By Stephanie Kang (Department of History of Art)
With the continual rise of neoliberalism, the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, the global devolvement of environmental crises, and the ongoing targeting of BIPOC and queer individuals, the world has been subsumed by a bleak, dystopian reality. As a result, many maintain that any hope for a future under present circumstances is not only naïve, it is inconceivable. This pessimistic approach has generated an apocalyptic attitude, which insists that it is perhaps time for humans to rescind their place on the planet and accept their impending extinction. Political theorist Franco “Bifo” Berardi summarizes these pessimistic sentiments regarding the future’s failure, writing, “There is no way out, social civilization is over, the neoliberal precarization of labor and the media dictatorship have destroyed the cultural antibodies that, in the past, made resistance possible.” So if there is no future and we are perpetually trapped in a present state of exploitation and precarity, is there any hope in resistance? Continue reading
By Cameron Macaskill (Department of Political Science)
With its broad representation of different regions and analysis at the global, state, and local levels, the Worlds in Contention conference succeeded in connecting different conceptualizations and cases of capitalist and neoliberal structures across geographies and across academic literature. As a graduate student fellow at the conference, the presentations on mining, land, and local resistance were particularly useful to my current and future work as a scholar.
My own work examines African states’ membership in international organizations (IOs) and how this membership is impacted by racial hierarchies and the neoliberal orientation of the international system. At the Worlds in Contention conference, I presented a project arguing that the international Kimberley Process falsely dichotomized diamonds as “conflict” or “conflict-free.” In doing so, the Kimberley process disconnected diamond extraction from the inherent violence within diamond supply chains and relied on NGO campaigns that leveraged bloody images of African citizens, a problematic reinforcement of racialized colonial stereotypes about African violence. By thinking through this process, my project seeks to unveil violence behind supply chains of luxury goods, such as diamonds. After participation in the conference, however, one critique of the piece stands out: the glaring absence of local resistance networks and their ability to disrupt these violent practices. Continue reading
By Andrew Mitchel (Department of Anthropology)
The Worlds in Contention conference’s presentations and discussion contained themes and arguments relevant to my research. As a PhD student in cultural anthropology, I am working on a dissertation concerning what I call the Latinx immigrant foodscape for Oaxacan immigrants living in Columbus, Ohio. I will examine the transnational flow not just of people moving abroad, but also the ingredients and dishes they buy, cook and eat in these communities. This includes passing culinary expertise and nostalgia across borders, as well as the balancing act between preserving foods from one’s homeland with the incessant Americanization of the immigrant diet. Neoliberalism has completely reshaped the reality for us all but has especially impacted immigrants. Arrivals to the United States from Mexico and Central America have been forced to seek employment abroad due to the breakdown of the local economies with losses to agriculture and limited manufacturing jobs. This has been caused by the expansion of global markets, centralization of economic control under a select group of actors, governments and corporations and free-trade agreements like NAFTA and its replacement, the new United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement. This conference was a valuable opportunity to see how other scholars write and talk about neoliberalism in their work and create more salient connection in my anthropological work on immigrant foodways and diet to our modern economic reality. Continue reading
By Jenn Marie Nunes (Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures)
I speak this sharp-edged, oiled language / of cast iron—the language of silent workers / a language of tightened screws . . . / a language like callouses . . . / . . . of severed fingers . . . between the damp steel bars (Zheng 2016). So begins Zheng Xiaoqiong’s “Language,” rich with a dark, painfully embodied expression of migrant worker life in China. Winner of the 2007 Liqun Literature Award for Peoples’ Literature, Zheng is one of 288 million-plus migrant workers who have left rural homes for low-paying jobs in urban centers, making possible China’s “economic miracle” (CLB). Despite efforts to amend the hukou 户口 system, China’s “floating” population remains vulnerable, facing job and housing insecurity, social stigma, and lack of access to resources. Women like Zheng, constituting 35% of the migrant worker population (CLB), face additional pressures related to gender roles and reproductive health (Gaetano 2004). Representation of migrant workers by the Chinese media has aggravated their marginality via a dehumanizing natural disaster discourse: migrant workers are a “wave,” “flood,” or “tide,” bringing prostitution, drugs, disease, and crime. However, a growing group of migrant worker poets, battler poets, or dagong poets 打工诗人, have countered this homogenizing discourse by writing and sharing poetry online. In the past fifteen years, their singular voices have garnered significant attention from writers, scholars, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the public, leading to mixed results in terms of improved representation and conditions. Continue reading
By Ayodeji Richard Olugbuyiro (Department of Spanish & Portuguese)
The “Worlds in Contention Conference” brought together scholars and audiences from various locations to examine and discuss the impacts of neoliberalism on the world, or better still, the worlds. The idea of a pluralized world is apparent in the presentations since they essentially capture two distinct perspectives in terms of the center and the periphery, or what we can consider the oppressor and the oppressed, or from a geographical standpoint, the West, and the rest. The presentations featured varied time periods ranging from the nineteenth century to contemporary times. And this diversity of time periods helps to reveal the history of Western capitalism, from brutal events such as the transatlantic slave trade, colonization, apartheid, racial genocide, and racial segregation, to contemporary problems like global climate change. The talks further demonstrate how this history continues, albeit in a more subtle manner, even under our “very” conscious twenty-first century eyes.
