Joseph Reflects on Residency

Editor’s Note: During their residencies at CLAGSas Rockefeller Fellows in the Humanities, Miranda Joseph and Urvashi Vaid played active roles in helping to articulate a vision for CLAGS and lesbian/gay/queer studies more generally. What follows is a summary by Joseph of her year with us.

This year I have worked primarily on two sections of my book project, Performing Community. The paper I presented at my CLAGS colloquium, a version of the first chapter of the book, focused on the “discourse of community.” The idealization of community as a site of identity, commonality, communion, communication, and consensus was heavily critiqued in the 1980s by feminist and poststrucutralist theorists who recognized that identity-based communities are, in fact, quite exclusionary and oppressive, defining themselves in opposition to others, universalizing the particularities upon which they are based, and erasing differences among community members. Despite this critique, however, a celebratory discourse of community continues to circulate quite relentlessly in both academic and popular cultures. Community is posited as the site of values and relatedness that has been lost in modernity or that should be restored to compensate for the alienation of modern society. argued in my presentation that the reason for this relentless return is that “community” functions- offered as the binary opposite of modernity- as a supplement to capitalism and the nation-state, one that produces and legitimates the particularities and social hierarchies that these discourses of equivalence, equality, and abstraction actually require. I traced this deployment of community through the debates over pluralism, multiculturalism, and diversity in arts, education, and employment. The paper I presented at the Queer Globalization/Local Homosexualities conference, was drawn from another chapter of my book project, focusing on the narratives of post-fordism and globalization, especially the claims for a corollary localization or communalization of capitalism. These narratives suggest that capitalism has only recently discovered culture and community (in the forms of niche marketing and production), which is clearly not true, as differentiating regimes of gender, race, nation, etc. have always been deployed, elaborated, and transformed in the process of capital accumulation and circulation. Further, narratives of globalization and post-fordism are often celebratory, proposing that capitalism can and must operate now in a way that respects social formations such as the gay community. I argued, however, that the vision of community central to such narratives actually reinscribes kinship and race to naturalize the social hierarchies necessary to capitalism and veils the relationships among “communities,” for instance, between gays as a niche market and the Mexican women working in maquiladoras to produce the goods we consume.
Miranda Joseph
University of Arizona