Dom Taylor,

Liaison librarian, University of Manitoba

CAPAL 2019

Identity,

capitalism,

& critical

librarianship

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Three Questions

1

Given the important role of identity in successful left movements from the 1960s+, how and why is it now often co-opted for non-left projects (i.e., centrist, technocratic, right, and/or neoliberal)?

2

3

How is it possible to use this concept in a manner that is less likely to be co-opted?

What is the role of critical librarianship in making this possibility explicit?

Pre-1960s

Identity is self-sameness or "numerical identity" (Moran, 2015). Still used in philosophy, logics, maths. Intended as an abstract rather than substantive concept.

A=A, A≠~A

Issues and concepts  now discussed using the frame of "identity" existed but were deployed using categories like personhood, legal responsibility, and race (Moran 2015).

in brief

Identity 

Moran (2015): "[I]dentity is a classificatory device, that classifies according to what is considered essential to a particular person, type of person, or group" (50 emphasis mine).

 

 

Group identity emerges out of the failure of supposedly "universalistic democratic principles" of liberalism and the waning influence of labour (Moran, 2015, p. 104-107; Losurdo, 2014). It develops along side the "crisis of identity" (Moran, 2015).

1960's

Identity is partially co-opted

Identities are more easily abstracted from the totality of social relations either as commodities or transhistorical/transcendent objects.

 

Thus, in this myopic+essentialist sense, Theresa May can refer to herself as a feminist.

Neoliberalisation

of the individual + rising consumerism  

Intermingling of personal identity + group identity (Wendy Brown, 2015; Lisa Duggan, 2003; Moran, 2015)

Provides an entry point for critique towards an articulation of identity that is re-embed within the context of socio-historical relations.

 

Example: many mainstream publications argued that Gina Haspel's appointment was not in fact "feminist" act (e.g., Vox and New York Times)

How is it possible to use this concept in a manner that is

less likely to be co-opted?

Frantz Fanon's use of Hegelian dialectics is key to conceptually articulating identity in a manner that resists fetishization.

A=A only in relation to ~A (e.g., B-Z).

A and ~A are mutually constitutive.

So, A is A, but also ~A, in that it is defined by ~A.

A=A is a contradiction that must be affirmed alongside A=~A.

 

Fanon and Hegel: mutual recognition of our relationality/contradiction is necessary for freedom and equality.

Mutual recognition is foreclosed by the creation of racial identity.

 

Fanon describes this as fetishization and "alienation" (1952/2008, p.192).

 

Race prevents becoming conscious of "[t]he I that is we and the we that is I." (Hegel, 1807/2017, par. 177)

Fanon and Race

Karen E. Fields & Barbara J. Fields (2014) argue that oppression, violent domination, legislative and economic exploitation precede racism, which itself precedes 'race'.

Development of race 

They place 'race' within socio-historical relations to highlight the obscene, abstract, yet all-to-real, ideology of racism: "racecraft." (p.18).

Fanonian identity

The negativity of this imposed racial identity must be embraced and used to force recognition, challenge alienation, and move towards a world of "reciprocal recognitions" (1952/2007, p. 103).

Identity in this sense is deployed dialectically/relationally to create a more reciprocal world rather than one of simply better representation of essentialist identities. (Fanon, 1952/2007; Peter Hudis, 2018).

Fanonian identity 

Fanonian identity, conceived dialectically and socio-historically, reduces the risk of identity fixation and/or fatalistic/transcendent conceptions of anti-identity oppression

 

 

Fanon was keenly aware of class, but emphasized race as an additional dimension of alienation, which must be tackled directly and not merely as epiphenomon of capitalism.  

 

 

In fact, identity thus conceived, mirrors class in being brought into the realm of the relational concepts.

AND CLASS

What about librarianship?

White practicality

David James Hudson shows how the “imperative to be practical” within librarianship is underwritten by individualism, white supremacy, and capitalism (2017, 205).

Such (white) practicality is naturalized within the horizon of "capitalist realism" or fatalism and acts as an implicit constraint on what possibilities are seemingly open to us (Mark Fisher, 2009, p.2).

This practicality is not natural, but a thoroughly constructed and normative moral project (Biebricher, 2018; Slobodian, 2018).

Part of critical librarianships' counter-project is to facilitate a consciousness of possibilities beyond capitalism that provide structural challenges to alienation, including alienation via identity.

Gesturing towards revolutionary CL

Articles and monographs only have content and any sense of authority based on interconnections with other sources of information (of all types).

Familiarity with this provides powerful perspective by which to challenge the structure of neoliberal capitalism.

Our efforts in teaching, cataloguing, scholarly communication, must both uncover dialectical relations for consciousness and put them in action.

This undermines the apparently self-evident principle of identity
(A=A, A≠~A).

When we see our own "librarian" identities dialectically, we may become more self-aware of the social relations underlying our "practical" constraints.

References

Biebricher, Thomas. The Political Theory of Neoliberalism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018.

 

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2008.

 

Fields, Karen E., and Barbara Jeanne Fields. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. London, UK: Verso, 2014.

 

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2009.

 

Getachew, Adom. Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019.

 

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by Terry Pinkard. 1807. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

 

Hennessy, Rosemary. Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism. Second Edition. New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.

 

Hudis, Peter. Frantz Fanon: Philosopher of the Barricades. Revolutionary Lives. London, UK: Pluto Press, 2015.

 

Hudis, Peter. “Racism and the Logic of Capital: A Fanonian Reconsideration.” Historical Materialism 26, no. 2 (2018): 199–220.

 

Hudson, David James. “The Whiteness of Practicality,” In Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, ed. Gina Schlesselman-Tarango. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2017.

 

Losurdo, Domenico. Liberalism: A Counter-History. Translated by Gregory Elliott. First paperback edition. London, UK: Verso, 2014.

 

Marx, Karl. “The Poverty of Philosophy” In Karl Marx: Selected Writings, edited by David McLellan, 2nd ed., 212-233. 1847. Oxford , UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.

 

Moran, Marie. Identity and Capitalism. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2015.

 

Rottenberg, Catherine. The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2018.

 

Slobodian, Quinn. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.

Identity, Capitalism, & Critical Librarianship

By Dom Taylor

Identity, Capitalism, & Critical Librarianship

CAPAL 2019 Presentation: June 2, 2019

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