The Racialized Body
The Racialized Body Heading link
The Racialized Body lies at the cutting edge of scholarship on race. This emerging field of research is grounded in the analysis of race as not merely a social category, but an embodied experience. This cluster brings together scholars who examine the ways that contemporary and historical notions of race, racial ideology and racial politics are manifested in how the “body” is represented, inhabited and regulated. One focus of the cluster is the study of mechanisms by which racialized bodies are defined, policed and regulated. Through legal classifications, medical experiments, surveillance, incarceration, and even torture, states and other governmental agencies exercise power through control over racialized bodies. Yet the racialized body is not stable, as the ideological and governmental practices that attempt to regulate its meanings must contend with the ways that people inhabit, redefine and reject the inscription of racialized meanings onto their bodies. Another focus of the cluster, therefore, is on the ways that people respond to racialized efforts to define and control their bodies through everyday practices and collective forms of resistance.
Associate Professor, History and Black Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Director, African American Cultural Center
Positions Heading link
As one might expect from this budding field, there are a growing number of scholars in various locations who do this intersecting and interdisciplinary work. The potential professorship in the field of the Racialized Body is notably diverse in terms of theoretical investments, thematic foci, methodological approaches, and geographic regions covered. Thus, the areas of specialization for this position are open. We especially seek candidates whose scholarship offers international, transnational, or global analyses of the African diaspora through feminist and/or queer of color methodologies. Hiring a senior scholar in the field of the Racialized Body would bring a new perspective to our existing faculty who work in Black and Diasporic Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. This position will be the senior hire for the cluster.
Assistant Professor, Department of Disability and Human Development, College of Applied Health Sciences; Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Although one of the defining features of the discipline of Sociology has been the study of inequality and identity (along axes such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and age), it has only rarely included the study of disability. Similarly, Disability Studies has only recently turned to considerations of race and intersectionality. Despite this mutual elision, work in the field of race and disability would not only constitute cutting-edge research, but it would bring together two fields of analysis that could only benefit from their mutual consideration. This hire, therefore, would fill gaps in both departments-but would also bridge them in ways that might highlight mutual strengths.
The sociological analysis of identity generally incorporates considerations of the discursive and institutional construction of categories, as well as the way in which they are lived and experienced by those they define. Sociology has also been attentive to social disparities, whereby certain identities (like race, gender, class) provide the basis for explaining unequal access to resources (such as health care, education, employment, etc). As such, the study of disability-as it is socially constructed and mediated, as it determines and delimits access to resources and benefits (health care and social welfare), and as it is lived and experienced-would contribute greatly to sociological scholarship.
Race as an embodied experience almost by definition must include considerations of the way in which the physical body is experienced. Most often in the case of traditional social sciences, this has focused on the ways in which health is differently experienced by people of different races/ethnicities-either in diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment.
Recent national and UIC research priorities, indeed, have focused on identifying and understanding racial disparities in health and health care, for example. But often, though not always, these studies are less attentive to the ways in which race is embodied and experienced in a stratified society. With the position we envision for this cluster hire, we will take the discussion of race and health/the body in a new direction, one that is different from a racial disparities perspective, and at the same time takes advantage of the presence of the nation’s first Ph.D. program in Disability Studies. By linking sociology-the discipline with a strong tradition of exploring issues of race/ethnicity with the department of disability studies, we capitalize on the richness and depth of UIC while also expanding the scope of this cluster hire, and of each of these two units.
The area of disability studies is an interesting lens through which to expand our Racialized Bodies cluster. Disability studies “looks beyond the conventional idea of disability as a measurable flaw inside people’s bodies or minds, and it examines the complex way that society classifies and interacts with people who function differently from the ‘norm'” (UIC Disability Studies website). At the same time, sociologists are particularly interested in the ways in which health (and by extension disability) are differentially experienced based on race/ethnicity. As such, there are several directions that a scholar at the intersection of race scholarship and disability studies might pursue. For example, why are racial minorities more likely to be disabled? How do sociological factors associated with vulnerability shape patterns of disability? How do the (often racist) assumptions of medical professionals affect diagnosis and treatment? There is a long history of confluence between racist and ableist systems-for example the eugenics movement – such that racism and ablism are often directly implicated with one another. This is also directly linked to the history of science in which racial minorities were more likely to be defined as schizophrenic rather than autistic (even with the same “symptoms”) and then institutionalized and criminalized because of the racial implications of schizophrenia. There are also parallels in the growing area of whiteness studies within sociology: whiteness and able-body “normalness” are mutually constitutive and constructed as neutral.
