Power & Authority: Who has it? How do we use it? (Or, Navel gazing)

Over the last week, I have been involved in a couple of discussions on Twitter and email where (I must admit it, although I know it will shock my regular audience) I was arguing about institutional power structures. In both cases, people seemed to want to deflect the discussions from the level of institutions to individuals. In one case, it was suggested that I was not using my power enough/correctly? and anyway, as a person with “power,” I could not critique institutional structures. In the other, I was supposedly abusing my “power” by “citationsplaining.” This charge (is this a thing now? or a hapaxlegomenon?), I believe, means citing a work of relevant scholarship in discussion to someone who already knows it. And since we all know all the relevant bibliography already (of course), citation is no longer necessary. 

Leaving aside the otherwise interesting discussion of the “citaitionsplaining,” I want to talk about my power. In the contexts of these discussions, I would assert that I do not have power; what I have is a certain kind of authority. There is an important and meaningful distinction between power and types of authority that is worth thinking about, especially for those who: 
  1. do scholarship on marginalized groups or concepts like race, gender, class, etc in antiquity, 
  2. are concerned about the connections between classics as a discipline and white supremacism/colonialism/imperialism, 
  3. participate in service in the field around issues of marginalization, discrimination, etc, and 
  4. may be part of various groups that face discrimination/bias/harm and marginalization. 
It's interesting to me, of course, because this interplay between power and authority informs so much of my research. But it also seems to be a big part of social media and scholarship and...just human interaction generally.

Let's start with the obvious: I read way too much Foucault and Edward Said in the 1990s (thanks, Erik and Victoria!) and it has shaped my understanding of power--what it is and how it operates. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on feminist perspectives of power provides a very useful starting point.

Power seems to have lots of possible definitions and permutations, but really, for our purposes here, Foucault’s idea of “power over” is what we mean. i.e. Power is the ability to get others to do what you want (imperium). In order to effect power, one has to have authority, but having authority (auctoritas) doesn’t mean one has power.
Max Weber provides a good framing to get an explanation for authority. Weber divided authority between "traditional," "charismatic," and "legal-rational." "Traditional", Weber argues, comes from longstanding custom, like patriarchy--we don’t have to continue to organize societies around masculine power, but we do because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

Another type of “traditional” authority might be tenure. So, at my home institution, I have certain protections that come with having gotten (after 6 years on the job market) a certain type of job that after jumping through hoops for another 6 years enables me to write, teach, and participate in campus governance without fear of losing my job. I can be critical of the institution, how it is run; I can teach controversial topics; I can write about the ties of my discipline to white supremacism. The tenure system is a vestige of what used to be “the way things are done.” In some places, it still is a form of “traditional” authority, but not in others.
As a tenured faculty member, I also have institutional power because at my college, faculty are part of the governance structure, which means I also have “legal-rational” authority. "Legal-rational" authority inheres in the office--"the office of the President", for example. Regardless of who the individual is, the institutional position or affiliation that individual has (i.e. tenure) grants them authority to wield the power of that institution in certain circumstances (like when on a committee) and expects a certain level of deference. This kind of authority can also function outside of one’s home institution. It does so in a couple of ways. One example is the prestige economy of institutions, Another is scholarly reputation based on peer reviewed publication (one of the ways you can get tenure). This is a kind of authority I have because I have published well-respected, well-reviewed, and cited books and articles that can borrow the prestige and power of the presses they are published with and the other scholars who review them. I can exercise this authority through citing others, editing volumes and inviting others to participate and reviewing books/manuscripts/articles. I can benefit from the power that attaches to this sort of legal-rational authority by getting speaking invitations and making decisions about whose work is and isn’t ready to be published. Another example of legal-rational authority comes from affiliation with and participation in professional organizations. I was once the co-chair of the Women’s Classical Caucus. At that time, I was asked for my opinion on lots of things and invited to various committee meetings, included on too many email chains to count, and had the ability to help shape institutional policy and practice. But that sort of power goes with the position, not with the person. Once I stopped serving on that committee, I stopped being included on those email threads (phew!), stopped having any power to shape policy and practice. Not having that (or any) affiliations outside of my home campus now means that I do not have legal-rational authority outside of my campus because any authority I had was only by association or affiliation with external authorities. And it isn’t my thing (nor am I properly situated in the prestige economy) to use affiliation anyway to gain other forms of institutional power and legal-rational authority.
What that leaves me with is (and do not laugh) "charismatic" authority. This type of authority derives from an individual's personality. For me, it is my public work and Twitter persona that gives me this type of authority. To have “charismatic” authority doesn’t mean I am particularly likeable--let’s be honest, I am very easy to dislike. The very things upon which any authority I have is based--aggression, willingness to question the status quo, and excessive honesty—are the same things that undermine me. But this is all I’ve got. How did I get it? From Twitter and my blog, mostly. But, of course, it is just a blog. Anyone with an internet connection can have one. It doesn’t have any institutional backing to give it something resembling the type of legal-rational authority that can come from writing on a press. A blog platformed on and affiliated with institutional entities like Discover Channel or Forbes or Eidolon or TLS gets authority from those platforms. My blog (which doesn’t even use Wordpress!) has its authority only from the person writing it, who does have the scholarly credentials to write a respectable blog, but has to have some sort of charismatic authority in order for people to care enough to read it. It is all rather complicated, isn’t it? I do not really have any power--not the kind of power that some people seem to think I have. I can blog about these recent incidents, of course, as obnoxious as that is (an occupational hazard for those with charismatic authority). But, I can’t make anyone do what I want them to do. I can’t make people with platforms center the needs and voices of secondary and undergrad-only teachers instead of almost always centering people from PhD granting institutions as if their opinions are the only ones that matter and their perspectives somehow universal. Because it certainly isn't the case that saying "I am aware that I am privileged" is enough to erase that privilege when it is still the loudest voice in the room. I also can’t make organizations change their policies or practices by tweeting or blogging about it or participating in an email discussion. Nor can I negatively impact someone’s career or status by throwing a citation into an email to support my position in the discussion. In fact, throwing out citations is a way to shore up my lack of power within an institutionally recognized form of authority. I do not feel confident resting the argument upon my own expertise, so I summon someone else’s. A major limitation of charismatic authority is that it is singularly dependent upon the good will of others to exist and can't rely on platforms or institutions. It can disappear just as quickly as it appears. But, this extra-institutional, unaffiliated sort of power is actually easier to use while maintaining my principles (a benefit also of tenure). I don’t have to compromise in order to effect some sort of political agreement in policy (I am not part of those conversations). Nor am I ever tempted to try to use my affiliations with institutional forms of power to personal benefit (can't abuse what you don’t have!). The only way I can maintain any semblance of authority is by adhering to the principles that people found worth investing with authority to begin with. Otherwise, we could see #cancelKennedy trending. I think about this fairly regularly, because one of the ways that institutional and traditional authorities are maintained is by not questioning the status quo. It is by investing in “neutral” or “blind” practices and policies. Charismatic authority, while the most precarious and even dangerous, can actually move conversations by questioning the other forms of authority. But it does so usually at the cost of alienating those invested in or embedded within those other types of authority. And maintaining it without sacrificing one’s principles usually means having to not care if you lose it. When people say I have “power,” they are referring to this unmoored, unaffiliated, and unstable kind of authority. If people want to grant me this kind of authority, sure, ok. Just best to lower your expectations about what someone can (and cannot) actually do with it.

