Given the tensions outlined in the previous chapters regarding Alain Badiou’s conception of emancipation and his politics of truth as indifferent to differences, one might ask: What responses might Badiou or other scholars interested in emancipatory politics and universalism provide? I propose that one helpful answer to this question is located in the work of Sylvia Wynter.
While the projects of Badiou and Wynter are distinct in ways that I develop throughout this chapter, there are a number of reasons why it is appropriate to bring Wynter and Badiou into conversation. First, like Badiou, Wynter describes how worlds are organized by a particular logic (or what she calls a worldview) that determines who appears (exists) in a world and who does not appear (inexists). Wynter’s project is a response to a specific problem: the inexistence and oppression of particular groups of people due to the logics of a state. Or more specifically, she analyses particular logics of worlds by drawing correlations between colonialism and conceptions of the subject (or Man) that are operating in contemporary Western societies. “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being” (2003) is a demonstration of how “Man” is constructed through a binary that presupposes the existence of, and simultaneously the creation of, its negation (or what inexists in a state). In other words, we can think of the concept Man as constituted through a articulation of non-Man (see McKittrick 2015, chapter 4; Wynter 1995). As a result, what it means to be human is founded upon the presupposition of a group of persons who are excluded from the category human. For instance, below I develop Wynter’s analysis of a particular kind of subjectivity (or Man)— namely, the “rational subject.” The rational subject is important for her project because this conception of subjectivity is bound up with European expansionism and the colonization of Africa, Asia, and the Americas (Wynter 1995). The implication is, therefore, that “rationality” is in fact not universal, as it purports to be; rather, it is dependent upon an other that is effaced from humanity. Thus, like Badiou, Wynter’s political theory and theory of emancipation offer a critique of systems of oppression and domination, and she does so by focusing on the description of the “subject” around which a worldview is organized. The first section of this chapter develops constructions of “subject–other” relations for Wynter in conversation with Badiou.
Second, like Badiou, Wynter’s theory of emancipation seeks to change oppressive structures and turns to what is outside the dominant logic that orders a particular world. Recall how Badiou develops his conception of truth, as indifferent to the differences and identities that are formed within a particular logic of a world. For him, truth provides the conditions for rupturing the logic of a world insofar as it transcends that world. Wynter, on the other hand, does not turn to the same kind of universal truths that are indifferent to differences; instead, she develops a conception of liminality. For Wynter the “liminal” is a position through which conscious awareness of the logic of a particular world can be made evident. Contra Badiou, the operation of the liminal or marginal subject is not to subtract particularity and identities from truth, emphasizing the importance of universal truths. Rather, Wynter emphasizes the importance of identities for emancipation through her analysis of the Négritude movement. For her, Négritude is exemplary of emancipation because it operates outside the subject–other binary that determines who exists according to a particular logic. Wynter’s analysis of Négritude is juxtaposed with Badiou’s, for whom Négritude cannot be thought of as either political or emancipatory because it is based in particularity and, as such, fails to rise to the level of universality. Contra Badiou, for Wynter, Négritude is demonstrative of her formulation of emancipation and the political. The second section of this chapter outlines the importance of the liminal for Wynter’s project juxtaposed with Badiou’s conception of subtraction and his politics of indifference.
Third, Wynter expands her analysis of Négritude in “Beyond the Categories of the Master Conception: The Counterdoctrine of the Jamesian Poiesis” (1992) in order to demonstrate how it is possible to conceive of a politics of emancipation that is universal while also maintaining the importance of particularity for the purpose of political emancipation. In this essay, she provides what she calls a “pluri-conceptual” model for emancipation that emphasizes multiplicity over singularity. The third section of this chapter develops Wynter’s “pluri-conceptual” model for political emancipation in conversation with Badiou’s politics of indifference.
This chapter is thus broken down in the following way: (1) I draw a comparison between Wynter’s construction of subject–other relations and Badiou’s description of existence–inexistence, (2) I develop Wynter’s conception of the liminal in order to distinguish it from Badiou’s method of subtraction, and (3) I develop Wynter’s pluri-conceptual model for politics and emancipation compared with Badiou’s politics of indifference.
On Constructions of Subject–Other
The first section of this chapter addresses problematic, dominant conceptions of historical subjects and the production of knowledge as a kind of perpetuation of colonialism or, more specifically in this case, “coloniality.” Coloniality is a term introduced by Aníbal Quijano in “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality” (2007). Quijano proposes that coloniality is a correlate to, and an extension of, colonialism and modernity. In short, if one were to conclude that European colonialism no longer exists in a particular place, the effects of colonialism, through the dependency relation between colonialism and modernity, would continue to exist. For example, such continuations of coloniality/modernity exist in contemporary societies through racialized oppression and Eurocentric structures of knowledge. This continuation of colonialism and its support for European modernity is what Quijano names “coloniality.” Coloniality refers to a framework of power created by European groups over “racially” and “ethnically” marginalized communities. Specifically, coloniality refers to the exploitation and domination of cultures and the imagination of marginalized groups (Quijano 2007, 168–69). In naming coloniality, and through his critical interrogation of it, Quijano proposes a decolonial project.
Similar to Quijano, Wynter offers a decolonial project that critiques coloniality; however, she uses the term “enchantment” in several essays to describe her approach to coloniality. She portrays enchantment as a state of existence that is undergirded with colonial histories and yet wholly unreflective of the various implications of coloniality. Enchantment is also meant to express a social condition and a collective state of mind (or social imaginary) that might accompany the lack of reflexivity within a given worldview. As a result, enchantment is a term she uses that has political and colonial implications, as well as psychological and cognitive ones. The manner in which she is able to interweave such seemingly disparate systems of thought is developed throughout this chapter. For the time being, we can think of enchantment as a kind of lack of reflexivity about (colonial) realities.
The aim of her decolonial project is a process of “disenchantment”—that is, to throw off the blinders of enchantment and engage in critical projects. Additionally, one must also guard against what she calls the “re-enchantment,” whereby the social imagination falls back into an unreflexive and uncritical position supported by coloniality. What follows is a development of various historical moments that exemplify modes of enchantment.
The geopolitical context that Wynter is concerned with begins with Europe. Specifically, she is concerned with what led to European expansion in the “New World.”1 The manner in which I provide an account for this European expansionism (or more specifically, European colonialism) is via differing conceptions of dominant European subjects (i.e., of the human, or of Man). In other words, we can better understand how European colonialism was possible and conditioned through dominant conceptions of what was meant by “human” at various points in history. According to Wynter:
Whether religious or secular, all such schemas/programs and their formulations of a “general order of existence” also function to inscribe the specific “descriptive statement” of the human that is enacting of the ontogeny/sociogeny, nature-culture mode of being human, for whom the specific ensemble of motivated behaviors will be adaptively advantageous. (2003, 280)
In other words, the conception of what it means to be human that dominates any particular world reflects, or more specifically, is the inscription of a kind of ordering that dominates that world. Three distinct conceptions of the subject are discussed below: (1) the Judeo-Christian conception of the subject (i.e., the Human, or the True Christian Self), (2) the rational self as a political subject of the state (i.e., Man 1), and (3) the economic and biological man (i.e., Man 2).2 It is important to understand these conceptions of subjecthood because we can draw various correlations between them and because the economic and biological man (Man 2) continues to influence present-day Western social and political relations. In addition, in each case we can locate the correlation between the descriptive statement of what it means to be human and the general order of existence that it perpetuates. This conception of the human thus serves as an analogue to Badiou’s conception of the transcendental operator that will be discussed in further detail below.
