Friday, February 24, 2012

Lots of UMP authors talking at #AAG2012

The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers kicks off today in New York City (Twitter hashtag: #AAG2012). Bringing together cultural and human geographers, GIS scholars, geography professionals, and scholars from disciplines as diverse as American studies, anthropology, political science, and communication, the conference promises to be a synthesis of the most cutting edge research happening across the social sciences.

The University of Minnesota Press will be exhibiting (come and visit us in booth #510), and we are proud to say that seven press authors are discussing their books during author-meets-critics sessions during the conference.

On Friday between 2:40 and 4:20, anthropologist Scott Morgensen will be part of an author-meets-critics session on his book, Spaces Between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Decolonization.

On Saturday morning between 8:00 and 9:40, an author-meets-critics
session will discuss geographer Stephanie Rutherford's book, Governing the Wild: Ecotours of Power.

On Saturday between 12:40 and 2:40, Marieke de Goede, professor of
politics at the University of Amsterdam, will discuss her book, Speculative Security: The Politics of Pursuing Terrorist Monies in an author-meets-critics session.

On Sunday, between 4:40 and 6:20 pm, three press authors will be part of a panel titled Sex, Love, Labor and Spaces In-Between: New Books on the Filipina/o Diaspora. Geraldine Pratt will be discussing her book, Families Apart: Migrant Mothers and the Conflicts of Labor and Love, which was published earlier this year. Kale Fajardo will be discussing Filipino Crosscurrents: Oceanographies of Seafaring, Masculinities, and Globalization, released by the press in late 2011. And Robyn Rodriguez will be discussing Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World, published in 2010.

And finally, on Monday afternoon from 4:40 to 6:20, a panel will discuss Susan Ruddick's translation of Pierre Machery's Hegel or Spinoza.

We certainly hope you'll check these out if you're there. And for those geographers unable to attend, you can refer to our catalog for a listing of our newest titles.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writing amid the difficulty of reality

Assistant professor of English and senior scholar of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University

I sat down to write this blog entry but the day got away from me. The morning began with me discussing the death of a beached whale with an artist working on the grammars of touch around this displaced, alien, corporeal mass of a body. Later in the day I find out my copy editor’s father is having heart surgery. In the evening, I find out a colleague is in the hospital. The day is unique only in its being typical—which is to say, we are situated in a world of vulnerability. Vulnerability is in the very comportment of our worlding.

These are hard realities, made harder because, as Cora Diamond notes, language and philosophy often deflect from the “difficulty of reality.” In other words, the mastery displayed in language and in philosophy seems to dissolve the rawness and vulnerability of being in the world. In writing and reading others’ works, language facilitates mastery of the task at hand. An apt description put succinctly in words seems to rise to the occasion and orient us to states of affairs. We feel better reading the liner notes, the artist statement, the critic’s review. These words are designed to illuminate, to make sense of the difficulty of reality.

However, vulnerability and the difficulty of reality are not sensible. To make sense of them is to misrepresent the strange intensity of events and the very disorientations that they bring into our worlds. Death and pain and the difficulty of reality cannot be written off, as it were, and to do so is only to do further violence to the event by covering it over in a veil of language (or as Cary Wolfe says, leveraging Jacques Derrida, a technicity of language).

I’ve been asked to blog about animals and art following the recent publication of my book Surface Encounters; in fact, this has been and remains a central problem in my writing: how can we come to terms with that which cannot be articulated in human concepts and language?

Specifically in this book I ask: What is an animal phenomenology?

Writing about animals is a tricky task for me as a humanimal. In writing about the radically other I fear that my frame is always from a human understanding which writes out, places out of bounds and in remainder, anything I can not subsume under the guise of human thought and language. The problem is further complicated in this particular book by writing about artists’ projects. So, there is the problem of how the artists successfully avoid using the animal to human ends and then my avoiding using the artists and the animals for my own ends. How can one respect and do justice to the another?