Correcting Nonsense about the Ancient Greco-Roman Past

It has been about 2.5 years since I first wrote "Why I Teach About Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World" for Eidolon.  The impetus for it was Donna Zuckerberg's article "How to Be a Good Classicist under a Bad Emperor," which called on classicists to teach more about the diversity of the ancient world. Like my colleagues Sydnor Roy, Denise McCoskey and Shelly Haley and others, I've been teaching iterations of this class for a long time. And, so I thought I would make a statement on why in order to encourage others to do it to. Also, of course, because teaching a class like this can be hard, Syd and I decided to make it easier on ourselves back in 2010 and publish the sourcebook in 2013--Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World: An Anthology of Sources. It isn't perfect and needs a second edition one of these days to add inscriptions, papyri, early Christian texts, focused material on immigration and enslavement. There is so much material on this topic from antiquity that it really is a life's work to track it all down. I've been gathering other people's syllabi for about two years now in order to make them available to others and to learn from how others teach their versions. And, because there is always more to learn, I am constantly changing my own syllabus.  

What follows is a reflection on the latest iteration of the class with student responses that functions as something of a revision of my Eidolon article and also as a response of sorts to the dangerous view of identity in antiquity and its modern appropriations represented in a recent review of books (screenshot of the opening paragraph--I am not linking to the site):

One of the goals of teaching race and ethnicity in the ancient world (as part of our larger courses and in stand alone classes) is to help disabuse people of these types of unserious and inaccurate positions. It is also to give students tools to identify and understand how such views are racist, orientalist, white supremacist and promote inaccuracies about both antiquity and the modern world in the service of ideology. Our success in the classroom can have impact down the road in making these sort of bad history takes less useful or common. So, here we go... 

**All materials from students used with permission.** 

I can only imagine that the true final project would have coalesced all of these aspects into one final performance on what we have learned throughout this semester. That is also what is so sad and disappointing about this semester, we never got to do everything that the course got to offer. I realize that it must be disappointing to have a plan for a semester and have it totally upended from some freak pandemic. Regardless, I really enjoyed the class and thought of it to be one of the more meaningful courses I have taken throughout my college experience so far. ~student comment
Let's start from reality. This class was not the class I intended it to be when the semester started. I had spent a lot of time this past year thinking about how I wanted to change the class based on the current cultural moment, on responses from the previous iteration, and based on my own shifting interests. So, I changed reading structure--instead of using scholarship on specific passages and text along with the ancient texts and then tagging on the reception of these ideas to the last 3-4 weeks of the term, I integrated the reception throughout and ordered Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning as the textbook we would read along side of the ancient sources. You can see that version of the syllabus (the one I gave out at the beginning of the term) here. I also planned a panel of classicists who work on various aspects of Classics Africana (or Black Classicisms) to come to campus and help us integrate the ancient material with the Kendi and with an exhibition at the Denison Museum called "Say it Loud". It included a performance of the Hype4Homer project. So awesome.  The panel happened, but 3 days later campus shut down. 

