Issue 10.3 | Summer 2012 / Guest edited by Jonathan Beller

Europe: Gender, Class, Race

(PAGE 6 of 6)

PART THREE: Europe is Reborn through Class Racialization

As stated by Angela Mitropoulos, “origin and lineage are nowhere more disputed and uneasy” than at the border—it is there that the boundaries of property law and its tenure unfold. This is the place where legitimate labor—as argued by Mitropoulos, the very distinction between wage labor and slavery and authorised reproduction—is decided. The European Union functions in transforming mostly migrant labor into pure slavery (and not only in Spain, Italy, France, Austria, etc.). In Slovenia, migrant workers coming from the former republics of a common state once known as Yugoslavia are today working in conditions of slavery; excluded from the law, they become “nonexistent,” lacking the most basic humans rights. Or even more precisely, what occurs at the Schengen border (that is, the frontier between the European Union and the rest of Europe) can be put in parallel with another border, the Tijuana border (32 kilometers from downtown San Diego, the busiest point of entrance into the United States from Mexico), or the borders within the United States and Mexico themselves, regarding employment, social security, deportations of illegal workers, or the relation between increasing criminality and paralyzed social and political space. At the frontier, according to Mitropoulos, that is “a violent positing of the frontier as a space of exploration, cultivation and extraction of wealth–in the scarcities that are obliged as precondition and condition of a market in labor, in the criminalization and recapture of fugitive and wayward (re)production (…) –there would be a periodic recourse to the naturalizing magic of genealogy to settle matters of orderly progression and authenticity.”[26] I stated in the beginning that the human and race reside in their asymmetric ghastly positions; humanization of the former Eastern Europeans is done at the expense of the racialized “non-subjects,” whose access to the representational status of the “human subject” is fundamentally halted. Or, furthermore, following Carr, and as I tried to present in the first part of the essay, “the gendered white bourgeois subject is ‘made,’ of course, with racialized/colonized subjects being (…) ‘unmade.’”[27]

Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur describes the situation in Austria as twofold. On the one hand, we have migrants who were invited into the country by the government in the 1960s to help the postwar reconstruction of the country; and on the other, we have a new, vast group of refugees, fugitives, asylum seekers, and deported persons who find themselves caught in the ever-changing immigration laws established and reinforced by the transnational E.U. laws, implemented daily and improved nationally (as in August 2010, when France—supposedly “legally,” as it was based on E.U. laws—deported hundreds of Roma back to Romania and Bulgaria).[28]

What we witness today in Europe is actually what was announced by Partha Chatterjee already in 1993,[29] and was reworked in the previously mentioned compelling essay by Brian Carr written in 1998. There exists a limit in the Foucauldian understanding of the modern regime of power on which the contemporary biopolitical resides today. Actually when biopolitics was elaborated in the 1970s, it was for the capitalist First World and its apparatuses, where the “Other” did not exist, it was only insisting in the space by working. Therefore in Europe we have two modern regimes of power working at once! One is the generalizable modern regime of power that goes from Foucault through Agamben and is radicalized in the time of crises throughout the global world; the other is the regime of colonial power. In distinction to the former regime that today functions with demanding integration and even more with the “distribution” of debts (!), fear, and fantasies; the latter regime functions with exclusion, marginalization, desymbolization, and disfiguration.[30] We have, therefore, two regimes of discrimination, racializations, and exploitations that are almost the same, but the latter is not white.[31] The entanglement between them is visible in the myriad of class racializations.

“Race thus stands at the vanishing point where sexual difference and the human resolve,” as stated by Carr, “into the ungendered figure of dehumanized racial ‘flesh.’”[32] As I wrote already in 2007, and will revisit here, it functions at least on three levels, developed in relation to Lacanian psychoanalysis, and by introducing race, it may be possible, as argued by Carr, to ward off the threat of our own racialization:[33]

  1. As vanishing mediator. What does this mean? Emigrants, women of color, etc., those coming from other worlds outside the First capitalist World—which is presented as the only “properly” civilized world, and that stubbornly exports its civilization bloody everywhere else—are today in a position when they are not seen as human excess (as in the past!), but we get a paradoxical turn through which that which was perceived in the past as “animality” (just think about Fanon’s analysis), is seen today as the zero level of humanity. It covers up the monstrosity of the “human” as such; the zero level of humanity presents today a perverse, almost “sublime” human essence that has to be upgraded and civilized. On the larger territory of Europe, according to Gail Lewis, it is the black woman’s body, or women’s bodies of any other color that do not match the white color of the old and new Europeans, bodies in constant processes of trafficking, exploitation, and subsumation within different stories of contemporary racism.

