In Class Cultures, we’re reading Lisa Duggan‘s Twilight of Equality and it fills a gap that’s been missing from the democracy class – redistribution as the unifying theme of all left politics.

It strikes me (hard!), reading Duggan now, that in all our debates in DRP, we’ve neglected any direct focus on economics, much as we keep managing to elide “real” differences (to take up Raz’s challenge to me about how different the members of that class really are from each other) – such as racial, ethnic, and national origin. We’ve been a bit skewed to the Rhetoric element (firmly ensconced in “the center” of the course title) of the course, with less attention to the Performance. And we keep talking about Democracy …. talking …. about ….
So each professor takes their job seriously and performs it well. At least, I’ll say that about the professors I’ve got right now. Stephen is The Rhetorician and will elicit rhetoric he “can use” to keep us (rhetorically) engaged. Lisa’s gaze on class and its cultural dimensions is unwavering. Paula’s meta-theorectical view on transnationalism won’t be distracted. This is all well and good. And, here’s my honest opinion – it’s not enough.
I don’t mean that each of them isn’t “doing enough” with their respective subject matters, but that training us grad students only within the confines of each particular course topic provides us with a skill set that can pretty much only reduplicate the entire dehumanizing system of academia, hence guaranteeing our role(s) in replicating a bifurcated political economic system in which academics generate knowledge and distance ourselves from power.

22 thoughts on “linking…”

  1. I was going to respond to
    the intellectual question outlined above in a witty, pithy, and wise manner that would satisfactorily shore up this debate, forever. then i made the mistake of clicking on the link to “bifurcated,” and ive been projectile vomiting ever since. if anyone reading this has split their penis(es?), be it for “pleasurable or decorative reasons,” i really think youre taking the concept of phallocentrism to unprecedented and, frankly, unnecessary lengths.

  2. I should have added something about “divide and conquer” to the last line of my previous response. Damnit!
    So for the last five minutes i’ve been feeling a little guilty about being flippant. i’m interested in steph’s statement that as academics we “distance ourselves from power.” this, as far as i can tell, is roughly aligned with the idea that academics seek shelter in the ivory tower, and don’t care to muddy their hands with “real world” issues. and then the next logical step is the contention from the Right that universities teach students unnecessary or frivolous things that will be of no use to them in the “real world” (duggan addresses this powerfully in her chapter on the SUNY sexuality conference controversy–ive been entertaining fantasies of how i’d respond to mike wallace if i was SUNY faculty at the time. and of course i offer him a witty, pithy, and wise response that shores up the debate, again, forever.) anyway, i think its all nonsense, and falls into what stephen wrote about the importance of drawing connections between seemingly disparate or even arcane bits of knowledge. as an academic, i think the most effective thing i can do to create change is not write scholarly essays, but take the ideas i generate in those essays and help students understand how there ARE real world implications to things like critical theory. if you can make an undergrad see the parallels between poststructuralism and, say, advertising, and then analyze how these things shape their lived experiences with each other and themselves, and make clear how politcal life is inextricable from social life, i’d argue youve done more effective work than a protestor spitting on an SUV or a passing republican. again, i don’t mean to be flippant, but i think we need not disregard the work of the academy, cause god knows the public tends to.