Obviously, the move to online teaching required some modifications to my syllabus. This involved reducing the length of readings, adding more visual content and restructuring the assignments. The revised syllabus for the last few weeks can be found here. What isn't visible on the new schedule is the targeted discussion questions on our Learning management System and the memes and audio recordings I asked students to do. The final project was originally for them to write an essay on the intersections between ancient and modern ideas of race and ethnicity and present it in a multimedia format (a program called Shorthand). Obviously, that was going to be rough, so instead I asked them to write a reflection of what they learned in the class and would take away with them to wherever they go in the future. For many students, this was and will be their only Classics course, so I was curious.

The plan for the semester was to integrate the discussion of modern receptions, adaptations, evolutions from, and uses of ancient ideas about race and ethnicity throughout, to help student see more jarringly the way ancient ideas moved into and were used in modern race constructs. Reading Tacitus' Germania and seeing the Nazi use of it at the same time is more impactful than reading it and then looking at Nazi receptions 4 weeks later.  Doing so, however, required that we begin the class with very clear definitions of what race and ethnicity are (or how we would use these terms in class). Students were very clear that the didn't have a definition of either (some had never really thought about ethnicity, for example), but knew that "race is a social construct"--whatever that meant. 
"The fact that race was introduced as “the institutionalization of prejudice and oppressions based on moving signifiers for human difference” because we need a different way to approach it when looking at it in ancient times really made sense. While we look at race as color and appearance now, color was used in a lot of different ways back then...For reasons like these it’s much more productive to view race as a technology that structures human interactions and manifests within institutions. The categorizations of race ideas found in Kendi—segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist—were also really significant, specifying two conflicting kinds of racism. But the argument from Kendi that resonated with me most was that racist ideas, hate, and ignorance stem from racial discrimination and policies instead of the other way around. This makes so much sense as I notice selfish motives, primarily money and status, being the actual causes of discriminatory policies not only throughout this class but throughout a lot of material from my other classes..."  ~student comment
"I remember the definitions we discussed on the first day and how we subsequently applied them to the ancient Greek sources dealing with origin myths. Based on these primary sources, I could see that today’s ethnic and racial classifications didn’t fit onto the ancient world as many people would think they did. The rubber really hit the road, so to speak, when comparing the identity discourses within the ancient sources to those that Kendi wrote about. It was clear that ideas of race and ethnicity from the late modern period, give or take, simultaneously incorporated ancient views and departed from them. The kernel of blackness in ancient descriptions of North African populations became exaggerated as the focal point for modern racist ideologies. Through this example and others, I could see that speaking of race and ethnicity in an ancient context requires an appreciation of these different paradigms." ~student comment
We started class with our working definitions and these would be the definitions we would use throughout the term. Importantly, I wanted them to understand that the terms 'race' and 'ethnicity' are not interchangeable, that theories like environmental determinism are not 'racial theories' unless that can be manifested in things like laws or political institutions and then form the basis for oppression (like the Athenian metic system or Spartan helots). As Kendi argues (rightly) racist policy creates racist ideas. By using Kendi and weaving him in throughout the course, student could see how ancient ideas came to be foundational to modern racist ideas. 

I think the class was successful in part because we had clear terms for engagement, I was very clear about why we needed to read the ancient and the modern together--in order to know how the modern world has (mis)used the ancient, they need to be laid side by side. It is unfair to ask students to infer connections that are often so embedded as 'reality' for them--prejudices, assumptions, 'nature'--without some sort of guidance or framework.  

This brings me to the silly book review screenshot above--the idea that a war in antiquity could be somehow the pivotal moment in the history of some imaginary 'western' world identity. So, what did my students learn this term? 
"In fact, just recently I was able to enlighten my younger sisters on where race came from while they were participating in a heated debate considering whether black people could be racist to whites. I overheard the conversation and put what I have learned in this course to the test. After conversing with my sisters I was proud of what I was able to accomplish and realized that this information will give me a step up when entering the workforce. Although preconceived notions and racist ideas may not always be on display, they are in the minds of the people around us and as a black man I am forced to think about that everyday." ~student comment
"I learned quite a bit in this class, especially about how residual some ideas are. I was shocked to read some passages about certain ethnic groups that could still be written today, and how destructive a mindset they could be. It was quite interesting to “track” these assumptions about people from their beginning in ancient times to the present, and see their true origins. My favorite class period was the one focused on the census, and tracking the evolution of racial categories from its inception in the early 1800s. Race has always been one of the biggest issues in America, and the world, so seeing how our ideas of who is who has changed, and how the need to categorize people definitively is so ingrained." ~student comment
"While I understood that racism built on foundations laid in the past centuries (or millennia) before taking this class, the examples I encountered highlighted its presence for me. Linking the caricatures of black people provided by everything from minstrel shows to Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben products today to ancient (and sometimes fantastical) descriptions of specific African groups were helpful in this respect. Another aspect of this is the white European self-identification with ancient Greeks and Romans. 23andme and other such testing services seemed harmless to me a year ago. Even cool - using science to peer into your past. That’s part of their image used to market the product, of course. But based on this class and the various related lectures I attended, I can now see how easily they can be used to affirm a subjective image of someone’s identity." ~student comment
"This class also helped bring attention to the ways in which we as a culture glorify Greece and Rome a lot. It’s really important that we ask, “What is it about us that makes us want a group to be homogenous?” when countries not only today but since ancient times have actually been mixed entities with all different kinds of people within. The fact that being Greek can’t be seen just as being from the nation-state of Greece since they were essentially spread across the span of about three continents was something I’ve never thought about before." ~student comment
"The most important part of this class that I will carry with me is the connection between ancient viewpoints and the foundational beliefs of the United States. To think the education system of the United States was very recently based in ancient Latin and Greek. The reading of ancient philosophers was basic, foundational knowledge necessary to enter into a university. I know now that many of these texts also contain racist, classist, and sexist ideas. The fascination with classicism in the United States ties to our “founding fathers’” creation of a system of government that inherently benefitted straight, white men from the beginning. The mythos that the ancient Greek and Roman empires were white or even racially homogenized only contributes to the place these texts hold in white supremacy." ~student comment
The comments are like this from almost every student. They also say that they learned how to be better critical readers, to question their own assumptions and potential biases, and feel more confident analyzing primary materials. These are all things that are so important in the world we live in today. I am pretty sure all of my students would read that review and give it the big eye roll and F-you it deserves. 

