Democratic Socialism in the United States

A few weeks back, The Oxford Eagle ran a guest column by Michael Henry entitled “Socialism Plus Ignorance“. My colleague, Marcos Mendoza, and I wrote and submitted a response for consideration. To the best of our knowledge, the newspaper decided not to run our response. So we are making public what we sent to The Eagle in the hopes that others will read, share, and discuss.

What kind of society do we hope to build and bequeath to our children? One of the most exciting developments of recent years is growing skepticism about business-as-usual politics and economics. Having weathered four decades of free-market globalization and the massive expansion of social inequality, the American public has begun to search for new perspectives consistent with our longstanding beliefs in republican democracy.

In a recent column, Michael Henry discusses the electoral victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic Party primary of New York’s 14th Congressional District (“Socialism Plus Ignorance”, August 1st, 2018). Henry uses this opening as a chance to demonstrate his (willful?) ignorance of Ocasio-Cortez’s political identity as a democratic socialist. Enormous ideological differences remain between democratic socialism, authoritarian socialism, fascism, and totalitarianism. However, Henry tries his best to lump all of these together into one menacing boogeyman.

In terms of raw numbers, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are still quite small: less than 50,000 members. However, democratic socialism has garnered significant media attention due to the surprising success of Senator Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate. Meanwhile, national polling shows growing support for socialism and socialist policies, and declining support for capitalism and austerity measures, particularly among Americans ages 18 to 30.

So what is democratic socialism? Democratic socialism is a political tradition that depends upon liberal democracy: the respect for individual and human rights, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and divided government. It has nothing to do with autocracy, tyranny, or dictatorship – anyone who suggests otherwise is grossly misinformed. Democratic socialists believe that liberal democracies work best when they protect freedom and create a society based on the inherent equality of all. Democratic socialists seek to enact public policies that ensure equality of opportunity, constrain inequalities, and enable upward mobility.

Democratic socialists also embrace a suite of social rights that provide people with free or subsidized childcare, parental leave, education, healthcare, and social security, while also protecting the environment. Some of these social rights already exist in the United States in limited form. Democratic socialists want to enshrine these rights in the Constitution and fund them through a progressive taxation scheme targeting the wealthy and the powerful.

Finally, democratic socialists are deeply skeptical of unrestrained, free-market capitalism, which puts the interests of the few above the plans and security of the many. This critique of capitalism points to the massive divergence in wealth and income between the elite class and the vast majority of Americans who struggle to provide for their families. This critique recognizes that there is a fundamental social struggle occurring within America between a privileged minority and an exploited majority that includes people of all races, ethnicities, and creeds. Democratic socialists take a populist perspective in seeking to break the stranglehold of the oligarchy while working to democratize the economy. Democratic socialists believe that our current Gilded Age 2.0 is deeply corrosive to the values of our republic.

Advocating a program of radical democracy, DSA chapters have helped organize campaigns that tie the above tenets to local conditions. Most efforts focus on labor solidarity and support for the social safety net. Nationally, DSA supports Medicare for All, strong unions, and expanding representation in electoral politics at the local, state, and federal levels. DSA chapters work to create strong coalitions with other progressive groups and social movement organizations because they see this as key to building the political capacity of the working-class.

Across the country, DSA chapters are organizing local campaigns centered on affordable housing, support for public education, providing a true living wage, criminal justice reform, and ending racial discrimination, to name a few. In Memphis, the local DSA chapter has endorsed ‘Fight for $15’ and the Poor People’s Campaign, which among other things seeks to end poverty, racism, and environmental destruction. The DSA chapter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi has pushed hard to protect the rights of immigrants and others, and to end local law enforcement’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

These activities and others are not rooted in a vision for an “all-encompassing bureaucracy” that stifles individual freedom, as Michael Henry claimed. Rather, they are rooted in creating a truly democratic society where the interests of the least well off are fairly represented. In 2015, the median net worth of members of Congress was more than $1.1 million, or twelve times the net worth of the median US household that same year. It should come as no surprise that Congress often supports legislation that protects their own financial well-being, while cutting funding from programs that help those most in need.

