“Making Critical Theory Great Again: Frankfurt School and Socialization,” Association of Political Theory (APT), Ann Arbour, MI.
“Making Critical Theory Great Again: Frankfurt School and Socialization,” Association of Political Theory (APT), Ann Arbour, MI.
“Delimited Consent: Understanding Settler Colonial Strategies of Recognition, Reconciliation, and Consultation” Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA), Ryerson University, Toronto, ON
In the early-20th century, theorists associated with the Frankfurt School incorporated Marxist emancipatory ideals and Freudian psychoanalytic theory to develop a research program centering on how patriarchal childhood socialization could produce subjects, and therefore a public, disposed to support authoritarianism, fascism, and empire. This first generation of critical theorists viewed the formative experiences of childhood as key to understanding the rise of violent, racist political movements and institutions. As Theodore Adorno lamented, “In fascism the nightmare of childhood has come true”. In this paper, I examine what led subsequent generations of critical theorists to abandon a focus on childhood and socialization and why, in the present context of political crisis, normative theory would benefit from critical analyses of children’s agency and experience. I begin by identifying and exploring three key influences on postwar critical theory: (a) the erasure of childhood agency prevalent in most psychoanalytic frameworks; (b) the priority granted to adult deliberative agency in American traditions of liberalism and rationalism, and (c) the reaction of normative theorists to the emergence of positivist and behaviourist approaches in political science. I proceed through an explanation of how these pressures encouraged political theorists to abandon children to fields such as developmental psychology, returning only when psychologists confirmed adulthood and capacities for abstract reason as the pinnacle stage of moral agency. I argue that to the extent that critical theory and normative political theory more generally return to childhood in ways that affirm childhood agency and assert a more balanced prioritization of adult and childhood agency, theorists will produce a more accurate and serviceable analysis of authoritarian currents in contemporary politics. This shift can be facilitated initially through an engagement with vigorous critiques of psychoanalysis and developmental psychology coming out of critical childhood studies as well as the history, sociology, and geographies of childhood.
“Young Thugs: Childhood, Criminality, and the Denial of Black and Native Agency,” Western Political Science Association (WPSA), Vancouver, BC.
Ninth Biennial Conference of the Society for the History of Children and Youth (SHCY), Rutgers University Camden, New Jersey.
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
Among the distinct features constituting settler colonialism we can identify the dispossession of Indigenous peoples of their lands, a correlative assertion of settler sovereignty over the land, and the moral imperative of economic exploitation of land. I have argued elsewhere that colonial dispossession in the New World context was organized around the categorization of Indigenous peoples as perpetual children (Rollo 2016) rather than the elimination of Indigenous peoples (Wolfe 2006). European doctrines of discovery, terra nullius, and Manifest Destiny were predicated on the idea that minors, and by extension Indigenous peoples who are legally and politically situated as minors, are precluded from making recognizable claims to political agency or territorial jurisdiction. In the following I argue that justifications for the two other aspects of settler colonialism, economic exploitation and political authority, are premised on the relegation of land to the domestic sphere of household and economy. This depoliticization of Indigeneity through domestication transmutes Indigenous land into private property, the protection and use of which requires a corollary assertion of political sovereignty.
I argue further that settler colonial depoliticization is not static and has shifted as new interpretations of the political/domestic divide emerge historically. As workers, women, and people of colour liberated themselves from economic necessity to be included in a political realm defined by the use of autonomous reason, settler colonial institutions could no longer be sustained by narratives of natural sexual, racial, or class subornation. In the early 20th century, then, justifications of the settler colonial political economy were conceptually organized around the sole remaining occupant of the non-political domestic sphere, the child, and the sole remaining function of the domestic sphere, civilization out of domestic subordination through education. Whereas early settler colonial depoliticization involved Christian ideals of spiritual progress realized through a lifetime of physical labour cultivating the land, in the contemporary context it is sustained by Enlightenment ideals of civilizational progress realized through intellectual labour toward active citizenship and private ownership of land. I conclude that Indigenous anti-colonial resistance therefore involves a repoliticization of that which has been depoliticized, rejecting in both theory and practice the relegation of children to a degraded apolitical status, as well as any naturalized distinction between political and economic, intellectual and practical, normativity and land.
I argue in this paper that the violence of black slavery and its afterlife in modern antiblackness are a function of western misopedy, or a deep enmity toward children and childhood based on the child’s lack of speech and reason. Almost without exception, western intellectual traditions have situated the child as a link between the animal and human and, accordingly, as the degraded object of naturalized violence, subordination, and labour. In the early modern period, chattel slavery of African people came to be understood as both natural and obligatory through their conceptualization as dependant, querulous children. Black skin became a visible and permanent marker of civilizational childhood, the source of black experiences of natal alienation and social death. Although black peoples have been granted formal legal equality, black skin is still experienced by white society as a paternal call to impose order and discipline through force.
