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The Archive and the Gap: Reframing the History of Racialized Identities in the Americas

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Organizer: Karina Sembe

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Throughout the history of the Americas, racialized identities, framed as “subhuman” for the benefit of sovereignty, were homogenized in many ways—from redefining the space according to the hegemonic cartographies to pathologizing black or indigenous bodies. Therefore, the archive was formed by the selective hegemonic empiricism. To counter it, another arbitrary interpretation of the fact and archive emerged. Today, performance of racialized identities in the US, Latin America, and the Carribean is often approached with a default presumption of 'emancipatory' that may lack nuance. When various practices of otherness become mobilized under a rigid agenda, controversy and ambiguity that make them unique are excluded.

The aim of this seminar is to discuss the mutability of the archive within itself and in a broader historical context, where the notions of emancipation or freedom become floating signifiers. Whether to see an individual case of performing a racialized identity as a display of internalized discrimination, submission to the hegemony, or exploration of a potentially liberating power of stereotypes is a matter of how we approach the archive. Rather than conceiving of racialized identities as abstract signifiers (either marginalized or liberatory), we will explore optimal strategies of reading various racial assemblages in their complexity while trying to avoid the anthropological hybris.

Contributors are invited to question the archive and explore its gaps as they compare performance and perception of race in the Americas across disciplines, countries, and media. Participants are encouraged to submit abstracts on topics such as (but not limited to) fictional and non-fictional slave narratives, economic or medical records of the Spanish colonization and Transatlantic slave trade, fugitive science, Black Rights movement, indigenism and mestizaje, non-racialism, 'racial democracies' in Latin America, racial performativity in film and the new media, race in science, institutionalized racial bias, diasporic relations, politics of intersectionality. Region-wise, preference will be given to Northern, Central, Southern America, and the Carribean, however, relevant comparative research that involves other regions is welcomed. 

​A methodological note: Although the biological concept of race was and still is at work in hierarchizing identities in the Americas, race in its political entirety is to be conceived of in terms of social constructivism (Foucault, Butler). If a given racial or ethnic type is a prediscursive and politically neutral surface on which culture acts, then racial identity is a discursive practice, a narrative which may be seen as either oppressive or liberating. In this seminar, we suggest addressing the many gaps and grey zones in between these two polarities.


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