Social Text Special Issue 104: Introduction

The cover article and accompanying special report in the September 9, 2010 issue of The Economist, “A Latin American Decade?” somewhat tentatively hail renewed ties between the region and the “developed” world after attempts to foster national industries and intraregional integration “have stagnated or fallen apart.”  Not surprisingly, the ties that matter to the magazine derive from market-oriented reforms and commodity-driven booms that are “starting to attract increased interest from outsiders.”  Despite a pattern of similar claims about foreign interest that began around 1492, The Economist knows what it sees:  the transnational moment has arrived.  “A growing army of multilatinas” such as Bimbo and Embraer, one article swoons, have even “become global multinationals.”  Such a transformation hasn’t come easily:  one article notes that “serious scholars” have blamed Latin America’s “failure to develop” on “political instability, poor policy choices, weak institutions and the undermining of law”–neglecting to acknowledge equally serious scholars who cite the active involvement of U.S. governments and corporations in each of those obstacles.  It might be unfortunate that the Mexican Revolution interfered with trade and foreign investment, but The Economist still lingers on the image of “lavish banquets organised by Porfirio Díaz to celebrate more than a quarter century of stability under his constitutional dictatorship.”  If close relationships with the United States can be assumed to foot the bill for such banquets, progressive and reform-minded nationalists threaten to yank the tablecloth and ruin everything.
The Social Text special issue “Dislocations across the Americas” offers a timely challenge to the shopworn images of the transnational Americas that The Economist so readily embraces.  The mutually constitutive relationship between the United States and Latin America provides fertile ground for thinking beyond a cheerful notion of globalization calibrated to (unevenly distributed) economic opportunities.  The articles in the issue are at once less celebratory about what the hemispheric frame exposes and more attentive to the multiple fields that the frame can place in view.  Films and tourist souvenirs, as well as refugee detentions and border violence, set the stage to rethink the political and spatial categories mobilized to comprehend the hemispheric Americas.  Acknowledging an increasingly mobile world, “Dislocations across the Americas” underscores the prevalence of unwilling movement and its violent effects.
The articles from the special issue emerge from an ongoing experiment in building an intellectual community that avoids the contradiction of producing transnational scholarship entirely within national borders.  The Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas, an annual gathering in Mexico of North American and Latin American scholars, provided an early forum for the contributions to “Dislocations across the Americas.”  It is in forums like these, as Mary Louise Pratt notes in her afterword to the special issue, that intellectual work itself can “inhabit the hemispheric space, retrieve its archives, witness its entanglements, surface its secrets, peer at its underworlds of destructive madness.”
Social Text online offers contributors an opportunity to extend the conversations begun at the Tepoztlán Institute.  The posts gathered here aim to spark dialogue and exchange that takes these conversations in generative directions.  We also include links to the work of Chris Crozier, whose Bend Down (1998) provided the cover image to “Dislocations across the Americas.”  In Bend Down, a drawing from his Migrate or Medal/Meddle show, Christopher Crozier calls to mind how struggles over territory and sovereignty are enacted on and through individual bodies–often brutally so.  He thus sheds light on one of the central themes of “Dislocations across the Americas”:  the violence generated by the exhaustion of spatial categories (nation, border, empire) that have long defined political communities, as well as by attempts to transcend them.  As one of the best recognized symbols of national and imperial projects, flags, for Crozier, inflict pain as they try to “pin down” individuals who can rarely be confined within any single territorial unit, especially during a historical moment characterized by ubiquitous transnational circulation.  Bend Down indexes a subjective mode centered, in Crozier’s words, on “an assortment of dislocated people and the politics of devaluation,” one that “may even be a theoretical/critical vantage point or a way of being/surviving–one derived from a response to historical circumstances.”

A native and resident of Trinidad, Crozier (b. 1959) has exhibited his wide-ranging art at the Havana Bienale, the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, TENT in Rotterdam, CCA7 in Port of Spain, the Museum of the Americas in Washington, DC, the Brooklyn Museum, the Art Foundry in Barbados, AfricAmericA 2002, and other venues.  He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Academy of the University of Trinidad & Tobago and a member of the editorial collective of Small Axe.  Crozier is also an administrator and curator of the Alice Yard art space in Port of Spain and, most recently, co-curated Paramaribo SPAN in Suriname.  He is also the subject of the Richard Fung documentary Uncomfortable: The Art of Christopher Crozier (2006).

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