  3. ok, I admit, the bifurcated link might have been a bit much, but in the spirit of irony it was a hell of lot more entertaining than the “bifurcation map” I was considering instead!
    I am misread if the interpretation is that I’m completely dissing the academy. Sorry – too selfish for that! Why would I be here if I didn’t think it, as in “we”, matter? Of course we do. But valorizing the effectiveness of our teaching, or assuming that naming a gap is a complaint instead of the recognition of a link, are different takes on the same side of the coin. All of my professors have helped me to see connections between seemingly disparate things. My critique (and perhaps it is old and tired to some, but imagine we are on different trajectories, and there isn’t just one solution) isn’t directed at individual professors (or students), its directed at an institutional set-up in which no structure exists for what I’ll call “synchronous” connections and linkages to occur. Yes, in traditional academic fashion we can each work solo on our papers and presentations, integrate whatever feedback we can elicit, and throw ourselves at the world.
    But if we’re talking about things like producing grand narratives, establishing a think tank, practicing democracy or redistributive politics or WhatEver change we’d like to see enacted socially….that means we need a group. And we need a structure that supports the formation and maintenance of said group. I have been arguing that there is a natural “group” constituted by the membership of the department (faculty, students, and staff) and – it just seems obvious to me, so feel free to whale away at my presumption(s) – if some combination of the various
    “constituences” or “subgroups” or whatever PC or ironic label we devise to recognize the fact that there are divisions in the department which work against our (let me sound new age-y) full potential – if we actually put our heads together with the amazing trajectories of knowledge and curiousities we collectively embody, we might be able to generate institutional power that has a societal ripple effect. Which isn’t to discount whatever individual impact we may have on students, but it takes a hell of a long time for individual effects to accrue into a power bloc…POWER comes from people acting together.

  4. I agree with much of what stephen says but also feel that Steph is (partially?) right in saying that we become specialists at being intellectuals–even if we consider ourselves to be interdiscplinary or whatnot.
    it’s not just the mediator in me. . . I hope. I do think that we read across and between the lines, whether for ourselves or in view of broadening our scope. Yet, I agree that we are often immersed in the pedagogy of that often complicated perspective on a complex (e.g. class-race-sexuality-nation-religion, etc.) phenomenon. How do we teach what we know? how does that knowledge take on an “acceptable” form in order to even be processed? It gets complicated–and still, the linkages are what makes it all make sense. here is where i agree with stepehn (okay, and dewey, perhaps). . . it is at the points where we bring into the conversation our disparate experiences that open up the gaps and push us toward something else. None of us can provide that on our own (not even KB)–we need the conversation.
    Along those lines, I have always been saddened by the fact that so few of us faculty read each other’s work. I (lots of back patting going on here) have always tried to do that–and for that reason i tend see connections (e.f. between my work and Lisa’s) where others’ don’t. . . I don’t berate people for this–but there is a hierarchy of shcolarship. Much better to comment on Bourdieu than to admit you have read (gasp) a fellow colleague’s work.
    okay–the wine’s talking now–doesn’t take much. . . hope some of this makes sense.

  5. I’ll respectfully bow out of this debate after this reply, as i’m as new as can be to this department and do not yet have a sense of the divisions you speak of. i also come from an english department where the divisions were as distinct and openly hostile as a high school cafeteria (i was a “theory jockey,” i.e. a michael ryan acolyte in dept parlance.) i literally used to think lodge and hynes novels seemed rather understated. so in comparison this dept seems quite civil, as of yet.
    i hope i dont bring the level of discourse down with my relatively informal offerings, but you can always take me as a case study and do with it what you will. i’ll swallow my pride and insecurity, just this once. i think the most productive part of my inclusion in this dept so far has been the profound sense of confusion and at times alienation that its bred. i cant imagine myself, or my cohort, ever being able to agree enough to form a politcally cohesive group. in fact,most of us argue viciously almost daily, and i think thats healthy, if a bit socially inconvenient. my kneejerk reaction is to assume people who dont agree with me have been indoctrinated into a viewpoint based on disciplinary “skill sets” (to use steph’s term) that i feel are limited in their scope and divisive by nature. then i writhe in bed and worry that i’m the one who is limited, and send chains of emails (as steph can attest) retracting and re-instating whatever i had espoused with total conviction just minutes before. ultimately, i tend to think i’m right, of course, but theres is something distinctly productive going on in the process. i also have a generally negative view on humanity and our natural inclination (i think) towards self-serving, brutal, and decidedly non-democratic ends. i suppose i should (and i do) examine that in light of my own lived experience, etc etc, but at the end of the day i’m still going to have to agree with stephen that dogs are our most amenable company (happy servitude? oh, the political implications…) in any case, i just dont think group formation is possible or necessarily advantageous. but then again, i’ll probably feel differently in about 10 minutes, which is probably the best argument there is for enlightened chaos…
    wine’s talking for me too, god bless it. im going to bed to worry for a few hours…