For me, writing in relation to the other, alongside another, is a question of style. How can I write in a way that does not co-opt the other into my project and that does justice to a complexity beyond my grasp? There are several tools of critical theory I put to service for this task. Primarily, I try to recognize at the outset the fragility of the project. That is to say, the project and its accompanying questions are without stable foundations. To ask “what is an animal phenomenology?” is to pose a question which from the outset is impossible to answer. As Thomas Nagel famously noted: I would have to be a bat to know what it is like to be a bat. Despite this impossibility, there are ways into the problem. Finding paths allows for developing tentative descriptions which are never answers that fulfill the demands of the question.

Another element of style is that of the bricoleur, one who cobbles things together from whatever materials are at hand and handy for the project. Cobbling can be opposed to crafting which invokes professional standards for measuring competencies and results which invoke teleological ends. Unlike craftsmanship, the cobbler’s work is what will do for the time being and whose project is never secure in itself. Such writing reveals its own seams and fabrication so as not to try to produce an illusion of mastery. The scaffolding for description and response to concepts points not to the certainty of the author(ity) but the utility and possibilities of the animals and the art about which I am writing. Cobbling together new relations among objects and ideas is not always successful but in at least some combinations produces useful results.

Style in writing becomes a mode of being open to the foreign, the alien, the animal other. It means staying exposed and vulnerable to ways of thinking that do not always neatly fit the categorical strictures of academic writing. Many of the animal artists featured in Surface Encounters show an ability to adapt to imperatives placed upon them by the animals and the materials of the art works. I have tried to learn from their art how to fashion a writing that keeps a space for that which is not mine, for the imperative of the animals.


Ron Broglio is author of Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art and assistant professor of English at Arizona State University.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "I'm a Mormon" Campaign: Reconfiguring the myth of an American melting pot

The "I'm a Mormon" campaign appears on a billboard in Times Square in New York City. Image source.

Associate professor of indigenous and Native Hawaiian politics at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

If you live in New York City, Atlanta, Minneapolis or any of the other 20 cities in which “I’m a Mormon” ads have appeared, you might be familiar with the billboards and commercials. The “I’m a Mormon” Campaign is a marketing strategy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons) intended to disrupt the dominant image of young white male missionaries riding bikes and knocking on doors with a new, multicultural image of the church. Indeed, the multimillion-dollar campaign – and the Mormon Church – has captured national attention due in no small part to Mitt Romney’s bid for the Republican Party nomination. A Church spokesperson assured an NPR reporter that the ads have nothing to do with Romney’s bid for the White House. However, these ads have everything to do with the Church trying to forget its racist past by creating a multicultural present.

The collage of faces depicting average, everyday, modern people is striking because it presents the Church as an institution without a past. There are no “pioneers” heading bravely west to Utah, no sepia-toned images of temples or homesteads; only an insistence on the present as if the church has always been a diverse mosaic of bright, happy, multiracial faces. What these images attempt to elide is a persistent contradiction between its universal message that all people are the children of God and through accepting the gospel and baptism all can have salvation and the racial logics embedded in the theology that serve to reinforce white supremacy. Even as the campaign seeks to forget the church’s racist past, the past is fully present in these images and thus so is race.

In 1850, a group of ten white American missionaries arrived in Hawai’i to preach to the haole (white, foreign) population in Honolulu and other port towns. These men had traveled from California, where they were serving as labor missionaries. Although these were the first Mormon missionaries to Hawai’i, the missionaries were part of an effort of the church to expand its missionary efforts worldwide. Between the 1820s and 1850s, missionary efforts were focused on white, rural, poor communities in the northeastern United States and Native American nations in part because it is believed that indigenous peoples of the Americas are a lost tribe of Israel who at one time had the fullness of the gospel but rejected it and became cursed. Missionary efforts among Native Americans were seen as a way to return these fallen people to their once exalted state. Missionary efforts expanded internationally in the 1850s to England, Scandinavia, and Canada, where missionaries had much success, and to India, Thailand, and China, where they had some success among British soldiers, but next to no success sharing the gospel with native people.

