Refusing Neoliberal Diversity Work in the Imperial University

Type: Virtual Panel
Theme: Disability Specialty Group Curated Track
Sponsor Groups: Black Geographies Specialty Group, Indigenous Peoples Specialty Group, Socialist and Critical Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 10
Organizers: David Seitz, William McKeithen
Chairs: David Seitz


Refusing Neoliberal Diversity Work in the Imperial University
Virtual Panel Session, AAG Annual Meeting 2021
Organized by Will McKeithen (University of Washington), David K. Seitz (Harvey Mudd College), and Farhang Rouhani (University of Mary Washington)

In October 2006 at the "Feminism and War" conference at Syracuse University, Black feminist and communist philosopher and organizer Angela Y. Davis (2008) warned that U.S. nationalist and imperialist uses of the term "diversity" have "colonized histories of social justice" and "promote a hidden individualization of problems and solutions that ought to be collective" (24). Challenging feminist complicity in the U.S.-led Global War on Terror, Davis argued that "'diversity' is a concept that provincializes the relationship of people within the U.S.A. to the world" (24).

Davis's insights draw on longer histories of internationalism and anti-imperialism in the Black radical tradition (Robinson 2000, Featherstone 2012), centrally including Black and transnational feminist critiques of nationalism, colonialism, and empire (Ransby 2003, Bloom and Martin 2012, Broeck and Bolaki 2015, Alexander 2015). Her words reverberate with critiques of the seductions of bourgeois nationalisms and imperialisms across a range of discrete and overlapping discourses, from feminist (Mohanty 2003, Farris 2017) to queer (Puar 2007) to Asian-American(ist) (Chuh 2003) to Latinx (Pulido 2006, Moraga 2011) to disabled (Snyder and Mitchell 2010, Schalk 2016), and with Indigenous refusals of settler colonial recognition (Simpson 2014, Coulthard 2014, Daigle 2019). Finally, Davis's critique proves salient in an era when Black and other "diverse" "faces in high places" (Taylor 2016) continue to be deployed to legitimate nationalist, colonialist, and imperialist institutions. The scholars noted in this CFP model modes of questioning and refusing the strategic use of "diversity" by institutions, including academic institutions, that continue to fail to meet the more-wide ranging and transformative demands of Black-led and Indigenous-led, abolitionist and anti-capitalist movements rising up worldwide (Bledsoe and Wright 2018).

Fifteen years after Davis's prescient warning, the U.S. media and much of mainstream academic discourse vacillate between a fixation on "internal" enemies (Black Lives Matter, immigrants, antifa) and flirtations with a new Cold War against China, as the U.S.-led Global War on/of Terror rages on, largely ignored (Pain 2010). Academic geography is not innocent here. Our discipline has a long history of service to imperial, nationalist, and colonial projects (e.g. Smith 2003, Schuurman and Pratt 2002), and it must be admitted that since the decolonization movements of the mid-20th century, these projects have been keen to enlist a "diverse" range of academic subjects on self-serving terms. Consider the AAG's recent and uncritical celebration of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose in many ways quite positive "domestic" civil rights legacy is complicated by his approval of drone killings in Yemen, mass surveillance, and prosecutions of an historic number of government whistleblowers and journalists, including Black whistleblowers (Democracy Now 2014, Intercepted 2019).

At the very same time as images of our "diverse" communities are used to manufacture consent for the U.S. empire, "diverse" geographers are disproportionately burdened with astonishingly high levels of unpaid service work, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color scholars, particularly precarious and junior scholars, often asked to do the most of all. The June 2020 statement of the Black Geographies Specialty Group Executive Committee and the September 2020 statement of the chairs of the Queer and Trans Geographies, Disability, Latinx Geographies, Black Geographies, and Indigenous Peoples' Specialty groups urgently underscore the uneven geographies of labor, resources, and power within the discipline itself.

