Theory&Practice

 

Faye visiting the Triumvirato Rebellion Monument in Matanzas Province, Cuba. She is admiring the image of Carlota, the rebel woman who was one of the leaders of a fierce slave revolt.  The leaders were publicly executed in the planter's desperate attempt to teach a lesson about costs of resisting the dehumanizing regime of enslavement.

Faye visiting the Triumvirato Rebellion Monument in Matanzas Province, Cuba. She is admiring the image of Carlota, the rebel woman who was one of the leaders of a fierce slave revolt. The leaders were publicly executed in the planter’s desperate attempt to teach a lesson about costs of resisting the dehumanizing regime of enslavement.

The Many Voices of Social & Political Thought in African

Diaspora Experiences

Learning from St. Clair Drake

Happy new academic year!  I’m feeling excited about 2013-14 and what I what to accomplish.  I have a number of teaching and writing projects that will occupy a great deal of my time this year.  During the first half of it, I’m working on article-length pieces on the history and politics of knowledge, particularly that of significance within African-diaspora contexts.  I am also working on an essay that addresses theory in anthropology from a decolonizing and world social sciences perspective.  Last year this time I had to complete revisions on a conference paper I did for a panel honoring the 100th anniversary of the late St. Clair Drake’s birth. In my paper I reflected on the intellectual substance of what I had learned from Drake as a graduate student at Stanford in the mid-to-late 1970s. That paper is now an article, “Learning from St. Clair Drake: (Re)Mapping Diasporic Connections,” published in Journal of African American History [98(3):446-454, Summer 2013; the article is part of the symposium on “St. Clair Drake: The Making of a Scholar-Activist”].

Faye with Professor Drake

Drake’s remarkably prolific scholarly writings have not received the visibility they deserve–even within Africana studies. However, his contributions are now being reclaimed and promoted before audiences of students, scholars, and lay readers interested in the Black World and trends in the lives and works of Black activist intellectuals.  My essay highlights the lessons Drake taught his students with his mesmerizing stories about his experiences in Natchez, Mississippi (where in the 1930s he worked on the classic Deep South research team), Chicago (where he was involved in historic urban research for the classic Black Metropolis), Cardiff and London in the U.K., and Liberia and Ghana in West Africa (where he worked with Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, and CLR James).  His combination of research/scholarly work and activism showed his students that basic and applied research,  scholarship and activism, and theory and practice were not necessarily dichotomies.  In the example of his life, they were revealed to be organically interrelated and fused.  Although his anthropology colleagues tended to characterized his work as “not theoretically driven,” I certainly learned a great deal about theory and method from him through the mediation of his lively stories about real-life situations he had encountered and lived through with the movers and shakers of anticolonial movements.  Theory was definitely embedded in his narratives as a dynamic force in the social dramas of the historical moments he described.

A second important source of inspiration and lessons learned were the seminal essays Drake wrote about the Black experience in anthropology in Africa, the Caribbean, especially Haiti, and the United States, especially during the first half of the 20th century. Those essays and our conversations about them had a profound impact on my thinking. It took a few years for me to appreciate this impact to the fullest extent.  Drake’s sociology–and anthropology–of  knowledge (including the knowledge that “para-intellectuals” without formal education or training have produced) offered a useful template for unburying and reclaiming the hidden histories of Black lives and socially-grounded intellectual pursuits, especially in the context of  struggles for freedom, citizenship, and human dignity.  Among the subjugated, knowledge of self and world has served as an integral element in those struggles.  Knowledge and power are inextricably interlocked.

Little did I know as a student that I would end up investing a great deal of my career to working on the history and politics of knowledge and the divisions of labor associated with its production, distribution, and application.  Like Drake, I have focused on the anthropological thinking and pursuits of African and African-descended intellectuals. While he tended to focus on men, I have taken a gendered approach to the role of both men and women in social and political thought. Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that as intellectuals these men and women have generally been  relegated to the peripheral zones of knowledge production and theorizing. Peripheral zones,  though, are commonly extremely fertile grounds for generating the critiques,  innovations, and new evidence that are prerequisites for paradigm shifts.  Some of these shifts create some of the conditions for making another knowledge possible–one that is freer from the exclusionary gatekeeping of dominant Western, masculinist epistemologies.

