Who's Afraid of Totality?
Who’s Afraid of Totality?
The Trouble with the Trouble with Diversity
This collection will break new ground by thinking beyond the now-traditional division between Marxian, socioeconomically-oriented critique on the one hand, and identity-oriented critique on the other. However divergent their analyses may be in other ways, there is a strong consensus among anti-capitalist critics, including Walter Benn Michaels, Adolph Reed, Jodi Melamed, and Roderick Ferguson, that movements and programs designed to promote the inclusion of people previously excluded on the basis of race, gender, sexual identity, sexual preference, and/or ability can easily operate in the service of contemporary, diversity-friendly capital. Gender and race studies critics, in contrast, often continue to argue that anti-capitalist critique, in its tendency to elevate the socioeconomic above other logics of domination, fails to acknowledge the specific forms of domination experienced by people of color, women, queer subjects, and subjects designated “disabled.” For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us that white supremacy is a form of “solidarity” just as powerful as the connections forged between working people.
But numerous contemporary thinkers and activists altogether avoid this divisive logic. Instead, they re-examine the various connections between identity-based critique and the critique of capital. These tendencies have been at work in queer studies for more than a decade: for example, the colonization of antihomophobic political imagination by the gay marriage debate having made “neoliberalism” one of queer studies’ keywords. Scholars like Cedric Johnson and Keeanga-Yamatta Taylor, meanwhile, have insisted on the complex entanglements of socioeconomic and racial domination, directly challenging positions that refuse to consider such entanglements. And a prominent re-engagement with Marxist-Feminism has recently emerged as an increasing number of scholars and activists, including Cinzia Arruzza, Maya Gonzalez, and Tithi Bhattacharya have begun again to scrutinize questions of gender in relation to capital’s processes of social reproduction, in particular.
This collection will bring together work like this—work that presents, develops, and analyzes a different kind of logic of the relationship between capital and identity. Although approaches to this problem will vary widely, we hope contributions will be united by their commitment to thinking an ostensibly old-fashioned thought: totality.
Who’s Afraid of Totality?’s contention is that totality allows us to see past the persistent divide between socioeconomic and identity critique. As the contributions in this collection bear out, economics and identity are reciprocal: on our account, contemporary capitalism not only abides, but profits from, racist, misogynistic, heteronormative, and ableist systems. We argue that only by thinking economics and identity together can we begin to grasp social totality.
Impatience with “totalizing” analysis, familiar as it has become, hardly offers any critical leverage in this context. We maintain that some version of what History and Class Consciousness called the “aspiration toward totality” has a powerful salience once again. But surely its salience cannot be exactly what it was when Lukács formulated this expression roughly a century ago. In the present, in the wake of a long-exhausted multicultural reification of “difference,” what kind of aspiration can this be?
We are currently seeking submissions to Who’s Afraid of Totality? The list of topics below is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to index the kinds of conversations the editors have had as a result of thinking along these lines.
How has a totalizing impulse changed as a result of the advance of capitalism?
What forms of art help us map totality? Or, is the aesthetic separate from questions of social and/or political totality?
How do contemporary protest movements, like Occupy or Black Lives Matter, think totality?
What trends in contemporary literary, political, and social theory help us think identity and socioeconomic relations together?
How do arguments that purport to oppose Marxism—arguments situated in the feminist, queer, or antiracist traditions, for example—in fact share the Marxian aspiration to think the social in broad, “totalizing” terms, even as they take their distance from “older,” “outmoded” forms of totalizing analysis?
How do past popular movements—anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-misogynistic—help us think through our contemporary entanglements?
In what ways to capitalist protocols of value production infect social life on the register of identity?
How has the academy—either in general or in specific disciplines—contributed to and profited from the separation of identity and socioeconomic relations?
How can cultural critique offer new models for thinking identity and socioeconomic relations together?
We look forward to reading all submissions and responding to any inquiries you may have. Please contact us at jen.hedler.phillis at gmail.com and kfloyd at kent.edu. For full consideration, submit 500 word abstracts by 1 November.