Leaning ‘back into’ the critical: Reclaiming quality and excellence in contemporary global knowledge production on race and whiteness

Higher Education (HE) institutions worldwide are undergoing swift transformation under the auspices of neoliberalism. These moves constitute a retreat from the critical (Thornton, 2015) insofar as equity agendas are being subsumed by discourses of excellence and entrepreneurism, which present as socio-politically benign. At the same time, Apple (2014) suggests that ‘being critical’ in many respects has become a rhetorical, somewhat hollow signifier that warrants scrutiny, particularly with respect to race critical research. But this does not mean that critical scholarship is obsolete. Rather, the transformation of HE from public good to private investment – and the manifestation of these dynamics across multiple arenas of public life – is neither neutral nor benign, which gives us pause to sharpen, rather than blunt, our collective critical stance. Indeed, markets are raced, classed and gendered, and do not make existing social divisions disappear (Blackmore, 2015). Thus, as market logic colonises our social and institutional spaces, subtle forms of discrimination are enabled to flourish beneath an ostensibly dispassionate veneer.

According to Goldberg (2013), neoliberalism has also played a lead role in the emergence of the so-called ‘post-racial’ era, the most recent globalising manifestation of race expressions. He suggests that this marks a moment, the ‘hyper-extenuation that is the neo-neoliberal’ (p. 23), in which race has been transformed into a market where syncretisation of racialised knowledges and representations are commodified and deployed for profit. This is occurring alongside attempts to suppress acknowledgement of historical and ongoing racial injustices and violences, which in actuality are patent. The duality of overt race-making in this way, hand in hand with race-denial, on the scale and scope that is hinted at here, has created conditions for race critical research to speak to a broad range of concerns, a task that is perhaps more urgent than ever. For Leonardo (2014), the suggestion of the post-racial signals a moment in which there are ‘new possibilities for critique, new questions to be posed about race’ that may not have been previously possible, and from this, there may be scope to move theorising of race beyond the limitations of abolitionist or rearticulationist framed research on race and racism.

Against this backdrop, intellectual work of the kind long-valued by ACRAWSA is at renewed risk of being silenced, underfunded, or poorly ranked on standardised measures of research ‘quality’, which favour the whitewashing of methodological positivism. Australian universities have become ‘harsher’ (Blackmore et al, 2015) places following aggressive moves to position themselves advantageously in global rankings, and this is having adverse implications for academic research, writing and publishing. Entrepreneurial universities and the dominant discourses to which they give rise increasingly emphasise individual performance while demanding instrumental know-how. Yet critical modalities of thinking, acting, collaborating and resisting are all vital for tackling the complex local and international concerns increasingly besetting us, including for instance the political and social challenges of inequality, poverty, super-wealth, education, urbanisation, asylum-seeking, and transnational environmental issues (Connell, 2015; Mackie et al, 2015). With these sorts of concerns in mind, Goldberg (2009) has encouraged pursuing relational rather than comparative studies of race and racism, to better understand and respond to the ‘globalisation of the racial’.

On the world stage, Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, the ascendancy of Trump and rise of right-wing nationalism in Norway, Hungary, Austria and Greece, are all arguably underpinned by a ‘crisis of whiteness’ as dominant groups in these regions struggle against the disarticulation of whiteness from national identity – recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia attest to this. Taub (2016) remarks, these racialised sentiments have been vociferously expressed at pro-Brexit events and Trump rallies alike, via the conservative war cry: I want my country back. On home ground, similar anxieties are re-emerging as discussions concerning treaty and recognition within the context of a Makaratta (Davis & Langton, 2016) are (some would say remarkably) playing out against the backdrop of the return of Pauline Hanson and a new iteration of the corrosive identity politics of the 1990s. Amidst this maelstrom we might well ask, what contribution has the scholarship of race made? Writing not that long ago, Winddance and Gallagaher (2008) outlined how and why whiteness studies had entered a ‘third wave’, but the speed and intensity of geo-political, economic and technological change experienced world-wide over the last decade, requires making space for a renewed fourth wave of research and scholarship, which is focused on contemporary and globalised forms of race and the effects of racism.

