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:!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.


summer 2014

18 Jun

my annual comment on current research: this summer i have a lot of curiosities and fragments to investigate.  in no particular order here are a few items: race, racism, biopower, anti-racism, necropolitics… and metaphor.  while my last book focused on neoliberal governmentality and temporality, a new project gradually taking shape seems to be building from Foucault’s 1975 lectures on biopower and race (society must be defended), and is trying to read this material through the problematic of metaphor.  How is racism developed and disseminated through metaphors? how is anti-racism, or the compulsion not to “kill” the other (necropolitics), but to specifically “animate” the other (biopower) accomplished through a different set of metaphors, mediated by a discourse on diversity, multiculturalism and the appreciation of difference.  anyway, much to read and think about.  

Aside 26 Sep

As the semester gets under way, i am very glad to have the book, Happiness as Enterprise: an Essay on Neoliberal Life, listed in the current catalog with SUNY Press

completing a project like this is always a great relief, although it opens up space for new endeavors.  I spent much of the summer on an expansive reading project that took me through many topics at the intersection of foucault and psychology/psychoanalysis (some judith butler, joel whitebook, the new edition of history of madness, etc), as well as some adventures into a new area: friendship. in short, it goes something like this:

how do friends, and friendships, serve as relays for the dissemination of  neoliberal governmentalities?  how is the medium of friendship in contemporary life made to operate as a relation through which entrepreneurial subjectivity is cultivated?  this is part of my wider effort to rethink governmentality as a relation of power that operates beyond policy discourses and scientific practices (as it is typically depicted in much research on this topic), and see how it takes shape in everyday life.  i am testing this question to see if it has any potential for future research.

that and teaching, changing diapers and walking dogs.  by far the bulk of my activity, actually.

What is Sam up to now…?

16 May

What am I going to do this summer?

Many things.  1) Finish the damn book.  The copyedited manuscript for Happiness as Enterprise should come back from the good people at SUNY in June, and after a few days of tweaking, should be off to production. It will appear in the Spring catalog, 2014.  2) Metaphor and Governmentality; How can we rethink the effects of governmentality through the use of metaphor? How has emotional life become accessible to governmental strategies through the metaphor of the market? Maybe I’ll have a chunk of an article completed on this topic by September. 3) Humanistic psychology and creativity: how did humanistic psychology, which exploded in the 60’s and 70’s, establish core metaphors through which it later became possible to govern subjectivity through the problematic of creativity (ie creative economy, creative capital, etc).  Just maybe i’ll have something written on this question by September.  This and, 4) revise courses for next year, specifically Emotions and Everyday Life, which needs some reading on loneliness, and 5) develop a whole new course, from scratch, titled “laughter and society”, about humor, comedy, ridicule and the absurd both as sociological phenomena, and as sociological methods.