Finally, the emergence of DSA as a political force in the twenty-first century is a direct consequence of the failings of our current political and economic structure. While Michael Henry claims capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system, the facts tell a different story. Since 2009, the richest one percent have captured 95 percent of all income growth; and the concentration of wealth among the richest one percent is the highest it has been since 1930. While Michael Henry admonishes the European model, the truth is that wealth inequality in the United States surpassed Europe’s in the mid-twentieth century and shows no signs of slowing down. The attention and success of the current DSA movement strongly suggests that many Americans, especially younger ones and those from working-class backgrounds, are hungry for a progressive social and economic agenda that is not beholden to corporate and elite interests. Who knows, perhaps growing concerns over the lack of affordable housing, prevalence of poverty wages, and concentration of political power among our town’s ‘old money’ will lead to the emergence of Oxford’s own DSA chapter?

Marcos Mendoza is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Mississippi, and author of The Patagonian Sublime: The Green Economy and Post-Neoliberal Politics (Rutgers University Press, 2018).

James M. Thomas (JT) is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi, and coauthor of Are Racists Crazy? (NYU Press, 2016).

Professors Mendoza and Thomas co-teach a seminar entitled, “Empire and Revolution”, where they and their students examine colonialism and postcolonialism, and subjugation and resistance, through the lens of political theory.


New Book is Out!

I’m late in announcing this, but my latest book, Affective Labour: (Dis)Assembling Distance and Difference (with Jennifer G. Correa) is now available as a hardback, paperback, and e-book. If you buy directly from Rowman and Littlefield, you can use the following promotional code and save 30%: RLI093

Below are some of the reviews:

Thomas and Correa offer an important empirical study of affective labor’s central role in sustaining two pillars of inequality: racial difference and socio-spatial distance. Noteworthy for its comparative and relational approaches, Affective Labour reveals the entwinements between racism and affect in everyday practices and places.
Paula Ioanide, Associate Professor of Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies, Ithaca College

In this theoretically groundbreaking yet remarkably accessible book, Thomas and Correa establish a strong case for why affect should matter to scholars of race and racism, as well as to activists working for social justice. Affective Labour describes the painstaking work of identification, the crafting of difference, and the production of social distance, in effect asking how forms of violence and exclusion become imaginable or unimaginable. The book takes the reader on an intellectual journey from a college-town bar scene to the US-Mexico border, through the contemporary diversity regimes of predominantly white institutions. The authors then bring the lessons from these case studies to bear on the emergent affective politics of Black Lives Matter and similar radical democratic social movements. In spite of the grimly neoliberal landscapes of difference and inequality it explores, Affective Labour remains optimistic in its evocation of coming into being and the potential for an affect of liberation in progressive politics. ​
Rebecca R. Scott, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia

Bringing together critical social, cultural and political analysis, phenomenology and original ethnographic research, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the politics of affect. Thomas and Correa provide an imaginative and incisive account of how the manufacturing of gendered, racialised, sexualised, and classed relations of distance and difference is a matter of affective labour. Through a diverse range of in depth examples – from American nightlife cultures, to University diversity-initiatives, to the #BlackLivesMatter movement – the book offers a refreshing and distinctive examination of the affective work of everyday life and its wider critical implications. The analysis offered is at once productively troubling and optimistic: Contemporary forms of affective labour frequently work to reproduce relations of domination, but they also fuel solidarity, resistance and ‘a sense of hope for what can be, despite the reality of what is’.
Carolyn Pedwell, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies/Cultural Sociology, University of Kent

Thomas and Correa’s expansive research into distance and difference takes us on an immersive journey into configurations of affective subjectivity – from above and below. Carefully crafted case studies of urban nightlife in Columbia, Missouri, ‘War on Terror’ at the US-Mexico border, diversity regimes in higher education, and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, underline why affect should be of critical concern to social, cultural and political theorists. Affective Labour is an original and timely contribution that will have implications for how we approach the politics of difference in the classroom, the polity and on the street.
Christopher Kyriakides, Associate Professor of Sociology, York University, Canada

On the Problems with the “Write Clearly” Campaign

I’ve been going back and forth about writing this post for several weeks. Last month, I came across the following tweet from Syed Ali, co-editor of the sociological magazine, Contexts:

Before going further, let me be clear: I don’t know Syed well, having only met him once. I do sit on the editorial board of Contexts, but since we only meet once a year at the American Sociological Association meetings, I don’t have much personal interaction with the magazine’s leadership. The one time I met him, he was polite and collegial. In addition, Syed has posted a nice essay on the Contexts website explaining what kinds of writing the magazine is interested in, so that more sociologists can adapt their work to the magazine’s conventions.

