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The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil
In Brazil and throughout the African diaspora, black women, especially poor black women, are rarely considered leaders of social movements let alone political theorists. But in the northeastern city of Salvador, Brazil, it is these very women who determine how urban policies are established. Focusing on the Gamboa de Baixo neighborhood in Salvador’s city center, Black Women against the Land Grab explores how black women’s views on development have radicalized local communities to demand justice and social change.
In Black Women against the Land Grab, Keisha-Khan Y. Perry describes the key role of local women activists in the citywide movement for land and housing rights. She reveals the importance of geographic location for understanding the gendered aspects of urban renewal and the formation of black women–led social movements. How have black women shaped the politics of urban redevelopment, Perry asks, and what does this kind of political intervention tell us about black women’s agency? Her work uncovers the ways in which political labor at the neighborhood level is central to the mass mobilization of black people against institutional racism and for citizenship rights and resources in Brazil.
Highlighting the political life of black communities, specifically those in urban contexts often represented as socially pathological and politically bankrupt, Black Women against the Land Grab offers a valuable corrective to how we think about politics and about black women, particularly poor black women, as a political force.
This is a musician’s tale: the story of a boy growing up on the Iron Range, playing his guitar at family gatherings, coming of age in the psychedelic seventies, and honing his craft as a pro in Minneapolis, ground zero of American popular music in the mid-eighties. “There is a drop of blood behind every note I play and every word I write,” Paul Metsa says. And it’s easy to believe, as he conducts us on a musical journey across time and country, navigating switchbacks, detours, dead ends, and providing us the occasional glimpse of the promised land on the blue guitar highway.
His account captures the thrill of the Twin Cities when acts like the Replacements, Husker Dü, and Prince were remaking pop music. It takes us right onto the stages he shared with stars like Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen. And it gives us a close-up, dizzying view of the roller-coaster ride that is the professional musician’s life, played out against the polarizing politics and intimate history of the past few decades of American culture. Written with a songwriter’s sense of detail and ear for poetry, Paul Metsa’s book conveys all the sweet absurdity, dry humor, and passion for the language of music that has made his story sing.
The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination
Between its founding in 1966 and its formal end in 1980, the Black Panther Party blazed a distinctive trail in American political culture. The Black Panthers are most often remembered for their revolutionary rhetoric and militant action. Here Alondra Nelson deftly recovers an indispensable but lesser-known aspect of the organization’s broader struggle for social justice: health care. The Black Panther Party’s health activism—its network of free health clinics, its campaign to raise awareness about genetic disease, and its challenges to medical discrimination—was an expression of its founding political philosophy and also a recognition that poor blacks were both underserved by mainstream medicine and overexposed to its harms.
Drawing on extensive historical research as well as interviews with former members of the Black Panther Party, Nelson argues that the Party’s focus on health care was both practical and ideological. Building on a long tradition of medical self-sufficiency among African Americans, the Panthers’ People’s Free Medical Clinics administered basic preventive care, tested for lead poisoning and hypertension, and helped with housing, employment, and social services. In 1971, the party launched a campaign to address sickle-cell anemia. In addition to establishing screening programs and educational outreach efforts, it exposed the racial biases of the medical system that had largely ignored sickle-cell anemia, a disease that predominantly affected people of African descent.
The Black Panther Party’s understanding of health as a basic human right and its engagement with the social implications of genetics anticipated current debates about the politics of health and race. That legacy—and that struggle—continues today in the commitment of health activists and the fight for universal health care.
Butler, Hayles, Haraway
As exemplary representatives of a form of critical feminism, the writings of Judith Butler, Katherine Hayles, and Donna Haraway offer entry into the great crises of contemporary society, politics, and culture. Butler leads readers to rethink the boundaries of the human in a time of perpetual war. Hayles turns herself into a “writing machine” in order to find a dwelling place for the digital humanities within the austere landscape of the culture of the code. Haraway is the one contemporary thinker to have begun the necessary ethical project of creating a new language of potential reconciliation among previously warring species.
According to Arthur Kroker, the postmodernism of Judith Butler, the posthumanism of Katherine Hayles, and the companionism of Donna Haraway are possible pathways to the posthuman future that is captured by the specter of body drift. Body drift refers to the fact that individuals no longer inhabit a body, in any meaningful sense of the term, but rather occupy a multiplicity of bodies: gendered, sexualized, laboring, disciplined, imagined, and technologically augmented.
Body drift is constituted by the blast of information culture envisioned by artists, communicated by social networking, and signified by its signs. It is lived daily by remixing, resplicing, and redesigning the codes: codes of gender, sexuality, class, ideology, and identity. The writings of Butler, Hayles, and Haraway, Kroker reveals, provide the critical vocabulary and political context for understanding the deep complexities of body drift and challenging the current emphasis on the material body.
In The Bohemian Flats, Mary Relindes Ellis’s rich, imaginative gift carries us from the bourgeois world of fin de siècle Germany to a vibrant immigrant enclave in the heart of the Midwest and to the killing fields of World War I.
