Solidarity in Stereo

4 Jan

Discussing the interaction of American regimes of governmentality and race, Richard Iton notes that “income maintenance programs targeted toward the poor have always been relatively underdveloped and underfunded from a comparative perspective,” but “those programs most likely to challenge southern racial preferences were left to state powers to administer (i.e., Aid to Dependent Children [ADC], the predecessor of AFDC, and subsequently Medicaid).” This confirms a widely accepted understanding that “States’ Rights” refers to the rights of states to administer their own chauvinistic “race relations,” i.e., maintaining the existing social hierarchies.

There’s a much longer thought here than I have time to develop, but thinking about this general historical tendency in light of this terrific post and my subsequent exchange with Natalia Cecire made me wonder whether the language of “crisis” surrounding public institutions (and their either being de-funded, underfunded, privatized, or moved to the administration of the states) has a racial element. Had it not been for the protests that helped institutionalize black studies, gender studies, and ethnic studies, and the chronologically corresponding increase in enrollment by women and students and faculty of color insisting on new approaches to research and the primacy of new questions and interpretations of the past, would there have been any crisis at all?

Certainly the nostalgia that underpins the now perennial rhetoric of “crisis” largely corresponds to fantasy, its “rational kernel” is the real power relations and operation of authority that fantasy imagines. One writer explicitly laments the collapse of the “genuine ruling class, drawn from what came to be known as the WASP establishment.” The crisis is a crisis of legitimacy, and some people’s voices–and presence–is lever legitimate in some spaces. It is a crisis–a splitting and fragmenting–of the social order. Or rather, it reveals the fissures of the social order as fundamental antagonisms and contradictions.

As I’ve been thinking of all of this, there’s been a lot of talk in my Twitter feed about “solidarity” in various guises, especially between tenured/tenure track faculty and adjunct faculty (a part of the longer thought I want to develop is that the casualization of labor suspiciously also follows on the heels of the successful and embarrassing protests that led to changes in curriculum and demands for the diversification of faculty), which I am all for. But there’s been a sub-current there, noting the ways this crisis, like most others, is not evenly distributed, and the tactics available to some are not equally available to others, affectively or practically. There is a kind of “social chauvinism,” to borrow Lenin’s term as developed here, which I employ to indicate a disdain for, or blindspot toward the relative “intensities of domination and exclusion,” borrowing from Iton again, that fragment the would be solid body politic or hegemonic bloc.

In my hearing, the fragments of conversation I’ve seen resemble that common paternalistic exasperation toward the so-called “tea party”: “they’re choosing against their own interests.” As if interests were simple and class position was uniform. American politics, perhaps especially at present, is good at producing a “they” or “them” that, if only “they” would get “their” act together, “we” would be able to achieve “our” “common goals,” which often means silencing or postponing alternative or uncomfortable political claims for the sake of “the greater good.”

Solidarity is not the same thing as unity, though, which is not the same thing as perfect unanimity. Remembering that the etymon of “stereo” means “solid,” it’s urgent to imagine a form of solidarity that can collocate in one matrix a plurality of perspectives and voices without assuming one knows the tune or the mix in advance. I’m not sure what this solidarity would look like in practice, but I suspect it would require more listening and analysis that could hold together multiple competing voices, perspectives, stories, and claims. In simpler terms, I suspect it would require us to ask Stevie Wonder’s question: when we argue that “they” are arguing against “their” own interests, “how many of them are you and me?”

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One Response to “Solidarity in Stereo”

  1. Anne Fernald (@Fernham) January 4, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    A beautiful thought, about solidarity not being unanimity, about alliances that are mindful of differential relations to power. I am trying. As a Writing Director, I’m trying to think through what it might mean to advocate for the adjuncts whom I have to hire. When I talk to colleagues about this, I learn many things about power….

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