Syed’s essay, and tweet, are part of a more general movement taking place within sociology, and many other social sciences. I call this movement the “Write Clearly Campaign.” The campaign’s goals are admirable: in the spirit of wanting a stronger and more direct impact on public discourse, certain circles within sociology, anthropology, political science, and economics have encouraged a form of academic writing that is less “jargon-y”, and more accessible to a general, nonacademic readership. The magazine, Contexts, for example, is explicit in its aim is to make “cutting-edge social research accessible to general readers.” In general, this is a great goal for the social sciences, especially given recent debate in The Chronicle of Higher Education on our role (or lack thereof) in public debate and policy discussion. Making our scholarship more widely available, and understandable, to a nonexpert audience has the potential to influence public opinions on a number of important social issues.

Nevertheless, I found Syed’s tweet incredibly naive, especially concerning the line he, and others, draw between “jargon” and “clear writing.” As someone embedded within the larger intellectual tradition from which “lived experience” is located, I feel it’s necessary to explain why this term is far from “jargon”, and how reducing it to just jargon illustrates a serious problem within the Write Clearly Campaign–an underlying assumption that all social science derives from the same epistemological position.

Epistemology, of course, refers to the study of knowledge–how we know what we know, including how that knowledge is produced and distributed and what conditions constrain and enable its production and distribution. The term “lived experience” derives from a specific epistemological position–that there is a complex relationship between our bodies and our awareness of our bodies and our surroundings. Some of this tradition date back to Spinoza’s counterclaim to Descartes classic Mind/Body dualism, but I find aspects of Spinoza’s monist position (i.e. the mind and body are of the same substance) equally troubling. A more contemporary understanding of “lived experience”, I believe, is found in the phenomenological tradition–a tradition extremely influential in the development of sociology, particularly the interpretivist vein which focuses on how social actors make meaning from their experiences. Phenomenological thinkers like Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz, for example, have greatly influenced interpretive sociology for several decades. Though they and others have used the term “lived experience” in different ways, my own understanding and use of the term reflects that of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty understood our bodies as the sites from which our social experiences unfold. He described that our bodies are used for all sorts of things, from the mundane (e.g. sit, stand, walk) to the complex (e.g. create, destroy, and govern). In doing these things, we bring our bodies into relationships with our worlds, and through this encounter, our experiences become meaningful–literally, full of meaning. Our bodies, then, are not merely ‘objects’, in the Cartesian sense. Our bodies, rather, are our point of view in the world–the vessels through which we interpret what it means to sit, stand, walk, create, destroy, and govern.

It’s important to note that, while these discussions were originally matters of philosophical debate and discussion, they are now grounded across several disciplines, including sociology of course, but also anthropology, political science, and cognitive neuroscience.  So when one uses a term like “lived experience”, it’s not a “jargon-y” way of saying “experience”, as if all experience is lived therefore it’s unnecessary to specify. It’s demonstrating–clearly, I might add, for those embedded within the phenomenological canon–that (1) our discipline, along with many others, has not always recognized the inherent problems in Cartesian duality and (2) those of us who use the term write from an epistemology that examines embodiment as subjectivity-in-action/practice.

Is phenomenology complex? Absolutely. Within the canon, there is much debate about the specific relationship between embodied habits and practices and how we make sense of those things. Nevertheless, it’s a significant branch of sociology, and one in which concepts like “lived experience” have great currency. Dismissing it as something to “abhor” fails to recognize this concept, and others, on their own terms. Importantly, it draws poorly thought-out lines between sociology worth bringing to a wider audience, and sociology worth keeping insulated. Look, I’m all for making the knowledge we produce as sociologists more accessible to a non-specialized audience. However, if the Write Clearly Campaign is saying there is no room in their movement for complex discussions on how knowledge is produced and/or situated, then we’re doing a disservice to our potentially broader audience.

