emotions and academic freedom

6 Dec

I had completely forgotten that I even wrote this piece. it came out 4 years ago in an era before Trump. Perhaps it is still relevant.

Preparing for a talk at the Sorbonne University, January 2020.

30 Oct

Therapeutic Neoliberalism and the Reproduction of White Racial Subjectivity

Recent critical work on “neoliberal governmentality” has uncovered a neoliberal logic, or style of management centered on the production of a highly individualized, self-aware worker, student or citizen. Self-awareness, in this sense, becomes a technical problem of psycho-medical expertise, in which institutional conduct is viewed through the lens of mental health. In Professor Binkley’s discussion, this critique of neoliberal governmentality is extended to the problem of racial tensions in organizational settings. In recent years, in the United States, white racism has been increasingly defined in psycho-medical terms as an acquired state of psychosis or denial, in which psychic defense mechanisms are mobilized to bypass the reality of one’s own racism. Through cultural competency training, sensitivity workshops and diversity programs aimed at disarming these denial defenses, the unaware “privilege” that defines white habits is governed through a strategy that combines technical expertise with therapeutic authority. The psychotic white subject is brought before an omniscient, objective, therapeutic “other” typically represented either directly by a person of color or by an expert representing a person of color’s perspective. This therapeutic authority, as the “subject presumed to know,” purports to know the truth of the white subject herself. In this way, the self-aware subject of neoliberal government is realized through a hermeneutics of the self, or a search for self-authenticity mediated by this managerial/therapeutic other. While productive in modifying explicitly racist behaviors, this arrangement, it is argued, has the undeclared consequence of reproducing precisely the subject of white racism it purports to transform.

Preparing a talk on Happiness for a conference: “La felicidad como una nueva ficción política”

19 Oct

Happiness conference in Santiago, Chile. Giving talks with translators is always fun because you get to have some back and forth while you present. Very much looking forward to visiting Chile.

Unlearning Privilege: The Therapeutic Ethos and the Battle Within the White Self (Routledge Handbook of Global Therapeutic Cultures)

27 Jul


There is in America today a discourse of White anti-racism that has come to operate as a form of self-help.  In a broad conversation that extends from social justice and anti-racist activism to institutional diversity and inclusion programs and across a variety of film, television and internet sites, advice, guidance and exhortation is offered for White people seeking to explore and confront emotional and cognitive habits inscribed by racism.  Within these conversations, White privilege is described as a pathological form of cognitive impairment or state of denial, the resolution of which requires that the white subject seek out and internalize the perspectives and experiences of people of color, who are assigned the implicit function of a therapeutic authority.  Employing an account of self help developed by theorists of “reflexive modernity” and drawing on sociological accounts of therapeutic culture, this chapter excavates the various elements of this self-help discourse centered on the problem of White privilege, which include: a medico-psychologization of White privilege fashioned on the “analytic contract” as described by Sigmund Freud; a therapeutic revision of biographical identity through the lens of White privilege, and a valorization of the role of people of color as an omniscient therapeutic other.  These functions combine in suppressing the deficits of meaning that afflict personal life under the conditions of reflexive modernization, serving the function of what Anthony Giddens terms the reflexive project of the self.


New in Theory and Psychology: “The work of happiness: A response to De La Fabián and Stecher (2017)”

15 Mar

Following is a critical response to De La Fabián and Stecher (2017). The authors contend that my book, Happiness as Enterprise (2014), is flawed in its attribution of the practice of positive psychology to a principally Calvinist paradigm of labor characterized by a deferred gratification—an error that ignores the ultimately neoliberal attributes of this phenomenon. I respond that, while this may be true, it is a contradiction that positive psychology itself grapples with, and it is also a methodologically necessary step if one is to avoid a determinist account of the practice of positive psychology.

New article in Body & Society: “Biopolitical Metaphor: Habitualized Embodiment Between Discourse and Affect”

6 Mar

ABSTRACT This article theorizes the biopolitical production of embodiment through a consideration of biopolitical metaphor.  It is argued that much recent theoretical work on biopower fails to provide an adequate account of embodiment, and particularly on the question of the habitualization of bodily experience.  However, read through the lens of biopolitical metaphor, and drawing on the works of George Lakoff and a Mark Johnson, a dynamic account of the biopolitical shaping of bodily memory and embodied habit becomes possible.  Moreover, it is argued that a theory of biopolitical metaphor provides provocative openings for thinking together the recent discursively oriented work on biopower and other approaches associated with the affective turn, specifically around the problems of mimesis and supplement.  New research directions are proposed, centered on common experiences of biopolitical domination among marginalized groups drawn from shared experiences of habit and embodiment.

Talk at Amerikahaus, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München

16 Nov

Shame and the Humiliated Subject of Populist Racism

Free admission / Please register

Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have delivered twin shocks to the political and racial equilibria of the Anglosphere. What these crises reveal, among other things, are the vast reservoirs of affective intensity that can be unleashed against the specter of encroaching racial and ethnic diversity among populations traditionally identified by a colonial legacy of whiteness.
In this talk, some alignments are explored between the affective intensity of populist shame/humiliation and the implicit logic of racism itself. The intersection of populist humiliation and racism provides critical insight into the dynamics of the present, and also allows us to better comprehend the links between institutional or governmental logics and corporeal, affective states.



