The Black Atlantic and Beyond: an Introduction to Paul Gilroy
Decades after his earliest writing, the work of Paul Gilroy continues to illuminate some of the most urgent debates of the 21st century concerning race, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and more. From The Black Atlantic to Against Race to Postcolonial Melancholy, Gilroy synthesizes a remarkable—and seemingly unlikely—range of thinking from British cultural studies, postcolonialism, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, black studies, and critical race theory into a unique, transformative intervention that has been fundamental to contemporary debates and left indelible marks on sociology, history, and anthropology, among other fields. Gilroy’s initial insight was to engage the African diaspora and the Atlantic simultaneously as geopolitical sites in modern capitalism and as processes of specific cultural formation. Throughout his scholarship, Gilroy has been sharply critical of essentialist conceptions of race, nation, and identity. Instead, Gilroy probes the political possibilities and pitfalls of global cosmopolitan and transnational solidarities that do not efface or reduce difference. How can Gilroy help us think about the making of Black subjectivity, alternative modernisms, and counter-hegemonic formations today?
In this course, we’ll read excerpts from Gilroy’s main books, spanning from the late 1980s to the early 21st century: There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, The Black Atlantic, Against Race, and Postcolonial Melancholia. We’ll trace the central argument in each of these books: the connections between the struggle for identity formation and racial politics; transcending dubious claims based on nation-state identity towards a Black Atlantic culture; critiques of the concept of race; and the defense of multiculturalism and humanism. We’ll analyze to what extent these arguments elaborate on one another, constituting Gilroy’s unique thought. As we read, we’ll ask: what is the difference between a sociological and a historical approach to race? How do we make sense of the fact that race is enmeshed in all social relations? What does it mean to say that Black culture is a counterculture of modernity? Is the “Black Atlantic” a satisfactory representation of Black peoples’ experience? What’s the relation between race and class? Why is race so powerfully able to frame our thinking? What does it mean to say that there is a crisis of “race” and representation? What indeed is antiracist politics, and its challenges? Supplemental readings feature Gilroy’s articles and essays, as well as authors such as W.E.B DuBois, Stuart Hall, and Cedric Robinson.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
November 18 — December 17, 2021
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, November 25th.