Use: A Users’ Manual

Following cultural critic Sara Ahmed’s insight that “use is a small word with a big history,” we approach the various ways that “use” enters into and exercises power within our lexicon and politics. From our interaction with digital platforms as “users,” to the Marxian notion of use-value, to the labeling of both addicts and emotional abusers as “users” of a different kind, the language of use pops up in far-flung and unexpected spheres. How do we delineate the useful and the useless, the usual and the unusual? How do the boundaries of the useful and useless map onto classifications of race, gender, sexuality, and population? In discussing the “proper” use of things and people, we ask what it means to misuse, abuse, overuse, and underuse, and offer a user manual to use and abuse.

The Working Group on Globalization and Culture http://wggc.yale.edu/ is an interdisciplinary cultural studies laboratory that has been practicing collective research at Yale University since 2003. Over the years, we have presented work at academic conferences as well as at the Left Forum, Occupy Boston, and the World Social Forum. Recent projects have been published as “Going into Debt,” online in Social Text’s Periscope, and as “Spaces and Times of Occupation” in Transforming Anthropology; a collective interview regarding “Matters of Life and Death” appeared in Revue Française d’Études Américaines. The current members—Salonee Bhaman, Michael Denning, Lucia Hulsether, Peter Raccuglia, Iliana Yamileth Rodriguez, Simon Torracinta, Damian Vergara Bracamontes, Clara Wilson-Hawken, and Yuhe Faye Wang—work in history, American studies, religious studies, literary criticism, Latinx studies, science and technology studies, popular music studies, and African-American studies.

All tickets are sliding scale. No one turned away for inability to pay

Our first MEP event at Union Docs

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Class, Race & Gender

Contemporary Capitalism and the Limits of Identity Politics
Six-week session with Dan Karan

The ongoing debate between those arguing for either a class- or identity-based politics has led to a tragic split between forces that ultimately need to come together if each is to realize its goals. But should this even be an “either or” question when considered from the vantage point of trying to build an effective anti-capitalist movement struggling for the liberation of those exploited and oppressed by capital?

What may be surprising to some is that this split is not new and in the U.S. has roots that go back to the nation’s founding if not before. And, in the 19th century, while the Civil War is often referred to as the “second American Revolution” it was really during Reconstruction, the period just after the Civil War, in which a “self-emancipatory” moment opened as former slaves, working class whites and women struggled to realize the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” held out in Declaration of Independence. Yet divisions along class, race and gender lines sealed Reconstruction’s defeat. Why and how was this potentially revolutionary moment defeated and what should this history teach us about the strategies and tactics that the left needs to employ today?

To explore these issues of the intersection of class, race and gender in the US and the consequences of not being able to overcome the divisions that capitalism reinforces and exploits for its own purposes this class will read David Roediger’s recent book on Reconstruction: Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All. This class will be the first in an ongoing series that explore questions of the relationship between class, race, gender and sexuality and how we overcome the divide between those exploited by capitalism and create a genuine anti-capitalist movement of liberation for all.

Dan Karan is a “red diaper baby” born into a communist household (his father worked as an organizer for the Communist Party and both his parents were members for roughly 25 years until leaving in 1956 along with many other comrades in response to Khrushchev’s “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences” speech about Stalin). Dan’s political activism began at the age of 2 when his parents took him to the 1963 March on Washington. For the last 30 years he has worked for NYC nonprofit housing and community development organizations. He is a proud graduate school dropout who has been studying Marxist theory for more than 4 decades.

Dan Karan is a “red diaper baby” born into a communist household (his father worked as an organizer for the Communist Party and both his parents were members for roughly 25 years until leaving in 1956 along with many other comrades in response to Khrushchev’s “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences” speech about Stalin). Dan’s political activism began at the age of 2 when his parents took him to the 1963 March on Washington. For the last 30 years he has worked for NYC nonprofit housing and community development organizations. He is a proud graduate school dropout who has been studying Marxist theory for more than 4 decades.

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Marx at 200: Capital, Class and More

A talk and discussion with Kevin B. Anderson

At Marx’s 200th anniversary, it is clear that the emancipation of labor from capitalist alienation and exploitation is a task that still confronts us. Marx’s concept of the worker is not limited to European white males, but includes Irish and Black super-exploited and therefore doubly revolutionary workers, as well as women of all races and nations. But his research and his concept of revolution go further, incorporating a wide range of agrarian noncapitalist societies of his time, from India to Russia and from Algeria to Indigenous peoples of the Americas, often emphasizing their gender relations. In his last, still partially unpublished writings, he turns his gaze eastward and southward. In these regions outside Western Europe, he finds important revolutionary possibilities among peasants and their ancient communistic social structures, even as these are being undermined by their formal subsumption under the rule of capital. In his last published text, he envisions an alliance between these non-working-class strata and the Western European working class.