Given these conditions and constraints, we envision this paper session as an important opportunity for differently positioned critical geographers to reckon with how U.S. imperialism, settler colonialism, and nationalism attempt to enframe and coopt our work through "diversity" and related terms, and to reflect on the large and small ways in which we can refuse that work and stay focused on the work that matters to us and the communities and movements to which we are accountable. We welcome a conversation addressing topics including but not limited to:

Black, Indigenous and other internationalisms
BDS and anti-apartheid movements
Transnational feminisms
Pinkwashing, femonationalism, homonationalism, ablenationalisms and related phenomena
"Greening" the military and ecological antiwar critiques
Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, queer and feminist socialisms, anarchisms, and antiwar movements
"Diversity" in military recruitment and the military-industrial complex
Anticolonial and decolonial traditions
Internal colonialisms, Black Power, Yellow Power, Red Power and the Young Lords as anti-colonial rebellions
Moving beyond "recognition vs. redistribution"
The "internationalist" visions of "domestic" social movements
Diversity work, overwork, burnout and the demands of institution-building
The simultaneous necessity and insufficiency of representation
Challenging attacks on ethnic studies and affirmative action
"Diverse" faces in high places and alternatives to imperial multiculturalism


Alexander, M. Jacqui. 2006. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bell, Derrick. 1989. And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice. New York: Basic Books.

Bledsoe, Adam and Willie Jamaal Wright. 2018. "The Anti-Blackness of Global Capital." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 37.1: 8-26.

Bloom, Joshua and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. 2012. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Broeck, Sabine and Stella Bolaki. 2015. Audre Lorde's Transnational Legacies. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Chatterjee, Piya and Sunaina Maira, eds. 2014. The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Chuh, Kandice. 2003. Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Coulthard, Glen Sean. 2014. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Cowen, Deborah and Nemoy Lewis. 2016. "Anti-Blackness and Urban Geopolitical Economy." Society and Space. 2 August.

Cowen, Deborah E. 2008. Military Workfare: The Soldier and Social Citizenship in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Daigle, Michelle. 2019. "The Spectacle of Reconciliation." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 37.4: 703-721.

Davis, Angela Y. 2008. "A Vocabulary for Feminist Praxis: On War and Radical Critique." In Feminism and War: Confronting U.S. Imperialism, edited by Robin L. Riley, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and Minnie Bruce Pratt, 19-26. New York: Zed Books.

Democracy Now. 2014. "Eric Holder's Complex Legacy: Voting Rights Advocate, Enemy of Press Freedom, Friend of Wall Street." Democracy Now. 26 September.

Estes, Nick. 2019. Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. New York: Verso.

Farris, Sara R. 2017. In the Name of Women's Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Featherstone, David. 2012. Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism. New York: Zed Books.

Fernández, Johanna. 2020. The Young Lords: A Radical History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Fraser, Nancy. 1997. Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the "Postsocialist" Condition. New York: Routledge.

Intercepted. 2019. "CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling's Life as an 'Unwanted Spy.'" Intercepted. 27 November.

Loyd, Jenna M. 2014. Health Rights Are Civil Rights: Peace and Justice Activism and Justice in Los Angeles, 1963-1978. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 2003. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Moraga, Cherríe L. 2011. A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2010. Durham, Nc: Duke University Press.

Pain, Rachel. 2010. "The New Geopolitics of Fear." Geography Compass 4.3: 224-240.

Puar, Jasbir K. 2007. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Pulido, Laura. 2006. Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ransby, Barbara. 2003. Ella Baker and the Black Radical Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Robinson, Cedric J. 2000. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Schalk, Sami. 2016. "Ablenationalism in American Girlhood." Girlhood Studies 9.1: 36-52.

Schein, Richard H., ed. 2002. "Race, Racism, and Geography." Special Section of The Professional Geographer. 54.1: 1-66.

Schuurman Nadine and Geraldine Pratt. 2002. "Care of the Subject: Feminism and Critiques of GIS." Gender, Place, and Culture 9.3: 291-299.

Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Singh, Nikhil Pal. 2017. Race and America's Long War. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Smith, Neil. 2003. American Empire: Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Snyder, Sharon L. and David T. Mitchell. 2010. "Introduction: Ablenationalism and the Geo-Politics of Disability." Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 4.2: 113-125.

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. 2016. From #Blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation. Chicago: Haymarket Books.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction William McKeithen University of Washington 5 3:05 PM
Introduction David Seitz Harvey Mudd College 5 3:10 PM
Panelist Clark Akatiff 13 3:15 PM
Panelist Mariba Douglas 13 3:28 PM
Panelist Kawena Elkington University of Hawaii - Manoa 13 3:41 PM
Panelist Jennifer Greenburg Stanford University 13 3:54 PM
Panelist Laurel Mei-Singh University of Hawaii - Manoa 13 4:07 PM

To access contact information login