But, it isn't just how we talk about readings and videos and whatnot. Who we give voice to for our classes matters. Bringing in Kendi changed the dynamics of the class and made students, especially the white students, confront some realities they didn't necessarily know or think mattered to them. Also, the panel I organized with my colleague Omedi Ochieng in Communication had more impact on some students than the entire rest of the class:
"This experience also had a big impact on me because, as a woman of color, it really meant a lot to me to see other people of color be passionate about and accumulate success in the classics field; it reaffirmed a message that Dr. Goldman gave the first day of my “Classical Drama” course, that the classics is not just for old, white men. I will always remember this experience for both personal and academic reasons..." ~student comment
After loving the classics for years and being told by their parents that they couldn't be a classics major, and feeling unsure why they even loved classics, to have this student say this meant more than anything else.

Classics really can be a classics for all, if we are willing to let go of its ties to whiteness and power, be open to the world beyond the canon, and invest efforts in "non-traditional" courses in translation that can reach more students and can really be transformative for them. None of the quotations in this post are from a classics major--80% of the student had never even taken a classics course before. And yet, it meant something to them and will change the way they engage with the world around them and how the classical appears in it. Teaching this class over the years, and this year most of all, has been transformative for me in so many ways, because it meant something to nearly every student in the class who took the journey with me.

Being "American", Sophocles' Intentions, and the Debates over "Western Civ"

I have this day been having two separate conversations on Twitter that actually revolve upon the same thing. The first was a convo with a colleague on authorial intent and Greek tragedy, inspired by last night's reading of Sophocles' Oedipus by Theatre of War. The second was a query from Shadi Bartsch on mask wearing:

While my first response was flippant (as were all the other commenters), there is, in fact, a very serious answer to this and it intersects with the way we attribute genius to individuals and meaning to plays written by men like Sophocles and also, whether people realize it or not, is at the heart of the "Why we MUST revere/teach/worship Western Civ" industry.

So, what are the connections? Let's start with the answer to Shadi's query.

After my initial flippant remark ("For their purposes, American = a$$hole fascist white person."), she followed up with:

The answer, of course, is yes. One can still be an asshole without being a fascist. But, there is a particular strand of asshole that positions itself as "American". And that has its root in the notions of American exceptionalism, the American Dream™, Manifest Destiny™, bootstrapping mythologies, the myth of the American West and "rugged individualism". There are so many names for it that we have been bombarded with in our school textbooks, in TV commercials (especially for trucks). It is at the heart of Libertarianism and Randianism. At its core is the idea that what makes the US "great" is that we are all out for ourselves. That rampant and unchecked individualism and unfettered competition (CAPITALISM!) is what makes individuals exceptional and so a country full of exceptional people will, of course, be exceptional!

But, as we know, there is no such world as a world where everyone is exceptional. Instead, we end up in a world where some people are "more valuable" than others because they are exceptional while others aren't. This is an idea core to social Darwinism and eugenics (and NOT democracy), but which we used to not say out loud.  Oh, how the times have (un)changed!

So, the exceptional people have more value --they are the JOB CREATORS who just happened to have fired or laid off something like 20 million people in the month of April in order to meet quarterly stock targets. They are the ones pushing to force the 'less valuable' people back to low wage unessential work in order to get their money back even while the US government has literally handed them billions of dollars to cover losses and keep them afloat. This is the reality of American exceptionalism and "I got mine" rugged individualism, but the mythologies that surround it and which MUST BE DEFENDED from the likes of universal healthcare, support for public education, and public health policies that don't involve eugenic-style selection of the type Janet there thinks is normal, has brought those who are most harmed by these myths to become its defenders. And they defend it by rejecting vaccinations and masks in public.