Diagnosing Racism

(Excerpt from manuscript conditionally accepted)

…In 1969, a group of Black psychiatrists, including Alvin Poussaint, presented a list of demands to the American Psychiatric Association at their annual meeting. The demands included acknowledging racism as the “major mental health problem of this country,” and the addition of extreme bigotry as an officially recognized mental illness within the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM). At a news conference following the presentation, Poussaint told the press, “It’s a contradiction in terms for someone to say that he’s a psychiatrist – that is, someone who deals in mental health – and at the same time openly practice racism and segregation.” The APA’s official response expressed gratitude for the presentation, endorsing its “general spirit of reform and redress of racial inequities in American psychiatry.” However, the APA rejected the demand to classify extreme bigotry as a mental illness on the grounds that in order for racism to be considered a mental illness, it would have to deviate from normative behavior.

In their rejection, the APA specifically cited a series of studies conducted by the Harvard social psychologist, Thomas Pettigrew. Interviewing residents of eight small towns in the North and South in the late 1950s, Pettigrew had tested, among other things, whether Southerners exhibited a stronger ‘authoritarian personality’ than Northerners. Pettigrew determined that while Southerners exhibited a higher level of prejudice toward Blacks than their Northern counterparts, the level of authoritarianism among Northerners and Southerners was virtually identical. In sum, racism was normal behavior, and as such the APA refused to acknowledge it as an abnormal condition.

Despite the APA’s rejection, clinical workers pressed on, developing treatment models for the effects of racism, as well as for individual racists. One of the more infamous examples occurred following the 1967 deadly shoot out between Houston police officers and students at the all-Black Texas Southern University. Then-mayor Louie Welch called upon Dr. Blair Justice, a Rice University psychology professor, to initiate a psychotherapeutic program to alleviate tensions between Houston police officers and Houston’s Black community. By 1969, group sessions including up to two hundred officers and community members at a time were being led by psychologists. These sessions encouraged heated exchanges between participants in order to get deep-seated prejudices out in the open. After just one year, Mayor Welch and other prominent city officials were touting the program’s success based upon pre- and post-tests of police attitudes demonstrating a small decrease in identifiable prejudices.

Meanwhile, within its own ranks, the APA’s rejection of the motion to classify racism was, and remains, highly contentious. In 1971, then-Vice President of the APA, Charles Prudhomme, wrote an editorial for the APA’s official journal, The American Journal of Psychiatry, asserting that racism “parallels and is an analog of psychosocial development.” At the APA’s 1979 annual meeting, the prominent psychiatrist Carl Bell gave a paper later published in the Journal of The National Medical Association, entitled “Racism: A Symptom of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Linking his diagnosis to findings from The Authoritarian Personality, Bell claimed the narcissistic racist is a person whose racism is primarily a symptom of a narcissistic personality disorder. Patients suffering from narcissistic racism seek constant praise from their authority figures as a means of sustaining their self-esteem. To illustrate an extreme case of this disorder, Bell quoted the scholar-activist, Angela Davis: “Because it was drummed into the heads of U.S. soldiers that they were confronting an inferior race, they could believe that raping Vietnamese women was a necessary soldierly duty.”

Finally, in his presidential address at the APA’s 1980 annual meeting, Alan Stone remarked on the contentious debate within the APA between those members who regret the association’s stances on social issues, and those members who believe that social issues, including racism, are clearly psychiatric in nature. Stone stated, “Our professional training obliges us to understand conflict rather than repress or deny it, and I believe that in view of recent events the time has come to confront this conflict openly.” While Stone’s remarks did little to end the debate, some scholars took his remarks seriously. Poussaint and Bell remained critical and vocal of the APA for not including racism in the DSM III in 1980, its revision in 1987, and the DSM IV in 1994, voicing their dissent in both mainstream and academic presses.

By the late 1980s, a number of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists were proposing diagnostic tools for identifying and treating racism as a psychopathological condition. Judith Skillings and James Dobbins, for example, in a 1991 article entitled “Racism as a Disease”, proposed a clinical diagnosis through the identification of four symptoms: a belief that one’s heritage is superior to another; when racism becomes infectious without any conscious sense of antipathy by the person who is the host; when’s one’s perceptions are merely distorted or confused; and by identifying racism as a “silent killer” that robs its hosts and targets of their mental and emotional well-being. Skillings and Dobbins even suggested the access to power that racism affords produces a dependency upon that source of power for the individual racist. In other words, racism is addictive!

