2021-2022 Grant Recipients

  • “Race in the Global South”
  • “Meaningful Stuff”
  • “Hemispheric Reverberations:  Race, Power, and Legacies of Freedom”
  • “Borderlands:  Gender, Race, and Empire”



The purpose of this reading group is to probe a racial world making beyond a Manichean black and white binary, one that flows not from above but rather seeps from below: from the global South. Rejecting Eurocentric discourses which presuppose that all race-making was and is the product of European incursions and expansion, we examine the extent to which race-making can be understood as a pre-colonial practice.

To offer a starting point, we hope to outline a genealogy of race, starting with its premodern itinerant iterations that travel from the Greeks and coagulate into proto-racial significations of Mediterranean centered geoclimatic determinism. We trace the afterlives of Galenic theories of clime as they appear to influence the philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun’s Prolegomena which we hope to read alongside Ahmad Baba al-Timbukti 16th-century work, Mi’raj al Su’ud,  Ahmad Baba’s Replies on Slavery;  Ramzi Rouighi’s  Invention of the Berbers and Bruce Hall’s A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, among others, to amplify an African intellectual history of race that will explicate this assumed equivalence between blackness, Africanness and slavery, taken for granted at the contemporary moment. As we proceed to illuminate the precolonial debates on the practice of slavery and the centrality of the Hamitic myth to the racialization of slavery as black in Africa, we will further illuminate the different permutations of the “idea of Africa” in the words of Y.V.Mudimbe, as we attend to the myriad ways of articulating its premodern place holder of bilad-al-Sudan or “land of the blacks”, disinterring precolonial antecedents to the modern depictions of Africa as the “heart of darkness”.

As we explore different ideas of race and their permutations and coagulations across time and space, we continue to engage the following questions: How and when is race trumped by kinship, genealogy and lineage and what are the limits and expanses of such premodern forms of identity? How do the afterlives of different slavery regimes of trans-Saharan slavery, Indian ocean, Red sea and transatlantic slavery affect these racial articulations and their engendered behavioral consequences? Can racialization take place in social formations not dominated by the capitalist mode of production? How have endogenous practices of power organization were articulated with colonial and modern practices of race-making? Where do lineage hierarchies, class, gender, colorism, sexuality and blackness fit into this matrix of differentiation and hierarchization? How can the histories of race in places like Brazil, India, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Japan, and Ghana be approached from a comparative perspective?


Zeyad El Nabolsy—Africana Studies and Research Center

Renatta Fordyce—Africana Studies and Research Center

Kun Huang—Department of Comparative Literature

Xavier Robillard Martel—Department of Anthropology

Afifa Ltifi— Africana Studies and Research Center

Bianca Mary Waked—Department of Philosophy

Karina Beras—Department of Anthropology

Amy Ramirez— Department of Philosophy

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The starting point for this reading group is that “stuff is ubiquitous, and problematic” (Miller 2009). By drawing attention to the social life of stuff (Appadurai 1986) we aim to draw connections across wide-ranging geographies, disciplinary boundaries, and methodological approaches to studying material culture. Meaningful stuff is not meant to signify that all stuff carries equal meaning; rather, it is an invitation to explore the fluid notions of value associated with particular things. Disciplinary conventions and the division of labor based on geographic areas of the world efface how colonialism, neoliberalism, and the expansion of global capitalism gather-up the labor, attention, and consumption of communities across cartographic boundaries. This reading group remains attentive to the following: the way people make stuff, and how stuff makes people; the journey of stuff from point of origin, through exchange, display, consumption, and destruction; and how particular bodies become racialized and bound up in the production, consumption, and destruction of particular stuff.