These complex social currents underscore the vital role of ACRAWSA and CRAWS Journal for defending alternative modes of knowledge production that challenge dominant epistemological and ontological paradigms – for instance, visual, digital and arts-based forms including photography, painting, portraiture, drawing, mixed media, video, performance, sound and poetry, among others. We understand that our interactions in multiple contact zones and modalities can contribute toward the creation of a new global knowledge economy, one with significance for social justice work within and beyond our national borders. The revival of CRAWS Journal presents a space for creating agendas of possibility that speak back to, and move us beyond, the devastating effects of neoliberalism (Springer, 2016), which are producing raced consequences among others. Moving forward, CRAWS Journal will offer a site for examining our shared understandings of our worlds and the possibilities for generating equitable social change; a site of resistance, hope, love and reciprocity, as well as a space for embracing the democratisation of knowledge by creating opportunities for otherwise marginalised voices whose counter-stories provide a powerful platform for learning.

We stand at the edge of yet another technological leap forward, with automation and artificial intelligence heralding profound changes to the organisation of work and family. Identity, belonging and growing inequality have become critical issues for global stability, and it is unclear what our economies, environments and relationships will look like into the future. We look forward to deploying CRAWS Journal as a key site for the dissemination of high quality social equity research and race scholarship that will provide one more voice in the effort to attend to place and the legitimation of diverse modalities of expression and belonging. We are excited about sharing this space with you.

Works cited
Apple, M. (2014). On being “race critical”. In Reid, A., Hart, E. & Peters, M. (Eds.). A companion to research in education (pp. 263-265). Netherlands: Springer.
Blackmore, J. (2015). Disciplining academic women: Gender restructuring and the labour of research in entrepreneurial universities. In M. Thornton (Ed.), Through a glass darkly: The social sciences look at the neoliberal university (pp. 179-144). Acton, ACT: ANU Press.
Blackmore, J., Sánchez-Moreno, M. & Sawers, N. (2015). Globalised re-gendering of the academy and leadership. Gender and Education, 27(3), iii-vii.
Connell, R. (2015). Australia in the global dynamics of social science: De-centring Europe and de- mythologising the ‘Asian Century’. In C. Johnson, V. Mackie & T. Morris-Suzuki (Eds.), The social sciences in the Asian Century (pp. 31-50). Canberra: ANU Press.
Davis, M. & Langton, M. (Eds.). (2016). It’s our country: Indigenous arguments for meaningful constitutional recognition and reform. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.
Goldberg, D. T. (2009). Debate: Racial comparisons, relational racisms: Some thoughts on
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Goldberg, D.T. (2013). The postracial contemporary. In Kapoor, N., Kalra, V. & Rhodes, J. (Eds.). The State of Race (pp. 15-30). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Leonardo, Z. (2014). Dialectics of race criticality: Studies in racial stratification and education. In Reid, A., Hart, E. & Peters, M. (Eds.). A companion to research in education (pp. 247-257). Netherlands: Springer.
Mackie, V., Johnson, C. & Morris-Suzuki, T. (2015). Australia, the Asia-Pacific and the social sciences. In C. Johnson, V. Mackie & T. Morris-Suzuki (Eds.), The social sciences in the Asian Century (pp. 1-30). Canberra: ANU Press.
Springer, S. (2016). Fuck neoliberalism. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 15(2), 285-292.
Taub, A. (2016, November 1). Behind 2016s Turmoil: A crisis of white identity. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/world/americas/brexit-donald-trump-whites.html.
Thornton, M. (Ed.)(2015). Through a glass darkly: The social sciences look at the neoliberal university. Acton, ACT: ANU Press.
Winddance-Twine, F. & Gallagher, C. (2008). Introduction: The future of whiteness: A map of the ‘third wave’. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31(1): 4-24.