***

Postscript

If you’re interested in reading “Learning from St. Clair Drake,” here’s a link:

Learning from Drake

If you are interested in reading more about anthropology’s peripheral zones of theory (and how they are being moved toward the center of the field), from the perspective of a racially minoritized woman (namely me!) who situates her knowledge in a global context, you might be interested in reading a recently published essay. You can download it from this link:

Remapping Anthropology’s Peripheral Zones (2011)

A later version of this essay, published in No. 6 of the WAN (World Anthropologies Network) e-Journal, can be found at:

http://www.ram-wan.net/documents/05_e_Journal/journal-6/5-harrison.pdf

***

Teaching Black Social & Political Thought

On a rotating basis, I teach two courses on African American & African Diasporic social and political thought.  I’m privileged to be teaching what I’ve learned as a life-long learner–and researcher–whose experience as a university student many years ago was deeply affected by having had the privilege of studying under remarkable teachers, women and men, who inspired me beyond my original expectations of college and later graduate school. I was privileged to receive a world-class education–in senses well beyond the credentialing.  I feel obligated to facilitate the higher learning of students  I have been entrusted to teach, carrying on a “tradition” of critical pedagogy linked to the pursuit of human actualization through social justice.

 I teach two courses that deal with situated knowledges.  One focuses on the development of Black feminist and womanist thought, largely in the United States but also some attention will be given to trends in the Caribbean, Latin America, and in “Black Europe,” particularly in Black Britain.  The other course is on key issues in African American and Black Atlantic thought. It’s more of a broader historical survey that includes a respectable representation of voices that have engaged gender in relationship to race and class.

I am posting links to some of the readings I assign my students. These chapters and articles are in addition to the books that the students are required to acquire, probably through purchase. I am also posting the syllabi so they, too, can be downloaded by students and other interested parties. I alter the readings somewhat from semester to semester. That’s why I’m posting pdfs of the syllabus for two different years.

As the semester proceeds, I may feel inspired to post comments on the classes that may be interesting enough to share publicly.  Otherwise, for the time being, I will provide short descriptions of the two courses and create links for downloading the scanned readings.

Here below are the courses with basic descriptions of their contents, main texts, and the pdf links to some of the additional readings.  I will upload pdfs incrementally, so be patient and visit the site later to find additional course material.

***

Course I: Key Issues in African American & Black Atlantic Thought 

Overview. This course examines central currents in the intellectual history of the African American experience and other African diasporic experiences with which it has interacted and intersected both in the United States and other national contexts in the transatlantic world.  Focus is on the prevailing trends in social and political thought, especially those related to questions of racism, slavery, freedom, citizenship, cultural identity, gender and sexual politics, economic justice, politics, crime and criminalization, diaspora, and international affairs.  Emphasis will be placed on the leading voices of resistance and social change that have influenced black public consciousness, social and political action, and intellectual activities, including the formulation of social criticism and theory—both formal/academic and vernacular varieties.

Objectives. The major objectives of this course are: 1) to expand students’ awareness of African American and African diaspora contributions to the social analysis and theory of the Black Experience; 2) to promote awareness of the significance of this body of knowledge for understanding racialization and other forms of difference and social inequality that operate in conjunction with processes of race making; and 3) to promote students’ ability to think critically and communicate effectively about ideas in writing and speech.

 Texts

Gilroy, Paul. 1993.  The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Jiménez Román, Miriam & Juan Flores, eds.  The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History & Culture in the United States.  Durham: Duke University Press.

Marable, Manning & Leith Mullings, eds. 2009.  Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, & Renewal.  Second edition. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Waters, Kristin & Carol B. Conaway, eds. Black Women’s Intellectual Traditions: Speaking their Minds.  Burlington: University of Vermont Press.