Shell shock, as it was called, lands Raimund Kaufmann in a London hospital, a victim of the war but also of his own, and his brother’s, efforts to get out of Germany and build a new life in America. While his recovery eludes him, his memory returns us to Minneapolis, to the Flats, a milling community on the Mississippi River, where Raimund and his brother Albert have sought respite from the oppressive hand of their older brother, now the master of the family farm and brewery. In Minnesota the brothers confront different forms of prejudice, but they also find a chance to remake their lives according to their own principles and wishes—until the war makes their German roots inescapable.
Following these lives, The Bohemian Flats conjures both the sweep of irresistible history and the intimate reality of a man, and a family, caught up in it. From a nineteenth-century German farm to the thriving, wildly diverse immigrant village below Minneapolis on the Mississippi to the European front in World War I, and returning to twentieth-century America—this is a story that takes a reader to the far reaches of human experience and the depths of the human heart.
What Immigrant Workers Can Teach America about Democracy
The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics
In the antebellum South, plantation physicians used a new medical device—the spirometer—to show that lung volume and therefore vital capacity were supposedly less in black slaves than in white citizens. At the end of the Civil War, a large study of racial difference employing the spirometer appeared to confirm the finding, which was then applied to argue that slaves were unfit for freedom. What is astonishing is that this example of racial thinking is anything but a historical relic.
In Breathing Race into the Machine, science studies scholar Lundy Braun traces the little-known history of the spirometer to reveal the social and scientific processes by which medical instruments have worked to naturalize racial and ethnic differences, from Victorian Britain to today. Routinely a factor in clinical diagnoses, preemployment physicals, and disability estimates, spirometers are often “race corrected,” typically reducing normal values for African Americans by 15 percent.
An unsettling account of the pernicious effects of racial thinking that divides people along genetic lines, Breathing Race into the Machine helps us understand how race enters into science and shapes medical research and practice.
The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento
The Neorealist Body in Postwar Italian Cinema
Film history identifies Italian neorealism as the exemplar of national cinema, a specifically domestic response to wartime atrocities. Brutal Vision challenges this orthodoxy by arguing that neorealist films—including such classics as Rome, Open City; Paisan; Shoeshine; and Bicycle Thieves—should be understood less as national products and more as complex agents of a postwar reorganization of global politics. For these films, cinema facilitates the liberal humanist sympathy required to usher in a new era of world stability.
In his readings of crucial films and newly discovered documents from the archives of neorealism’s international distribution, Karl Schoonover reveals how these films used images of the imperiled body to reconstitute the concept of the human and to recalibrate the scale of human community. He traces how Italian neorealism emerges from and consolidates the transnational space of the North Atlantic, with scenarios of physical suffering dramatizing the geopolitical stakes of a newly global vision. Here we see how—in their views of injury, torture, and martyrdom—these films propose a new mode of spectating that answers the period’s call for extranational witnesses, makes the imposition of limited sovereignty palatable, and underwrites a new visual politics of liberal compassion that Schoonover calls brutal humanism.
These films redefine moviegoing as a form of political action and place the filmgoer at the center of a postwar geopolitics of international aid. Brutal Vision interrogates the role of neorealism’s famously heart-wrenching scenes in a new global order that requires its citizenry to invest emotionally in large-scale international aid packages, from the Marshall Plan to the liberal charity schemes of NGOs. The book fundamentally revises ideas of cinematic specificity, the human, and geopolitical scale that we inherit from neorealism and its postwar milieu—ideas that continue to set the terms for political filmmaking today.
Pious Neoliberalism and Islamic Charity in Egypt
Charity is an economic act. This premise underlies a societal transformation—the merging of religious and capitalist impulses that Mona Atia calls “pious neoliberalism.” Though the phenomenon spans religious lines, Atia makes the connection between Islam and capitalism to examine the surprising relations between charity and the economy, the state, and religion in the transition from Mubarak-era Egypt.
Mapping the landscape of charity and development in Egypt, Building a House in Heaven reveals the factors that changed the nature of Egyptian charitable practices—the state’s intervention in social care and religion, an Islamic revival, intensified economic pressures on the poor, and the subsequent emergence of the private sector as a critical actor in development. She shows how, when individuals from Egypt’s private sector felt it necessary to address poverty, they sought to make Islamic charities work as engines of development, a practice that changed the function of charity from distributing goods to empowering the poor. Drawing on interviews with key players, Atia explores the geography of Islamic charities through multiple neighborhoods, ideologies, sources of funding, projects, and wide social networks. Her work shifts between absorbing ethnographic stories of specific organizations and reflections on the patterns that appear across the sector.
An enlightening look at the simultaneous neoliberalization of Islamic charity work and Islamization of neoliberal development, the book also offers an insightful analysis of the political and socioeconomic movements leading up to the uprisings that ended Mubarak’s rule and that amplified the importance of not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also the broader forces of Islamic piety and charity.