Kandice Chuh Elected President of the American Studies Association

Congratulations to Kandice Chuh, who was recently elected President of the American Studies Association!

Read the full list of newly-elected officials here.

Professor Chuh, who co-taught one of the fall 2015 Futures Initiative courses, “Encountering Cuba,” with Professor Sujatha Fernandes, has generously granted us permission to repost her statement from the American Studies Association election booklet. The statement offers a gorgeous meditation on the contemporary possibilities for education in a moment of widespread injustice and inequality and issues a call for thinking pedagogically about “the inextricable connection among institutionality, history, power, knowledge, learning, and desire.”

Reposted from the American Studies Association Election Booklet 2016
Statement by Kandice Chuh

As I write this statement, college students across and outside of the United States march in protest against the debilitating debt burden imposed on them at the same time that higher education is presented as the only viable option to a successful life. Like students have had to so many times throughout the history of education in the United States, they again protest the thoroughgoing structural inhospitability of colleges and universities to black people and black intellectual traditions; and, they organize for redress of sexual violence and gendered inequality and the ways that that inequality shapes the possibilities of thriving in the academy. Too, as I write, I recall the ongoing resistance to the “common core” adjustments compulsorily organizing K-12 curricula and the demands of parents and teachers to reverse the course of the de-funding of public education across the country. As I write, close to mind is the regularity with which schools, from elementary to university level, are sites of gun violence, so much so that reports of campus shootings these days fall quickly out of circulation as top news stories. As I write, I’m thinking of the ways that “academic freedom” is now so familiarly an explicit battleground for students and faculty members who address inequality and injustice through the critical idioms and intellectual traditions of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, sexuality, and anti-racism. As I write, the struggles over wages and contracts, not only of teachers but of the “blue collar” workers who literally keep the buildings and institutions of education viable sites of research and teaching, commingle in my thoughts with recognition of the affective labor characterizing educational institutions – more specifically, of the differential distribution of both kinds of labor and the demands for them along the intersecting axes of race, gender, sexuality, and other categories of sociopolitical identity. For some years now, the ASA has fostered and showcased some of the most vibrant work illuminating and critiquing, theorizing and teaching, and organizing and engaging in, these currents of theory and praxis that collectively remind us of the embeddedness of education broadly and the university in specific, within the social field.

I would bring to my work as president of this association heightened awareness of and emphasis on these critical streams that insist that we understand the university as at once a social, historical, political, cultural, and economic formation. In my view, such an understanding complicates the rhetoric of crisis and defense by which the contemporary state of education is so regularly cast. Instead of relying on these as keywords of analysis, we might more generatively turn toward confronting the histories as well as emerging forms of anti-black racism and indigenous dispossession in the evolution and sustenance of the U.S. academy; toward accounting for the historic as well as contemporary role of colleges and universities in the reproduction of social/material inequality as a facet of capital accumulation for select groups; toward critically acknowledging the organizing philosophies and principles of the modern university as steeped in the humanism that both required and proliferated racial, sexual, and colonial difference; toward critiquing the nationalist ideologies that subtended the establishment of the public university system in the United States and elsewhere; toward illuminating the contributions, both overt and unintended, of academic knowledge production to the technologies of war characterizing the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; and toward highlighting the contributions, both overt and unintended, of the production of the ignorance that disavows these complex and contradictory histories and conditions. I invoke these thick and complicated histories to acknowledge and emphasize a horizon of praxis for the ASA that lies well beyond, even as it is inscribed in and addressed by, the academy. In what ways is our work always already facilitated by conditions of possibility – e.g., racial capitalism, neoliberalism, environmental devastation, heteronormativity, settler colonialism – that cannot be understood as operating or generated primarily within the confines of the academy? What insights into the current conjuncture and the possibilities of its transformation result from problematizing the achievement of college education as a seemingly unquestionable societal ideal? How did that ideal come to have such great traction and durability, and how is it lived, by whom, and with what effects?