The Judeo-Christian Subject: The “Human,” or the “True Christian Self”
The Christian conception of the subject is theocentric and loosely corresponds to conceptions of the subject in Medieval Latin Christian Europe (Wynter 2003, 268).3 Generally speaking, the Christian subject presupposes a notion of the existence of the True Christian Self (281). The True Christian Self can be understood as being “gifted with spirit” and thus blessed by the grace of God. At the same time, not all persons were attributed this position of the True Christian Self. Instead, outside of this order of existence, there is a space of Otherness for those who have succumbed to the “ills of fallen flesh,” those who exist outside of the grace of God, and those who are sinful by nature. Specifically, this refers to heretics and “enemies of Christ,” or pagan-idolaters (266). Of course, within this general order of existence, there is a plan of salvation to cure the ills of those who were enslaved by original sin, insofar as original sin threatened all the subjects of the order (278–79). Interestingly, in this sense, there were degrees of spiritual perfection and imperfection, resulting in a hierarchy of humanness (287).
The general order of existence in Medieval Christian Europe is mapped onto the dichotomy between “Spirit” and “Flesh.”4 In addition to its production of a dominant conception of the subject operating at the time, the Christian order of existence was also projected onto the cosmos. As Wynter states, “This Spirit/Flesh code had then been projected onto the physical cosmos, precisely onto the represented nonhomogeneity of substance between the spiritual perfection of the heavens . . . as opposed to the sublunary realm of earth, which . . . had to be at the center of the universe as its dregs” (278). In other words, there was a difference in substance between the heavens (spirit) and the earth (flesh). In addition, the earth was the center of the universe insofar as it lacked the capacity for motion (motion being a divine attribute). This general order of existence has implications for the subject that it constituted (or that was attempted to be created, in its most perfect form) and also has structured the conception of the universe. This order was all-encompassing.
In addition, the mapping of the geography of the earth can also be understood in terms of the existing order of Spirit/Flesh. During this period, the Christian conception of the world was divided up between realms that were habitable and were in the grace of God (centering on Jerusalem) and regions that were considered uninhabitable because they existed outside the grace of God. Thus, “Before the fifteenth-century voyages of the Portuguese and Columbus . . . the Torrid Zone beyond the bulge of Cape Bojador on the upper coast of Africa . . . had to be known as too hot for habitation, while the Western hemisphere had had to be known as being devoid of land” (279). The Torrid Zone comprised those areas of the world that existed outside of the grace of God and that were therefore uninhabitable.
The theocentric conception of what it meant to be human was produced through the master code of Spirit/Flesh and further reified through the nonhomogeneity of the heavens and the earth as well as the geography of the earth. However, this descriptive statement of what it meant to be human was unsustainable for a few reasons. First, the fifteenth-century voyages “proved that the earth was homogenously habitable by humans, seeing that the Torrid Zone was indeed inhabited, [and that] . . . the land of the Western hemisphere . . . turned out to be above water” (280). In other words, the geography of the theocentric framework described above was proven to be false. Together with Copernicus’s new astronomy, that proposed that the earth moves around the sun, the nonhomogeneity of the heavens and the earth, as well as the previous conception of how the earth was mapped, could no longer be sustained.
As a result, “an epochal rupture” was set in motion (281). The theocentric conception of the subject as the True Christian Self was no longer feasible because the master code upon which it was structured (Spirit/Flesh as evident through the geography of the earth and manifest in the study of the cosmos) had been swept away in favor of a new science and new mapping of the earth.
It is important to note here that there continues to be some similarities between Badiou and Wynter, given the description of Wynter’s project provided above. First, for both figures a state or world is organized according to particular principles—that is, what Badiou calls the “transcendental index” and what Wynter has described as the theocentric framework ordered by the master code of Spirit/Flesh. Second, both figures regard the Copernican Revolution as an event, albeit in different ways. Recall from chapter 1 that for Badiou an event is a rupture with the current transcendental order through which a new transcendental order takes place. Within this framework, the Copernican Revolution attests to an evental rupture that radically changed the manner in which the universe was ordered. Again, this has serious implications for the sciences, and as a result a new (physical) science emerges. In addition, for both Badiou and Wynter, it follows that the principles that order any particular world are contingent.
There are also notable differences between Wynter and Badiou at this juncture. While for Wynter the Copernican Revolution, and the discovery of inhabited land in the Torrid Zone, result in an epochal rupture and the creation of a new set of ordering principles, the epochal rupture is not a totalizing break between the two. While these two ordering principles are different in kind, and the former did not cause the latter, there remains some continuity between them. Recalling the discussion of Badiou’s conception of an event in chapter 1, we know that for him there can be no continuity between the transcendental order prior to the event and the transcendental order that follows from the event. For Badiou a total break is imperative in order to constitute a new political structure. In other words, in order to avoid an adaptation or adjustment of a previous transcendental order, a total break is required. For Wynter, as I demonstrate below, elements of the Spirit/Flesh master code will reappear in different worldviews, despite the logic of the worldview (including sciences, geography, and subject-formation) being distinct. Finally, for Wynter a new subject emanates from the rupture of the dominant ordering principles of Spirit/Flesh; it is the rational political subject of the state.
The Rational Political Subject of the State: Man 1
The rational political subject of the state roughly corresponds historically to the Renaissance period. The emanation of the rational political subject of the state from the Christian conception of the true self can be located in part by drawing out the differences between a religious concept of man/humanity that preceded the Copernican Revolution and a rational concept of man/humanity that followed. The narrative Wynter develops in “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being” draws upon the fluctuating influence of science and religion in knowledge production. In summation, she states:
It was therefore to be on the basis of this new conception, and of its related civic-humanist reformulation, that Man was to be invented in its first forms as the rational political subject of the state, as one who displayed his reason by primarily adhering to the laws of the state—rather than, as before, in seeking to redeem himself from the enslavement to Original Sin by primarily adhering to the prohibitions of the Church. (277)
Put simply, following the Copernican Revolution, we find in the Enlightenment era a concept of man/humanity that presupposes reason—via the new role of science—as a founding idea for the new universal “man.” Within this new framework, God became knowable to human beings insofar as human beings were conceived as being created in God’s image, contra the theocentric conception of the human for whom knowledge of God was foreclosed (278). Similarly, there was a shift from understanding the cosmos via supernatural causation to understanding the universe through natural causation, a shift that was required for the rise of the natural sciences (305).
Regarding the formation of the subject in particular, with the epochal shift described above, Wynter is pointing to the “systemic representational shift being made out of the order of discourse that had been elaborated on the basis of the Judeo-Christian Spirit/Flesh organizing principle . . . to the new rational/irrational organizing principle and master code” (300). In other words, what it meant to be human in this era became equated with the capacity for rationality, which additionally came to adhere in the degree to which one could obey the laws of the state. As a result, the state itself is what determined what it meant to be rational.