In the early 20th century, in an effort to spare white youth from the imperatives of misopedic violence, but also from an association with the undignified condition of the “child races,” white children came to be extended the presumption of innocence traditionally reserved for white adults. In effect, under the rubric of child protection and child welfare, white youth were partially rescued from the misopedic order through their qualified legal and political reconceptualization as adults. Liberatory movements were then compelled to affirm rather than challenge the misopedic order, as black people struggled to prove their humanity and capacities for political agency by demonstrating that they, too, are capable of cultivating adult capacities for speech and reason. I conclude that theoretical contributions to abolition and decolonization must include fundamental challenges not just to racial discourses but to their sources, both material and conceptual, in the violent degradation of children and childhood. Challenges to settler colonial whiteness require a rethinking of how we privilege speech and reason in our conceptions of both the political and the human.
2016. “Democracy, Agency, and Radical Children’s Geographies,” in The Practice of Freedom: Anarchism, Geography, and the Spirit of Revolt Volume 3, eds. Richard J. White, Simon Springer and Marcelo Lopes de Souza (Washington: Rowman and Littlefield) (forthcoming).
“Feral Children: Settler Colonialism, Progress and the Figure of the Child” in Settler Colonial Studies
Settler colonialism is structured in part according to the principle of civilizational progress yet the roots of this doctrine are not well understood. Disparate ideas of progress and practices related to colonial dispossession and domination can be traced back to the Enlightenment, and as far back as ancient Greece, but there remain unexplored logics and continuities. I argue that civilizational progress and settler colonialism are structured according to the opposition between politics governed by reason or faith and the figure of the child as sinful or bestial. Thus, it is not contingent, but rather necessary that justificatory frameworks of European empire and colonialism depict Indigenous peoples as children. To illustrate how the theoretical link between Indigenous peoples and children emerges not as a simple analogy, but rather, as the source of the premodern/modern and savage/civilized binaries, I trace the various historical iterations of the political/childhood opposition through the classical, medieval, enlightenment, and modern eras. I show how the model of civilizational progress from a premodern and savage state of childhood continues to serve as the model for settler colonial exclusion and domination of Indigenous peoples.
So you want to work in solidarity with black and Indigenous peoples. Well, here are a few things you should know but probably haven’t considered.
First, black and Indigenous peoples aren’t homogeneous. They do not hold monolithic perspectives on any issue. There is deep disagreement within these communities. You cannot and should not adjudicate between them. However, you cannot and should not use disagreement as an excuse to avoid accountability. Like it or not, you’re going to have to make some tough choices.
If you thought you could get away with ducking disagreements and fetching coffee, you’re in for a big surprise. Working in solidarity means being accountable, and you are only accountable insofar as you do work – intellectual or physical – for which you can be held to account.
Likewise, if you thought you could simply coast by asking questions and playing the role of student, you’re in for a shock. Working in solidarity means not relying on the labour of black and Indigenous communities to educate you. You will be told that your education is your responsibility.
You are also in for a catastrophic revelation if you thought you are going to be a good ally by being a cheerleader, supporting and amplifying voices at every turn – because there is no single voice. You’re going to have to make choices. Some black and Indigenous peoples embrace capitalism and assimilation into white settler society. Some black and Indigenous peoples reject capitalism and embrace nationhood and sovereignty. Amplifying one perspective means you will be held to account by those who do not hold that perspective. Shifting your support from perspective to perspective makes you look less like an ally and more like an opportunist. Like it or not, working in solidarity means making choices about who you’re working with and sticking to them.
That said, you are nevertheless accountable to all of the distinct and often conflicting voices, so be prepared to explain yourself. Also, be prepared to have those explanations rejected by some and accepted by others. Expect to be accused of talking over and for others. Expect to be accused of being terrible by some and merely good by others. Expect to be told to sit down and shut up and the same time as others tell you to stand up and speak. But remember: these are all reasonable and appropriate responses to your participation. You’re an outsider.
You may be tempted to invoke the names of the black and Indigenous peoples who support you to shield yourself from the inevitable criticism. You do not have a right to do this. Nor should you expect that black and Indigenous peoples who support you privately are going to exacerbate their community’s already existing disagreements by feuding over the work of some white settler. You are alone.
Which brings me to the final consideration. Doing your best work means taking advantage of your talents, privilege, and position within dominant society to change dominant society. Often your most effective work will be in your most intimate relationships where no black and Indigenous people will be present to guide you. Here you will only be accountable to yourself.
So let’s summarize. To work in solidarity is to be accountable, which means you cannot avoid the inevitable disagreements within black and Indigenous communities. Insofar as you remain silent, refusing to stake out and work toward a goal, you are avoiding accountability. Because there are conflicting perspectives within these communities, you are going to have to make tough choices. That said you are accountable (i.e., you must be ready to provide an account) to anyone and everyone in that group, not just those who support you. You cannot use your supporters to defend yourself. You are responsible for your own education. You are responsible for your relationships.