Life in Marvelous Times: Cultural Work in the Racial Present (Spring 2010)

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The Race/Knowledge Project at University of Washington
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'Life in Marvelous Times': Cultural Work in the Racial Present
A Race/Knowledge Project Conference, Friday, May 14, 2010
Keynote address by Vijay Prashad, Thursday, May 13, 2010
The University of Washington, Seattle

In his 2009 single "Life in Marvelous Times," Mos Def declares that
"we are alive in amazing times." The lyrical images that follow
those opening lines, the sleeve artwork, and the fan-made video Mos Def
chose to represent the song suggest that the meaning of "marvelous"
and "amazing" must be read as multiple; they must be read to mean
both "excellent" and "great" as well as "to cause wonder,"
"to astonish," and "to bewilder." According to Mos Def, we must
be amazed and marvel at how "basic survival requires super heroics";
we must be amazed and marvel at both "delicate hearts" and
"diabolical minds," we must be amazed and marvel at the
"revelations, hatred, love and war." Taking this cue from Mos Def,
The Race/Knowledge Project understands the racial present as one of these
marvelous times. This is a moment marked both by seemingly intractable
political stalemates and by possibilities for large-scale transformation;
by dispossession, displacement and unchecked accumulation and by new
mobilities, movements and coalitions which seek to counter those
formations; and by the incivility of political discourse and by the
widespread acknowledgement of the fraudulant nature of those discourses
and their claim to represent "public" good. We marvel at the horror; we
marvel at the possibility. We marvel at the crisis, the beauty, the
apathy, and the critical potential.

This conference is premised on the understanding that cultural workers
like Mos Def help us to comprehend and re-think these "amazing" and
"marvelous times." And we marvel at how literature, music, performance,
film, television, visual art, and all cultural production work to
theorize, actively (re)produce, and shape this racial present. Though
much cultural knowledge is assumed to be theorized and disseminated
through the academy, cultural workers occupy multiple locations
that mark these "marvelous times" by generating insightful and
invaluable criticism of the racial present. Cultural work, then, allows
us to ask different questions about political identities, radical
coalitions, cultural/social critique, and political emancipation across
disciplines, institutional boundaries, and the divisions constructed
between "activist," "academic," and "community" work. The broad questions
driving this conference include: How does the marvelous erupt in culture
and become politically meaningful? What counts as cultural work? What
are the different ways cultural work addresses race, social justice,
gender, sexuality in an era of global capitalism? What is the
relationship between cultural production and social mobilization?

The Race/Knowledge Project situates the concerns of this conference
within global histories of decolonial struggle. In doing so, we position
our inquiries within the legacies of social struggles that considered
culture and cultural politics to be key vehicles of institutional and
political contestation. In these terms, we recognize the university as a
site of racial dominance and systemic inequality, as well as a terrain of
social struggle. As such, we understand that a critical focus on culture
asks us to not only challenge the content of academic knowledge
production, but also its institutional rituals and forms. Understanding
the conference format as one such ritual of knowledge production, we seek
submissions that disrupt the line between the study and production of
culture, and put into question both the forms and contents with which we
know our "marvelous times."

Possible topics may include but are not limited to the following:

* cultural workers, cultural work and cultural politics in "marvelous
* race/racialization in its shifting articulations with gender,
sexuality, class, ethnicity, nationality and transnationality
* racism and anti-racist praxis in the context of "neoliberal
multiculturalism" and the "colorblind present"
* Women of Color and materialist feminisms and the work of culture
* racial nationalisms and the state
* migrations, the violence of borders, and border thinking
* links between university sites, local/global activisms and
* anticapitalist struggles in the racial present
* racialized and gendered labor in regimes of "globalized" capital
* Queer of Color critique and cultural productions
* the prison-industrial complex, immiseration, and the "new
* neocolonialism and decolonial struggle at "home" and "abroad"
* intellectual and activist labor with/against academic work
* racial democracy and fascism
* state violences and social movements
* whiteness, property, and (new) racial histories

Possible session formats may include but are not limited to:

* critical dialogues/roundtables between cultural workers, activists,
academics, and educators
* performances and performance-based workshops
* collaborative, multi-format presentations
* facilitated workshops or dialogues on topics related to the above
* readings followed by discussion
* visual presentations, art installations or film screenings
* short-format film plus interactive dialogue
* paper presentations
* workshops on anti-racist/anti-oppression pedagogy (community-based,
K-12 and university level)
* planned collaborative reading and discussion of particular texts or

Please e-mail proposals (of no more than 250 words) and equipment needs
to by February 8, 2010.

The Race/Knowledge Project is sponsored by the Simpson Center for the
Humanities at the University of Washington.

For more information about the Race/Knowledge Project please visit our