In a 2000 article entitled “Racism as Clinical Syndrome”, Dobbins and Skillings describe four signs of this addiction: rationalization (“I know we need to increase diversity, in general, but why do I have to play a part?”), selective comparison (“I can’t be racist, because I’ve never called any Mexican a wetback”), protecting the source of addiction (“I know I have White privilege, but what do you want me to, give it up?”), and minimization (“I’m not being racist, I’m just telling it like it is”). Meanwhile, Edward Dunbar, a clinical psychologist at UCLA, initiated a series of clinical studies in the mid 1990s meant to develop an instrument for measuring what he termed a ‘prejudiced personality.’ Individuals with high scores on Dunbar’s ‘prejudice scale’ included clients who distrusted financial advice from racial and ethnic minorities, job loss due to the inability to interact appropriately with customers of color, and even one who expressed support for the Oklahoma City bombing.

By the early 2000s, racism had several clinical names, though no official diagnosis within the DSM: prejudice personality, intolerant personality disorder, and pathological bias, which was considered for admission in the 2013 DSM V under a rubric that would have included racism, sexism, and heterosexism. Although pathological bias was not included in the DSM V, there is an entire chapter devoted to its assessment in the 2012 Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders…

On Affective Labor in Adult, Urban Playscapes

(Excerpt from work in progress entitled, “Affective Labor in Adult, Urban ‘Playscapes’: An Ethnographic Account”)


The study of nightlife has been of great interest in contemporary urban sociology (Bernstein 2001; Chatterton and Hollands 2003; Chauncey 1994; Grazian 2007; Grazian 2008; Grazian 2009; Oldenburg 1989). Within the existing literature, there appears an emergent debate among scholars, where nightlife spaces are either depicted as third-spaces critical for the sustainment of civic engagement and participatory democracy (e.g. Oldenburg 1989; Putnam 2000), or as spaces that have historically reconstituted micro-formations of more macro-social inequalities, including heteronormativity and racial rule (e.g. Grazian 2007; 2008; 2009; Bernstein 2001; Owens 2003).

Empirically speaking, I believe that both sides of this debate are correct in their own right. However, neither position moves us toward a more useful, or plausible, theory on the role these ‘pleasure spaces’ play in the reproduction of social order. Nightlife in both accounts is reduced to ‘good spaces’ or ‘bad spaces’ for what they contribute to participatory democracy (see Putnam 2000); or what they contribute to hegemonic masculinity (see Grazian 2007). What we currently lack in the sociological study of nightlife, however, is a descriptive theory of that which is fundamental to its very constitution: desire. From Marx and Freud, to derivatives and critiques of historical materialism and psychoanalysis (e.g. Althusser, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, postcolonial studies, etc.), desire has been of central importance to the production of critical theory.

Among contemporary scholars, particularly within human and cultural geography, the concept of desire has garnered a great deal of empirical attention (e.g. Anderson 2006; Thrift 2008). How national heritage sites, for example, come to be embedded with particular social relations centered on the production of desire for certain bodies over others (Crang and Tolia-Kelly 2010); or how particular spaces inhabited by ethnic and racial minorities become territorialized by figures of authority as well as those of the oppressed through physical and symbolic bordering of those spaces (e.g. Nayak 2010). Still others, like Nigel Thrift, view the entire project of urbanization as one of manufacturing and distributing desire, through a network of affective pipes and cables no different in their intent than those that deliver water, gas, and electricity to shops, homes, and neighborhoods (see Thrift 2008).

That pleasure spaces, like nightclubs, cocktail lounges, and restaurants, rely on the physical attractiveness and display of sexuality among female service staff to recruit customers (Grazian 2009); that female service staff in these establishments are expected to perform a certain type of gender, entailing the wearing of tight and revealing clothing (Spradley and Mann 1975); and that these women are expected to handle subsequent sexual harassment from male customers graciously and with flirty come-ons (Grazian 2009; Steinem 1983) suggest that the degree to which desire (heterosexual, in these instances) is controlled and managed is worthy of ethnographic analysis.

Pleasure spaces within urban nightlife center on enabling elite, White, heterosexual men to experience the full production of entertainment while simultaneously restricting access the active movement of racial, sexual, and classed Others. This  demonstrates that desire is a constituting and active force in the ongoing production of the urban nightlife experience. This is an important point to consider: desire as I use it here, does not refer to the traditional psychoanalytic account of a lack, or yearning for something. Rather, desire as it is used in this context derives from Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) writings. Desire is an active, positive force in the context of urban nightlife and pleasure spaces (see Haggerty et al., 2000). The desire for control, the desire for profit, and the desire for entertainment produce difference/sameness, and distance/closeness among and between social actors within these ‘playscapes’ (e.g. Chatterton and Hollands, 2003; Deleuze and Guattari, 1987).