Kevin B. Anderson is a Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and Feminist Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. He has worked in social and political theory, especially Marx, Hegel, Marxist humanism, the Frankfurt School, Foucault, and the Orientalism debate. Among his most recent books are Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (with Janet Afary, 2005) and Marx at the Margins: On Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Non-Western Societies (2010/2016), both published by University of Chicago Press. He is active in Los Angeles in the International Marxist-Humanist Organization and in the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice.

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Fridays As In Murder: Women, Violence & Genre Formulas

Convened by Jacqueline Cantwell
Fridays, 6:00 to 8:00
10 meetings, November 10 through February 2
No session on Friday, November 24, December 29 or January 19

In traditional hard-boiled and crime novels, women either provoke violence as femme fatales or need protection as paying clients or wandering daughters. Some authors were dissatisfied with this pulp convention and worked in an extension of pulp, film noir, writing scripts with more complicated women. Drawing upon the potentials of film noir’s formula of restlessness, dread, and discontent within social corruption, women novelists wrote of threats to the domestic sphere and American society emerging as the global hegemon. As women’s opportunities improved and the conventions of the detective novel changed, women writers explored crime and violence resulting from the racism and class exploitation while some male authors began writing of more complicated women.

Our Friday readings will consist of the following:

Attica Locke, The Cutting Season
The body of a migrant worker is found on the grounds of a former plantation turned into an historical amusement park, complete with slave quarters. Outside the plantation, the hard-pressed owners of sugar cane fields are selling their land to a corporation that relies upon undocumented migrants. A mystery from the time of slavery parallels the modern murder.

Dorothy B. Hughes, The Expendable Man
Driving toward Phoenix, Densmore sees a young white woman hitchhiking. Even though he knows that a black man should not offer a white girl a ride, he fears for her safety. Then, he gets charged with her murder. Complicating his lackluster defense is that the woman has died from complications of an illegal abortion and he is a medical student.

Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale
Can a man portray a woman with a gun differently? Maybe when by Manchette. A woman comes to town to kill the corrupt. Stripped down language. Bloodier than Red Harvest. Manchette brought politics back to French thrillers.

Nina Revoyr, Lost Canyon
Four hikers whose ethnic and cultural backgrounds represent a diverse Los Angeles get lost in the mountains and find a murder. Moving effortlessly between city and wilderness, Lost Canyon explores the ways that race, class, and culture shape experience and perception while examining the choices good people must face in desperate situations.

Jacqueline Cantwell has explored the depths of crime fiction along with the heights the desperate will often want to throw themselves from. These fictions will lay bare many of the facts of the cold as ice killings and cover-ups present in a modern world where we are expected to behave better—but very often do not. What better night than Fridays in Autumn for murder and mayhem.

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Fridays As In Murder: Women, Violence & Genre Formulas

Convened by Jacqueline Cantwell
Fridays, 6:00 to 8:00
10 meetings, November 10 through January 26
No session on Friday, November 24 or December 29

In traditional hard-boiled and crime novels, women either provoke violence as femme fatales or need protection as paying clients or wandering daughters. Some authors were dissatisfied with this pulp convention and worked in an extension of pulp, film noir, writing scripts with more complicated women. Drawing upon the potentials of film noir’s formula of restlessness, dread, and discontent within social corruption, women novelists wrote of threats to the domestic sphere and American society emerging as the global hegemon. As women’s opportunities improved and the conventions of the detective novel changed, women writers explored crime and violence resulting from the racism and class exploitation while some male authors began writing of more complicated women.

Our Friday readings will consist of the following:

Attica Locke, The Cutting Season
The body of a migrant worker is found on the grounds of a former plantation turned into an historical amusement park, complete with slave quarters. Outside the plantation, the hard-pressed owners of sugar cane fields are selling their land to a corporation that relies upon undocumented migrants. A mystery from the time of slavery parallels the modern murder.

Dorothy B. Hughes, The Expendable Man
Driving toward Phoenix, Densmore sees a young white woman hitchhiking. Even though he knows that a black man should not offer a white girl a ride, he fears for her safety. Then, he gets charged with her murder. Complicating his lackluster defense is that the woman has died from complications of an illegal abortion and he is a medical student.

Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale
Can a man portray a woman with a gun differently? Maybe when by Manchette. A woman comes to town to kill the corrupt. Stripped down language. Bloodier than Red Harvest. Manchette brought politics back to French thrillers.

Nina Revoyr, Lost Canyon
Four hikers whose ethnic and cultural backgrounds represent a diverse Los Angeles get lost in the mountains and find a murder. Moving effortlessly between city and wilderness, Lost Canyon explores the ways that race, class, and culture shape experience and perception while examining the choices good people must face in desperate situations.

Jacqueline Cantwell has explored the depths of crime fiction along with the heights the desperate will often want to throw themselves from. These fictions will lay bare many of the facts of the cold as ice killings and cover-ups present in a modern world where we are expected to behave better—but very often do not. What better night than Fridays in Autumn for murder and mayhem.

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