A posthumous honor for author Randy Martin

This week in North Philly Notes, we reprint Jeffrey A. Halley and Patrick Hebert’s comments honoring the late Randy Martin, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marxist section of the American Sociological Association.

On behalf of the Marxist section, and its Lifetime Achievement Award Committee (with Art Jipson and Rich Hogan) it is with great pleasure that we present this year’s Award to Randy Martin. Many of you knew Randy and are familiar with his work and contributions. Randy unfortunately passed away this winter, after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 57, Professor and Chair of Art, Society and Public Policy, Director, Graduate Program in Arts Politics, at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and in his time he accomplished many things.

I met Randy in New York when he was at CUNY Graduate Center finishing his Ph. D. thesis.  Later in the 1980s we both worked together on the journal Social Text. His B.A. was from UC –Berkeley, where he studied Michael Burawoy, who had recently joined the faculty. For his M.S. Randy then studied at Wisconsin with Eric Olin Wright, and was active in the graduate students’ strike.  A Marxist scholar and also a dancer, he came to New York to dance and to study with Mike Brown and George Fisher at CUNY.

His research can be divided a bit arbitrarily into a number of overlapping categories:

Works on Marxism include:

Books critiquing the neo-liberal university include:

Randy might be best known for his pioneering work on neo-liberalism and financialization, in Financialization of Daily Life and in An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management.  And he had just completed Knowledge, LTD: Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative, published posthumously in spring 2015.

Finally, he worked at the confluence of politics and culture, more specifically, dance and culture, in his Performance as Political Act: The Embodied Self; Socialist Ensembles: Theater and State in Cuba and Nicaragua; Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics; and the edited Routledge Companion to Art and Politics.

Randy was also an institution builder, as editor of journals, serving on the board of directors of the New York Marxist School, as Chair and acting Dean at Pratt Institute, and finally at New York University, where he was Chair, Professor of Art, Society, and Public Policy, and Founding Director of the Graduate Program in Arts Politics, Tisch School of the Arts.

Randy combined Marxist scholarship, organizational commitment, and a magnetic presence as teacher.

We are honored to confer this award on him.  To receive it, I want to introduce his colleague Pato Hebert from New York University.

Patrick Hebert:

It’s an honor to accept this award on behalf of Randy’s brilliant wife Ginger and his wonderful children Oliver and Sophia, and to represent my colleagues and our alumni in the Art & Public Policy Department at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. Randy ingeniously envisioned, built and chaired our department, and so it is also he whom I have the privilege and challenge of representing tonight.

Although I am honored to be here, I am also deeply saddened to be with you. I so wish it were Randy’s probing, punning, imploring, prancing presence that was before you now. Back home at the department we will soon be embarking on our first new school year without our gentle but fierce leader. This beginning anew in the space of loss will not be easy. Randy was as gifted as he was gracious, and he always made time for everyone even as he shepherded countless book projects, panels, formations and initiatives.

I miss him. He took a chance on me three years ago and made room and resources for my strange, amoebic practice, guiding, pushing and supporting me along with hundreds upon hundreds of others — colleagues, students, strangers, you, our world, the under-commons. Randy was incomparable. At his services last spring were shared many heavy hearts, but mostly endless currents of gratitude, admiration, awe and delight. People still speak continuously of Randy’s kindness, warmth, generosity, his catalytic creativity, principled yet supple politics, and his devastating intellectual acumen. I miss this marvelous mind and spirit, his energy and example. Every day.

But although I am still so full of sorrow, I am also thrilled to be here with you, his comrades, a most special crew among his many magical worlds. I am buoyed by the work that you and Randy have done, or will do, helping us to better understand how we are so interconnected with one another, the messy and sacred intricacies of the social, which here is to also say the political, and the still to be determined. Randy deserved to stand before you tonight, receiving this award and the recognition he has so rightfully earned but would no doubt so modestly deflect. He cannot be with us in the flesh now, but his spirit and wisdom are everywhere. No more committee meetings, deadlines, bureaucracies or brain cancer, just a legacy as lithe as it is large.

