Friday, 31 January 2014

Paper at BSA Race and Ethnicity Study Group Conference 2014 - Mapping the Field: Contemporary Theories of Race, Racism and Ethnicity

The BSA Race and Ethnicity study group conference was held today at Newman University in Birmingham. You can see the full programme of events here.

The two plenary addresses from John Solomos (the now Head of Department at my first university, Warwick) and Nira Yuval-Davis, opened the day with the former arguing that research on migration must more heavily focus on the history of, and sociology of, race and ethnicity. Yuval-Davis argued that, contrarily, migration studies - which she posited started as its own strand - is now gradually moving more toward race and ethnicity studies. They raised some interesting points; Yuval-Davis suggested that we might think of footballer Anelka's recent quenelle gesture as a chance to reconsider what we think of as the boundaries of mimicry and satire; Solomon insisted that university teaching (though less a focus than ever because of the REF) is key in the future development of race and ethnicity studies. It has, he said, made significant headway as it gradually becomes a more defined feature on the sociological landscape through its central inclusion in undergraduate modules.

BSA Race and Ethnicity Study Group Conference 2014

I presented a paper on the Race and Technology panel. You can see the abstract for my talk "Untwisting the cords: exploring the political value(s) of race in British umbilical cord blood stem cell policy" here. I was joined by two other speakers: David Skinner and Sanjay Sharma.

David Skinner from Anglia Ruskin University presented a theoretical paper that positioned border control technologies and DNA data banks like the UK's Police DNA database as implicitly racialised technologies. For instance, whilst the DNA database might not immediately appear as such, its composition compels us to question its neutrality (it is comprised mainly of black, male DNA). He argued that sociology must move forward, past a concern with what science says about race, to how the technologies that buttress that science enact race. (Not least, I suppose, because the foundations of biosciences often rest on considerably less sexy areas of exploration. I think particularly of Star's call to study boring things in this case! [FYI, none of it is actually boring once you start looking at it].)

The other paper in this panel, presented by Sanjay Sharma, looked toward social networking sites such as twitter, and how race can be performed in these spaces. Based on his paper, the presentation underscored the role of technologies in the formation of subjectivities, and argued that phenomena like blacktags are written, reproduced, and consumed in ways that move beyond our assumptions of a preconstituted black user of the internet. Online platforms are, he argued, techno-cultural assemblages in which groups that can appear congealed and impenetrable, or dispersed and loose, are often attached by thin strands of connection that allow data to travel beyond their originally intended audience and loosen their seemingly coherent meanings.

A great mix of postgrads and professors, coffee and croissants, and everything in between. A brilliantly organised and thought-provoking day.