According to Wynter, Man 1 was still dependent upon a certain conception of God; however, the manner in which God was conceived is strikingly different from the previous era. She writes:
It was this new premise that God had created the world/universe for mankind’s sake, as a premise that ensured that He would have had to make it according to rational, nonarbitrary rules that could be knowable by the beings that He had made it for, that would lead to Copernicus’s astronomy, . . . that since the universe had been made for our sake by the best and wisest of craftsmen, it had to be knowable. (278)
Within this framework, God became more beneficent and mankind was now considered capable of understanding God’s plan.
The historical narrative used by Wynter demonstrates that dominant conceptions of man or of human are not accidentally constituted. Rather, there is some impetus or force that is responsible for creating such dominant conceptions. As previously noted, prior to the Copernican Revolution, the dominant concept of humanity was founded upon natural law, and was implemented by the laws of Christianity. Part of her project is to ascertain what led to the shift from natural law to reason. There are a few ways in which we can understand the shift from the Christian to the Enlightenment concept of man/human that the Copernican Revolution marks. For instance, she notes it could be attributed to the rise of science as changing the structure of knowledge production at that time. Along the same lines, it could be attributed to a notion of equality that was becoming more prevalent. In other words, in lieu of one’s position being dependent upon natural law, the Enlightenment era assumed the rational subject to be capable of presupposing a kind of universality that had previously been foreclosed—that is, that all persons could be rational but not all persons could be touched by the grace of God. However, she stipulates that these are, in fact, not the overarching reasons for the shift to the Enlightenment concept of humanism. First, she states, “it was a constitutive part of the new order of adaptive truth-for that had begun to be put in place with the rise to hegemony of the modern state, based on the new descriptive statement of the human, Man, as primarily a political subject—of, therefore, the West’s own self-conception” (300). In other words, the new world order was founded upon, and indeed perpetuated, a specific conception of man that was of its own making. But it is the manner in which this self-conception was constructed that renders it a worthy object of critique regarding the racial hierarchies and conceptions of universality that issued from it. Wynter emphasizes the role of the subject over the role of sciences as shaping the order of the modern state. Whether or not it is an accurate portrayal of the shift from the Christian worldview to the Enlightenment worldview, her primary concern is the experience of what it means to be human in each worldview in order to make evident those who are excluded from what it means to be human. In addition, and by implication, her intention is to demonstrate how the logics of particular worlds are built on the creation of those who are excluded from the experience of being human. Furthermore, to assume that the shift to the Enlightenment was based upon a notion of equality would be to overlook the context in which this transition takes place. Specifically, the context through which she develops this analysis of the shift from the Christian conception of the human to Man 1 is European expansionism and colonialism. She reminds us that “it is important to realize that this reinvention of the Western self was determined by a concrete relation” (Wynter 1976, 84). This new order was also made possible through the reinvention of the dominant conception of the subject as rational.
Before we move to the conception of the human that Wynter claims continues to exist in the contemporary Western world (Man 2), it is important to note the similarities between the two conceptions of the subject just discussed—that is, the theocentric True Christian Self (the Human) and the rational conception of the political subject (Man 1). On this topic, she states:
In the wake of the West’s reinvention of its True Christian Self in the transumed terms of the Rational Self of Man, however, it was to be the peoples of the militarily expropriated New World territories (i.e., Indians), as well as the enslaved peoples of Black Africa (i.e., Negroes), that were made to reoccupy the matrix slot of Otherness—to be made into the physical referent of the idea of the irrational/subrational Human Other. (Wynter 2003, 266)
The construction of the dominant conception of the mode of being human is dependent upon the simultaneous construction of its own negation. We see this in what it means to be a True Christian Self, a position that maintains a fear of the enemies of Christ and the explicit desire to save those enemies of Christ for the purpose of preserving a specific world order. Similarly, the construction of the rational subject can be understood as being for the purpose of delineating a group who is considered irrational or subrational. The categories of irrational and subrational human other, for example, are not unintended consequences of the idea of the rational subject; rather, they are intentionally created alongside and for the purpose of the creation of the dominant subject category. In addition, while the rational subject might be categorized as an idea, the subrational and irrational positions are inherently physically and materially experienced (for example, the military expropriation and genocide of Indigenous populations and the enslavement of people from Black Africa). All this is to say that “Cultural racism is therefore organic to—and not anomalous to—Western capitalism, and ipso facto to Western civilization” (Wynter 1976, 86). As a result, it is important to understand the dominant conception of the subject and the role it plays in perpetuating the logics of worlds.
For example, the Valladolid controversy of 1550–51 was the first European debate about the rights of colonized people. Of course it should be noted here that the rights of the colonized people need to be thought in relation to arguments for the justification or legitimation of the rights of European settlers over the New World and the peoples who inhabited these new worlds. The two figures who were engaged in this debate were Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Las Casas was a sixteenth-century Dominican friar (and one of the first European settlers in America),5 while Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda was a sixteenth-century philosopher and theologian. The Valladolid controversy is of particular importance for the purpose of this project because it makes evident the two distinct conceptions of the subject just described—that is, the Human and Man 1.
Generally speaking, Las Casas’s position in the Valladolid debate can be thought of as operating within the theocentric model of the subject—that is, within the Spirit/Flesh master code of the Judeo-Christian conception of what it means to be human. As noted by Wynter, for Las Casas,
the indigenous peoples of the New World could not be classified as Enemies-of-Christ, since Christ’s apostles had never reached the New World, never preached the Word of the Gospel to them. Which means that because they could not have ever refused the Word they could not . . . be classified as Christ-Refusers, their lands justly taken, and they themselves enslaved and/or enserfed with a “just title.” (Wynter 2003, 293)
The Indigenous peoples of the New World (who obviously were not Christian prior to European settlers’ arrival in the New World) could not be thought of as enemies of Christ because they had never heard the word of God and therefore could not have denied it. As a result, within this world order there was no justification through which Indigenous peoples could be disenfranchised of their rights and their lands. At the same time, however, “African slaves, whom he then believed to have been acquired with a just title, should be brought in limited numbers as a labor force to replace the Indians” (293). According to Las Casas, the colonization of Africa was justified because the peoples of Africa were enemies of Christ—enemies because, he believed, they had heard the word of God and denied it. As a result, he contended that the African continent belonged to no one prior to European colonization (terra nullius), and thus European conquest of the continent was justified. This was, then, the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (293–94). It should be noted that once Las Casas learned about the unjust methods used by the Portuguese to obtain African slaves, he regretted his decision (Las Casas 1971).6
As is made evident in the Valladolid controversy, Las Casas’s position was neither the only position regarding the Indigenous populations in the New World nor the dominant one. As Wynter states, “Las Casas had thought and acted in the terms of his Christian evangelizing imperative. The Spanish state’s primary imperative, however, was that of its territorial expansion, of realizing its imperial goals of sovereignty over the new lands” (2003, 294). Las Casas’s position reflects the theocentric master code described above. For him, the aim was to provide the conditions through which the True Christian Self could be achieved by all persons, including Indigenous populations of the New World. Presumably, the kind of European expansionism that he was concerned with was in reference to this theocentric model and genre of human being. However, with the epochal rupture on the geographical and cosmological level, and the corresponding effects in the sciences, a new set of goals was constructed. And with this new set of goals came about the new rational conception of the subject. What Wynter draws our attention to, in conversation with various theorists such as Aníbal Quijano and Walter Mignolo, is the motivation for this new conception of the subject for the purpose of European expansionism. This correlation is most evident in Sepúlveda’s justification for the colonization of Indigenous populations of the New World.
