Archives of the Non-Racial: A Mobile Workshop in South Africa

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Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory IX / The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism
29 June – 11 July 2014

You are invited to apply for a place in the 2014 Joint Session of Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory IX / The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism. We will be working around the theme ‘Archives of the Non-Racial’. The 2014 Session will take place across South Africa, starting in Johannesburg and ending in Cape Town (South Africa) from June 29 through July 11, 2014.

The Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory was founded by the University of California Humanities Research Institute in 2004 as a laboratory for experimenting with key contemporary themes in critical theory, in collaboration with global interlocutors. The JWTC was founded in 2008 as an independent platform for experimenting with theory in the global South. Since 2012, it has been relocated within the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER). For both groups, the goal is to open up questions that are fundamental to contemporary aesthetic, philosophical, political, cultural, literary, ethnographic and ethical inquiry – questions that potentially point to new paths for critical theory at the interface of local, regional and global circuits.

Our audience is those critical intellectuals locating their work beyond the model of area studies; are willing to challenge naturalized interpretive conventions, and are eager to bring about a renewed dialogue among the disciplines with a view to transforming the landscape of critical theory and its impacts.

The Theme
Since the 15th century race has been a central element in the making of the modern world. It has marked masters from slaves, the exploiting from the exploited, the belonging from the non-belonging, the qualified from the supposedly unqualified.

Historical struggles against racism, in response, have contributed to a deepening and universalization of some of the key normative pillars of modernity, most notably freedom, democracy, and equality. Commitments to defeat racism have largely been underpinned by some version of the “human” and the “common”, inventing and consolidating a language and conceptual strategy for reimagining political life. Yet the recent emergence of “posthumanism” as a mode of proceeding for feminist and anti-racist politics, has queried the humanist orientation of this work. Upon what ideas, what grounds do we draw in defining the work against racism?

By the 19th century, the “non-racial” emerged as an intellectual, political, and ethical category, assuming a variety of interpretations. Indexed to different intellectual, social, and political contexts, at times the non-racial has stood for the idea of “a shared human nature”. At others, it has gestured toward the idea of “abolition”. Sometimes it has meant the erasure of “difference” and its substitution by “sameness” alongside the commitment to a set of universal moral principles. During the struggle against Apartheid, in particular, it clearly became a motivating force in global politics.

Abolition, non-racialism, colorblindness, racelessness, postraciality, antiracism, anti-Apartheid, Black Consciousness, afropessimism: the range of investments is signaled by the fact that the “nonracial” itself is ambiguous – it oscillates between ignoring race (and so the structures of domination in its name) and conceiving socialities outside the frame of the racial. Discourses of post-raciality have circulated widely in the attempt to signal racism’s past, at once reordering racial expression and racist articulation for the current moment. Also, in places such as Brazil and South Africa renewed debates on reparations, empowerment and historical accountability have sought to undo the legacies of racisms.

In continuing the experimental tradition of research and intervention in the humanities and social theory for which both the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism and UCHRI’s Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory are well known, the Archives of the Non-Racial Workshop will assess the possibilities and limits of the “nonracial” in terms of the politics of the modern world and its core values: democracy, freedom, dignity, equality, the human, universality, justice.

To assess what they tell us about the project of human emancipation in our times, we will examine current struggles/alliances/coalitions/solidarities/forms of mobilization/registers of intervention, drawing relations and comparisons between various times and places.

The Workshop will also engage South African histories and landscapes of the centuries-long struggles against racism, from the Freedom Charter, Treason and Rivonia Trials to Constitution Hill, from Black Consciousness and labor struggles to political resistance, anti-apartheid to post-apartheid. In each site, and where possible at all in dialogue with local communities, we will craft critical dialogues with other traditions of racial configuration, non-racialism, and antiracism elsewhere.

The Programme
The 2014 programme will span two intensive weeks of lectures, seminars, public events, exhibitions and performances. The idea behind the planning of this mobile Workshop is to travel to significant critical sites in the history of South Africa’s notorious racial project in order to open the question of the “non-racial” both in South Africa and in its manifestation in other parts of the world. Workshop participants will travel by bus from Johannesburg to Swaziland, Durban, Mandela’s grave at Qunu, Steve Biko’s Ginsberg, and conclude in Cape Town. At each site, the Workshop will convene conversations that explore the histories and legacies of racisms in these particular places, posing these histories in relation to broader conversations about the post-, non-, and anti-racisms across relational global contexts. Lectures, panel discussions and performances will draw on research from the African continent, China, Australia, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Euro-America, as well as on some of the oceans that connect them.

Speakers and Performers
The 2014 Session will feature a range of local and international speakers and performers. These include: Ackbar Abbas, Ruha Benjamin, Keith Breckenridge, Mwelela Cele, Sharad Chari, Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Philomena Essed, David Theo Goldberg, Siba Grovogui, Ghassan Hage, Salah Hassan, Isabel Hofmeyr, Premesh Lalu, Liu Sola, Achille Mbembe, Dilip Menon, Neo Muyanga, Sarah Nuttall, Deborah Thomas, Francoise Verges.