Drawing upon thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, including participant observation, at a stand-up comedy club and nightclub in a medium-sized, midwestern city, this article aims to describe the production of desire, as an active and constituting force, through the concept of affective labor – the immaterial and corporeal manipulation of affects that produces feelings of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion, and even a sense of connectedness or community (Hardt 1999: 96; see also Negri 1999; Hardt and Negri 2001). Such an account seeks to move beyond the theorizing of urban nightlife as ‘good space’ or ‘bad space’, and also seeks to provide a more robust analysis for how power, agency, and space become intertwined with one another in ways that are both enabling and constraining of existing social arrangements (see Crossley 1996). The production of desire is accomplished through forms of affective labor that are fundamentally grounded in the reproduction and reconstitution of racial rule, elite class status, and heteronormativity.


Urban nightlife, including what I refer to as ‘pleasure spaces’ in this article, constitute a site of contemporary capitalism that is unique because of its lack of material product relative to its immaterial product. In sites like bars, nightclubs, comedy clubs, and other nightlife hangout spots, no durable or material good is produced. The experiences received from visiting these establishments are accomplished not through simple transactions between the customer and service staff. Rather, what is being bought is the experience of sociability (see Chatterton and Hollands, 2003). Also bound up in the experience of sociability, however, is the qualitative production of intersubjective relations. This production is accomplished through both the manufacturing of the sensorium within nightlife spaces themselves, and the interactive patterns that follow from this governing of spatial-sensual properties. This manufacturing is a matter of affective labor, a form of immaterial labor that, through the manipulation of affects, produces the very things social actors most closely associate with the urban nightlife experience: pleasure, excitement, connectedness, and satisfaction, to name but a few (Bernstein, 2001; Malbon, 1999; Thorton, 1996).

Maurizio Lazzarato (1996: 133) defines immaterial labor as “the labor that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity.” Considering the informational content of the commodity, Lazzarato states that immaterial labor describes the large-scale changes in industry, “where skills involved in direct labor are increasingly skills involving cybernetics and computer control,” (1996: 133). Considering the cultural content of the commodity, however, immaterial labor refers to the types of activities involved in constructing and maintaining cultural and artistic norms, trends, tastes, and even public opinion. This cultural form of labor that aids in the formation of the commodity, including its value, is not typically recognized by work (Lazzarato, 1996: 134).

On their own or in conjunction, these forms of immaterial labor first and foremost produce a social relation. The raw material of immaterial labor is both subjectivity and the ideological environment in which this subjectivity resides and reproduces itself. No longer exclusive to the realm of disciplining societies, the production of subjectivity is productive itself, constructing the consumer as ‘active’ (Lazzarato, 1996: 141). Immaterial labor simultaneously satisfies the consumer’s demand as well as establishes that demand.

Michael Hardt (1999) elaborates on Lazzarato’s concept of immaterial labor, identifying its formation as bound up in the shifting global economy from industry to service jobs in the 1970s. This informatization of the global economy, particularly in the U.S. but also abroad, entailed a change in the quality of labor as well as the nature of the labor process (Hardt 1999: 93). The result was the production and reliance upon immaterial labor in order to serve the purposes of this new informational economy. Whereas in industry, labor aimed to produce tangible goods, and could be easily quantifiable through the mechanisms of capitalism, in the current informational economy, immaterial labor produces no material or durable goods. Rather, immaterial labor produces immaterial goods, like service, knowledge, or communication (Hardt 1999: 94).

Extending Lazzarato’s thesis, Hardt (1999) describes three forms of immaterial labor that drive the informational economy, as well as the informationalization of the global economy. The first form of immaterial labor entails the folding of communicative technologies into global industrial production. With this form of immaterial labor, the production of tangible items becomes wedded to the production of ‘service.’ For Hardt, the transition in the automotive industry from Fordism to Toyotism exemplifies this form of immaterial labor. Disrupting Habermas’s (1984) division between instrumental and communicative action by theorizing them to be interwoven in the informationalized industrial process, the folding of communicative technologies into the industrial production process also troubles the temporal divide of labor, work, and action described by Hannah Arendt (1958).