I, myself, am just beginning to dip more fully into the work and pathways Randy Martin has left for us. Randy’s dexterity and agility were astonishing. He was able to write incisively about academic administration, progressive dance and financial derivatives with equal grace and grit. He used to tell our students that they were working to create a GPS for a world that does not yet exist, but that they would bring into being through their work and efforts. Conjuring the pulsing plurality of our needed response, he reminded us all that we share not a practice, but a predicament. The predicament of this moment, as well as our communal possibility.

Given this special collective assembled here tonight, I thought I would close with some of Randy’s own words from his article, “Marxism after Cultural Studies,” published in 2008 as the financial crisis crested. Given the market’s bungee jumping the last few weeks, I can’t help but wonder what Randy would’ve analyzed and intuited. But here is what he wrote so presciently some seven years ago:

Financialization is more about technique than idea, more effect than intention, less a consensus than a dispersion of consequences. As such, it is less coherent than a ruling idea and pricklier than a regime whose time can pass. It does not replace these other terms for naming what we are up against, but nestles among them. It surely cannot account for all that transpires in the present, but does insist upon reconciling the vast complexity in our midst through some means of accountability.

Finance culturalizes risk by rendering it a calculable gain from an expected outcome. Risk spreads the culture of accountability and as such forms a way of knowing or epistemological conjuncture that both cuts across disciplines and renders those claims to methodological monogamy mute.

Risk suggests more than an attack on traditional partitions of specialized knowledge and expertise. It also invites another figuration of being.

By examining financial reason ‘manifest as risk management’ across an array of sites from war, to domesticity, to education, a richer trajectory for Marxism and cultural studies can itself be more readily imagined. For Marxism to now emerge as the unrepresentable within cultural studies does not demand a return to the classical formulations with their prior stabilities and separations. Rather, this Marxism makes room for the cultural as it manifests and multiplies in those spaces and affects that capital lives off of but remains indifferent to. This Marxism is also a cultural studies, but one that asks what life we lead together when all that concerns us can be placed at risk. It allows us to pose the question of value, including that of our own theoretical labors, when these would be denied both a history and a futurity. From the little difference that we make can be derived a field of studies to survive and even thrive these pre-criminal crises.



A Blueprint for the Possible

This week in North Philly Notes, Bill V. Mullen, author of Un-Americanwrites about the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois. 

Un-American was inspired by calls for social justice. In 2012, after the shooting death of Travyon Martin by George Zimmerman, a group of Chicago youth created the group “We Charge Genocide” to document police shootings of African-Americans in the city: http://wechargegenocide.org/about/. The group took its name from the 1951 petition to the United Nations, “We Charge Genocide,” co-signed by W.E.B. Du Bois. In it, Du Bois, William Patterson, Claudia Jones, Charlotta Bass, Paul Robeson, and a host of Black radicals accused the United States of state-sanctioned mass killings of African Americans. The petition was the first ever presented to an international body linking judicial killings in the U.S. to American imperialism abroad. It sutured American state violence at home to the dropping of atomic bombs overseas and the U.S. occupation of foreign lands. It called for a stop to both, and demanded that the United Nations recognize the historical grievances of African Americans as a problem demanding a global response.  Its subtitle might have been, “No Justice, No Peace.”
SoulsBlackFolksThe historical memory of Dr. Du Bois as an instigator and agitator of world-historical change is one Un-American seeks to resurrect and reconstruct. Too often, the W.E.B. presented in high school and University classrooms and in public commemoration is a genteel Dean of African American letters, an avuncular “race man” whose career is often reduced to sound bite-size passages from The Souls of Black Folk on “double consciousness,” his political thought caricatured as the frowning narrative of a village elder who drifted from civil rights dedication to blind advocate for socialism.

American exceptionalism, anti-Communism, and the Cold War have much to do with this misremembering and misrepresentation. Du Bois’s books were removed from shelves during the 1950s and 1960s owing to his statements of support for revolutions in China and the Soviet Union. Close friends, Black and White, abandon Du Bois late in life when he refused to denounce Stalin’s crimes, and continued to criticize the U.S. government as what Martin Luther King, Jr. would later call the “greatest purveyor of violence” in the modern world.