In Aristotle and the American Indians, Lewis Hanke outlines the four reasons Sepúlveda offers as justification for war against Indigenous peoples:
- “For the gravity of the sins which the Indians had committed, especially their idolatries and their sins against nature.
- On account of the rudeness of their natures, which obliged them to serve persons having a more refined nature, such as the Spaniards.
- In order to spread the faith, which would be more easily accomplished by the prior subjugation of the native.
- To protect the weak among the natives themselves.” (1959, 41)
As noted by Hanke, the second point noted above laid the foundation for the argument that “some men are born to be natural slaves” (44), an argument that stems from his reliance on Aristotle, as well as the presumptive superiority of Spaniards (45). Despite the use of sin and idolatry in the four points listed above, there is something that is fundamentally distinct about Sepúlveda’s discussion of Indigenous peoples, located squarely in his invocation of natural slaves. For Las Casas, conversion was possible for all persons, and therefore (presumably) there were no natural distinctions between groups of peoples. For instance, according to Hanke, Las Casas “concludes, from a vast array of evidence, that the Indians are no whit less rational than the Egyptians, Romans, or Greeks, and are not much inferior to Spaniards. Indeed, in some respects, he declares them even superior to Spaniards” (55).7 But, for Sepúlveda, to be born a “natural slave” meant that there was no changing one’s social and political location. Put most simply, for Sepúlveda, Indigenous populations, as well as African populations, could justifiably be enslaved based on a new conception of order: rationality.
For Sepúlveda, Indigenous populations were considered irrational, and the mass of enslaved peoples of Africa were considered subrational. The explicit culmination of this point for Sepúlveda in particular (and in the context of the Valladolid controversy) was that Indigenous and African populations were natural slaves and therefore their enslavement was justified. As a result, “it was here that the modern phenomenon of race, as a new, extrahumanly determined classificatory principle and mechanism of domination, was first invented” (Wynter 2003, 296). Rationality, or the degree to which one is in the mode of being human, becomes constructed through phenotypical and religio-cultural differences.
The existence of a self–other distinction in Wynter’s project—whereby the dominant conception of what it means to be human (i.e., the True Christian Self or Man 1) simultaneously creates its own negation (i.e., the fallen or the irrational)—is similarly part of Badiou’s critique. As noted in chapter 1, Badiou aims to develop a theory of politics that is not based upon exclusion and thus his view seeks to address this dichotomy of the self–other. Wynter also conceives of this dichotomy as appearing problematically in European colonial history, as noted above. However, as previously discussed, the manner in which Badiou attempts to dismantle this exclusionary construction of the state (a requirement for his theory of emancipation) is by way of his politics of indifference. As I move forward with this project, my attention is focused on the manner in which Badiou and Wynter each respectively attend to the inexistent or the position of negation, as well as the role they each respectively assign to this position. Briefly, Badiou and Wynter seek the emancipation of the inexistent, to use Badiou’s language. However, Badiou’s theory of emancipation requires an indifference to differences (such as race) in order to achieve universal emancipation, whereas Wynter’s theory of emancipation works through differences (such as race) in order to achieve universal emancipation.
The Economic and Biological Man: Man 2
The third example of the self–other master code is the economic and biological man, or Man 2. The economic and biological genre of being human that continues to pervade Western social and political contexts begins roughly in the nineteenth-century by way of liberal humanist intellectuals (314). As we will see below, while Man 2 is both continuous and discontinuous with Man 1 and the theocentric conception of being human, the principles that Man 2 presupposes are quite distinct (318). Man 2 is a secular conception of what it means to be human. The distancing of Man 2 from a religio-centered construction is due to its focus on biocentric and economic modes of being human.
Generally speaking, this conception of the human is dependent upon Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In particular, two premises of Darwin’s theory are particularly important for Wynter’s construction of Man 2: (1) the human exists “in a line of pure continuity with all other organic forms of life” (314), and (2) natural selection impacts the fitness of species, resulting in certain traits being passed down to future generations through reproduction. The implications of these two premises are developed below. Alongside the biocentric conception of the human is the economic conception of the human—that is, “homo economicus.” Like the theocentric and rational conceptions of what it means to be human, the biocentric and economic co-constitution of the genre of being human is defined through its negation.
What then is the negation upon which Man 2 is dependent? The new category of human Otherness is “now comprised of the jobless, the homeless, the Poor, the systemically made jobless and criminalized—of the ‘underdeveloped’—all as the category of the economically damnés, rather than, as before, of the politically condemned” (321).8 Man 2 is, on the one hand, constructed on the basis of what it means to be an economically productive member of society. The ills of the society, as a result, concern the population who are perceived as not contributing economically. For example:
Enslavement here is no longer tied to Original Sin, or to one’s irrational nature. . . . Rather, enslavement is now to the threat of Malthusian overpopulation, to its concomitant “ill” of Natural Scarcity whose imperative “plan of salvation” would now be postulated in economic terms as that of keeping this at bay—of material, in the place of the matrix spiritual, Redemption. (320)
At the same time, however, Wynter claims that the economic genre of being human is mapped onto a Darwinian chain of being that is manifest in two manners (309). First, “This principle, that of bio-evolutionary Natural Selection, was now to function at the level of the new bourgeois social order as a de facto new Argument-from-Design—one in which while one’s selected or dysselected status could not be known in advance, it would come to be verified by one’s (or one’s group’s) success or failure in life” (310). An economic hierarchy is mapped onto a biocentric hierarchy. Or, in other words, economic success (and thus economic failure) is mapped onto a conception of who is most fit (or least fit) in society. As a result, the economically damned in society, or the dependents of society, can thus justifiably (according to this system) be dysselected from society and found undeserving of social aid. Second, drawing from a Darwinian conception of the continuity between all living creatures, the economic and biocentric conception of man also operates upon a continuity of those who are most fit and those who are least fit.
An important implication of this new space of Otherness is confirmed by Frederick Douglass’s “The Color Line” (1881), echoed in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903). Wynter describes the color line as “a line drawn between the lighter and the darker peoples of the earth, and enforced at the level of social reality by the [law, likely] instituted relation[s] of socioeconomic dominance/subordination between them” (310). As a result, the color line comes to demarcate what in previous systems were the Spirit/Flesh dichotomy and the rational/irrational dichotomy, culminating in the demarcation of those who are deserving of reward (and the most fit) from those who are not (322). More specifically, those who were economically disenfranchised because of their race, through racial segregation and red lining, for instance, are deemed less fit within a given social reality—that is, economic failure is a failure of one’s ability to adapt and survive in a social context.
