Critical Ethnic Studies (Some Reflections for NCAers)

Yesterday was the first day of the Critical Ethnic Studies conference at UC-Riverside. Framed around the topic of “Settler Colonialism and the Future of Genocide,” this is a well attended, exciting, and rigorous conference that compels all in attendance to rethink not only systems of domination and power rooted in ethnoracial constructs, but also our own complicity in those systems. I’ll possibly have a couple of posts to make after it’s all over; but I wanted to post a point for reflection now, especially as so many people I know are finalizing their proposals for next year’s National Communication Association convention. 

Every single presentation I have seen has been marked by a radical self-reflexivity that both recognizes the presenter’s position vis-a-vis the project they’re presenting and pushes attendees to imagine their social location. Too often at NCA and other conferences, I see presentations that report — that simply reinforce a modern-colonial epistemic through the production of universal knowledge. I’ve been there before, myself. But in a world where so much is at stake, this practice really must end.

We must strive to be critically and radically reflexive about out projects and about what the heck each of us is doing as scholars. No matter how “progressive” the politics behind your presentation, what’s the point if you continue reproducing the forms of power-knowledge that undergird and underwrite domination, exclusion, and genocide? I’m not saying we all ought to take to the streets — such a position oversimplifies and reinforces divisive notions of critical or activist authenticity. I do think, however, that (a) we have an obligation to turn our critiques inward more often than we do and (b) we ought to be more attentive to our forms of knowledge production and the structures of knowledge we (re)produce. This is, of course, easier/safer for faculty (and especially tenured faculty) to do than it is for graduate students.

It is, perhaps, ironic that in a convention themed under “voice,” much of the scholarship will fail to recognize the voice of the author and fail to put that voice into conversation with the texts, movements, objects, etc., which authors engage. As you’re finalizing your proposals and thinking ahead to actually writing your presentations, please try to keep these issues in mind.