The study of material culture necessarily draws on scholarship from anthropology, history, geography, science and technology studies, and critical social theory. To this end, we intend to open our reading group with several framing texts (e.g. Appadurai 1986; Brown 2001; Miller 2009) to explore diverse disciplinary vantage points and methodologies through which the study of stuff has been undertaken. This body of literature also provides insight into the analytic work performed by categories that are used to describe stuff, such as "thing," "object," "commodity," and "souvenir." After building this theoretical ground, we will collectively read texts that center particular objects. Our proposed readings range from comestibles like sugar (Mintz 1986) and beans (Hetherington 2020), raw materials for textiles like jute (Ali 2018) and cotton (Beckert 2015), building materials like timber (Zhang 2021) and concrete (Forty 2012), art objects (Wong 2013), and so on. Paying attention to these specific things, we ask how what we think we know about overarching concepts like capital, labor, the economy, and the environment might change if we follow an object from its production to its consumption. The theoretical breadth incorporated in our study of stuff includes: Marxist approaches to the political economy of commodities (Besky 2020), feminist critiques of gendered labor on plantations (Chatterjee 2001), environmental and ecological studies about factory farming and the expansion of meat consumption, the place of foods and agriculture in colonial empires, and post-structuralist studies of affect and subjectivation through stuff (Bennett 2010).

We seek to engage with the emerging landscape of scholarly writing that considers stuff as not only dead or fluid objects but also critical methodologies to reevaluate and reimagine the entanglements of and the power dynamics among social lives of people and things. More than asking “how stuff makes us,” we further ask how stuff makes us feel, think, compose, and generate knowledge. Ontologically transformative as it is, an attention to stuff provides an entry point into critical reflections on the relationship between theory and practice, and on how we are positioned in our own research.


Made Adityanandana — Department of Global Development

Parijat Jha—Department of Anthropology

Aimée Plukker—Department of History 

Darren Wan—Department of History 

Tsuguta Yamashita— Department of Asian Studies

Chencong Zhu—Department of Anthropology

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Hemispheric Reverberations is a reading group focused on relationality as central to collective liberation for the marginalized peoples of the Americas. We understand the Transatlantic Slave Trade as the violent foundation of the New World and thus take the geography(ies) of the hemisphere as the nexus for our inquiry. While we’re specifically focused on the Caribbean region, we understand and expect our investigation to reach into the rest of the American hemisphere. Moreover, the Caribbean archipelagos operate as both the geographical site and metaphor—the seemingly separate nations are indeed connected historically and politically, and through the model of the archipelago we will deepen our understanding of those relationalities. We plan to survey critical, literary, and theoretical works from various linguistic, political, and historical centers within the region in order to locate both legacies and continued practices of Black freedoms across the African diaspora.

While each of the group members works within the Americas, broadly construed, our interests intersect in the Caribbean as a site of diasporic formation, racial understanding, and legacies of identity and Black sovereignty that have informed Black, Indigenous, and Brown liberation movements from the 18th century to the present. While Negritude, Creolité, the Harlem Renaissance, and other artistic movements are well-known, we also want to read more/bring to light the hemispheric, generational connections through labor movements/guestworker programs, liberation struggles, and artistic collaborations. Additionally, we are interested in how these overlapping movements and cultural circulations inform diasporic formations in the Americas and beyond. Specifically, our group is interested in the ways in which legacies of imperial conquest in the Caribbean have rezoned the peripheral island space as a critical center for colonial resistance and innovation of racial ontologies and epistemologies. These ontologies and epistemologies emerge from political and social violences which continue in the present, and whose histories will also inform our readings as they relate to alternative types of democracy and sovereignty in the region.

As scholars-in-training who are interested in researching and writing about hemispheric Blackness, the legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, emergent intra-Black relations, comparative Black modernities, and postcolonial political imaginations, we will foreground our inquiries through texts by and about Indigenous and Black populations. We wish to trouble the persistent myth of Indigenous “extermination,” which forecloses the possibility of rights for Indigenous populations—how do you politically recognize or advocate for those who allegedly don’t exist anymore? With this in mind, we approach sovereignty as necessarily hinging on Black and Indigenous methodologies, and with keen attention to the many fraught and often incommensurable experiences of oppression.

