Session 8B: Discursive Elements: Personhood, Place, and Power

Session 8B

Discursive Elements: Personhood, Place, and Power

4.22.2017 | 4:45p-6:00p | Laurel Hall 110

Restrictive ideas about personhood have often helped to marginalize groups who are racialized and gendered as ‘abnormalities’. In this session, we will consider how liberation, freedom, and ‘humanness’ can be constructed in ways that challenge coloniality and create opportunities for radical perspectives on what it means to be human.

Moderator: Darian Spearman (Philosophy; UCONN)

Participant Abstracts

 Thomas Meagher (Philosophy; UCONN)
Transumptive Chains and Preservation-through-Transformation

The legal scholar Reva Siegel has argued that status-enforcing regimes maintain relationships of domination through periodic reforms that create the appearance of large-scale transformation but function, instead, to preserve domination in more durable form. The notion has been appealed to, for instance, by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, but resonates with longstanding currents in Marxist thought, feminist studies, and critical race theory. In a parallel vein, Sylvia Wynter has argued that human knowledge is constrained by the cultural and historical limits imposed on each “episteme.” Intellectual change, she argues, occurs when liminal thinkers are able to glimpse reality beyond the society’s imposed regime of truth. But since liminality is not, as it were, radical escape from the episteme, transformative moments nonetheless retain the bulk of the episteme that they revolt against. The product of such retention is what Wynter terms “transumptive chains,” linkages between epistemes that are internally disavowed but that facilitate the maintenance of past modes of domination in new forms. This paper will give a phenomenological examination of the relationship between Siegel’s account of legal and political preservation-through-transformation and Wynter’s account of cultural and intellectual transumptive chains. Employing an account of consciousness and the symbolic by way of Frantz Fanon, Ernst Cassirer, and Jean-Paul Sartre, I will suggest that Siegel’s and Wynter’s formulations point to ineradicable problems of the human condition, but argue that this does not entail that modes of domination are themselves ineradicable. Rather, I contend that they point to dialectics of creolization and decreolization that are endemic to human life, and that responsibility in the face of these dialectics requires an unflinching commitment to thinking radically.

Michael L. Rosino (Sociology; UCONN)
“A Problem of Humanity”:
The Human Rights Framework and the Struggle for Racial Justice

While the historical and ongoing symbolic and material inequalities and violence faced by African Americans can be understood as a human rights violation, the efficacy of the human rights framework for addressing racial injustice in the U.S. remains contested. In this paper, I examine the relationship between the emergence and dominance of the geopolitical doctrine of human rights and the struggle for racial justice in the United States. Through historical, legal, and sociological analysis of relevant issues and cases, I discern the benefits and limitations of the human rights framework for achieving racial justice and elucidate dynamics between relevant institutional, political, and social actors. Ultimately, I argue that the human rights framework opens up pathways for symbolic, information, and accountability politics conducive to combating racial injustice, particularly in regard to overt manifestations of racial oppression and violence, but that enduring issues such as the role of the state in racial politics and domination presents significant hindrances.