Duress and Virality: The Endurance of Racial Capitalism

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3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
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Taking its cues from an array of critical theoretical, ethnographic and activist engagements with crisis and temporality, this panel interrogates the gendered and sexual dimensions of racial capitalism, relative to both the current pandemic and the longue durée of racial capitalist and imperialist violence, in which the crises such as the present one are hardly ever a coincidence. Following a wide range of disciplinary and regional directions, the panellists will seek to provide a historical perspective on racial capitalist production of ‘crises’ as well as reflect on the ways Covid-19 has continued to contribute to the virality of the disposability of life, which is embedded in racial capitalism through its integral features of capitalist development, white supremacy, exploitation of labour and commodification of sexual and gender non-conformity. They will also debate why it is that racial capitalism’s theoretical contours seem to get muddied the more and more it gets taken up in the mainstream and offer some thoughts on what exactly might be ‘viral’ (Clough & Puar 2012) and ‘durable’ (Stoler 2016) about it—especially with respect to its continuous concern with a ‘productive’ sexual and gender ordering.

Panelists (in alphabetical order):

  • Bedour Alagraa, University of Texas at Austin
  • Vanja Hamzić, SOAS University of London, Chair
  • Samia Khatun, SOAS University of London
  • Navtej Purewal, SOAS University of London
  • Althea-Maria Rivas, SOAS University of London
  • Naseeba Umar, SOAS University of London

Dr. Bedour Alagraa is Assistant Professor of Political and Social Thought in the Department of African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Alagraa received her PhD from the department of Africana Studies at Brown University in the Spring of 2019, and was an Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow during her time at Brown. She also holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and a Masters in Race, Ethnicity, and Post-Colonial Studies from the London School of Economics. Her book manuscript is entitled The Interminable Catastrophe: Fatal Liberalisms, Plantation Logics, and Black Political Life in the Wake of Disaster, and charts a conceptual history of catastrophe as a political category/concept (rather than Event), via its inauguration in early modern natural science and empiricist debates, and subsequent crystallization as a concept on the plantation. More specifically, her manuscript explores modern-day ecological catastrophes against the discourse of imminent disaster and anthropocene studies and instead, considers these occurrences as expressions of the durability of plantation modes of social relations, rendering them political conjunctures rather than ecological Events. More broadly, she is interested in Black Political Thought, especially Caribbean political thought, African anti-colonial thought, and Black Marxism(s). Bedour has been published in several journals, including Critical Ethnic Studies, Contemporary Political Theory, The CLR James Journal of Caribbean Philosophy, and Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. She is the co-editor of a volume on Black Political Thought, forthcoming from Pluto Press, and recently completed work on archiving Sylvia Wynter’s literary and academic works. Bedour is also co-editor, alongside Anthony Bogues, of the ‘Black Critique’ book series at Pluto Press, and is currently working, with Bogues, on an edited volume of Sylvia Wynter’s unpublished essays.

Dr Vanja Hamzić is Senior Lecturer in Legal History and Legal Anthropology at SOAS University of London. He held academic posts at King’s College London and City, University of London and is a former residential member of the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. His work has principally sought to shed new light on how gender non-conforming individuals and communities have braved the turbulent tides of racial capitalism, imperialism, slavery and other forms of legally sanctioned oppression and how, in turn, they have developed and abided by multiple formations of insurrectionary knowledge. He is co-author, with Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini, of Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts (2010) and author of Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge (2016, 2019). He currently works on a book manuscript titled Interruption: Rethinking Circum-Atlantic Gender Variance of the Enslaved in Eighteenth-Century West Africa and Colonial Louisiana.

Dr Samia Khatun became a feminist historian because she once lost her way to a mathematics lecture at the University of Sydney. Since then, Samia has chased truths about the past in Sydney, Antigua, Kolkata, Istanbul, Berlin, New York, Dunedin, Melbourne, London and Dhaka. She researches the life-worlds of people colonised by the British Empire and her documentaries have screened on ABC and SBS-TV in Australia. Samia is the new Chair for the Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS, London.

Navtej Purewal is Professor of Political Sociology and Development Studies at SOAS. She is interested in how technologies of political power penetrate and shape the social. She has recently published a co-authored book Beyond Religion in India and Pakistan: Gender and Caste, Borders and Boundaries (Bloomsbury, 2019) and is currently co-editing with Jennifer Ung Loh a special issue 'Coloniality' of Feminist Review.

Dr Althea-Maria Rivas is a lecturer in Gender and Global Development at SOAS. She uses feminist and decolonial theories and innovative methodologies, such as photovoice, storying and oral histories, to explore the racialised and gendered nature of processes of violence, post-conflict reconstruction and social justice. Althea-Maria moved to SOAS (2019) after holding posts at York University (Toronto) and the University of Bath.

Naseeba Umar is a PhD candidate at SOAS, Centre for Gender Studies. Her pronouns are she/her. Her thesis ‘Queer Subjectivity and Sexual Governance’ examines queer rights activism in Pakistan. Her research engages with scattered and diverse realities of queer individuals in order to highlight the genealogical nature of queerphobia and violence. Research in the domain of queer theory of colour, transnational feminism and post-colonial theory has been a central focus throughout her academic career and remains so presently in her doctoral project.


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Organiser: SOAS Festival of Ideas, SOAS Centre for African Studies

Contact email: foi@soas.ac.uk