December 1, 2011

Questions for the class:

How, according to Ruth Wilson Gilmore, can we animate the hyphen between scholar and activist?

Given this is our last class, what principles for conducting community research resonate most significantly for each of you?

Over the course of this class, I have developed the following principles of ethical, engaged community research: mutuality, reciprocity, accountability, shared participation in the development, execution, analysis, and dissemination of research results, and the importance of shared vision. I will continue to struggle with and negotiate, in particular, my white privilege, educational privilege, able-bodied privilege, and citizenship privilege. Reflexivity is a key part of my research process and will be treated as such throughout the course of my dissertation.

“Community” remains a contested relationship that need not be a fixed temporal-spatial location; community can be fluid, inconsistent, temporary, and creatively (re)constructed with others. I believe the term retains its usefulness.

My final week will be spent making careful edits on my proposal to strengthen its possibility, but it remains, comfortably, a living document.


Tired of waiting for Congress to act, states are trying to take matters into their own hands, including my home state of Arizona. State laws dealing with immigration issues have generally followed a strategy of attempting to encourage immigrants, particularly those without proper documentation, to leave the state by making life for them untenable. ~Representative Jeff Flake (R – AZ), 2007; emphasis added.

The adjective “tenable” derives from the Latin word tenere – to maintain, to hold, or to keep. This week I have been thinking a lot about the concept of tenability as it intersects with state security projects, particularly in Arizona. If we take Representative Jeff Flake at his word, his use of tenability above suggests that the purpose of Arizona’s immigration enforcement strategy – attrition of the undocumented population – is to produce lives for certain groups of people that are characterized by such pervasive vulnerabilities (lives that cannot be maintained) that many attempt to leave the state.

Is “attrition through enforcement” a state security project? Can I use programs like this and Secure Communities to develop a framework for conceptualizing state security projects? I would like to work on generating a theoretical discussion between Paul Apostolidis’s use of racial biopolitics, James Scott’s notion of legibility, and the anti-security critiques (security as a mode of governing) to try and work toward this framework. My goal is to better understand how the state is attempting to control bodies, movements, and acts, and to better understand how people who are targeted by these attempts “squeeze out the state” using the principles of radical abolition. Food for thought: How do state security projects produce untenable lives for groups who are racialized as non-white?

This week I have been focused on crafting research questions that balance specificity with breadth and do not betray my interests along the way. Despite several months of effort, beginning with my initial interest in this topic, through to the complete draft of my research proposal, I am still unsatisfied with my stated research agenda. I have tried to be patient with myself and wait for that “aha!” moment when you find the missing puzzle piece, but so far I am still looking. In part, I feel unsettled because I am unsure how to explore my tentative research questions – should I partner with an organization and conduct focus groups and interviews? Should I volunteer for an organization or collective as a participant-observer and do an ethnographic study?

I think the source of my dissatisfaction is related to ethical questions I have about conducting research as a white person with multiple sources of privilege. I have been considering writing an email to a couple organizations here in Arizona and in Durham, NC to explain that I need to conduct research to obtain a Ph.D., and ask whether research could be of use to their organization and people they work with. I guess I feel that approach is more ethical than imposing my research agenda on an organization or collective that I partner with, but I also feel there might be ways to answer the questions the collective needs answered while answering my own (not that they would necessarily be exclusive) at the same time. Our class this semester has addressed many of these issues and in fact, has positioned them as urgent and necessary; reflexivity, reciprocity, accountability.

This week I have been thinking about the relationship between state security protects and “white democracy” (Olson, 2011), particularly as I consider the purpose of a state security project like Secure Communities. I am thinking through how state security projects may relate to another piece I am working on where I argue that Arizona’s “attrition through enforcement” strategy – best exemplified by SB 1070 – is an example of ethnic cleansing within a democracy.  The purpose of attrition through enforcement according to our representative Jeff Flake (R – AZ) is to produce untenable lives for migrants; lives that are characterized by such pervasive vulnerabilities that migrants “voluntarily” leave the state. In similar ways, both tactics (attrition through enforcement and Secure Communities) result in the dispersal of migrant bodies through arrest, detention, deportation, or forced out-migration. Both tactics also rely on certain assumptions about what makes people secure and who deserves the protection of the state. In this case, migrants from the global South are targeted for premature death by state security projects.

The literature on “Radical Abolition” (Gilmore, 2011) and Black Radical Thought suggests a different way – one oriented toward creating authentically democratic institutions by abolishing white democracy and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).  Abolishing the PIC challenges us to “think politics without security” by building movements “that not only end violence, but that create a society based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity. In this society, safety and security are…based on a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples” (Critical Resistance-INCITE Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex, 2006). Radical Abolition demands a critique of state security projects and provides critical imaginings of a different future, where our conditions of possibility are not limited by white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and colonization.

