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  • The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference by Roderick A. Ferguson
  • Dawn Lee Tu (bio)
The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Roderick A. Ferguson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 280 pages. $75.00 cloth; $25.00 paper.

In The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference, Roderick A. Ferguson asserts, “[H]ow we read, write, [and] design a minority difference culture has everything to do with the kind of minority communities that we imagine and institutionalize and might become the very question of our own reinvigorated interdisciplinary life” (230). His latest work expands our understanding of the ways contemporary regimes of power incorporate, reconfigure, and manage modes of difference. Ferguson brings together literary, critical, and historical analysis and engages a “critique of relations” that theorizes how minority cultural forms and practices express “complex relationships between institutionality and textuality in the post-civil rights movement” (17). Focusing on the impact of the student movements of the 1960s and 1970s that resulted in the institutionalization of interdisciplinary fields such as ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies, the book considers how power normalizes difference.

Ferguson analyzes narratives produced during the institutional transformations of the 1960s and 1970s and contemporary literary texts that represent the social upheavals of that period. In so doing, he traces a critical genealogy of oppositional and disidentificatory practices during the post-Civil Rights era and considers how student movements created opportunities for systems of power to develop policies of absorption regulating minority difference. Ferguson begins with Jacques Derrida’s notion of institutions and the archive in order to illustrate how the university, as a representative of the state and an adaptive archival power, has incorporated rather than repudiated difference so as to refine its practices of exclusion and regulation. For example, as Ferguson argues in Chapter Two, the Lumumba-Zapata movement (1969-72) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) responded to dominant institutions that defined minorities as subjects that could be integrated, included, and conditioned to achieve upward mobility through participation. This [End Page 253] form of biopower placated the revolution by affirming and recognizing minoritized life with false promises to redistribute social and material relations (13). The UCSD Lumumba-Zapata Coalition understood this and responded to President Richard Nixon’s notion of black capitalism by pointing to how such affirmations of minority difference appealed to liberal capitalism and undermined a critique of institutional practices (55).

In Chapter Three, Ferguson critically reads June Jordan’s 1969 essay, “Black Studies: Bringing Back the Person,” which interrogates the category of “excellence” and “standards” built upon histories of colonialism, slavery, and other forms of incorporation (79). In showing how these words have become deracinated and evacuated from those histories, Ferguson argues that they function as a mode of what Michel Foucault calls governmentality, the self-regulation resulting from individuals’ internalization of knowledge and discourses (89). Chapter Four considers the formation of another strategy used to justify black studies. Black nationalist discourse and Black Power aesthetics can be read as critiques of institutional standards of excellence that appeal to black students’ sense of responsibility to the people and the community. Excellence and black nationalist discourse, Ferguson asserts, worked in tandem, at once motivating black students to gain access to the academy and turning them into subjects of university paternalism by giving them that access. In analyzing the discourse of the time, Ferguson illustrates how institutional practices turn resistance into accommodation.

In Chapters Five and Six, Ferguson examines literary texts that engage with the regulation of minority difference. He reads Susan Choi’s The Foreign Student (1999) and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake (2003) in order to identify how the “foreign” student and the immigrant, respectively, became subjects of discourse in the 1960s. This absorption, he contends, frames the presence of foreign students as the result of the triumph of decolonization. The immigrant stands as an ideal for the ethical development of the nation-state, allowing for a system aimed at integrating transnational minoritized difference (172). Ferguson describes the emergence of the “instructed minority,” a small, select group of individuals who are “fit to...


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pp. 253-255
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