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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