What does Sophocles and authorial intention have to do with any of this?

A colleague (Latin teacher and medievalist by training) had a little back and forth with myself and A. Pistone over whether asking the question "Why did Sophocles write this" functions or matters. Here is the beginning of the convo for context:

There is a difference, of course between pondering what the author of any work might have intended (we obviously intend to convey things when we create) and THE intent of the author as embodying the meaning of the work--Greg is really advocating for the former and this is a totally useful and valid conversation to have, but many people (I will not name names. I will not name names) mean the latter. There is still in classics a strong tendency to treat performance texts as written texts, to ignore the dialogic and oral nature of those texts. Looking for the singular perspective of the author (who may not even be fully responsible for the text as it has come down to us) in the case of performative texts that are, by their genre, defined by their audiences, ignores the nature of the work. But, tragedy, and Sophocles in particular tends to get trapped in "GREAT MAN CLASSICS" in ways that do this. And it was this, not Greg's point, that Amy and I reacted against. He is not the bad guy.

With Sophocles and Oedipus Tyrannos especially there is an idea that the play embodies universal truths. But those truths aren't ones that different peoples at different times and in different contexts are expected to find. No, indeed. These universal truths are really a singular TRUTH that emerges from the intent of a singular genius, Sophocles. And it is for us to both find that truth and to revere the exceptional man who produced them. And if we do not find that Truth, it is because we are incapable of it--we must be a too poor, too not white, too not a man to be able to see the genius' truth. And all those works of scholarship that propose to read Sophocles through feminist or class or other lenses are "revisionist" in a bad way and are denying Truth.

It shouldn't be controversial when someone like me says that texts have meanings that are produced despite authorial intention and at the point of reception and that this means any text can have a variety of interpretations and even 'truths'. It's what actually makes works like tragedy so appealing--because they can be accessed in different spaces and times to produce meaning while still carrying in them all the past meanings that others gained from them. It should not be controversial to say that every text contains truths and not Truth. And, yet, this brings us to our third intersection.

The emphasis on authorial genius and Truth is no different from and a product of the same myths of Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, and the American Dream. And these are foundational to the Western Civilization narrative and so MUST BE DEFENDED.

John Gast "American Progress" 1872

Classics has been at the heart of the American Exceptionalism story since its beginning, but it was in the 19th century, as the "American West" was conquered, indigenous peoples eradicated or removed, and when the Lost Cause myth started us down the road to Jim Crow that things got super entrenched. I've written about this numerous times on the blog (example), there are articles on the way Latin textbooks have been used to perpetuate the ideas of the Happy Slave, etc. The above painting is a beautiful example of the ways "America" (which became especially in the Plato to Nato era the beacon of the "West") has been dressed up by the Classical. And university education and the Western Civilization curriculum have been integral to forging a shared White, elite identity for those who view revering of the canon and the "Great Men" within it is a cornerstone of the Western Civilization narrative. This thread by Dani Bostick on the most recent entry into the "Why We Must Teach Western Civ" catalogue (shockingly, from the National Review *insert sarcastic expression*) pretty much hits a BINGO on what we can come to expect from such articles. But, some people may be unaware of how this elitist argument is part and parcel of the Libertarianism that been intentionally trickled down into the "Everyman Real American" ethos--the one time trickle down has really seemed to work!

The narrative of American exceptionalism is premised on the Frontier Thesis, which argued that it was the westward expansion that forged American identity and which, unsurprisingly, was originally explicated in a speech in Chicago in 1893 at the American Historical Association meeting--coinciding with the World's Columbian Expo. This thesis is, in many ways, encapsulates the way this myth roots the Libertarian ethos at America's imperialist, capitalist core. In decades of cowboy films, textbooks called "The American Experience", and all of us playing Oregon Trail, this idea that America was about our rugged individualism, about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, and about how we all could, if we worked really hard, own our own 40 acres and a mule or strike gold (or black gold even) has been burned into us. And it means, essentially, that our freedom, American Freedom™ is about being free to do what we want--even at the expense of others (and ourselves). As Ibram X Kendi put it in a recent Atlantic article "We're Still Living and Dying in a Slaveholder's Republic":

The freedom to do, not the freedom of others to be free from harm--that is supposedly the American way. That is where the singular genius, the competitive individualism, the search the Truth and not truths takes us. And where it comes from. This is at the heart of the Western Civilization narrative. It is the heart of the White definition of American. It is why the same people who will tell us that only Sophocles' intentions matter are the same people who want to rush to open businesses, deny care or relief for those most harmed by their actions, and refuse to wear masks to protect both themselves and others from harm. It's a most undemocratic way to express one's freedom, but somehow those of us who care about others get to be "unAmerican".

Notes on the Athenian Metic

Tomb of a metic woman from Piraeus.
Inscriptions in Greek and Phoenician.
I have not been blogging much these days, in part because I have been pumping out overdue publications for the last three months and between teaching, translating for the Women sourcebook, catching up on owed writing, and designing a department t-shirt, there isn't much time to breathe. That and the fact that I have a highly active 14 year old who moves from field hockey season to basketball season to fencing season (which is really year round) to orchestra competition season (why is everything in the spring?) and I always stupidly overbook myself for speaking engagements in the spring when I teach my heavier course load. 