For Du Bois, the color line refers to the racial segregation of African American peoples in the United States, segregation that occurred through legal structures as well as discursive means. In addition, his discussion of the color line also establishes what he calls “double consciousness.” In The Souls of Black Folk, he states the following:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (1994, 2)
In other words, double consciousness is when a marginalized person recognizes not only their own self-perception but also how they are perceived as a member of a marginalized group by a dominant group. A further implication here is that someone who has the sensation or experience of double consciousness has a particular kind of epistemic position in the world, whereby they have access to different kinds of knowledge based on their position in relation to the color line. As a result, for Du Bois and for Wynter, marginalized people have access to knowledge that is not immediately accessible (if accessible at all) to those who occupy dominant positions within the same social reality.
There are various examples that we can draw from in order to understand the ramifications of this genre of being human. We could look to the recent (and historical) anti-economic migrant sentiment in Europe and North America. For instance, in the UK the anti-immigrant sentiment that was central to the 2016 Brexit vote was based on the idea of job scarcity for UK citizens, a distinction that is likely based upon the color line just described, albeit an extension of the color line based upon a racialized other that is “not British.” One might also consider “the criminalized majority Black and dark-skinned Latino inner-city males now made to man the rapidly expanding prison-industrial complex” (Wynter 2003, 261) or the criminalization of Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States (Ross 2016; Teran 2016; Lumsden 2016). In all these cases, racial profiling presupposes the evolutionary natural selection of those who will “make it” and those who will not.
At this point it should be apparent that there are some similarities between the conceptions of a worldview and the notion of worlds developed by Wynter and Badiou respectively. For instance, for Badiou, “world” implies a series of relations, a network through which objects appear (Badiou 2009, 99). Additionally, “a world articulates the cohesion of multiples around a structured operator (the transcendental)” (102). In other words, worlds provide the conditions through which objects appear, but are ordered by what he calls the transcendental index. Furthermore, the ordering of any world is wholly contingent. For Wynter, a worldview refers to a dominant narrative that organizes worlds according to a particular conception of what it means to be human (i.e., the True Christian Self, the rational political Man 1, or the economic and biological Man 2). Similarly, for Wynter the organization of worlds according to some master code is contingent and thus could be organized differently. Generally speaking, both Wynter and Badiou offer a critique of these dominant and oppressive conceptions of worlds and also seek solutions to oppressive world orders. The continuities between Badiou’s and Wynter’s political theories of emancipation provide the conditions for my analysis of why and how Wynter’s political theory offers a substantial alternative to Badiou’s project without radically changing the kinds of goals he has for his project. Alternatively, the continuities between their projects also allow me to demonstrate that there is an alternative solution to Badiou’s project in Wynter’s work. To these ends it is the distinctions between their projects with which I am concerned. Whereas Badiou focuses on a politics of indifference based upon a theory of political truths, Wynter focuses on liminal positions and a theory that emphasizes differences in addition to universal emancipation through her pluri-conceptual framework. These points of comparison are the focus of the next two sections.
On Liminality and Négritude
In “The Ceremony Must Be Found,” Wynter defines liminality as follows:
[It is the] experience [of] a structural contradiction between [one’s] lived experience and the grammar of representation which generate the mode of reality by prescribing the parameters of collective behaviors that dynamically bring that “reality” into being. The liminal frame of reference therefore, unlike the normative, can provide . . . the outer view from which perspective the grammars of regularities of boundary and structure-maintaining discourses are perceivable. (1984, 39)
Unlike the normative/dominant position, the liminal position is thus situated such that it marks the lives of those whose experiences are in contradiction with that dominant position. Recall, for instance, the discussion above of Du Bois’s conception of double consciousness, whereby an African American experiences the contradiction between being American and being Black. Such a contradiction is experienced because their lived reality is imposed upon by dominant positions that exclude them. At the same time, however, because of the experiences of the liminal position, marginalized persons are well situated to see the contradictions inherent to the normative view. There are a number of ways in which one can be marginalized and, as a result, a plethora of liminal positions that one could occupy. For this reason, I will not attempt to name them here. However, a significant amount of work on the experiences of marginalization and the kind of knowledge that is produced out of this marginalization has been done. Most notably, Du Bois wrote on the topic most explicitly in The Souls of Black Folks. One could also consider Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) as providing an account of the epistemic situatedness of (white) women in a male-centered society.9 Similarly, Monique Wittig’s The Straight Mind (1980) offers a conception of “the lesbian” as epistemically situated differently within a heterosexual social reality. It is important to note, however, that one’s identity as Black, gendered, and gay, for instance, does not mean that one inherently has conscious awareness of the epistemic situatedness of their liminal positions. Rather, as stated above, they are better situated to gain this epistemic position.
Similarly, in “Beyond Liberal and Marxist Feminisms,” Wynter draws on the work of Asmaran Legesse, stating that “it is the liminal category who ‘generates conscious change by exposing all the injustices inherent in structure’” (Wynter 1982, 36). Thus, for Wynter, liminality can provide a view from which to understand a dominant/normative structure and ordering of the dominant referent through which the subordinate being and the dominant referent are both constituted. In this sense it is very important to provide space for a discursive intervention from the liminal frame of reference.
According the Wynter, “The category minority is always already a subordinated category within the organizing principle of difference/deference of our present ‘symbolic contract’ and of the mode of particular ‘nature’ to which its specific secular ontology ‘tied us down’ metaphysically” (1987, 233). However, “in order to call in question this ontologically subordinated function, ‘minority discourse’ can not be merely another voice in the present ongoing conversation or order of discourse” (233). In other words, the significance of the liminal over the dominant referent is that the liminal provides a point of view that can shift/disenchant the dominant referent; it is to disenchant, to make unstable, the structure that seeks its own stability. The liminal can provide the conditions for a critique of the dominant worldview, according to Wynter. However, the manner in which the liminal becomes manifest for Wynter is such that it is firmly entrenched in particularity and difference.
In many of Wynter’s essays, she notes the prevalence of a conception of Being formed on the basis of a lack-of-Being (Wynter 1976, 1987, 2003)—for example, the rational–irrational or subrational binary and the True Christian Self–pagan idolater binary, both of which emulate the Being–lack-of-Being binary. Noting the problems of this binary above, the central aim of this section is to determine how it is possible to move beyond this binary logic. Or, alternatively, I am going to consider the ways it is possible to conceive of the emancipation of those who are allocated to the position of lack-of-Being. For Wynter the creation of the liminal, or “minority,” category alone is insufficient to transcend the binary, as noted in the previous paragraph. As such, she provides an alternative to a conception of lack-of-Being that is juxtaposed to Being, or a “we” juxtaposed against a “they.” According to Wynter, the juxtaposition of these two locations is one of codependence, or, more specifically, each position is constructed for the benefit of the dominant location. An attempt to rethink and unravel this system requires a different positionality, one that exists outside the binary logic. This third position that exists outside of the binary is akin to Du Bois’s description of double consciousness. Namely, it is a marginalized position, but one that is also epistemically situated and conscious of the manner in which the binary operates. It is thus important to note a difference between those who are relegated to the position of other within the self–other binary and those who are marginalized in society and have gained double consciousness. While the former can be construed as a product of the binary, the latter should be thought of as existing outside the determination of the binary, or at least not wholly determined by it. For Wynter, Négritude is an example of a position that exists outside an oppressive binary logic and is helpful in shedding light on the importance of the liminal position and its role for a theory of emancipation.
