Difference(s) and/in Institutionality–Remarks on Ferguson

I had the honor of providing some opening remarks to begin our discussion of Professor Roderick Ferguson’s “An American Studies Meant for Interruption” (2010) and “Administering Sexuality; Or, the Will to Institutionality” (2008).  These two pieces not only complement each other perfectly by thinking through some of the questions and observations respectively raised in each, but they also extend upon some of our conversations last week about the methods, directions, and goals of American Studies.  Below, I aim highlight some particular points of resonance between the essays and offer some further questions that seem to arise in juxtaposing the two essays.

1) Renewed contradictory manifestations of difference

A central concern of both pieces that probably touches on the interests of many of us here today is the role of difference—how it is institutionalized and administered.  The essays urge us to interrogate the production of difference—more specifically race and sexuality—as subject of and subjected to the parameters of institutionality.  I want to touch upon the call issued from these papers to attend to the renewed and contradictory articulations of difference.  Thinking through how difference manifests multiply at the present moment, “An American Studies Meant for Interruption” rightfully reminds us that the specters of race and difference manifest in various, contradictory ways.  Specifically, it cautions the observation made by Gaines, urging an examination of how race indexes not only the racial ideology as defined during the 1980’s Reagan era, but also the historical racial formation of the black bourgeois.  Accordingly, perhaps we may want to further discuss the ways in which academia can attend to the renewed articulations of minority differences in national and popular discourses.

2) Different differences: race and sexuality

Another area of interest is the different differences that are addressed.  Here we seem to have one essay that focuses primarily on the role of race in shaping popular and academic discourses, while the other primarily interrogates sexuality as a means of examining the modes of power by which institutionality operates to incorporate difference.  The two essays together, however, lead us to start thinking about the need to interrogate what Ferguson terms “the administrative management” of multiples differences, specifically race, gender, and sexuality (2008; 165).

3) Connecting/disentangling nationalist interests and global capital

Thirdly, I especially appreciate how the papers nuance prominent discussions regarding the corporatization of higher education by rethinking the state of “culture” through Stuart Hall’s theorizations difference to draw parallels between the processes by which the academic institution, like globalization, negotiates, commodifies and flattens out differences.  Perhaps we may further explore the relationships between the nationalist interests of the university and the interests of neoliberal global capital?  And, what are the means for interrupting the violent practices of institutionality that both will.

4) Discourse as shaped through institutionality–role of counterdiscourse?

The last point I wanted to touch upon is of course the provocative engagement with Foucault and framing of administrative sexualis. “Administering Sexuality” offers the reading that Foucault’s theorizations of discourse are also means of revealing the contours of institutions in shaping what and how things are said.  If discourses also contain counterdiscourses, however, how may this alter the very shape/structure of the institution?  More specifically, I wish to connect your suggestions at the end of “An American Studies Meant for Interruption” to contemplate the questions of the “Administering Sexuality.”  That is, what are the roles of radical critiques such as women of color feminism, queer of color critique, and how can they actively alter/resist the normativizing incorporation of difference imposed by the will of institutionality?  How can we create the material grounds for sustaining the epistemological projects of these traditions without the normativizing impulses of institutionalization that you outline?  In this sense, I find that even as the essay thinks through Foucault and what may seem to be a sense of an oppressive institution structure that cannot be escaped, it seems to emphasize a sense of hope for what else can be made possible.

Connecting these readings with some of the points that were raised last week, how do the questions and kinds of directions Ferguson is pushing us to think through in his papers ask us to re-imagine and “revolutionize” the methods, goals, and practices in American studies?

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