Complete Syllabus for Key Issues – Spring 2012

Complete Syllabus for Fall 2013

Selected Additional Readings (more will be uploaded later)

Cornel West. 1985 [1993] The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual

bell hooks. 1991. Black Women Intellectuals

Grant Farred 2003. Introduction: Thinking in Vernacular

Joyce Moore Turner, 2005, The Caribbean Comes To Harlem

Joyce Turner, 2005, The Radicals & the Renaissance

Barbara Ransby, 2013, StandingTall (from Eslanda)

Marable, 2010, Racism after 9-11 (from Beyond Boundaries)

Marable, 2010, Racializing Obama

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Course II:  Black Feminist & Womanist Theory

Overview. This course offers an interdisciplinary survey of African-American and other African-descendant women’s contributions to feminist theory as a heterogeneous field of knowledge encompassing multiple streams of gender- and race-cognizant articulation and praxis.  Among these are the interventions and projects known as “multiracial feminism,” “critical race feminism,” “transnational black feminism,” and “womanism.” Caribbean, Afro-Latin American, and Black European feminisms are also included when we map feminist consciousness and practice across the Black Atlantic and African Diaspora.

The central concerns of diverse Black feminists and womanists include: the “intersectionality” of race, gender, sexuality, class, and national or transnational identity; reproductive health; sexual violence; homophobia and heteronormativity; the historicity and cultural specificity of the subordination Black women face; and the effects of racism, colonialism, unequal forms of economic development, and globalization on Black communities. We will examine these concerns through a critical reading of a wide range of texts—from memoir to cultural criticism and sociopolitical analysis.

While Black feminism’s historical development will be sketched, our focus will be on contributions of the past 25-30 years.  In other words, we will concentrate on the period since the height of the civil rights and second-wave women’s movements, and the time since the early decolonization period in the Caribbean. These are the contexts within which Black Women’s Studies emerged along with various subaltern feminisms mobilized by other women of color in the Global North and South.

Key Objectives of the course are: 1) to expand students’ awareness of the contributions that African American, Caribbean, Black British, and other African Diaspora women have made to feminist scholarship and mobilization; 2) to expose students to African descendant women’s role as feminist theorists, interpreting and explaining the raced, gendered, classed, culturally conditioned experience of women, particularly Black women; 3) to educate students on the diversity and commonality among Black women intellectuals, both academic and nonacademic; 4) to promote greater understanding of the multiple modalities of social inequality of which African descendant women have had to make sense and to which they have had to adapt, resist, contest, and politically mobilize against; 5) to expose students to some of the interpretive, theoretical, and methodological tools that Black feminists have constructed and deployed; and 6) to cultivate critical thinking and the interrelated ability to articulate ideas with clarity and cogency in both oral and written communications.

Texts

bell hooks. 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.Cambridge,MA: South End Press.

Beverly Guy-Sheftall, ed. 1995. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought.New   York: The New Press.

Layli Phillips, ed. 2006. The Womanist Reader.  New York: Routledge.

Peggy Antrobus. 2004.  The Global Women’s Movement: Origins, Issues, & Strategies.  London, New York: Zed Books.

Full Syllabus & Selected Additional Readings

Black Feminist & Womanist Syllabus

Manning Marable. 1983. Groundings with My Sisters

Lashawn Harris. 2008. Black Women & the Communist Party

Hazel Carby 1997 White women listen!

V. Eudine Barriteau. 2006. The Relevance of Black Feminist Theory: A Caribbean Perspective

Rhoda Reddock. 2001. Conceptualizing Difference in Caribbean Feminism

Benedita da Silva. 1997. Feminism with Passion

Kia Lilly Caldwell. 2007. The Black Women’s Movement. In Negras in Brazil

Helen Safa. 2006. Racial & Gender Inequality in Latin America: Afrodescendant Women Respond

Miriam De Costa-Willis. The Poetics & Politics of Desire: Eroticism in Luz Argentina Chiriboga

Jacqui Alexander & Chandra Mohanty. 2010. Transnational Feminism as Radical Praxis

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Comments
2 Responses to “Theory&Practice”
  1. nandre27 says:

    It was an honor being in your class! I learned so much from you academically and personally. Remarkable article and by the way I am looking forward to reading the revision that you did on a conference paper you did last fall for a panel honoring the 100th anniversary of the late St. Clair Drake’s birth.

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