We look forward to discovering what sorts of conclusions and new questions can be drawn as we explore this rich bibliography together over the coming year. As we trace the syntheses, contradictions, and nuances of our readings, we will work together to conceive of a presentation that brings this novel framework to a greater audience. We are driven with urgency to ask: what is at stake in wrestling with these questions today, in uncovering the historical layering of racial legacies in the Americas, including, crucially, the United States?


Jehan L. Roberson—Department of Literatures in English

Lyrianne E. Gonzalez—Department of History, Latina/o Studies Program

Jessica Ness—Department of Comparative Literature 

Andre Nascimento—Department of Romance Studies

Farah Bakaari—Department of Literatures in English

Jamila Walida Simon—NYS 4-H Civic Engagement Specialist

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Borderlands: Gender, Race, and Empire

Gloria E Anzaldúa writes that “A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition.” (Anzaldúa, 1987, 3) Drawing from Anzaldúa’s rumination, we have gathered texts to see how the categories of gender and race potentially intersect in the socio-political space structured by the category of empire. These texts will help us explore the undetermined localities, emotional and affective attachments, and the socially constructed boundaries that permeate the categories of gender, race and empire. This reading group asks: In what ways do literary discourses, technologies, legal systems, and imperial acquisition destabilize boundaries of race and gender? How have popular, medico-legal and technological notions of racialized gender coalesced and diverged across multiple geographical terrains and amongst local and global frameworks? What lies at the borderlands between official and unofficial narratives, between ideal and “problematic” bodies, between the political, the popular, the marginal, and the “perverse”?

With an interdisciplinary perspective that combines queer and feminist theories, anthropology, history, and science and technology studies, this reading list highlights texts that interrogate the boundaries and dichotomies, both material and notional, that work to codify conventional understandings of gender, race and empire. We view the formations of these categories from multiple historical perspectives and across various geographical and cultural contexts. We examine the borderlands that exist within excesses of state power (Kotef and Pedersen), the formations of British, Ottoman, Chinese, and American empires (Pande, Tucker, Ransmeier, Puar), the vibrancies of Black diaspora communities (McKittrick and Macharia), the frictions of imperial and transnational intimacies (Stoler, Tsing, and Macharia), and the disjunctures of modernity (Chow and Treichler). Bringing multiple geographical regions together, we intend to substitute a singular view of gender with a transnational perspective that focuses on a variety of racialized and colonial gender experiences (Davies and Fido). We seek to replace Euro-centrism not just by including more empirical cases from outside Europe but more importantly by thinking about these alternative locations as already constitutive of theories.

From these texts, we see different modalities of subjectivity emerging recalcitrant and willful against imposing regimes of order, conformity, and value (McKittrick, Kueny and Pande). On the one hand, identity is blocked, frustrated, and re-shaped by intersectional power discourses of gender, race and empire. On the other, these categories may be mobilized by various agents to bring forward different articulations of subjectivity and selfhood. Inspired by various modes of identity formations, we thus explore the attachments and meanings attributed to them (Brownell), the intimate and affective domains so central to their constitution (Macharia and Stoler), the sociopolitical techniques behind their emergence (Treichler et al.), and the material and political consequences of their deployment by state legal and medical apparatuses (Pande and Kueny). In this way, we hope to reflect on larger theoretical concepts including but not limited to coloniality, “homonationalism” (Puar), visuality (Treichler et al.), the everyday power dynamics that occupy gender relations (Bray), and translation practices (Rafael).


Anke Wang—Department of History

Bonnie Chung—Department of Literatures in English

Dawn Warfield —Department of Science and Technology Studies

Emily Donald—Department of History

Du Fei—Department of History

Jingya Guo—Department of History 

Nadav Wall—Department of Anthropology

Tianyi Shou—Department of Comparative Literature

Yue Zhao—Department of Science and Technology Studies

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