  6. Brett, you should feel no reason to bow out of this discussion due to relative newness to the department, and if you do opt to bow out you should certainly not do so respectfully. I agree: Our department (UMass Communication) is one of the most civil I’ve ever been a part of in a very long chain. Civil war broke out at Indiana just after I left; my dissertation was literally the only one that could claim to have been written at a time when the commitment to crossing intellectual topoi was still a visionary promise and not a liability. We are remarkably civil around here, and remarkably supportive, and remarkably willing to provide opportunities for dissent, trouble-making, and practical jokes

  7. Now we’re talking! 🙂 Distinguishing between a group and a public…ok, I can see a distinction that helps me make sense of some of the ways I’ve felt misread. But I don’t think publics materialize in the absence of groups advocating for the institutionalized structures that hold publics together. We have only to look to the concerted and coordinated action of the neoliberals for proof.
    I’d be worried if the notion of a natural group didn’t creep people out – the group notion allows consideration of the irrational, which academia does its damnedest to suppress, repress, ignore, avoid (shall I go on?!)….we become sophisticated at poking fun at ourselves and our idiosyncracies, but don’t want to investigate the ramifications of them in social terms because of all of those horrific experiences we’ve all had. I concur, wholeheartedly, that this department is amazingly civil and respectful – how else could I even dare attempt this? I’ve been supported over the years to take the risk of trying to assert some of what I *think* I know (!) and haven’t yet been punished too badly for it. (fingers crossed!)
    a couple of thoughts:
    – why hasn’t neoliberalism become a negative term in public (electoral) debates? Part of a new grand narrative might be to educate publics about this, which would require a rhetorical reversal along the lines of other discursive switches in political history, yes? Because “liberalism” has been demonized, it’s like a preemptive strike against neoliberalism: this needs to be countered.
    – I wonder if the generally negative view of humans as thuggish, selfish, etc is “code” for irrational? Or vice versa. 🙂 Maybe we’re talking about the same thing….?
    – I woke up thinking about epistemology, and the basic difference of “separate” and “connected” knowing articulated by feminist theorists (Clinchy, Women’s Ways of Knowing). I’d say the discussion here started out very “separate” – aggressive, prove it to me, look at all these holes. I was thinking, what a great way to make sure this discussion stays limited! Make it hostile enough and who would WANT to join in? But, to prove the overall civility and competence of our department, all kinds of connections have just been made….the flux between these modes may be what I miss (and am complaining about) the most. I agree that it would be too cultish to be “connected” all the time, yet operating predominately in the “separate” mode has pitfalls as well.

  8. Stephen: “Ask me to join a club, and I’ll refuse, because I don’t want my private life colonized by yet more obligations to other private individuals. Ask me to come and participate as a citizen in a public forum and conversation, and I’m there.”
    Steph: “But I don’t think publics materialize in the absence of groups advocating for the institutionalized structures that hold publics together.”
    Coupla comments: at my HCC class last week, some students talked about the community they feel when they attend Catholic mass. My mom just joined a “renegade” Catholic church in her area, and she is now enjoying the community she feels there.
    Groups, or communities of people, are not to be feared per se, but understood. Groups can employ democratic practices (or not). Groups can lead to coalitions with other groups to advocate together for a wider good. Once we dismiss groups as a creepy thing, we avoid thinking about the complex ways people like to use groups. (which we have ignored since we only looked at ways they used us).
    Democracy, in part, entails the obligations others make on you to do your part for the community as a whole. And there are ways that being in a group help you get your actions as a citizen accomplished. Not entirely necessary, but it helps.
    How do you get to a public? Is it not through groups first? Interest-based groups can have internal disagreements, and they can also find points of commonality with other groups when a shared goal is in view (only to go back to fighting a few months later).