The various presentations reveal that the ethos and dynamics of colonialism are what mainly metamorphosed into neoliberalism. And reflecting on my research, which is partly on Portuguese colonialism of Africa and contemporary vestiges of neocolonialism in the Portuguese-speaking world, I see diverse parallels that demonstrate the neoliberal character of this colonialism. For example, in my study of twentieth-century combat poetry in the anti-colonial struggle in former Portuguese African colonies, several of the themes denounced in this poetry are similar to those contested in contemporary arguments against neoliberalism. The theme of labor exploitation for one was predominant in this poetry, and interestingly, we see a reappearance of this theme in a few of the presentations at this conference – in what demonstrates the continuity of unjust colonial dynamics. Continue reading
By Dominic Pfister (Department of Political Science)
As a political scientist focused on International Relations and Political Theory, and an employment background in healthcare technology, I am interested in exploring the relationship between security, a foundational concept in International Relations, and health, a concept that has become increasingly relevant in a year and a half of global pandemic. My interest is in the interconnection between security and health and, particularly, in the ways that these two concepts have been co-constitutive of one another in the modern West, as they both developed in an international environment of colonialism and racial hierarchization.
The Worlds in Contention conference brought together a diverse set of scholars from different disciplinary, theoretical, and substantive backgrounds to present new and in-progress work on topics as varied as the logistics of maritime trade, Mexican governmental anti-obesity propaganda in the time of Covid, and the importance of gold assets to the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party in Germany in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Much of the material in the conference resonated with my own work. First, there were the papers and conference presentations that I felt were directly and clearly relevant to my own work. Chief among these was the paper and presentation by Dr. Alyshia Gálvez, a cultural and medical anthropologist, on governmental public health messaging on obesity as a comorbidity with COVID in Mexico. In the presentation, Dr. Gálvez detailed efforts by the Mexican government, especially President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, to relate COVID mortality to ongoing anti-obesity efforts. Through a detailed reading of one public health booklet and an analysis of the booklets message in the context of the relationship of the Mexican government to American snack and “junk food” manufacturers. Continue reading
By Steven Rhue (Department of Anthropology)
In a time of great uncertainty that has upheaved life and research, the Worlds in Contention Conference offered a welcome moment of academic exchange. As students and faculty, we have found ourselves in a precarious space where many of our scholarly pursuits rest uneasily amid the circumstance of the pandemic. Conversation, assembly, and instruction have become risky actions to oneself and those around us, rendering the traditional conference format impractical and requiring an alternative format. I am thankful that as a university we have the necessary resources and support at our disposal to convene in a virtual space and continue our dialogue. However, I encourage all to be mindful and not take such a privilege for granted, as many have lacked and continue to lack access to technology and reliable internet. To varying extents, visible and hidden, known, and unknown, we have all been impacted by the pandemic. I believe it is imperative to recognize and admire the resilience demonstrated by being present and sharing with colleagues and strangers alike. Continue reading
By Alfonso Roca Suárez (Department of Spanish & Portuguese)
In 2020, Oxford Languages adopted a corpus analysis-based approach to do justice to the linguistic complexity used to talk about the main events of the year. The change in strategy came after realizing that it would not be adequate to reduce the intricacy of those events—which will surely leave its stamp on the memory of the generations to come—to the usual word-of-the-year style. This time, it seemed better to talk of “Words of an Unprecedented Year.” Yet despite increasing the number of items, many of the words in this corpus clearly clustered around the theme of the pandemic: “quarantine,” “distancing,” “self-isolate,” “lockdown,” “stay-at-home,” and “isolation.”
When the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency in January of 2020, isolation became the most effective way to protect the population against the proliferation of the deadly virus. In the United States, California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, restricting all movement that was not deemed to be “essential.” By the time the state of Ohio was about to put into effect its own order mandating its residents to remain at home, new concerns about the toll that social isolation might have on mental health began to emerge among public officials, journalists, scientist, and the general population. But regardless of how “unprecedented” the events of 2020 were, the defensive measures that were taken and the cost they carry were not entirely novel, as illustrated by a news story that appeared on the The Columbus Dispatch: “Coronavirus: Isolation nothing new for immigrant Edith Espinal after 2 1/2 years in sanctuary at Ohio church.”
By Hannah Slater (Department of Art History)
The virtual conference Worlds in Contention: Race, Neoliberalism, and Injustice featured a range of discussions that about the correlations between land use, global supply chains, food systems, and disaster capitalism, among others. Scholars presented a series of case studies that prompted ideas on how individuals and groups respond to, and resist, the imposition of neoliberal logic upon cultural traditions and everyday life. These subjects are of particular interest within my own research in the Department of History of Art at OSU which focuses on how contemporary artists have responded to the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan on March 11, 2011. My interest is in artists who not only visualize the inseparability between natural disasters and their many causalities, but also emphasize localized moments to poke holes in global neoliberal structures that enable the undoing of communities. Continue reading
By Nicole D. Stevens (Department of Comparative Studies)
The Worlds in Contention conference prompted several questions in my own research about the utility of neoliberalism to discuss racial capitalism and, more specifically, the ways that questions of fungibility and authenticity can be used to understand global anti-Blackness. In particular, Dr. Inés Valdez and Dr. Megan Ming Francis’s papers, although schematically distinct and separate from one another, created one central question for me in conjunction with my research: how does racially motivated neoliberalism allow opportunities for anti-Blackness to flourish and how does this success of anti-Blackness concern different ontological and political questions? Although my work is largely focused on Sylvia Wynter’s conceptualization of Western humanism, as I explain later, this question is urgent to understanding precisely how the mechanisms that govern our current state, both political and economic, operate to continuously redefine the capacities and capabilities of white supremacy. Continue reading