Un-American argues that remembering Dr. Du Bois accurately, and fully, requires remembering him as the rest of the world saw him and knew him. Because of his radical political commitments, Du Bois’s stature as a public intellectual and global figure rose outside the United States in inverse proportion to his shaming and blacklisting at home. Not just in the Communist world he himself embraced, but across Africa, Asia, and Europe, Du Bois by the end of his life was something like the Muhammad Ali of African American intellectuals of his time. His global reputation for international support for anti-colonial struggles, for the struggles of working-class people, for his criticism of imperialisms in all forms, also paved the way for world-wide recognition of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers who were themselves inspired by Du Bois’s global political and intellectual reach. Indeed, Du Bois was a transnational globe-trotting voice for change throughout his life, from his first, trip to Berlin as a student in 1892, to his death in Ghana in 1963.

Un-American_smUn-American then seeks to remember the “worldly” Du Bois whose embrace of and support for what the Communist International called “world revolution” is the most important vector of his political life and legacy. Recognizing this Du Bois means leaving behind not just provincial, nationalist frameworks for analysis, but appreciating the “scholar-activism” Du Bois himself set for himself as the highest bar of achievement. Put another way, writing a book about Du Bois in 2015 demands thinking through the warp and woof of theory and practice as it relates to building social movements, constructing international solidarity, conjuring transnational affiliation. It means engaging honestly and critically with the best and worst of revolutions made in the name of justice across the world in the last century, mindful of Walter Benjamin’s caution that “progress” can be both an excuse and a euphemism for brutality.

At the end of his life it was Du Bois the advocate for peace, for economic equality, for popular sovereignty, for universal health care, for women’s emancipation, for decolonization, for workers’ rights, for a nuclear-free world, that the planet grieved for in his passing. Un-American seeks to recreate a memory of that Du Bois as a way of mobilizing it and him for our own present and future.  As a current generation struggles against the same forces of police violence and racism the impelled Du Bois forward more than 70 years ago, we do well to remember that the long arc of his life and career bent not just toward justice but to political and social revolution. His life remains a blueprint for the possible.

Aging Out of Retirement Communities?

This week in North Philly Notes, Brittany Bramlett, author of Senior Power or Senior Peril, writes about how senior retirement communities in Florida—and around the country—are in peril in the light of changing economics.

The Villages is an expansive retirement community with age restrictions in place. Grandchildren can visit but not for extended periods of time. I visited The Villages in 2010 as part of the field research for my book, Senior Power or Senior Peril, I found a lively retirement community with golf carts galore. The thousands of homes in The Villages surround impeccably maintained Town Centers. Residents have the freedom and time to devote to the hundreds of social clubs available.

But, things are different for the neighboring community of Tavares, Florida. Here is an excerpt from my field notes from Tuesday, September 28th, 2010:

Bramlett_v2_042814.indd“As I leave the Villages, I leave the beautiful, developed neighborhoods of Sumter County.  On my drive to my hotel, the scene is different. Gone are the golf courses and perfectly maintained grassy areas. Instead, I pass by a lot of older homes, some prefab homes and trailers.  I see a number of Dollar Generals on my drive and a lot of car dealerships. There aren’t many, if any, restaurants or stores that look new.  I don’t see coffee shops or upscale shopping. This area appears to be a community of people struggling economically. And, developers have not been recently attracted outside of The Villages.”

There will probably always be retirement communities like The Villages, but these gated communities may be increasingly out of reach for the next generation of older Americans.

According to the Pew Research Center, “by 2022, the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] projects that 31.9% of those ages 65 to 74 will still be working. That compares with 20.4% of the same age bracket in the workforce in 2002 and 26.8% who were in the workforce in 2012.”

The rate of older adults in the workforce is rising. And, projections indicate that this trend will continue. The Pew Research Center notes the trend and suggests a number of reasons for the graying workforce. One explanation centers on economic hardship faced by senior citizens as a result of the Great Recession.

With trends like this, there will probably be less people moving to places like The Villages in Florida. These changes will certainly have implications for aged communities. First, more people will age in place, which means new aged communities (without amenities) developing all over the country. Second, places like Tavares might benefit from the increased presence of older adults living and working in their communities.

Places with concentrations of older adults will probably always vary in important ways, economically, politically, and culturally. In Senior Power or Senior Peril, I examine aged communities at length. Older residents in aged communities have greater political knowledge than older people living elsewhere and tend to support safety net policies to a greater degree. These places are fascinating for understanding group dynamics and homogeneous communities. Surely, they will continue to be places that draw our attention as their citizens and governments respond to demographic as well as economic and political forces.