  2. As real difference. Within such a horizon we can demand not to expand the struggle for different conditions of life into series of equivalences, but to retake a single social antagonism, that of race, as the main force of change. An excellent example of such a political and structurally grounded struggle is the work by the Research Group on Black Austrian History and Presence, from Vienna. As it was precisely stated by Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur and Belinda Kazeem (she is active as well within the Black Women Community[34] in Vienna), by “founding a Black Research Group we are thereby recovering displaced knowledge about the Black Austrian history, building up a space for it and for us, Black people in this country (Austria). Crucial for this counter-history writing is the Black perspective, which [lets us] reconstruct hidden (his)stories: visionary history writings far beyond voyeuristic representations of the ‘exotic other,’ that is emancipated from usual racisms and sexisms. Even though Black history of this country stays fragmentary in the end, we–as Black researchers–are not afraid of asking for aspects that cannot be reconstructed and of creating possible counter historical concepts. The aim of the research group, to crack up invisibilities and open new grounds for history writings, is therefore inseparably connected with processes of self-definition, and of making visible and audible the Black Austrian experience and presence in a (self-)determined way” (The Research Group on Black Austrian History and Presence, 2007).

    In the case of our (my proper) former Eastern European and now newly acquired white petit-bourgeois crippled genealogy, we have to critically conceptualize, as stated by Hortense Spillers, that “race” signals gender’s sociosymbolic unmaking.[35] Our change from communist uncivilized nonsubjects to capitalist, post-Cold War “not yet quite, not yet right,” civilized and human subjects (from one propriety relation to another) testifies only to our potentiality for convertibility on the capitalist market. Though it is possible to state that, as argued by Carr, “white bodies are no imaginable as nonhuman because of their race as their whiteness does not have the linguistic gravity of animality, primitivity, or property,” I will propose a correction, arguing: capitalist white bodies. Though it definitely remains true that, “whiteness is not enough to detect us as humans [italics added, in Carr’s essay the “us” refers to the replicants from the film Blade Runner], whiteness is not ‘in and of itself’ a differential mark,”[36] whiteness is tediously-administratively and horrifyingly-monstrously re/produced, nurtured, and manufactured.

  3. As minimal difference. By contesting the exclusion of race from mainstream political and philosophical theory, African American critics expose the confusion between the normative and descriptive levels of liberal theory. bell hooks is skeptical about the universal principles of color-blind justice. She argues (as presented in Ewa Płonowska Ziarek’s An Ethics of Dissensus. Postmodernity, Feminism, and the Politics of Radical Democracy), that such abstractions obliterate the acute historical contradiction between the histories of Euro-American and New World African modernities.[37] Kelly Oliver analyzes the rhetoric of the color-blind society, and argues that this rhetoric denies the social fact of race and its effects as well as the “white” provenance of supposedly neutral categories such as “human” or “American.”[38]

Quoting Orlando Patterson, Brian Carr provides us with an illuminating difference. Already in 1982, Patterson, referring to African Americans, argued that, “exclusion from the scene of subjecthood is not always on the order of death proper.” Carr continues: “Symbolic designification has more regularly, in its more historical and colonial dimensions, installed a condition of what Orlando Patterson, referring to African American slaves in the U.S., calls ‘social death.’”[39] Patterson envisioned these two types of exclusions—these two types of life, and also two types of death—as something that would become the main logic of global capitalism after 2001, and would be named by Achille Mbembe in 2003 as necropolitics.

Carr therefore argues, “Patterson’s paradoxical framing of the ‘socially dead’ allows us to think (…) about how ‘death’ operates within the social and how excluded bodies are rendered dead at the level of sociosymbolic signification. Here, evacuation from a symbolic of bourgeois subjecthood (and its attendant logic of sexual difference) marks a ‘condition’ not analogous to an always nostalgic story about the imaginary ‘stuff’ of a presymbolic subject or a body prior to the enjoining governance of phallic differentiation. That is, bodies excluded from subjecthood in the context of colonial rule should not be conflated with the psychoanalytic notion of the sexually undifferentiated pre-subject, ones whose (pre)history can never be rescued.”[40] These two types—one of inclusion and the other of exclusion—mark different temporal/historical logics and today work at once.

It is possible to state that racism is divided from within and exists on at least two different lines of racism—or of technologies, discourses, judicial, economical, political, theoretical, artistic, cultural, semiotic, psychoanalytic implementations of racialization—in the space of Europe and the global capitalist neoliberal world. Carr insists that the line of division is the colonial difference.[41]

This division from within does not come as a surprise. What does this mean? Biopolitics, which was initially researched by Michel Foucault[42] and further extended by Giorgio Agamben,[43] presents today, I argue, not so much in the direction of how life is administered, but in the way of its differentiation. Before moving to Agamben let’s examine Foucault’s biopolitics. It is obvious that Foucault’s biopolitics, coined in the 1970s in the time of the Cold War, is a specific conceptualization of capitalist liberal governmentality exclusively reserved for the capitalist First World. It presented 1970s liberal capitalism as “taking care” only of the citizens of the First World capitalist nation-states. What was going on in the Second (the Eastern European space) and Third Worlds was not at the center of the management of life in the capitalist First World. One of the James Bond films from the 1970s is an accurate description of biopolitics: Live and Let Die (1973). I can propose a short definition of biopolitics in order to understand Foucault’s conceptualization of it: “make live and let die.”