But in Hawai’i, something unexpected happened. Native Hawaiians were eager to hear the message of the gospel even though, according to instructions given to them by Church leaders, the message of the gospel was not intended for them. In my book, A Chosen People, A Promised Land, I document the process by which Native Hawaiians come to be figured as a “chosen” people at a time when the racial lines between whiteness (which is a sign of salvation) and blackness (which is marked as cursed, barbaric, and fallen) came to be codified in the policy that banned black men from holding the priesthood that was in effect from 1852 until 1978. I argue that in Hawai’i, the church had to contend with the inherent contradiction between its racist policy of exclusion and the inclusion of non-white people as Chosen. I also contend that the racial logics of the church both then and now should not be read as extreme or deviant, but as an extension of American nationalist and racial discourses.

Mural above the entrance to Brigham Young
University-Hawai'i. Image from
BYU-Hawai'i archives.
As I observe the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, I am reminded of events that transpired in Hawai‘i in the 1920s and how those events are memorialized in a mural gracing the entrance to BYU-H. In 1956, the first buildings for the Church College of Hawai’i, now Brigham Young University-Hawai’i, were completed. A tile mural over the main entrance to the David O. McKay building depicts a flag ceremony that took place in 1921. McKay, who at the time of the ceremony was a high-ranking leader in the church and would become president of the church (1951-1970), holds the United States flag surrounded by a diverse array of children standing at attention. Above the horizon is a silhouette of the LDS Temple built in 1919.

This flag-raising ceremony is said to have made a profound impression on McKay. About this event, McKay wrote:

“As I looked out at the motley group of youngsters, and realized how far apart their parents are in hopes, aspirations, and ideals, and then thought of these boys and girls, the first generation of their children, all thrown into … the ‘Melting Pot’ and coming out Americans, my bosom swelled with emotion and tears came to my eyes and I felt like bowing in prayer and thanksgiving for the glorious country which is doing so much for all these nationalities” (Feb. 7th, 1921. Full text can be found in The Historical Origins of the Goals of BYU-Hawai’i Campus by Robert O. Joy, page 33).

McKay’s reference to the melting pot that takes in all nationalities and transforms them into Americans appropriates the American nationalist ideology of a nation of immigrants who, through the production of the land and labor, become true Americans. McKay draws upon this ideology and extends it to the church wherein the universal message of the gospel cooks out all differences of gender, age, and ethnicity – on, for example, you can choose from three categories listing gender, age, and ethnicity, but not sexuality, to search for Mormons who share your experience – to become one family, a (hetero-normative) Mormon family. This attempt to grout over difference simultaneously obscures the racial hierarchy embedded in the theology.

Just as the mural over the entrance to BYU-Hawai’i is an extension of the American nationalist myth of the melting pot, the “I’m a Mormon” campaign can be aligned with the colorblind racial logic that emerged as a backlash to the civil rights movement and affirmative action policies of the 1970s. A colorblind approach attempts to eliminate race through a process of historical amnesia that disavows the historical process where by whiteness became hegemonic and the continued significance of race in U.S. society. The multicultural mosaics on the jumbo-tron in Times Square of today and the myth of the Melting Pot from the 1920s reflect an attempt to tile over the persistent and pernicious racial ideologies embedded in Mormon theology and American nationalism.

I think to this day the LDS church is far more aligned with mainstream, middle-class white America than most people understand and the campaigns might be Web 2.0, but they utilize old strategies repackaged to appeal to a new audience.

The “I’m a Mormon” ads have not made it to Hawai’i, where I live, in part because of the sizable Mormon membership (about 5% of the population), and also, I suppose, because it has already been here.


Hokulani Aikau is associate professor of indigenous and Native Hawaiian politics at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and author of A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i.