In “Ethno or Socio Poetics,” Wynter makes reference to Césaire’s famous poem “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land.” She states the following:
[This poem] comes from the fact that in creating the concept of Negritude, he was contesting an implicit Western assumption of Blanchitude (the term is Jacques Leenhardt’s) that created characteristics of its own negation in the Negro; so that Negritude took as much issue with this implicit concept of the negro as it did with the assumptions of blanchitude. (1976, 92)
One of the central features of the Négritude movement for Wynter is evident in the delineation between blanchitude/Negro and Négritude. Similar to previous discussions of the problem of enchantment, the correlation between blanchitude and “Negro” is one of negation. In this example, blanchitude presupposes the position of the dominant or normative position (or Being) and Negro is the negation of this position (or lack-of-Being). This is akin to Badiou’s conception of (negative) identity discussed in chapter 3. However, what distinguishes Wynter from Badiou is evident in her articulation of the different roles of Negro and Négritude. As previously noted, the category of Negro is produced for the purpose of the creation of the dominant position—blanchitude in this instance. Negro is dependent upon blanchitude. Recalling chapter 3 and my discussion of negative identity, Negro can be thought of as constituted through the white gaze. Négritude, however, is not constituted through the white gaze, nor was it created for the purpose of maintaining the dominant position. Rather, as noted above, for Wynter, it serves to demarcate a position that is critical of both blanchitude (Being) and Negro (lack-of-Being). In this sense it would be problematic for Wynter to equate Negro and Négritude because doing so would erase the source from which Négritude gains its meaning, and it would erase the existence of those who named it. Given that Négritude offers a critique of both the conception of Negro and blanchitude from a marginalized position, Négritude exists outside of the self–other binary. Thus she maintains a conception of identity that is not merely negative, but alongside Belle, she affirms that such conceptions can also be construed as positive.
Wynter provides us with a second example that utilizes her analysis of the Négritude movement in an alternative way. She states:
The black experience in the New World . . . constituted an existence which daily criticized the abstract consciousness of humanism; that the popular oral culture which the black created in response to an initial negation of this humanness, constitutes as culture, the heresy of humanism; and that is why black popular culture—spirituals, blues, jazz, Reggae, Afro-Cuban music—and its manifold variants have constituted an underground cultural experience as subversive of the status quo Western culture as was Christianity in the catacombs of the Roman Empire. For it was in this culture that the blacks reinvented themselves as a WE that needed no OTHER to constitute their Being; that laid down the cultural parameters of a concretely universal ethnos. (92)
Similar to her description of Négritude above, she provides an example of identity that is not premised upon a binary system. For instance, when she states that the reinvention of Blackness is a we that needed no other, she is proposing that it is possible to create an identity that is produced outside a dominant binary and not merely a negation. Importantly, she also describes this movement as both cultural and universal, the implications of which are developed below. The concept of Négritude simultaneously creates a new concept (sign) and exists outside the negative dialectic of blanchitude and Negro.
In a similar manner, Wynter describes Black aesthetics more generally as “the transformation of consciousness from being ‘Negro,’ in the negative sense defined by the dominant society, to being self-defined positively as ‘Black,’ with the suffering of a Negro-Black conversion experience” (1998, 273). A reordering of Western aesthetics, like Western politics (as one that “saw the exclusion and denigration of the black historical experience and the ‘white orientedness’ of the universality as a whole” ), requires that Black people and Black artists “define the ‘world in their own terms’” (274). The importance of the Négritude movement is in part because it provides the conditions to get outside the normative binary (of positive and negative identities, in this case blanchitude and Negro). At the same time, the liminal position is important because it provides the conditions for the creation of new objects of knowledge as evidenced by the Négritude movement. Wynter’s articulation of the role of the creation of new objects of knowledge from the liminal position is evidenced in her conception of epistemic disobedience, the focus of the next section.
Before I delve into epistemic disobedience, it is important to note the differences between Wynter’s and Badiou’s respective conceptions of Négritude. Recall that, for Badiou, Négritude is neither political nor progressive. Instead, Négritude is categorized as cultural; it is cultural because it is mired in identity—that is, identity that is also subsequently determined by the oppressive structure that it seeks to upend. Contra Badiou, for Wynter, Négritude is not determined by the oppressive structure that it seeks to upend. Rather, Négritude exists outside of the self–other binary that orders a particular world. Thus, contra Badiou, Wynter claims that Négritude produces itself outside the self–other, or subject–other, binary and therefore can be progressive and political.
What, then, is the correlation between the liminal position, Négritude, and the ability to constitute new worlds? The answer is located in a conception of epistemic disobedience. There are various ways in which Wynter performs epistemic disobedience. In “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being” and “1492: A New World View” (1995), two of her most foundational essays, she investigates specific representations of what it means to be human and the structure that gives rise to, or produces, such representations. For instance, the production of Man 1 (the rational subject) discussed above already presupposes what counts as knowledge. In a circular fashion, Man 1 presupposes that knowledge can only be produced by rational subjects, yet rationality is attributed only to select groups of persons. Accordingly, groups of people who are not considered rational are thereby excluded from humanity, and are thus considered incapable of producing knowledge. As a result, knowledge has a very specific function that Wynter claims is bound up with colonial conquest (see Wynter 2003, 1995). Walter Mignolo describes epistemic disobedience in the following manner:
Under the rules of the epistemic canon, and according to its racial mandates, if you have been classified in/as difference, then you are required to submit and to assimilate to the canon or remain outside. Wynter does not follow either of these pathways. She instead engages what I call the decolonial option, a practice of rethinking and unraveling dominant worldviews that have been opened up by Indigenous and black and Caribbean thinkers since the sixteenth century in América (with accent) and the Caribbean. The decolonial option does not simply protest the contents of imperial Coloniality; it demands a delinking of oneself from the knowledge systems we take for granted (and can profit from) and practicing epistemic disobedience. (2015, 106–7)
The practices of epistemic disobedience that Mignolo attributes to Wynter are not reactionary positions against dominant systems of knowledge. Rather, epistemic disobedience is an interrogation of the manner in which knowledge production transpires. The act of “delinking” that he makes reference to as an important aspect of epistemic disobedience denotes a specific location from which practices of epistemic disobedience can be enacted. From such a location, an interrogation of dominant knowledge systems can take place outside the dominant system of knowledge itself. For her, however, this “outside” does not reify the binary logic discussed above, whereby the dominant system of knowledge exemplifies the “One” and practices of epistemic disobedience represent what is “Other.” Rather, dominant systems of knowledge are founded on a binary logic, whereby what is (e.g., the rational subject, the counted) always already presupposes what is not (i.e., its negation). The act of delinking and practices of epistemic disobedience necessitate a location outside this binary logic, a kind of third position. It is this position of radical differentiation from the structure of knowledge production itself that makes possible a “rethinking and unraveling of [a] dominant worldview.”