The second form of immaterial labor, entailing analytic and symbolic tasks, is closely related to the enfolding of communicative technologies into the global production process. For Hardt (1999: 94), the increasing reliance upon computers in the global economy has redefined laboring practices and relations. Communicative technologies, including computers, are now used for ‘symbolic-analytical services’, or tasks that entail “problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic brokering services,” (Reich 1991: 177; Hardt 1999: 95). For Hardt, “Interactive and cybernetic machines become a new prosthesis integrated into our bodies and minds and a lens through which to redefine our bodies and minds themselves,” (1999: 95).

Finally, the last form of immaterial labor, and the one I am concerned with in this manuscript, is affective labor. Affective labor, or the production and manipulation of affects, fundamentally requires human contact, making it distinct from the previous two forms of immaterial labor. This contact, however, can be either actual or virtual. Hardt uses the example of the entertainment industry: “the human contact, the presence of others, is principally virtual, but not for that reason any less real,” (1999: 96).

In the production and manipulation of affects, what is produced are collective subjectivities and sociality. That these collective subjectivities and sociality are exploited directly by capital does not make this production and manipulation of affects any less actual. Like Lazzarato (1996), Hardt (1999) argues that the production of collective subjectivities and sociality through affective labor is productive itself, producing the very demand for these things in the first place.

Since Hardt’s (1999) outline for a theory of affective labor, a number of issues have emerged concerning its practical and theoretical basis. Among cultural Marxists, one debate centers on whether or not the value of affective labor can be measured (Caffentzsis, 2005; Clough et al., 2007; Virtanen, 2004). Still, others have looked to distinguish how the production of people, including relationships between people, is qualitatively different from the production of things (Weeks 2007; Rose 2004). While these debates are important, I do not want the discussion of affective labor to get sidetracked into meta-theoretical conversations that would distract us from examining how affective labor relates to the production of spaces and forms of entertainment within the urban nightlife scene.

However, I do want to briefly distinguish affective labor with what is no doubt a more recognizable concept in the sociological enterprise: Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) emotional labor. For Hochschild (1983: 7), emotional labor “requires one to induce or suppress feelings in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.” Affective labor, however, differs in that feelings, or states of mind, do not belong to one or the other. Rather, these things are in constant circulation. Affective labor is not so much about producing a state of mind in another, or a manipulation of your own feelings, as it is about producing a relationship between social actors and contexts (Weeks, 2007: 238-39). This relationship is affective in that it resides in the bodies’ changing capacities to affect and be affected by others (Weeks, 2007; Clough 2007)…

The “Disease” of Race

{From an unpublished manuscript, “The Pathology of Racism”}

The history of race as a pathological construct is well documented in the social sciences. Though many social scientists have argued that race is a modern concept with a foundation in European colonialism and global capitalism’s formation (Bonilla-Silva 2010; Feagin 2000; Omi and Winant 1994; Winant 2004), other scholars have empirically demonstrated that proto-types for race are found much earlier in human history (Kruger 1997; Thomas 2010). Further, these proto-types were fundamentally grounded in the belief that particular groups suffered from their difference in ways we now associate with disease or illness.

For instance, Jews living in European Christendom during the 13th century were depicted as the possessors of diseased bodies that only Christian blood could cure, giving rise to the popular belief at the time that Jews were quite fond of kidnapping Christian babies from their homes and drinking their blood (Kruger 1997; Thomas 2010). While many Jews were likely to suffer from a variety of illnesses due to their out-group status in European Christendom, these illnesses, and the fact that they were affecting Jews at alarming rates, lent support to the beliefs of the papal authorities that these illnesses were a result of being Jewish (Glick 1999).

The development of modern medicine led not only to a variety of treatments for conditions previously thought to be diseases of the spirit, but also new ways for distinguishing racial groups from one another. The rebirth of Mendelian genetics in the early 20th century within the United States partnered with the ongoing Eugenics movement in both Europe and the United States to lend scientific merit to the belief that there were fundamental differences between the races, and to social policies which attempted to control the reproduction rates among the more “inferior” races (Barkan 1992; Duster 2003; Seldon 2011).