Giorgio Agamben, in the 1990s, proposed a division between, on one side, modal life—life that presents itself only as an infinite catalogue of forms-of-life, and, on the other side, a life without a form—that is, bare or naked life. Agamben’s life is not anymore “one,” but it is caught in a process of its pure formalization through differentiation. The outcome is that what matters in the capitalist First World are only forms-of-life. Agamben therefore points out that biopolitics is not just about how life is administered (as with Foucault), but is instead about life’s differentiation, its fragmentation. It presents a new division: life is now divided within itself. Life that was seen in the past as only opposite to death has been divided in two. Or to say it differently, this process of differentiation is, in fact, the procedure by which life is administered, managed, and how it is controlled on the supposition of its improvement. It is a process that only allows life as a form-of-life, life as a style (only allowing for new forms, new styles of life).

But, again, after 2001 it became obvious that capital’s surplus value was based on the capitalization of death (in Latin: necro) worlds. This change radicalized Foucauldian biopolitics in order to understand global capitalism and the wars exported globally in the new millennium; but also in order to understand differently Agamben’s division of life from within—i.e., bare-life as just one of the forms-of-life (the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal with rap music). This was conceptualized precisely by Achille Mbembe and termed necropolitics. In “Necropolitics,” Achille Mbembe discusses this new logic of capital and its processes of geopolitical demarcation of world zones based on the mobilization of the war machine. Mbembe claims that the concept of biopolitics, in light of the war machine and the state of exception as one of the major logics of contemporary societies, should be replaced with the concept necropolitics.[44]

As with biopolitics, I can propose a short definition of necropolitics in order to understand Mbembe’s conceptualization of it: “let live and make die.” Necropolitics presents the management of life for the global neoliberal capitalist world. It transforms the aim of “making live” into “letting live,” where “letting live” is a form-of-life that is far from the cozy structures of better life (“making live”). “Let live” presents pure abandonment. You can live if you have means (with the help of a lineage and pedigree of money and power), and all those who cannot live in the situation of pure abandonment by the neoliberal public capitalist structures are to be left to die—or on many other occasions, made to die, as for example, in New Orleans, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Though Mbembe elaborated necropolitics in order to describe an intensified subjugation of life to capitalist exploitation and governmentality of the social, political, and economic through the war machine in Africa—which he named the “postcolony”[45] already in 2001, proposing a view on Africa distinct from postcolonialism—necropolitics received a palpable shape throughout the world with the “War on Terror,” launched by the United States (supported by Great Britain and NATO) as a response to the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York.

In such a context, necropolitics presents the repoliticization (and historization) of biopolitics. It is possible to argue that in global capitalism, the institutions of the ideological state apparatuses primarily function today as biopolitical institutions. Therefore, art and culture, along with theory and criticism, education, not to forget the banks, etc., are now purely biopolitical machines: only taking care of themselves and their hegemonic Euro-Atlantic interests, while the social and the political (with what is claimed to be its “autonomous” judicial system) are pure instruments of necropolitical global capitalism.

If in 2008 on the eve of the global economic crisis, Europe was brilliantly tagged by the Slovenian lesbian activist and writer Nataša Velikonja as “Europe is boring!” in 2010, Étienne Balibar stated: “Europe is dead!” Of course, Mbembe was not mentioned—far from it!

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  1. Mitropoulos 2009. [Return to text]
  2. Carr 1998: 120. [Return to text]
  3. Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur and Belinda Kazeem, “Cafe Dekolonial.‘Sag Zur Mehlspeis’leise Servus…'” [Decolonial café. “Say silently Good Bye to the pastry…”], Reartikulacija 1 (2007). [Return to text]
  4. Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993, quoted in Carr 1998:146. [Return to text]
  5. All terms are used by Brian Carr in relation to numerous other scholars, among others Hortense Spillers. [Return to text]
  6. See Homi Bhabha, cited in Carr 1998: 146. [Return to text]
  7. Carr 1998: 125 [Return to text]
  8. Carr 1998: 131. [Return to text]
  9. Schwarze Frauen Community (Black Women community): See website. [Return to text]
  10. Hortense Spillers, cited in Carr 1998: 125. [Return to text]
  11. Carr 1998: 139. [Return to text]
  12. bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1990), cited in Ewa Płonowski Ziarek, An Ethics of Dissensus: Postmodernity, Feminism, and the Politics of Radical Democracy (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001). [Return to text]
  13. Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2001). [Return to text]
  14. Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death, (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982, cited in Carr 1998: 126. [Return to text]
  15. Carr 1998: 126. [Return to text]
  16. Carr 1998: 141. [Return to text]
  17. Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, eds. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991) 87-104. [Return to text]
  18. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: sovereign power and bare life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998). [Return to text]
  19. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” trans. Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15.1 (2003): 11-40. [Return to text]
  20. Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley: U of California P, 2001). [Return to text]