session at the American Studies Association conference
roundtable session focuses on the spatio-historical conditions of misery and the multi-dimensional spatial politics subtending social movements. With two recent or forthcoming books, Health Rights are Civil Rights: Peace and Justice Activism in Los Angeles, 1963-1978 (U. Minnesota, 2014) and Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago (U. Illinois, 2015) as our points of reference, we take up a host of interrelated concerns pressing upon the leading questions of justice today. Of late, interventions from various scholars associated with black studies have addressed the matter of misery in terms of “suffering,” and in particular, the distinct “grammars of suffering” imposed upon differently racialized groups of people in a world constituted in antiblackness. Simultaneously, recent scholarship working in the critical study of race and sex politics, some affiliated with black studies, others located further afield, have elevated the rigor with which comparative racialization analysis incorporated critiques of neoliberalism, state restructuring, and coalition politics. The proposed conversation extends this work by highlighting the sexual politics of space through which misery, suffering, and justice are constructed, endured, and contested. Examining misery and social justice in relation to spatial politics underscores the importance of dialectical thinking. Walter Rodney, for example, showed that the reasons for underdevelopment lie not within a given social space, but rather can only be discerned by looking outside, at the external relations of exploitation in which the space is enmeshed and produced as underdeveloped, or as impoverished, violent, abandoned, and so forth. Rodney pointedly explains, moreover, that not only are these conditions themselves produced by acts of racism, but any suggestions that such circumstances are due to factors internal to the community in question are nothing less than racist sleight-of-hand. While media dramatize spectacles between police and black residents, or between police and protestors against “police violence,” the most consequential police operations against immiserated and oppressed communities proceeds through the confluence of spatially based practices and policies.
This session utilizes this framework to raise questions about how racial segregation in urban planning, public housing architecture, suburbanization, defense industry production, and the so-called wars on crime, drugs, gangs, and terror implicate health care delivery systems, health status, and basic bodily integrity. These interrelations in fact expose a multi-dimensional spatial analysis—as sovereignty, democracy, and self-determination assail the body as the primary space of accumulation, sexuality as the underlying vector of misery, and social justice as an indelibly erotic movement. Indeed, the terrain of our conversation requires raising the ethical standards we apply to the study of social movements such that we attend to, at the level of practice, the erotic dimension of communal politics, and at the level of theory, sex and gender as inherently socio-spatial categories.