BUT! As I prepare for 3 days of fencing (during which I will be parent, substitute coach, and armory volunteer), I have a few minutes of down time to gather some thoughts.  So, what are those thoughts?

1. indigeneity: “In many countries, people identifying as indigenous have increased in number in recent decades, as greater numbers claim that identity category because it captures their social relationships to place, to settler or more powerful states, and to one another. For them, indigeneity is much more complex than biological relations alone. In addition, for indigenous peoples, location is not simply an aid to tracking movements of human bodies and relationships of markers. Rather, indigenous peoples understand themselves to have emerged as coherent groups and cultures in intimate relationship with particular places, especially living and sacred landscapes. In short, indigenous peoples’ ‘ancestry’ is not simply genetic ancestry evidenced in ‘populations’ but biological, cultural, and political groupings constituted in dynamic, long-standing relationships with each other and with living landscapes that define their people-specific identities and, more broadly, their indigeneity” (Tallbear, K. 2013 "Genomic articulations of indigeneity," 510).  
I was reading two articles by Kim Tallbear earlier this week with my Race and Genetics reading group and the discussion of indigeneity really struck me. It is something I have been trying to understand better for the article I am writing on metics (and which I was dancing around in my SCS paper). We use this word 'indigenous' a lot in discussion about Athenian autochthony, but because we are classicists, we never actually look at what they word means or its various articulations. And, I use 'articulations' here because this is something Tallbear is also wrestling with, particularly how genetics acts as a type of articulation that is at odds with many articulations of indigeneity among those understood as 'indigenous peoples'.

At the SCS panel, Jennifer Roberts presented a very good discussion of autochthony as it operates among modern groups as a comparative for Athens and she got push back from someone who was "uncomfortable" with the language of race in antiquity and wanted to remind us that "autochthony is just a metaphor". But both Jennifer and I were arguing that autochthony may be a metaphor, but it is also not just one. It has very real meaning and informs very real policies and behaviors. It needs to be taken seriously as not just a silly story. Tallbear can, I think, help us get there.

2. race: “…race becomes a way of organizing and managing populations in order to attain certain societal goals, such as political coherence, social unity, and a well-functioning economy… race is no longer descriptive. But causal: it facilitates and produces certain relationships between individuals, between groups, and between political subjects and sovereign power.” (Sheth, F. 2009 Towards a Political Philosophy of Race, 22).
I think people have seen enough of this blog and other  lectures/podcasts/etc to know my thinking on how race intersects with antiquity. The recent OCD entry on "race" by Denise McCoskey presents a somewhat different approach to race in antiquity, but I think she and I share a view that there are very important reasons to engage critical race theory and the functioning of race as a technology when trying to understand the ancient world. For me, again, it is about understanding the place of the metic in Athens. It is a political, social, intellectual, and racial category.

What do I mean by ‘race’? Three things need to be accounted for: human difference (physiological, cultural, etc), prejudice, and race: race is the institutionalization of prejudice and oppressions based on moving signifiers for human biological difference which can manifest differently in different times and places. This race-making manifests in institutions like laws and practices that create inclusions and exclusions, in groups and out. Metic laws are a manifestation of race-making in so far as they are legal, political, and economic structures rooted in prejudices based on perceived human differences between Athenians and everyone else. Race is the technology for classifying difference from a defined norm. In Athens (as in much of US history), that norm is "rooted" (a metaphor that needs exploration! Which Bettini has done recently) in theories of descent and heritability.

3. intersectionality: “‘Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts,’ Crenshaw said. ‘In particular, courts seem to think that race discrimination was what happened to all black people across gender and sex discrimination was what happened to all women, and if that is your framework, of course, what happens to black women and other women of color is going to be difficult to see.’” Crenshaw, K. from “The intersectionality wars” Vox, May 28, 2019.
A really important thing for me, if I am going to really get ahold of the way this heritability issue works to craft both the category of the indigenous Athenian and the metic, we need to make sure our analysis is always intersectional.

This technology that we call race is also not gender neutral--ie. I am advocating here that the structures surrounding the metic should be and need to be understood through the lens of intersectionality. Most scholarship on ‘metics’ talk of the laws and structures surrounding them as if they are default male--part of this has to do with assumptions about the make of the metic population. Also, it has to do with structural sexism in scholarship that assumes male as the norm or as magically general; anything pertaining to women is a deviation and so is treated separately, which means typically, not treated at all. So, in addition to recognizing the work of race in the making of ‘metics’, we also need to understand the working of gender. This is particularly important because almost every privilege or exclusion that define metics targets or impacts male and female metics differently.

In order to get into this issue, I have been trying to engage the areas of Athenian political discourse that gets us closer to their understanding of heritability and what we might consider the ancient articulation of genetics. It is tied in intimately to the indigeneity issue and, of course, the technology of race. In other words, all the things.


So, there you have it. These are the things that have been keeping me from blogging and have been occupying my mind.

