Critical Nationalisms and Counterpublics
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Recent years have seen a resurgence of populism, nationalism, and discourses of racial supremacy in traditionally liberal Western democracies, notably in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. While political coalitions and solidarity movements have mounted widespread resistant responses to these social and political developments, illiberal trends in contemporary politics also call for a concerted rethinking of the grounds of politics and the public sphere, with particular attention to the connections between structures of sexual, racial, and political power. Although the resurgence of racialized populism and ethnocentrism dates from the 1980s, today’s new nationalisms, ushered in by the 2008 global financial collapse, are legitimated in the highest offices of government, where power has taken unapologetically misogynist and racist forms.
Drawing on traditions of critical theory and feminist cultural studies, we dub this form of sexualized power “pornocracy” and trace its expression and ideological structures to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century models of power archived in the foundational political writings of the European tradition. Feminist scholarship, and in particular postcolonial and transnational feminism, has foregrounded the gendering of the state and citizenship and the role of gender in nationalist movements. This foundation of interdisciplinary feminist research provides a framework for Critical Nationalisms and Counterpublics. Combining the strengths of feminist and postcolonial theory, we approach the resurgence of nationalisms, and the new prominence of the “nation” as a master term for populism, from a critical perspective that centers emergent counterpublics. Calls for unity in anti-racist, feminist, and reformist struggles have appealed to national charters and to civil and constitutional law as national foundations for equality. It is surprising that coalitional politics, which includes both radical and liberal tendencies, should lay claim to the nation after decades of advocating non-state solutions to social inequality. In contrast, our approach exposes the ways that nationalism reworks fantasy in the passionate uptake of racism, sexism, and xenophobia as the bases for national community.
Dina Al-Kassim, Professor
Karyn Ball, Professor