In “Racisms, Heterosexisms, and Identities: A Semiotic Phenomenology of Self-Understanding”, Jacqueline M. Martinez (2003) discusses what happened to her when she began to read This Bridge Called my Back:

“I suddenly lifted my eyes, straightened my back and pushed myself away from my desk. The  sense of recognition was overwhelming. I was stopped. I was frozen. The words reverberated through my body. I had to get up and get away. I remember pacing the floor of my apartment, moving things around, moving in a seemingly aimless way. But, make no mistake about it, I was directed. I had crossed a point of no return, and a new field of possibility (and danger) had emerged before my eyes…I knew the texts were demanding that I interrogate the exact life circumstances in which I had come to think, feel, see, experience, and act in the ways I had” [italics in original].

For me, these are rupturing experiences, because I can’t go back to where or who I was before. For students these moments can be experiences of “positive ambiguity.” According to Martinez (2003) positive ambiguity occurs when students, through engagement with the course material, “see things they had never seen before, and new possibilities for understanding themselves and others emerge” (p. 117).

I have been talking a lot with fellow graduate students about how to address racisms, sexisms, ableisms, and so forth when they come up in the classroom, particularly with white, male-identified students. Rather than receiving the course material with openness and accepting the invitation to “interrogate the exact life circumstances in which [they] had come to think, feel, see, experience, and act” in the world, many white students become defensive, closed, and angry during discussions about power and difference.

As teachers in training we must ask, how can we facilitate positive ambiguity in the classroom, while troubling systems of power and domination?

Scholars who think conceptually and critically about “security” ask questions like “security for whom?” “By what means?” “How do the logics of security operate in liberal-democratic states?” “Can the language of security be recuperated for radical projects or must it be abandoned all together?” The literature I have been reviewing in preparation for my research proposal attempts to address these questions in effort to move away from state-centric, militaristic, and hyper-masculine understandings of security.

In the United States, security is often understood as protection from an external or internal threat, typically racialized and gendered as a male bodied person(s) of color. Military and police forces are deployed to keep us safe by capturing (or killing) the threat. Radical abolition envisions a world “where we do not use prisons, policing, and the larger system of the prison industrial complex as an ‘answer’ to what are social, political, and economic problems” (Rose Braz – Critical Resistance). In other words, radical abolition disrupts or troubles common-sense notions of security from to suggest an alternative understanding of safety with; it “means facilitating and creating a kind of safety few of us have likely known, through self-determination and the capacity to struggle with each other” (Shana Agid – Critical Resistance).

How do people understand the security-safety nexus in their everyday lives, particularly as we live in the shadow of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore calls the “anti-state state”? The logic of the “Secure Communities” program (S-COMM) suggests that communities with undocumented people are at risk and therefore, to be “secure” undocumented people must be removed from the communities where they reside. The numerous protests against S-COMM demonstrate everyday contestations over the meaning of security at the sites where various state security projects are enacted. It is these contestations occurring in particular places that I hope to explore in my future research.

Historically, two theoretical approaches to interethnic relations were predominant: the assimilation-acculturation model and the ethnicity-pluralism model (Lei 2009, pp. 12-13). The first model, assimilation-acculturation, is more commonly known as the “melting pot” phenomenon – where ethnic groups migrate to the United States, give up their cultural values and “distinct identities”, and adopt the norms and values of white America (p. 12). The second model, ethnicity-pluralism, was developed in response to the civil rights movements here and struggles against imperialism abroad. This model recognizes and valorizes difference among ethnic groups – what becomes America’s strength is not a melting pot resulting in one culture, but rather, the resiliency of ethnic identities that create America as an “ethnic mosaic” (p.12).

In the nineties the “power-conflict” school, led an effort to “retheorize” ethnicity and race to better explain persistent socio-economic inequalities along lines of power and difference. Theorists, particularly Omi and Winant, argued that race is not only used to differentiate groups of people, but is also “a formation process imposed by the social structure, which closely relates to the politics and power relations in American society” (p.15). Professor Wei Li situates her work along these lines. She suggests a new model of ethnic settlement – the ethnoburb. Ethnoburbs “express a set of contemporary ethnic relations involving interethnic group and intraethnic class tension or cooperation in a unique spatial form and internal socioeconomic structure. Ethnoburbs are suburban ethnic clusters of residential and business districts within large metropolitan areas” (p.29).

In her book Ethnoburb and her more recent piece on pre and post-Katrina migratory patterns, Professor Li’s work spatializes the complex dynamics of race, power, and difference in the United States. Methodologically, these pieces gave us a chance to see how a mixed-method approach can enrich our work and how collaboration with an interdisciplinary group of scholars can lead to a more comprehensive and dynamic approach to research. Wei Li, along with other scholars who study the “geography of racism” remind us to be attentive in our own work of, as George Lipsitz says “the spatialization of race and racialization of space.”