Talk at Goldsmiths University

2 Feb


New article out in Subjectivity 9: 4 June 2016

28 Mar



Anti-Racism Beyond Empathy: Transformations in the Knowing and Governing of Racial Difference

This article applies Michel Foucault’s provocative treatment of racism to a critique of contemporary forms of White anti-racism. From Foucault’s reflections, it is possible to extrapolate two key functions: racism as a mode of knowledge aimed at destabilizing sovereign power, and racism as a mode of government aimed at establishing divisions within society. These functions are reproduced across the program of White anti-racism, which aims at the cultivation of empathy for racial minorities. Moreover, this article examines racism and anti-racism in terms of their functioning within the economy of a social/racial contract, in which anti-racism is understood as an obligation to return to the other that which racism has taken away. Alternative modes of White anti-racism are proposed which, drawing on Foucault’s notion of an ethics of the self, imagine alternative practices of White anti-racism beyond the terms of a moral economy of anti-racism.

Toward a Contribution to the Critique of Political Stenography

18 Aug

… because i think there are just too many words out there on the internet(s), i try to update my research blog once or twice a year, usually at the beginning of the summer and sometime after the winter break.  it’s august, and i’m only now getting to this task now, but here goes…. it’s been a productive summer in some ways.

first, several years too late, i think i’m finally making the affective turn.  better late than never.  i started the summer by rewriting and vastly expanding an article from last year (roundly rejected from a certain journal) on metaphor and biopower.  any author of a critical text has to somehow abandon caution and fall in love with their ideas. if you don’t do that you’re a stenographer. and in that spirit I’m in love with metaphors as instruments of biopolitical dissemination/diffusion.  here’s what i’m trying to say:

Feeling Like: Affective Biopower and Metaphor

This article addresses the problem of diffusion in Michel Fouault’s influential thesis on biopower, and specifically biopolitical processes of subjectification. Considering recent criticisms of what is alleged to be Foucault’s discursive reductionism from affective and new materialist perspectives, the argument extracts valuable insights regarding corporeality, imitation and feeling in the transmission of biopolitical affects. These insights are applied to a renovation of Foucault’s discursivity by expanding biopolitical discourse to the domain of everyday language use, and specifically the use of metaphor. A critical reflection on the structure of metaphor as a medium for the transmission of biopolitical effects incorporates a model of affective transmission through imitation and replication, drawing links between affect theory, biopower and the everyday use of metaphor.

That was May-June.  Most of July was eaten up writing an entry for a handbook on neoliberalism (my topic is neoliberalism and emotion),  and after that i immersed myself in a reading project on psychologies of racism and anti-racism.  this is really scary.  should one conduct a genealogy of one’s own political commitments?  or just leave them alone, or even protect them from thought? anyway, too late now.  i’ll present some of this work at a conference coming up in boston: Psychology and the Other:  http://www.psychologyandtheother.com/#!2015-conference/c12d9   here is the blurb for my presentation.

Racism Against The Abnormal: Black Rage, The Psychologization of Black Affect, and the Work of Cultural Competency

This presentation considers contemporary racism in the context of Michel Foucault’s lecture course of 1974-75, Abnormal. In using the phrase “racism against the abnormal,” Foucault reveals historical connections between racism and evolutionary and developmental sciences. In the 18th and 19th centuries, criminologists and psychiatrists uncovered a range of psychological and physiological abnormalities and states of emotional and moral atavism. The moron, the pervert, the idiot, the sociopath, and the imbecile represented failures of biological development that provided a template for later forms of racism, whereby racial groups were viewed as bearers of a primal, pre-civilizational affect. The psychologization of the phenomenon of “black rage” represents an extension of this logic, although a complex and ambivalent one. Considering black rage as a psychological effect, and particularly the concept as it was developed in Grier and Cobbs’ 1969 study of that name, the importance of black rage today is traced to its origins in a discourse on racism and abnormality. Black rage today opens up a field of radical alterity, enabling practices of parrhesia and anti-racist critique, but also functions as an apparatus of capture which ultimately subsumes the primal, “mad” speech of black rage within a grid of tolerated cultural differences, mediated through relations of empathy and cultural competency. The wider point is made that many of our contemporary anti-racist strategies, which implicitly or explicitly invoke normalized notions of racial difference, operate in this space of ambivalence between a politics of transformation and a politics of capture.

And, as if that weren’t enough, I just got an article back that needs some work.  It’s my most direct Foucauldian critique of anti-racism as governmentally, but the reviewers correctly point out that it needs to be reframed.  here’s where it currently stands…

A Genealogy of Anti-Racism: The Knowing, Killing and Empathizing of Racial Discourse

This article applies Michel Foucault’s provocative treatment of racism to a genealogical study of contemporary forms of anti-racism. Where Foucault distinguished two principal moments of racial discourse — race war, characterized by a critique of political authority, and state racism, in which this critique is appropriated by the state for the purposes of biopolitical government — this article proposes a third moment in this trajectory, anti-racism, as the hegemonic form taken by racial discourse today. Moreover, extrapolating two key tendencies within the discourse on race — its epistemological moment as a technology of knowing, and its necropolitical moment as a technology of governing — anti-racism is considered for the ways in which it transforms, modifies and reapplies these two tendencies. Anti-racism, it is argued, folds these tendencies into a new program that, while ostensibly opposed in absolute terms to racism, in fact reproduces many of its key categories. Anti-racism’s incorporation of racisms’ epistemological and necropolitical moments reproduces the broader logic of neoliberal governmentality, wherein empathy is valued as a form of human capital.

and on a more lyrical note: this summer i fell in love with this image, which i think on some level captures the spirit in which any critical author writes, both within and against their time. it’s an improvised grenade launcher, made from found junk by prisoners during the Attica uprising of 1971. against overwhelming power, in the face of near certain failure and with only the ingenuity that desperation provides, you attack.  love it.