Notes on "West" and "Western Civ"

Yes, I included this meme in the article.
I recently (like this morning) finished an article that examines three ways in which ancient Greece is used in support of white supremacism: orientalism, western civ narratives, and whitewashing ancient peoples. The article is for a volume called "Polarized Pasts" and has a word limit. Also, there is soooooo much material about Western civ that I had to delete about 3000 words worth. Instead of consigning it all to my digital trash bin, I thought I would post some of those cuts here as it seems to be a topic lots of people are interested in. But, you can probably see why it got edited out--too dense, etc. Anyway, let's go:

On Ian Morris' Why the West Rules...For Now

For some scholars there is nothing inherently racial or racist about the idea of a “West” and “Western civilization”. It can either be about values or geography. Ancient historian Ian Morris, for example, prefers a geographic definition of West, which he hopes will help him avoid falling into racist tropes. He devotes the better part of 100 pages in his book Why the West Rule—For Now coming up with a definition of “West” intended to show the fallacy of biological (and thereby race based) definitions of “Western”. Morris begins his quest to answer the question “Why does the West rule” by seeking to define it.

For Morris, the “West” (and “East”) is defined as:

…simply a geographic term, referring to those societies that descended from the westernmost Eurasian core of domestication, in the Hilly Flanks.[1] It makes no sense to talk about “the West” as a distinctive region before about 11,000 BCE, when cultivation began making the Hilly Flanks unusual; and the concept stars to become an important analytical tool only after 8,000 BCE, when other agricultural cores started appearing. By 4500 BCE, the West had expanded to include most of Europe, and in the last five hundred years colonists have taken it to the Americas, the Antipodes,[2] and Siberia. “The East”, naturally enough, simply means those societies that descended from the easternmost core of domestication that began developing in China by 7500 BCE. We can also speak of comparable New World, South Asian, New Guinean, and African traditions. Asking why the West rules really means asking why those societies descended from the agricultural core of the Hilly Flanks, rather than those descended from the cores in China, Mexico, the Indus Valley, the eastern Sahara, Peru, or New Guinea, came to dominate the planet (117).

For Morris, any divisions in culture are simply that, cultural, and a result of distinctive developments in these seven different core regions where agriculture and animal domestication become established. It is a fact of geography…except when it isn’t, of course. While Morris makes efforts throughout his discussion to dispute and ultimately refute what he calls “racial” theories of “Western” supremacy, he ever engages with the issue of how “race” and “culture” are intertwined. In fact, he assumes that “race” is itself about DNA and biology and not what we know it to be—a matter of social convention that seeks biological distinctions for cultural differences. As Angela Saini so eloquently shows, almost all theories of human cultural and “biodiversity” rest still on the categories created by race scientists in the 19th century—Europe, Africa, and Asia.[3] Morris not only doesn’t challenge such racist thinking, his use of “simply geographic” distinction that then develops “cultural descendants” allows the core of racist distinctions between an “East” and “West’ to hide in plain sight and continue to be used by those who uphold a cultural superiority of “Western civilization” as built ultimately on a biological reality.

Although Morris attempts to make the idea of ‘Western’ stand geographically and rooted in a deep antiquity, he still adheres to a theory that Western civilization was something that becomes quintessentially (northern and western) European by the 16th century, such that they could spread it through colonization to “the Americas, the Antipodes, and Siberia”. What this means is that the current definition of ‘Western” contains a decidedly non-cohesive geographic collection of spaces. As Sam Huntington states, the places that stand as the “West” since the 16th century are identified purely by the association with northern European settler-colonialism and imperialism. An amusing (but accurate) map of the ‘West’ might look something like this (Fig. 3):

Don't worry! I also included this map in the article! It just didn't work here as part of this particular section

Because Morris is looking into the deep history of a division between “West” and “East”, he doesn’t situate the origins of “Western civilization” with the Greeks, specifically. In fact, between roughly 1000 and 100 BCE, Morris sees “West” and East” as roughly comparable in their achievements, eschewing a “Greek Miracle” or, as Kwame Anthony Appiah calls it “Golden Nugget”, at the core of most Western civilization narratives. But, Morris does gradually shift the “West” away from it Eurasian starting point (as he designates it) towards Europe, while designating China as the ultimate bearer of the title “East” in order to make this work. Ancient Iran and the Achaemenid Persians, the Orientalized eastern other of the 300 discussed at the beginning of this chapter, are a credited with pushing the West forward, but then Morris shifts to core of the West, recentering it at Rome. It’s a very clever sleight of hand that allows the technologies and cultural deep past of western Asia and Egypt to be appropriated and claimed as the inheritance of northern and western Europeans via the ancient Greeks and Romans, while paving the way for the modern rejection of those same regions as part of the West at all, something visible most clearly in the “clash of civilization” models.

By defining Western as he does, Morris, even though he disagrees with Huntington in important ways (he does not view Western civilization as inherently superior, for example), ultimately defines the “West” through the mechanism of colonization and imperialism, not unlike those who do advocate for a narrative of Western superiority—a position inextricably bound to white supremacism and racism because it posits behaviors and values originating in a single geographic and ethnic space as inherent and heritable immutable characteristics.

