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.