelming. For me to appropriate the terms and boundaries of the situation presented in the reading and adopt them in my own research understanding festivals and southern music(s) would not be a fruitful as simply acknowledging this divergent area within the reading.

First, myth. The reference to Roland Barthes work Mythologies was a pleasant surprise in the context of neoliberalism. The mythical idea of revolution (presented in chapter 1) is interesting for a few reasons. For one, I immediately ask “what is at stake?” What is the harm of understanding revolution as a myth? Is that in fact how we (western, capitalist society) understand a revolution—as a mythic or yet to be fulfilled destiny—a dominant ideology[1] for our time. Myth suggests distance, which makes the use of Barthes theory of violence as mythic production compelling. Barthes asserts that a violence takes place when a space or structure is created while truth commissions re/write violence into an origin myth. This makes sense. From land grabbing to border (creation and maintenance), violence produces spaces which support or give structure to neoliberalism. To create an alternative space, or occupy the already available places requires a reactionary violence.

                This exploration of myth leads to the term which has sustained my interest throughout the readings: violence. According to chapter seven, violence shapes the way in which memory and history are subject to reinterpretation within neoliberalism. While Pierre Bourdieu is not mentioned (at least not at any great length) his work is echoed in this sentiment and in the assertion that the redefining of categories—and I would assert boundaries, languages, images and norms—are symbolic violence’s which sustain neoliberalism. It is this same violence which seems to offer an interruption, or shift.

Production and structure are found interwoven in both violence, resistance, myth and the creation of interruptions, however I find it most interesting that while production and structure are assumed possibilities if not necessities for countering neoliberalism or allowing for a postneoliberal formation, they are (as Audre Lorde would assert) “the master’s tools,” the master being capitalism.

voting booth

Aside from the terms which caught my attention, a few divergent theoretical perspectives appear in this reading in a few forms. First, Foucaultian ideas concerning governmentality are introduced. Delueze and Barthes are brought into the discussion as culture becomes a “site of struggle.” The conversation, while staying firmly situated in Latin America crosses disciplines—as the editors word it, an archeological methodology is employed. Secondly, the idea of a civil society is introduced. I am perplexed by this idea—it seems far too akin to the notion of “worthy people” sought out by post-reconstruction mission’s movements in the Appalachian Mountains. Is seems too subjective, like a continuation of the systemic (symbolic) oppressions cited in chapter 8 as the redefining of categories. Like Habermas’ public, a civil society implies specifics which can (and do) enforce partiality and encourage separation. The idea of a “postneoliberal” society or economy is also new to me. I am curious as to what is “post” about the examples shown which are questioned as “postneoliberalism or the hybrid of neoliberal extraction and indigenous sustainability?” If social movements are responsive or reactions to neoliberal regimes and challenges are made against and/or in relation to the state (Chapter 2), what is the role of the state in postneoliberal frames?

I left the text wanting more—a deeper discussion of myth, a comparative definition of culture with neoliberal and anti-neoliberal implications, I want to question (and desperately want to refute) the term of postneoliberalism. The question the volume hoped to answer or provoke was “What are the meaningful challenges to neoliberalism now?” However, I am not certain that is the question that is answered, or the question the collection provokes. What is a challenge? I am left pondering the form of counter-violence and if such a contestation can avoid mimicking the form of the structure it is opposing? What is the difference between a disruption and a mutation? An evolution? A shift in structure, context or spatiality? Are the effects of temporality not ruptures in a process? Ways of measuring and in doing so noticing a shift? What IS a disruption? How is a violent rupture produced, justly?




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Voicing Politics, Politicizing Country Radio

Because I mentioned this in class… here’s a glimpse into the political music(s) that interest me in the context of our readings.

VIDEO: “Country Boy” by Aaron Lewis

If you watch Aaron Lewis video above, or more importantly, passively hear it on the radio, it doesn’t sound so different than Steve Earle’s celebrated dirt road anthem “Copperhead Road.” The legacy of grandfathers, an attachment to place (land, roads, hunting grounds), survival instincts and a laundry list of abilities that will allow the male protagonist to outlive the apocalypse with a good conscious (read: the singers aren’t bad people) are heard in the lyrics sung over typically traditional country instruments. Lewis’ tune concludes with Charlie Daniels solo fiddling of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” These songs are entrenched in a history and a heritage. There is a masculine energy that runs throughout the songs (and others in this vein/subgenre) that seems to connect the singers directly to the forefathers of the country–  the best, the resilient, the “real” embodiment of an American spirit quickly being lost to governmental control, the loss of the rural, the feminization of masculine roles, and (the singers would insist) a way of life lost to corporate greed.

Like Charlie Daniels “Long Haired Country Boy” who “ain’t askin nobody for nothing if he can’t get it on his own” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” Lewis’ audience has the (Tea Party, American, Confederate, depending on the song) flag waving and the performers are secure in their faith that they “will survive.” Hank Juniors words are used on purpose here. He made his mark with “Country Boys Can Survive” singing about his family and (imagined) community (see: Anderson) of survivalists who “make our own whiskey and our own smoke too, ain’t too many things these boys can’t do.” This message is not new to mainstream country radio listeners– sentiments of independence have been conflated with “good ole boy” images since the 1970s. What is new however, is the overtly political language and party affiliation. For instance, Lewis’ song concludes with the following dialogue spoken (by Charlie Daniels) over a traditionally fiddled version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” : “I love my country. I love my guns. I love my family. I love the way it is now, and anybody that tries to change it has to come through me. That should be all of our attitudes. Cause this is America, and a country boy is good enough for me, son.”

How can the rhythm interwoven into a traditional aesthetic constructed to be the “core” of (southern) American culture be silenced, dis/rupted, confronted– or better yet, heard as political rather than traditional? These songs are anthems for the independent, more importantly they are political, they are mainstream, and the lyrics seep into our national soundscape and personal psyches without control. Is this a sound of neoliberalism?

(above: Aaron Lewis’ neck tattoo “Don’t Tread on Me”)

selected lyrics:

You’d never catch me out the house without my nine or forty-five
I got a big orange tractor and a diesel truck
And my idea of heaven is chasing white-tailed bucks
And as a country boy I know I can survive

Now two flags fly above my land
That really sum up how I feel
One is the colors that fly high and proud
The red, the white, the blue

The other one’s got a rattlesnake
With a simple statement made
“Don’t tread on me” is what it says
And I’ll take that to my grave

Because this is me
I’m proud to be American and strong in my beliefs
And I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again
‘Cause I’ve never needed government to hold my hand

And I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again
‘Cause my family’s always fought
And died to save this land
And a country boy is all I’ll ever be…

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