As noted by Mignolo above, “Indigenous and black and Caribbean thinkers since the sixteenth century” have been engaging in decolonial practices of epistemic disobedience. Jane Gordon’s practice of creolization enacts similar decolonial practices, whereby it is imperative to engage with theorists outside of the dominant system of knowledge production (Frantz Fanon in her case) in order to reconceive of figures in the philosophical canon (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance) (Gordon 2014; Gordon and Roberts 2015). The manner in which this engagement is enacted, however, is equally important. For instance, Gordon is careful not to appropriate Fanon for the purpose of developing a theory based on Rousseau. Rather, as she states explicitly, Fanon and Rousseau must equally be imposing on the other. Through this method of creolization, she is not enacting the rejection of the Western European philosophical canon; instead, she is providing the conditions for a new structure of knowledge by meaningfully introducing thinkers that have been delegitimated and marginalized within philosophy. One might also consider Sean Glen Coulthard’s (Yellowknives Dene) Red Skin, White Masks (2014). In this book he discusses the importance of the reintroduction of Indigenous values, politics, and practices for decolonization.
Within practices of epistemic disobedience, Wynter’s goal is “to introduce and integrate . . . several ‘new objects of knowledge’ which cannot meaningfully exist within the discursive vrai (truth) of our present ‘fundamental arrangements of knowledge’ nor within the analogic of its ‘(ethic-) theoretical foundations’” (Wynter 1987, 207). In addition, what becomes possible is the establishment of new ground, upon which “new objects of knowledge can find their efficient criterion/condition of truth” (207–8). According to Mignolo, Wynter is not attempting to overturn existing systems of knowledge. Rather, through her critique, she is attempting to change the way in which knowledge is produced and through which knowing itself is constituted. At the same time, however, he claims that “Wynter is not proposing to contribute to and comfortably participate in a system of knowledge that left her out of humanity (as a black/Caribbean woman), but rather delink herself from this very system of knowledge in order to engage in epistemic disobedience” (Mignolo 2015, 106). Thus it would seem that, for Wynter, in addition to offering a critique of how knowledge is produced, she is attentive to her own positionality (as an academic) in relation to systems of knowledge production. While epistemic disobedience is not a concept Wynter herself employs, it nonetheless provides a manner through which one can understand her methodology.
New objects of knowledge exceed and cannot be constrained or understood within the production of knowledge already operating. In so doing, epistemic disobedience can serve to disrupt the “episteme or fundamental arrangements of knowledge,” insofar as knowledge practices perpetuate a specific worldview (Wynter 1987, 208). In addition, “for fundamental change to take place, it must take place both in the conception and in the pattern of relations” (Wynter 1992, 67).
A Pluri-conceptual Framework: Multiplicity and Difference
Wynter’s conception of the liminal exemplified by the Négritude movement and the function of epistemic disobedience provides the conditions for her theory of emancipation. That said, in order to further develop her theory of emancipation, we must develop what she calls a “pluri-conceptual framework.” This framework is of particular importance to her theory of emancipation because it both demonstrates the importance of identities such as race for a theory of emancipation, and, in line with the role of the liminal articulated above, it also describes a component of her theory that is universal. Central to this framework is, thus, an articulation of emancipation that is dependent upon particularity and universality. Her conception of universality is developed in her discussion of what she calls “Jamesian poiesis.”
In her essay titled “Beyond the Categories of the Master Conception: The Counterdoctrine of the Jamesian Poiesis” (1992), Wynter provides an analysis of the “deconstructive thrusts in [C. L. R.] James’s works and the counterdoctrine that they produced” (63). Of interest to this project is her description of James’s “pieza framework” that she describes as “pluri-conceptual” (63): “The pieza was the name given by the Portuguese, during the slave trade, to the African who functioned as the standard measure or the equivalent of physical labor against which all the others could be measured” (81). The pieza was determined on the basis of the amount of labor an approximately twenty-five-year-old male in good health could produce. The values of slaves were thus determined on the basis of a pieza.
For Wynter, by way of James, the pieza can become a more general standard of measure “establishing equivalences between a wider variety of oppressed labor power” (81). In other words, the standard of slave labor is used to conceptualize oppressed labor power in general. The initial goal of the pieza framework is to displace normative Western conceptual frames, repositioning a labor conceptual framework such that it can incorporate the trade in African slaves (81). The starting point for this analysis of oppressed labor is the slave trade, thus emphasizing the importance of understanding the slave trade as foundational to a conception of labor. In addition, the pieza framework requires an analysis of the relation between modes of production and modes of domination (81). More specifically, “economic exploitation only follows on, and does not precede, the mode of domination set in motion by the imaginaire social of the bourgeoisie” (81, emphasis in original). Domination is thus not a product of economic exploitation, domination can be conceptually prior to economic exploitation, and a theory of labor must be able to account for this priority. James provides a theory of labor oppression that utilizes liminal positionalities and enacts epistemic disobedience.
Wynter’s use of liminality for her theory of emancipation and her discussion of James’s pieza framework also demonstrate the importance of identity for her theory of emancipation. Specifically, she states that “James was aided in the task of deconstructing these [master] conceptions by his identity as Negro. . . . It is because of the multiplicity of his consciousness” (68). Wynter’s use of “Negro” in this instance is not merely an invocation of negative identity, whereby James’s identity and existence are entirely constituted through the dominant (white supremacist) order. Rather, her description of James’s deconstructing of master conceptions is meant to imply the critical capacity of the liminal position. James’s marginalization and his critical interrogation of oppressive logics indicate that there is thus some knowledge or perspective that James has access to that aids in his ability to offer a critique of Western conceptions of labor.
It is important to note here that Wynter’s reference to James’s Black identity aiding in the development of his theory of emancipation is explicitly distinct from Badiou’s theory of emancipation. Recall that Badiou considers minoritarian and identitarian logics that do “not hesitate to posit that this culture’s constitutive elements are only fully comprehensible on the condition that one belongs to the subset in question” to be “genuinely barbaric” (2003, 12). By extension, as discussed in chapter 1, politics cannot adhere to identities if a politics is to be emancipatory. Instead, identities must be subtracted from the truth of politics. Badiou might then consider it “barbaric” or apolitical for James to utilize his Black identity for the purpose of augmenting his theory of emancipation. However, as should be evident at this point, it is indeed Badiou’s project that is problematic and limited because of his failure to account for the role the liminal position can play in emancipatory movements. Furthermore, it is worth stating that the invocation of barbarity for prioritizing one’s own experience of marginalization perpetuates harmful presuppositions of what counts and reinforces the supposed need for Eurocentric structures.
The question that remains, however, is as follows: In what way can Wynter offer a theory of universal emancipation that also emphasizes a role for identities? First and foremost, she stresses a multiplicity of identities in order to constitute one’s lived reality. In speaking about James, she states, “These multiple permutations [color, levels of education, levels of wealth, and levels of ‘culture’] gave rise to multiple identities: to the ‘ecumenicism’ then of being a Negro—of being Caliban” (1992, 68). The experience of “being a Negro” is not determined by any one particularity or essential characteristic. Instead there are multiplicities of identities that arise from a multiplicity of permutations. Similar to my description of race in chapter 3 through the work of Outlaw, race is conceived as “‘a cluster concept’ in which no single factor, like biological descent, is essential and thus the causal determinant of all the others” (Jeffers 2013, 406, emphasis in original).