The field of visual culture has been a rapidly expanding area of scholarship, bringing the traditional disciplines of art history and architecture into engagement with other mediums of visual production, including commercial mass culture, digital cultures, and new media. The political, economic, social and philosophical implications of “what and how we see” have taken on new dimensions as digitally produced and electronically circulated virtual images have shifted the very nature of representation across a global scale. As a particularly visual apparatus of communication and consumption, the importance of the internet often makes the term “visual culture” synonymous with digital culture; however, the field is hardly restricted to the study of virtual cultural production. Visual culture engages widely with questions of national identity, historical memory, and identity formation by having the disciplinary latitude and methodological nuance to look to national memorials, film and television, news coverage, blogs and forums, storefronts, an exhibit at the Whitney or Field Museum, and even fashion, as crucial visual arenas through which meaning, identity, and community are constituted.
It’s an understatement to observe that the production, circulation, and consumption of racialized bodies have been constitutive of U.S. national culture and identity. The racialized body has long been at the center of the visual field of Western Civilization, from the Indian, slave, or oriental, to the beaten body of Rodney King or Muslim “fundamentalist” as global terrorist. This mode of historical visibility of the racialized body has been largely engaged through the terms of spectacle, commodification, and objectification. Such work continues to be an important critical enterprise while the field is also generating quite different approaches to race and visuality as they relate to subject formation and even questions of cultural and political representation. As scholar Anne Cheng, aptly states, “racial legibility is the ground of which both discrimination and affirmation are made,” generating tensions and contradictions in our very discourses of what it means to be racially visible (as surveillance) or racially invisible (as negation).
Furthermore, virtually all racialized communities and constituencies engage in DIY digital cultural practices that can exist quite independently from traditional mass media institutions (music, film, television) and critical questions are pushing beyond interpretative frameworks that rely on a liberal idealization of the visible. Some of the most urgent implications emerging from the field of visual culture are tied to questions around youth culture, identity formation, and politics-questions that can no longer be addressed without a nuanced understanding of new media and digital culture.
While there is a core group of senior faculty across the country working on race and visual cultures, hiring at the junior level would allow the opportunity to survey the proliferation of emergent scholarship that centralizes visuality (and its technologies) as a crucial analytic for understanding social and political formations.
Intellectual considerations of how race, as a social construct, dictates social position and opportunity are deepened by the exploration of how violence and state processes of social control are utilized to enforce ideological and political agendas that privilege elites and reinforce existing structures of power. The fields of Critical Criminology, Political Science, Sociology and Law all engage intellectual questions that look at how people are targeted as “outsiders,” denied access to social resources and opportunities, forced into compromised positions and then socially disenfranchised by public policies and laws. Scholars whose work falls into this area focus on the process of racialization of citizenship, state policy as a mechanism of social control, the social construction of dangerousness as a racialized image, the use of technology as corporal control and the authorized use of violence by the state not as independent issues, but as interlocking processes that support dominant social and political ideology and thereby racial hierarchies in the United States.
More specifically, this position would include scholars whose work looks at the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, or the target use of violence by law enforcement towards immigrants, or the use of (and threat of) torture to control racialized populations. A considerable amount of this work is interdisciplinary, focusing on state policy that disproportionately disenfranchises people of color and non-citizens from the global south, the relationship between colonialism and the destruction of communities, policies related to post-911 practices designed to control populations, and the disregard for racialized bodies, including not protecting them from political, environmental or social harm.
The position described here will focus on the US Context, which should be understood as the impact of US policies and practices on other parts of the world; topics such as dangerous deportation policies, the exportation of the US punishment industry, the abuse of people in other countries by US agencies and officials and control of US borders in ways that result in harm to immigrants and of groups of people of color.
Broadly speaking, applicants whose work is both concrete and specific to the ways that race and ethnicity can serve as disadvantages with regard to state control (qualitative research on disproportionally, for example) as well as more theoretical treatments of the issues of how racial difference and disadvantage is located in conceptualizations of the body and the subsequent treatment of people of color by the state.
The person hired for this position would be expected to teach courses on these topics as well as contribute to the overall LAS curriculum on issues of race, crime and justice. Their scholarly publications could be placed both in traditional journals as well as in venues that bring new understandings to policy-makers and more popular audiences. Much of this work would fall under the category of engaged scholarship in so far as it related directly to conditions of injustice and provides clear opportunities for social justice research. Ripe for mentoring students in the field, this position holds great promise for collaboration with community groups working on legal remedies to the aforementioned problems.