[1] Hilly Flanks in the term used for the foothills regions within the so-called Fertile Crescent, the region that ranges across modern Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, eastern Egypt, Cyprus and the southeastern tip of Turkey.
[2] i.e. Australia and New Zealand.
[3] A. Saini 2019. Her interview with geneticist David Reich and discussion of the state of aDNA research is particularly illuminating.

West is Best? 

In response to the flap over Rep. Steve King’s remarks linking White nationalism, White supremacism, and Western civilization, Matt Lewis, senior writer for the Daily Beast wrote:

One could spend a lifetime studying the virtues of Western civilization, but it occurs to me that I should at least explain what I mean when I say those words. In general, we are referring to the norms and values that began in Western Asia and were developed and influenced by the Greeks, the Roman Empire, Judeo-Christian traditions, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment.

Due to a set of unique circumstances, this culmination of these events gave birth to innovative ideas like reason, tolerance, skepticism, individualism, natural law, human rights, liberal democracy, and an emphasis on science—in short, many of the virtues and values that a good “liberal” ought to endorse (not to mention the art and literature in the Western canon).

Ideas like “individualism” and “tolerance” transcend race and religion. Any baby (white, black, Asian, Hispanic—it doesn’t matter) born in America is assimilated into this culture; yet, we have had a difficult time exporting these values at the macro level. That’s because the miracle of Western civilization has nothing to do with genetics, but everything to do with culture and assimilation (emphasis mine).[1]

“Reason, tolerance, skepticism, individualism, natural law, human rights, liberal democracy, and an emphasis on science…” Lewis’s list of values supposedly unique to Western civilization is not one he invented, and is particularly popular among the non-specialist literati, like New York Times opinion writer and author David Books . He regularly bemoans the fact that students in colleges are no longer being taught the classics and a Western civilization curriculum, because:

This Western civ narrative came with certain values—about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.[2]

These value-based definitions are always presented as universal and something that people, regardless of background or context, can assimilate to. Assimilationism is, as Ibrham X. Kendi has argued, one of the dominant ways racist ideas are perpetuated—it assumes that one culture is superior and that others should want to assimilate to it and need to in order to be considered equal.[3]

The values based definition of Western civilization is not exclusively a product of popular opinion but aligns with the understanding of the concept as discussed by many historians, such as Niall Ferguson. In his book Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011), Niall Ferguson defines the “West” geographically as western, Europe and its direct colonies since, roughly, 1500, originating with the “Anglo-Saxon” states and expanding to eventually include the rest of western Europe. He recognizes the debt it owes to antiquity (calling “Western Civilization 1.0)” antiquity from Mesopotamia to ancient Rome),but defines the “West” mostly as “a set of norms, behaviors, and institutions” encompassed in these specific values:

1. Competition—a decentralization of both political and economic life, which created the launch-pad for both nation-states and capitalism
2. Science—a way of studying, understanding, and ultimately changing the natural order, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest
3. Property rights—the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government
4. Medicine—a branch of science that allowed a major improvements to health and life expectancy, beginning in Western societies, but also their colonies
5. The consumer society—a mode of material living in which the production and purchase of clothing and other consumer goods play a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable
6. The work ethic—a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity, which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by apps 1 to 5.[5]

Of course, the problem with rooting a culture or “civilization” in values is that these values tend to be projected not as one among many sets of values held by diverse peoples in the world, but as superior values—which is precisely what Ferguson argues:

There are those who dispute that, claiming that all civilizations are in some sense equal, and that the West cannot claim superiority over, say, the East of Eurasia. But such relativism is demonstrably absurd.[6]

Ferguson also explicitly states that empire and colonialism are fundamental to Western civilization. He repeatedly makes clear that the “West” is a superior culture, that its rise was “the single most important historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ”,[7] and that the proof of this is in the pervasiveness of a ‘Western way of life”:

For some reason, beginning in the late 15th century, the little states of Western Europe, with their bastardized linguistic borrowings from Latin (and a little Greek), their religion derived from the teachings of a Jew from Nazareth and their intellectual debts to Oriental mathematics, astronomy, and technology, produced a civilization capable not only of conquering the great Oriental empires and subjugating Africa, the Americas and Australia, but also of converting peoples all over the world to the Western way of life—a conversion achieved ultimately more by the word than by the sword (emphasis mine).[8]

In other words, the values that opinion writers like Lewis and Brooks identify as Western, but suggest are universal or that anyone can assimilate to are the ones that historians like Ferguson (and even Morris, even if unintentionally) link exclusively to not just a strictly European origin and perpetuation, but even an exclusively “Anglo-Saxon” and then more broadly western European source.

[1]How Steve King’s Idiotic and Odious Words Help the Left Destroy Western Civilization” The Daily Beast Jan. 11, 2019 (https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-steve-kings-idiotic-and-odious-words-help-the-left-destroy-western-civilization; accessed Jan. 13, 2020).
[2]Brooks “The Crisis of Western Civ” The New York Times, April 27, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/opinion/the-crisis-of-western-civ.html; accessed Jan. 27, 2020).
[3] Kendi 2019, 24-34, esp, and 2018, passim.
[5] Ferguson 2011, 13.
[6] Ferguson 2011, 5.
[7] Ferguson 2011, 8.
[8] Ferguson 2011, 4-5.