Ordinary Poverty: A Little Food and Cold Storage Blog

Temple University Press author William DiFazio (Ordinary Poverty) addresses the inequalities of current economic crisis in this blog entry

1674_reg“I ain’t got no boom,” a young, new mother responded to my question on how she was doing as a result of the economic boom of the Clinton years. As I described in Ordinary Poverty the economic boom of the 1990’s had bypassed the poor in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and the United States. We now know that the economic bubbles of 2000 and 2007 would burst and the “new economy” would never really happen, it was a fiction, the economists and finance capitalists were wrong and now instead of endless prosperity we have a world crisis in capitalism and the whole country has “no boom.”

While the President and his cabinet focus on bailing out the banks and the auto industry the massive inequality in the United States is ignored. Like the Titanic the captains of the economy ignore the iceberg of inequality and the number of poor locked in steerage is swelling as more and more middle class people join them destined to sink with the economy. This inequality is an important cause of the current crisis in capitalism; 70% of the US economy is based on shopping but Americans cannot consume as they did in the past because for almost forty years wages haven’t kept up with prices even with the supposedly low inflation rates and only massive debt gave them the appearance of still being middle class. With credit closed to the middle classes more of them are becoming poor, Ordinary Poverty is now about them as well. The supposedly “lazy” poor also worked harder at lower and lower wages, including people on welfare. They are forced to cheat because the welfare grant is insufficient for the poor to live on. The welfare grant in New York State for the last eighteen years is $291 per month for a family of three; though Governor Paterson has proposed a 10% increase the first in almost two decades but it’s too little too late. The current crisis in capitalism has made the lives of the poor more difficult as soup kitchens and food pantries are increasingly overwhelmed by an increasing client base. St. John’s Bread & Life, where much of Ordinary Poverty takes place is feeding almost 1,300 people a day and has a rotating, monthly clientele in its food pantry of 15,000 people. Thus, as more and more people show up for meals and donations decline St. John’s Bread & Life is increasingly in debt. The homeless population is exploding, moving into tent cities, like the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression and in RV’s, once recreational vehicles for a summer vacation are now permanent housing for people who once were middle class. These newly poor are college educated, newly unemployed or underemployed many who of them have walked away from their foreclosed houses.

As the crises escalated the first African American President was finally elected but President Obama as he spends trillions of dollars trying to bail out the banks, AIG and the automobile industry, barely has an extra dollar to spend on the poor. He also acts as if the growing inequality of the last forty years has had no part in this crisis. After all, since Moynihan wrote The Negro Family Study, in 1965 and he explained that poverty was a racial and psychological problem, the result of the “tangle of pathology” of the deteriorating Negro family structure and that it was not the result of the failures of American capitalism to provide jobs with above poverty wages to tens of millions of American workers. Of course, now we know that Moynihan was wrong though he served as the source of conservative ideology on poverty. In reality welfare was a cheap solution to the labor force problems in the United States and legitimated the refusal of corporations to pay higher wages. Instead it replaced workers with technology and by shipping jobs to developing countries where non-union workers were paid the lowest wages and given no benefits. For American workers instead of higher wages, credit cards and debt were exchanged for an imagined higher standard of living. If the labor market inequality that has plagued the poor, the working and middle classes was taken seriously by President Obama, Citibank, AIG, Bank of America and General Motors who have been bailed out by the government would not be allowed to lay-off workers or cut wages and benefits. Instead, both the corporate and government solution is to save business by firing workers and cutting the wages of those who still have their jobs. If they really understood the place of inequality in all of this they would raise wages and benefits so that a real economic stimulus would be accomplished. Instead, Obama’s economic experts Geithner and Summers increase inequality because wages cannot be raised, yet they want consumers to spend as if wages don’t matter which just increases their debt and causing more and more poverty, does. These once middle class people now show up at soup kitchens and food pantries. Obama’s solutions are just the newest version of Finance capital’s mantra that the financial profits of the rich are based on the increased debt of ordinary people. As a result of the continuation of capitalism real politics, dressed up with Obama’s “Yes we can,” ideology and with no real change results in more and more middle and working class people sinking into poverty, which continues to become evermore ordinary and now they too have only “a little food and cold storage.”


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