  9. I have to say my waking thoughts were definitely along the lines of how do I get through the day…
    Going way back in the conversation, I just wanted to add that I hated my mother until I became one. I don’t mean to be trite but it has given me a different outlook on life….
    For some time now, I’ve wanted to contest the idea of coming up with a Grand Narrative, hasn’t that been done? A la Marx, the religious right, etc. It seems to be only capable of violence (no offense to Jesus or Marx.)
    Postmodern politics say we don’t need a grand narrative but networking and alliances. So, as for myself, I feel rhetorically constituted and identify in a variey of counterpublics and act through them as often as possible. Which means that the Comm Department is one sphere for me but wouldn’t be where I would put all of my energy and time. (ie. all of my incompletes, oops that’s the ‘too comic’ frame!)
    Regarding neoliberalism, there are some great protests and alternative discourses/counterpublics being generated in Latin America (see article “Southern Democrats” at, which touches briefly on this.) Also incredibly inspirational are the performances in Argentina right now. Did anyone go see the group that was here not long ago at UMass? (I will try and get their name, if interested.) Actually in 1996, when I was in El Salvador, I brought home a copy of a popular education book about neoliberalism. It is of course the dominant paradigm of both dems and repubs in the U.S. so therein lies part of the problem. If the supposed left and right are pro neoliberalism, fostering counterpublics is a little more challenging in our two party system–And we really are more two-party than ever. Did everyone know that the Greens and Libertarians are no longer state parties in MA?
    Also, to Bryan and Becky thanks for the Democracy in Vermont article. This is why I still contend that Bryan is a Green! These are green politics! Again, not perhaps of the dominant greens in large corporate NGO’s but of my Greens, definitely. You might also like Wendall Berry.
    Lastly, I have become an ardent fan of Alternet (thanks to whoever mentioned them.) Over the weekend, there were two very interesting (short) articles. One proclaimed that the relgious right were all powerful (“Battlefield Earth” by Moyers) and the other that it really isn’t them so much as White voters in general (“The White Elephant in the Room”. They would be good articles to incorporate in the discussion but I don’t know if people have time. I will leave the other article and both of these in Stephen’s box tomorrow. I don’t really expect people to have time now but they might be of interest later.
    Best to all,
    ps. anyone up for the Leigh movie tomorrow at 6!?!? Scott and Shannon give it big thumbs up and I need to destress!!!

  10. O lord.
    Stephen: “And I completely disagree (again) that groups are a precondition necessary for advocating the structures to materialize a public.”
    That’s not what I wrote. Advocating the structures to materialize a public? I don’t understand. I am not being a jerk here, I really don’t understand that. Be kind if you think I should. I’ll do the same for you. 😉
    “Publics are constituted through acts of rhetoric, in which individuals heed an invitation to identify with, dissent from, or negotiate certain attitudes, performances, actions, judgments, etc.”
    You start from “individuals”…. ok I’ll play that game for a bit: Let’s say Joan invites new-to-town Cate to a political action group meeting. If Cate accepts, she will join a pre-existing group and signal her alignment with their motives and actions.
    The political action group has shared names, and bodies, to contribute money, to go to a meeting of the School Committee, to pack the polls (or the town meeting), to contribute time, to talk with others, to write letters, to stand & wave at the prime sign-holding spots, when they feel called to action, or when they call themselves to action, depending on the issue and their relation to it and the players involved.
    People still do exist in a place; starting from a vaccuum doesn’t help.