The near-death of the eugenics movement in the United States can be attributed to two separate episodes: the first was the collapse of Nazi Germany in the aftermath of World War II and the subsequent campaign to illuminate their inhumane genetic experimentation on Jewish prisoners of war (Barkan 1992; Carlson 2001). The second episode was the successful research program within the social sciences, particularly in the Chicago School, to demonstrate through rigorous empirical and theoretical detail the social construction of race and ethnicity (Bulmer 1986; Frazier 1969; Park 1950; Wirth 1945).

However, both of these occurrences are relatively recent within the global history of race and racialization. Thus, historically speaking, racial differences have been largely understood as matters of biological and pathological differences. And, though the contemporary problem of race is one of social structure and ideology, the more lengthy history of race as a biological phenomenon is directly responsible for many contemporary practices of racism within the Western context, including sterilization laws and anti-miscegenation laws, the latter of which many remained on the books until as recently as 2001 (Duster 2003; Jones 2011; Reilly 1987; Schoen 2005; Wang 2012).

Both sterilization laws and anti-miscegenation laws are examples of racialized practices arising out of pathological explanations. The birth, growth, and partial demise of these practices are well documented by a number of scholars, as are the various social movements during the 1960s that produced structural and ideological shifts leading us away from biological underpinnings of the concept of race to more nuanced, and socially constructed ones (e.g. Bonilla-Silva 1997; Feagin 2000; Mills 1997; Omi and Winant 1994). We are currently witness to the reemergence of biological deterministic racial projects via the mapping of the human genome – for instance, capital punishment rates have decreased significantly since the turn of the century, when the human genome was mapped, and it is becoming increasingly clear how many innocents are still being “lynched” through the modern capital punishment regime within the prison system .

Currently, racialized practices are predominantly analyzed as (1) products of structural and systemic racial dominance that are (2) discursively, symbolically, and expressively mediated through (3) overt institutional policies and practices, as well as (4) more covert, everyday rhetorical strategies, narratives, and embodied actions, and (5) are intended to reproduce racial order over time (Bonilla-Silva 2012; Bonilla-Silva et al. 2004; Desmond and Emirbayer 2010; Frankenberg 1994; McKee 1993; Winant 2004). But while a discursive and expressive shift was underway that reconstituted race as a social issue, and not a biological one, racism as a product of racialization was undergoing a shift as well – from a social, political, and cultural consequence to a pathological byproduct.

This shift represents a dialectic encounter between biopower and biopolitics. This encounter produced the expanding scope of a scientific and medical form of governmentality that while allowing for a dismissal of biological explanations of race also began to produce pathological accounts of racism. As a result, racism has become reclassified over time as a clinical disorder, a pathological syndrome, and a disease that could be diagnosed through clinical means, and most recently treated through behavioral modification and drug therapy (Kelly et al. 2010; Poussaint 1999; Skillings and Dobbins 1991; Terbeck et al. 2012).

…The increasing pathologization of racism reflects an increasing presence of scientific and medical governmentality in the post-World War II era that produces an encounter between increasing demands on individuals and collectives to become less racist (biopower) with emergent explanations for all sorts of human conditions that are now being seen as under the authority of the psy-sciences and medical community (biopolitics). This encounter has, over time, produced a wave of research, treatment models, and theoretical frameworks from which to interpret racism as a clinical, mental, and pathological condition that can be treated most effectively through behavioral and drug-therapy.

Stand Up! Book Manuscript Progress


This is a picture of my first draft of Chapters 2 through 5. 127 pages.

Averaging about 1000 words per day, I knocked this out from November 2nd through December 20th of 2012.

Reading Zerubavel’s The Clockwork Muse (1999) inspired me to change my writing habits. I used to be a binge-writer. I’d sit down in one session and try to cram, over the course of several hours, anywhere from 3000-7000 words. It was exhausting, and left little space for the kind of reflexivity needed for academic writing. Instead, I started to write everyday, usually for an hour or so, and with a goal of 1000 words. My first draft is just that, a draft. I know I will be revising it significantly, so I don’t get too hung up on perfecting every sentence, or making the argument especially tight. That’s what revising is for. And writing IS revising.

I’ve got about two more chapters, maybe three, until the 1st complete draft is finished. Then, the plan is to read, mark up, and write it all over again with changes. I’ll do this probably three times, total. The last draft, I will send out to colleagues for their suggestions and comments. Once I get their feedback, if I keep up the current pace, this book manuscript will be ready to submit for consideration sometime in the mid-Summer.

It’s one thing to see the forest through the trees. It’s another to see the path through the forest.