Second, Wynter insists that “a system of color value existed side by side with capital value, education value, merit value, and labor value. To single out any of these factors was to negate the complex laws of the functioning of the social order, the multiple modes of coercion and power relations exiting at all levels of the social system” (1992, 69). It is thus imperative to provide an analysis of social systems and power relations through a pluralistic framework. In contradistinction to Sartre’s emphasis on class over race, Wynter notes that the “factory model was only one of many models” (69). Furthermore, in contradistinction to Badiou, who subtracts particularity from his conception of the political, Wynter emphasizes “the multiple modes of coercion and of exploitation” (69). The pieza framework is an attempt to contain all modes of coercion and exploitation (69)—that is, a framework that aims to “constitute the multiple identities and competing subjective entry points of struggle particular for achieving Black self-determination” (Glick 2016, 161). In other words, there is no singular mode of oppression and exploitation that provides the conditions for theorizing Black liberation or the Negro question. Neither is it possible to conceive of emancipation by subtracting particularities such as race, class, or gender from its conception. Rather, the pieza framework requires that one address multiple modes of coercion. For example, as previously noted, a conception of economic exploitation ought not conceptually and materially center classism over racism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Third, “Different Pieza groups means different sites, opportunities, and actors of resistance to domination” (161). Thus the implication is that political emancipation is a multifaceted approach. This means that there is no “mono-conceptual framework—no pure revolutionary subject, no single locus of the Great Refusal [of a social hierarchy], no single correct line” (Wynter 1992, 69). For Wynter the benefit of the pieza framework is that it names particular groups (“women, workers, dominated races, and other groups” ) in order to articulate a theory of emancipation that can address multiple forms of oppression. To subtract particularity and identity from a theory of emancipation would be to subsume all oppression under one general and generic framework, which would be problematic.
Wynter’s emphasis on particularity can thus be juxtaposed with Badiou’s conception of “the people.” As discussed in chapter 1, the people, for the most part, must denote a generic set from which all particularity is subtracted. In order for “the people” to be constituted politically, they must be faithful to a political truth that transcends the logic of the current state. Furthermore, all identities and particularities (such as race and gender), insofar as they are determined by the logic of the state the subject aims to upend, cannot be utilized for the purpose of universal emancipation. In other words, the people cannot seek the emancipation of Black trans women, for instance. Identities are thus negative and cannot be utilized for the purpose of emancipation. The question that I am attempting to address through the pieza framework is as follows: What kind of oppression does such a theory of emancipation seek to upend? The problem that I have been attempting to make evident throughout this project is that, for Badiou, oppression itself seems to be conceived of along a single axis. In other words, there is little to no consideration of how different structures of oppression exist and how they need to be addressed in different ways. One might ask the following: In what way is the emancipation of Black people possible without considering the knowledge of those who have been oppressed on the basis of their Blackness, without addressing the structure through which oppression of Black people takes place (racism, sexism, classism, for example), and without the affirmation of Black people in particular?
Wynter’s analysis and development of the pieza framework is an attempt to address such concerns regarding single-axis approaches to theories of emancipation. Yet the framework that she provides through James is not solely focused on individual particularities. Rather, the Pieza framework is pluralistic, emphasizing a multiplicity of identities at the same time, in order to address multiple faces of oppression. Her politics of emancipation emphasizes “the mode of being together in the polis, [which] is shaped by the struggle of groups and individuals to maintain or redefine the terms of their relations” (73). Universal emancipation thus takes the form of a multifaceted approach, through various identities, to approach all forms of oppression. “A pluri-conceptual theoretics, a universal based on the particular (Cesaire) is the logical result and outcome of the Jamesian poiesis . . . [that] leads necessarily to a praxis that is correspondingly plural in nature” (84). Thus, unlike Badiou for whom universality is juxtaposed against particularity, for Wynter, universality is based upon particularity. According to Wynter, it is possible to base universality on particularity if a theory of emancipation is pluralistic and intersectional and engages in what I would call a politics of solidarity. For instance, she states, “A relation in which the solidarity of the labor code, that is, of the world proletariat, must not negate the imperative solidarity of the African people. The road to the universal passes through the realization of the particular—at least in the popular conceptual frame” (87). Contra Sartre and Badiou, particularity must not be sublated in order to attain universality, as something that needs to be overcome. Rather, for Wynter, the realization of particularity is the source of universal emancipation whereby “black particularism . . . opens up the possibility of providing a transcultural perspective” (Wynter 1998, 281). The benefit of such a framework is that it remains open to a plurality of oppressions. This theory is inclusive of, for instance, poor rural whites in the U.S. South, and is sufficiently open to address systems of oppression that might not currently be addressed. It is important to note, however, that the experiences of oppression of poor rural whites will be distinct from poor Black people in the rural U.S. South.
The general mode of resistance offered by James is dependent upon the affirmation of marginalized and oppressed communities. Furthermore, for Wynter, emancipation is motivated by the lived experiences of those who experience a tension at the heart of their lived reality and who critically interrogate this tension—that is, those who exist in what she names the liminal sphere. For a theory to properly address the emancipation of all persons, it must not presume the mere contingency of racial identity. As Nick Nesbitt states:
Césaire’s brief article “Conscience raciale et révolution sociale” concisely refutes . . . the priority of proletarian class struggle, and the corresponding precedence of the vanguard Stalinist party (PCF), over anti-imperialism and anti-racism, to assert instead the imperative of black self-consciousness: “We must not be revolutionaries who accidentally happen to be black [nègres], but truly revolutionary blacks [nègres révolutionnaires].” The lived experience of racial subjection is in this view preeminent, and the recognition and assertion of the Martinican’s negritude, the article asserts, must occur prior to any truly revolutionary politics. (2013, 104)10
In this instance it becomes apparent that race is not incidental to the revolution; rather it provides a central feature of it. As a result, the liminal is not something that is empty, nor ought we to endeavor to be indifferent to differences. Rather, the liminal is a position that, while unprivileged according to the norms and the structure of society, is privileged according to having the means to create new modes of existence. The liminal, as difference, is thus crucial for Wynter’s theory of emancipation. This move is then further evidenced by her maintenance of “cultural movements,” such as the Négritude movement, as having significant political import.
In many ways this is not only a cursory account of Wynter’s project but also a cursory analysis of the relation between Badiou and Wynter. Wynter is deserving of significantly more attention and a more in-depth analysis of what I have called her political theory of solidarity. That said, the central feature of this project in its current iteration has been to analyze the role race plays in Badiou’s and Wynter’s respective theories in order to demonstrate that there are alternative and divergent framings of emancipatory movements. The previous chapters focused on Badiou’s politics of indifference as providing the means for political universal emancipation. In this sense his position is easily juxtaposed to Wynter’s uplifting of the liminal position (as difference) for whom identity can be constituted for the purposes of emancipation, whereby new objects of knowledge can be created for the purpose of a new emancipatory episteme and new conceptions of the subject. As such, I thought it appropriate to bring Badiou and Wynter into conversation, but one could have chosen any number of other theorists who engage in a similar mode of critique. What is perhaps most important to glean following this lengthy project is that theories of universality need not be emptied of particularities; rather, it is possible to conceive universal emancipation that is filled with particularities and which indeed also benefits significantly from what particularities (such as race and gender) have to offer. That said, there is much work left to be done.