Cultural Studies in/and the Global South: Thinking and Organizing Around Race in the Periphery of the Anglophone Academy

Workshop for Doctoral Students in the Department of Anthropology, Ilia State University sponsored by the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus.

Dates: June 28-29, 2021


June 28: A Critical Cultural Studies for/of the Global South
Virtual presentation + introductions. The presentation was open to the public.

June 29: Workshop
Discussion of readings and student projects
Both meetings will be held virtually 4-6pm Tbilisi time.
In May of 2020, a Black man from Minneapolis, George Floyd, was killed by white police officers. His murder rekindled the #BlackLivesMatter movement and protests spread across the United States. In the weeks that followed, solidarity protests also popped up and splinter movements caught on in dozens of cities across the globe. In the Middle East, Europe, and beyond protesters declared that their “Lives Mattered.” Different political groups also voiced that they “couldn’t breathe.” This electric protest energy galvanized many a community into new articulations of long-standing political critiques (against corruption, sectarianism, marginalization, and legal dispossession). At the same time, the use of the #BlackLivesMatter mantra (and pushback against its mobilization under other auspices) also forced many communities to reckon with the reality of anti-Black racism in their own communities.

The study and analysis of race and racism in English draws from and struggles against the legacies of the Transatlantic slave trade. The material, affective, and historical specificities of those world making and world-ripping events and the systemic contours of anti-Black racism in the US have often led to the dismissal of the relevance of this critical body of work to applications in other geographic and cultural locales. Too often, critical scholars of race and racism have been told that their work “isn’t relevant” in societies that do not bear the legacy of the Transatlantic slave trade and that their observations “don’t apply” to an understanding of cultural or legal frameworks not struggling with the patrimony of Jim Crow.

Anthropologists have questioned the role of “place” in elaboration of prestige zones of theory since at least the 1980s.[1] These have drawn attention to how certain geographical areas outside of the US/Europe become attached to a set of theoretical and material inquiries, a tendency that can effectively silence the development of other inquiry, even those inquiries more closely corresponding to material concerns in a given locale (as in caste in India, for example). This critique has focused on how anthropological theory creates the objects of its (non-European) study.

Yet, the perceived attachment of critical work on race to the Transatlantic world has slowed the proliferation of anti-racist theorizing in other locales. The problem is less that the Transatlantic is primarily understood through the paradigm of race and more that critical theories of racialization are presumed to be primarily applicable in the Transatlantic world. This is the inverse of the critical consideration of place and theory in anthropology and related disciplines, and while informed by the legacies of colonialism and imperialism, poses different political considerations for scholars committed to anti-racist research outside of the Transatlantic world.

This workshop considers the question of core/periphery place-making and critical theory by considering the effect of the centrality of the Transatlantic world to critical race studies on research about race, racialization, and race-making elsewhere. How to trace histories of slavery, exploitation, discrimination that do not follow the historical and material patterns of the Transatlantic slave trade but whose archives and contemporary dynamics hold myriad other examples of economic dispossession and ethnic racial discrimination? What ethnographic, theoretical, and affective tools are needed to approach both contemporary critical race theory and its centering of the Transatlantic world and the local and regional dynamics that inform racemaking outside of it? Thinking locally as well as comparatively, are there lessons to be gathered from activists, researchers, and ethnographers between geographical areas across a corpus of the so-called Global South to counter this geographical inflection in critical race thinking, theorizing, and mobilizing? This acknowledges how even within the Transatlantic world, critical examinations of colorism, anti-Blackness, and other racialization are not taken up evenly.[2]

Neoliberal expansion, international development, humanitarianism, debt, and settler colonialism are all intrinsically raced and racemaking projects that reach every corner of the globe. White supremacy underpins Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as well as anti-Black racism. International models of aid, growth, and progress rely on colonial frameworks of extraction that are intimately wrapped up in notions of racial and ethnic difference and hierarchy. Globalization, afterall, has been a fundamentally uneven process. Moreover, contemporary protest energy on the left is thirsty for alert and engaged application of racemaking analysis beyond a framework of identity politics. How will young scholars of the Global South seriously engage with the advances of critical race studies and translate those analyses to the contexts and languages of the Middle East, the Caucasus, South Asia, and beyond?

This two-day virtual workshop intervenes in this contemporary moment in global politics and transnational academia to think with Ilia Anthropology students about questions of race and racemaking in and from the periphery of the Anglophone academy. How should an engaged anthropology of the Caucasus engage with critical race studies? What iterations of white supremacy, indigeneity, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and others are tangible within the particular flows of people, ideas, and affect reflected by our interlocutors here? What languages can we use to deconstruct them? How to engage the size and weight of the Transatlantic world (the perceived center) in critical race theory from the locality of the Caucasus (one of its would-be peripheries), in order to understand the histories and contemporary urgencies of racemaking here?


[1] See for example, Arjun Appadurai, “Theory in Anthropology: Center and Periphery,” Comparative Studies in Society and History Vol 28 (1986): 356-361.

[2] For example: Henrice Altnek, “Black Lives Matter in Jamaica: Debates about Colourism Follow Anger at Police Brutality,” The Conversation, June 22, 2020

Rayya El Zein is Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, USA; she was a 2019 ARISC Fellow. Her work examines youth cultures and politics in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. In her recent research and teaching, Rayya has focused on race and racism in the Arab world: in Palestine, Lebanon, and the Arabic-speaking diasporas in North America. This work has sought to elaborate the particularities of anti-Black racism in these communities while thinking intersectionally about indigeneity, Islamophobia, and settler colonialism. Rayya’s work lies at the intersection of anthropology, Middle East Area Studies, and cultural studies.

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