"A Chosen People, A Promised Land is a fascinating book. Attending to fraught and revealing episodes in Hawaiian-Mormon history, Hokulani K. Aikau opens up new terrain for historical analysis in a manner that is theoretically engaged yet accessible."
—Greg Johnson, author of Sacred Claims: Repatriation and Living Tradition

"More than finding an eager audience, this pathbreaking book will add convincingly to the growing body of work inside and outside the continental United States and the Pacific Islands region that compels critical audiences in the studies of American culture and Native Pacific struggles of the absolute need to read work coming out of the other."
—Vicente M. Diaz, author of Repositioning the Missionary

This post was published in partnership with First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ballot measures in the courts: Proposition 8 and Romer v. Evans

This 2008 photo is of a protest against California's Proposition 8 in Washington, D.C. A federal court's declaration this week that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional makes California a most unusual case.

Assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio and author of the forthcoming book Gay Rights at the Ballot Box

Just a few days ago the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals struck down Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban passed by California voters in 2008. Many political pundits have predicted this will turn into a Supreme Court case as early as next year.

This case reminds me a lot of Romer v. Evans, which the appeals court this week indeed used as the foundation for its argument that Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Romer v. Evans is the only other case in which the Supreme Court ruled on a statewide ballot measure, and this ruling dramatically changed the nature of ballot measures in the United States. Colorado Amendment 2 created a statewide law that not only eliminated any existing rights for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals but also prohibited any future law from being passed. It was about making sexual minorities strangers to the laws, unable to gain any future redress. The passage of Amendment 2 in 1992 inspired Religious Right ballot measures across the country. Between 1993 and 1996, the anti-gay Religious Right attempted initiatives like Amendment 2 in 13 states and over 30 cities and towns across the country. After Romer v. Evans in 1996, the use of these ballot measures declined dramatically. They were only attempted on a very limited, local level, and then finally abandoned.

The case of California is unusual. I’m not certain this federal court of appeals will impact marriage bans in the same way as Romer v. Evans. California is the only state in which state courts ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional; then same-sex couples were then allowed to marry for several months; and then voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. There have been two other states, Hawaii and Alaska, whose state courts ruled on the constitutionality of denying marriage to same-sex couples and voters passed a law to ban same-sex marriage. And in Maine, legislators legalized same-sex marriage, but voters vetoed it through a referendum. But there never was a period in which same-sex marriage was legal in these states. A ruling on Proposition 8 is highly unlikely to reverse the dozens of constitutional amendments that have been passed by voters in the last decade that ban same-sex marriage.

However, it could re-establish same-sex marriage in California, which would provide same-sex marriage rights to many couples and protect those rights from encountering challenges at the ballot box. It might also prevent states in which same-sex marriage was established through state courts—such as Massachusetts and Iowa—from rescinding these rights at the ballot box. At the moment the LGBT movement spends precious money and time fighting to keep same-sex marriage from going on the ballot in these states. Not only do activists have to fight for same-sex marriage to become legal, but they have to also spend time and energy fighting for it to remain legal.

Even with these limitations, there’s something important symbolically about overturning Proposition 8—the one ballot measure that has captured the attention of the American public like no other one.

From the NOH8 campaign to protests across the country, overturning Proposition 8 is a sign of progress, of change, of taking back a lost victory.


Amy Stone is author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box (March 2012) and assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio.

"Amy L. Stone crafts a compelling, deeply textured portrayal of the more than 200 anti-gay ballot campaigns in the U.S. since 1974. Through interviews with movement leaders and other sources, Stone deftly analyzes the tension between winning campaigns and building a sustainable movement, between national, urban activists and local, rural communities, as well as debates over tactics and messaging. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the central, disturbing role anti-gay politics has played in contemporary U.S. politics."
—Sean Cahill, Ph.D., Fenway Institute and New York University

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"This sounds dramatic, and it's intended to be": Why imagining ourselves as "outside" of nature does more harm than good.

The Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is, as Stephanie Rutherford argues in Governing the Wild, a manifestation of green governmentality that seeks to define and regulate our understanding, experience, and treatment of nature.

Assistant professor in the environmental and resource studies program at Trent University

I am lucky to teach a course in environmental ethics to a lively, curious, and committed group of environmental studies students. Every year in the first class, I ask students what the words ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’ mean to them. Responses usually follow the commonly held view, one now famously outlined and deconstructed by historian William Cronon in “The Trouble with Wilderness,” that nature is pristine, pure, untrammeled, and apart from humans. That the grooves of this story are so well worn shouldn’t come as a surprise; as Raymond Williams noted, nature is one of the most complicated words in the English language.

Moreover, this separation of the human and nonhuman is given ideological heft through its precursors in biblical narrative, colonial practice, and American imaginations of self and nation. And it is a seductive story, in part, because it’s the one we know so well, buttressed by the sites where many come to know nature, particularly national parks but also museums, theme parks, university classrooms, in environmental organizations, and through film and TV, exemplified by something like the film Into the Wild. But what I spend the remainder of the course trying to do is to write a different story, or re-tell that which has been so effectively crafted.

In my view, along with Cronon and various other environmental critics, this story does more harm than good to the nonhuman world and our relationship to it.

The reason for my objection to what some of my students see as simple common sense is this: if we imagine ourselves as outside of nature, then there are only a very limited number of ways in which we can both interact with and work to preserve it. Nature becomes incarcerated, sequestered, set aside and spoken for. It becomes a place to visit, something we can walk away from. It becomes an experience to buy or an artifact to display. In short, what is forgotten in this neat narrative is that, in fact, animals, plants, bacteria, and so on, are lively, always already enmeshed in our daily lives, and co-constituting our very being in often taken-for-granted or unpredictable ways.

I would suggest that it is precisely now that we remember this, because this different perception has become increasingly relevant to our times. We exist in a moment of dire environmental prediction with a climate crisis looming.

This sounds dramatic, and it’s intended to be.

The Western world cannot continue as it has. We urgently need imaginative approaches to the problems we know so well: overconsumption, exploitation of the natural world, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, toxic dumping, environmental injustice, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Some of these problems manifested themselves during the Industrial Revolution and we have known, unequivocally, that something needs be done since at least the 1960s. The fact that so little has been achieved has much to do with our impoverished view of the nonhuman.

What might an environmental politics look like that considers humans and nonhumans as co-constituted? I can scarcely say, for we are so entrenched in a politics of environment versus economy, lowest-common-denominator approaches, and technological fixes. Witness the latest (non-)round of climate change negotiations. But I am at least intrigued by recent moves to extend to nature the same rights humans have to exist, thrive, and flourish. For example, Bolivia has passed "The Law of Mother Earth," which flattens out the longstanding hierarchy between humans and nonhumans, making the rights of the earth equal to that of its inhabitants. Informed by Indigenous knowledge, the law recognizes the integrity of nature, not just for the ecosystem services it provides humans, but as valuable in its own right. As such, it mandates that air and water have the right to be clean, not simply because the befouling of such affects humans but because it affects nature’s balance. Moreover, it includes provisions on the right of the earth not to be genetically modified and to be free from large-scale alteration like dams or mines that, while (possibly) benefitting (some) humans, disrupts natural cycles and rhythms.

In a similar move, Ecuador has enshrined the rights of nature in its constitution. These efforts clearly offer a challenge to the kind of business as usual approach normally seen in global environmental politics. While I am generally a little suspicious about the value of rights discourse as it applies to the natural world (I am more inspired by Winona LaDuke, for example, than Peter Singer), it seems to me that these initiatives rewrite the story of separation to some degree, offering a relational ethics that might just open up new conditions of possibility.

Or, at the very least, it is a good place to start. And I hope so, because it is imperative that we get this right.


Stephanie Rutherford is author of Governing the Wild: Ecotours of Power. She is assistant professor in the environmental and resource studies program at Trent University.