  11. Hi, gang:
    I’m just joining your thinkings here, and hope to be working out some of these (dis)junctures in my paper this term for DPR (which I’ve just discovered is Our class– not another French term I’m missing).
    I’m interested in a form of dance sometimes called Authentic Movement. It’s used by dance therapists and by folks who are interested in tapping the unconscious mind to voice it through the body. It’s a dance form intimately linked to Embodiment and Imagination as well — both of which are chaotic expressions and ones, I think, that have a lot to offer (and do!) to a Democratic (a’la Irigiray most clearly for me so far).
    Above, in Stephen’s response to Steph, there is a thread that wasn’t picked up — one about the academy not legitimizing irrationality. I would argue that it DOES in the case of Authentic Movement. (This name is troubling, I should add, even for practitioners — others call it Contemplative Dance, to acknowledge its Jungian roots as well as its meditative/mystical connections.)
    In any event, this dance practice certainly involves irrationality. During the course of my semester while “moving” (as distinct from “witnessing” other movers), I may have appeared (to anyone not versed in the course aims/process) as a “crazy” person — zooming, falling, crashing, sprinting, twirling, crawling, etc. Now, I’m not a kook. I’m overly fond of theory, love me some dense reading, and understand the body to be a political site of expression and means of understanding the political.
    This dance form/movement, for me, is one place where the therapeutic model IS irrational, is Playful, is chaotic and disorderly. I was part of a group; we witnessed each other doing these things, created a container in which it happened, and welcomed this kind of “craziness” as it propelled us through/towards a creative process as artists/academics.
    Where is the output, the focus, the political in this practice? It’s in process and product, and I’m working that out. Arguing the political in an agonistic sense for this method of dance isn’t as easy as arguing for its subersiveness. Still, I wanted to post my preliminary thoughts on the very real connections of the irrational within/legitimized by the academy (well, Hampshire College and now the PhD program in Literature at UMass!).
    But I’d also argue that it’s not self absorbed and isolated. There are public performances of authentic movement, and very discernable ways (even to those unfamiliar with watching dance) that it demonstrates the fragility, energy and power of the body/mind, maybe imporatantly among academics, whose bodies are typically in public contained and orderly.

  12. Shannon, I’m intrigued by this topic. My excitement will not temper my role as curmudgeon, as you will see below, but let me first praise this idea before I sink teeth into it.
    I went online and learned what I could about authentic movement and dance in general as it might relate to democracy. Two fruitful gains, both of which you probably know. The first is Ann Daly’s public talk at the New School,

  13. Thanks to Stephen and Steph for continuing this discussion; I second Stephen’s call for more participants (and I obviously wrote this before seeing Shannon’s interesting post….I seem to recall a grad student at IU who worked on the rhetoric of dance….it was ballet, I think. Not a helpful comment, sorry.)
    What I had written as a response to the ones below:
    Yes, I am making a call for community as a preferred term for human organization in democracies. I was not claiming that groups are inherently democratic; just as I am not claiming they are inherently fascist. They exist in human society, for the raising of society (and for you cynics out there, I am using raising in both senses).
    Once we discount groupings as unimportant, we miss their important role in creating publics; we ascribe to an ultra-individualist notion of effectiveness. (AnyONE can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.) (The Society does not OWE YOU anything.)
    I agree with Stephen and think Putnam’s conclusions have their own problems. A summary of Putnam’s work is at the end of this note. Bob Edwards’s and Michael W. Foley’s critique of Putnam’s work aligns with what we three are trying to say here (I think…). See