That such questions encourage attention to institutionalized forms of knowledge production in their relation to social reproduction reflects to large extent not only my engagement with current scholarship and conditions, but also my sideways and somewhat belated entry to the field of American studies. I came to it only after having been convinced of its difference (perjoratively inflected) from the ethnic studies – specifically Asian American studies – traditions that characterized my graduate education. More precisely, I came to American studies through then ASA president Mary Helen Washington, who was my colleague at the University of Maryland where I taught for many years, and who appointed me to the annual meeting program committee and a task force on the relationship of the association to ethnic studies scholars and programs. This was fairly proximate to my arrival at the University of Maryland as a beginning assistant professor, and for a variety of reasons, it hardly seemed possible to decline her invitations to participate in the association in those ways. Sau-ling Wong, Shawn Wong, Elaine Kim, King-kok Cheung, Lisa Lowe, Dana Takagi, alongside Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw, Gloria Anzaldua, Edward Said, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, Donna Haraway, Stuart Hall, James Clifford, and a host of others in addition to Mary Helen Washington: it was and is through the work of such distinctive and nonequivalent writers and thinkers who are associated with ethnic studies, postcolonial studies, women of color feminism, and queer theorizing that I enter(ed) American studies.

I make note of this itinerary in this context to observe that now, the ASA is recognizably, brilliantly, a place made by and for those who entered sideways and belatedly; that the work – the intellectual, embodied, collaborative, affective labor – that (re)made the ASA into its current iteration has persistently insisted on attending to the politics and material lives of knowledge in the course of the production of knowledge. What can be asked and studied, and by whom and how? How does “America” figure as an object of knowledge, culture, and politics both proximate and global, and what stakes, desires, and aesthetics underwrite and circulate through its various figurations? In what ways does “America” require attention to relationality in order to apprehend its distinctiveness as well as its entanglements with other sites and terms? Or attention to the limitations of disciplinary paradigms and the other classificatory modes that are the legacies of liberal modernity? How and why have the meanings of “America” shifted? How is it that the epistemologies of the sideways and belated have become so central?

At the core of the emphases and concerns I’ve been describing lies a defining attachment to pedagogy as a term and concept that refers to the production of both hegemonic common sense and the uncommon sensibilities that variously contest, mock, and/or operate in radical difference from the hegemonic. Pedagogy in this usage refers to the inextricable connection among institutionality, history, power, knowledge, learning, and desire. It refers to how individuals experience ourselves as such, and how we come to imagine and inhabit collective belonging and responsibility, and how we come to apprehend and evaluate labor and pleasure, suffering and potentiality. Pedagogy keys us into the historicity of affect, the social nature of seemingly individual feeling; it points to how and whom – what persons, groups, and ideas – we learn to love and hate, to fear and admire, and asks us to take notice of what groups and systems benefit from and are disadvantaged by such training. Pedagogy is also “about” deep pleasure and possibility: as when conferences and classrooms facilitate occasions for collectively thinking hard through a problem and the group-based joy that results; as when an issue is thrown into relief as a result of intensive engagement and the capaciousness accompanying genuine learning follows; as when informal, casual conversations often with those without formal relationships to the academy, provides an idea, an insight, that cuts through a knotty question and thinking is consequently invigorated; as when curricular transformation in fact transforms the prospects of reimagining the world, a world, and creativity flows; as when there is encounter with the unfamiliar coupled with humility and the possibility of transformation becomes real; as when individual ego is bracketed in favor of attending to a project bigger than one’s self and the burden of the personal is gloriously lifted. These are iterations of the pedagogical sensibilities that are central to my way of being a scholar, a teacher, a colleague, and a member of the ASA. They are, finally, the sensibilities that I would bring to the ASA presidency, in small reciprocity for the pleasures and possibilities that the ASA has afforded the sideways and belated.

I speak in terms of sensibilities and emphases rather than describing a specific agenda because the practical work – of the thematic focus of the annual meeting, of the National Council and the committees and caucuses and other groups of the ASA, of the extraordinarily committed administrative staff, of its diverse-in-every-way members – must unfold in concert with these cohorts. What I can promise is that I will do my best as president of the ASA to maintain as its center of gravity politically engaged creative and critical activities oriented toward the illumination and address of the intimate relationship between our work and the social totality. The ASA has become a site where that which cannot be said or asked elsewhere is explicitly welcome. I would be enormously honored to be able to contribute to sustaining and amplifying its function as such as president of the ASA.

Thank you for your consideration, truly.