  14. Spin my head around!
    OK, Stephen, I think I may have responded already to some of your challenges in my comment in the strand called “trickle down democracy”
    where I also continued the conversation about irrationality. Thanks Shannon, for weighing in on this with concrete local evidence of the irrational being legitimized in/by the academy.
    Stephen, I didn’t mean to imply the causal relationship you read in my comments between groups and publics, I agree they are differently constituted. I read your response as an argument for one over the other – in your case, publics over groups and in mine, groups over publics – which is NOT (in my mind) what this argument is about. I think you clarified this in your long theoretical post, and I hope I clarified it with my post in the “trickle down democracy” thread. However, I can see where my diction lead to this view with the statement that publics don’t materialize without groups – there is a much more complicated interrelationship here which we may now be on the road to articulating…
    The reason I keep advocating for the formation of an engaged, cross-difference, group in the department is because there is so much evidence of overlapping concerns and/or awareness/recognition of issues/problems/concerns and yet no mechanism to do the personalism you advocate! It seems to me there are “natural” (spontaneous, emergent, syncronous) linkages to be made discursively across faculty-student boundaries, among and between students of different interests and origins and even among seminar topics as they unfold during semesters.
    Meanwhile, our department is relatively highly ranked and obviously this is due to the work faculty does and to the environment that supports that work. Can we engage in enough agonism to really apply what we know (tying in Brett’s comment from the “trickle down democracy” thread about our own self-knowledge of duplicity with a system that is increasingly constraining the opportunities and possibilities for any kind of conscousness-raising without tearing apart what, in many significant ways, seems to be working?

  15. I am posting for the third time. Steph, this blog is very unfriendly to mothers! My hard belabored posts keep disappearing! Thus my post is shorter b/c I’m too tired to rewrite it all.
    Stephen you told us run, not walk to buy the American Prospect. I assume you meant for us to read it too. There are quite a few articles in there that argue that the grass-roots is exactly what the right has been doing and the left hasn’t so I don’t see how you can say myth always trumps grass-roots. It seems to me the articles argued that we need both in equal force. There is also an article on Alternet today (“Mr. Rogers”) that talks about right wing grass-roots organizing.
    Also, it’s a good thing that I’m leaving Amherst now that you’ve made my anti-yoga statement public! I hope none of my friends see this or I’m in big trouble! But I did want to add a reference to your references on Choreography. You and Shannon probably have already seen this but it’s “Choreographies of Gender” by Susan Leigh Foster which obviously as the title states is about gender but it’s possible that some theoretical moves could be gleaned from her article to democracy?
    I hope to join in soon about groups “vs.” (since Steph is countering the vs.) publics/counterpublics.

  16. Jeepers Stephen, nothing like veiled accusations of laziness softened by possible excuses of ‘end of semester’ busy-ness to generate my typing……
    “I would concur, but would also suggest that what you’re describing as a group here is a political association, not a psychological relation, more akin to

  17. Without going back and re-reading the context of the quotes you just pulled out Becky, I think Stephen’s “fears” are directed more to my angle on groups than yours. I do think the phenomenological, affective experience of group members matters a great deal to the kinds of goals set and work accomplished by any type of associated group. Motive makes a difference. I’m not trying to exclusivize (!) the psychosocial/relational angle, but I find it typically Completely Missing in communication analyses and I think that’s a theoretical oversight if not, even, an impeding blindspot. If someone can suggest to me another way to bring irrationality into view I’m game to check it out! You did, rhetorically, by naming some of Stephen’s tactics, but you generated the rhetoric on the basis of recognizing your own affective response to those tactics! Rationally, knowing his tactic was designed to evoke affect, recognizing your own affect, and still, I don’t know, doing what he wanted (?) has elements of the irrational in it, don’t you think? (Note: I’m glad you did respond!) These are the impulses Stephen wants the left to mobilize (as in “use” rhetorically) in order to counter the right’s much more effective use of them. The debate, it seems to me, falls moreso along the lines of different sets of assumptions: Stephen assumes that the affect mobilized by the Right is the only affect that can be effectively mobilized. the more radical contingent of the class assumes that there may be other affective bases which can be equally, if not more powerfully deployed. But we can’t get to them if we keep avoiding the irrationalities that we ourselves enact. Those very irrationalities are “the data pool”, if you will, for teasing out the bases of the different assumptions about human impulses and figuring out ways to mobilize them.
    Which brings me to a point I’ve wanted to make for a few days, which is simply that groups mobilize publics, especially groups-that-become-communities, or at least have such a configuration at the core of an association.

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