Evincing its dedication to innovative research, last year the RITM Center announced that it would house the groundbreaking journal Social Text. Eager to hear about the relationship between the journal and the Center we corresponded with Tavia N’yongo, Professor of African-American Studies, American Studies and Theater Studies and the co-editor of Social Text with Neferti X. M. Tadiar.
We are coming up on the 40th anniversary of Social Text and the journal is usually associated with New York as its central place of operations—what kinds of changes does the migration to Yale bring and what do you see the affiliation with the RITM Center enabling and opening up?
While it is true that Social Text has come to be centrally associated with New York area universities, at its origins it was conceived of as a polycentric editorial operation with offices in Madison, Wisconsin, the University of California, and New Haven, CT. Michael Denning recently reminded us that part of the original manifesto of the journal was actually to resist the metropolitan bias of the left! Today, there are active members of the collective currently based as far afield as Singapore and London, and our arts editor Susette Min is in California. So I guess you could say that moving the editorial office to New Haven is not so big a departure for the journal after all.
In terms of the affiliation with RITM, the model would be both the relationship the journal has historically struck to the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia, and, before that, the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers. In both cases, the journal and the center had the opportunity of synergy: journals of tendency do some things well, and academic centers for research do other things well. The budding relationship I hope will prove fertile ground for collaborations on symposia, working groups, special issues of the journal, and beyond.
If communicative capitalism wants us to live in the eternal now, perhaps a journal like Social Text can sustain an oppositional memory and tradition.
How would you characterize the type of work that Social Text is known for and how has that changed? Have you seen the work of fields associated with the study of race, indigeneity and transnational migration shift the journal’s orientation to scholarship?
Social Text is a left journal of tendency that has been associated with developments and debates in Marxist theory, with cultural studies, with the debates over postmodernism and poststructuralism, with postcolonial and decolonial critique, and with queer studies and queer of color critique. While that list by no means exhausts the range of topics the journal has covered over the years, I hope it does convey the degree to which the concerns of the journal intersect with those that have led to the founding of a center for the study of race, indigeneity and transnational migration at Yale.
We are actually editing a special issue on indigenous critiques of debt and dispossession at this moment in time, and we just published a special issue on race, religion, and war, if that gives you a sense of the frequency with which the journal’s editorial direction corresponds to the issues you put on the table. While it is not to be expected that every issue will align with the concerns of RITM, we do look forward to discovering those sites of intersection and prospects for collaboration.
How has the development of online platforms, the emergence of academic blogs, and the movement of student activism across campuses in the past few years shifted the way the journal views its status as a medium of knowledge? What are the opportunities and challenges that have developed with running an academic journal, one with a profound history, in 2016 and 2017?
That is a great question! And something we look forward to exploring through the working group, as well as other venues. In general, we have all experienced what Anna McCarthy (who is spearheading the redesign and relaunch of our website) calls the Great Cultural Speed Up, and also confront what theorist Jodi Dean critiques as the propensity of communicative capitalism to capture monetary value from all our socially mediated activities, regardless of their dissident intent. I think activist academics have found a readier venue for their energies in the raft of new left periodicals, both on and off line, that have emerged in recent years. Like Jacobin, The New Inquiry, Current Affairs, to give some examples.
Social Text is not really best suited as a venue for the “hot take”! And of course podcasting has become increasingly influential where in depth debate and discussion can take place. All this activity contributes to the discursive surround of the journal, which takes upon itself the task of sustaining a different sort of temporality and methodical reflectiveness in what we publish. Knitting together various discrepant strands of theory and politics, if you will. If communicative capitalism wants us to live in the eternal now, perhaps a journal like Social Text can sustain an oppositional memory and tradition.
What developments or projects are you most excited for as you look to the future of Social Text?
We are looking forward to collaborating with the Center in organizing conferences and symposia, as well as a working group that has already been up and running this year. There has been longstanding interest in developing a podcast. We are also actively looking to involve more faculty and graduate students at Yale in the life of the journal. I have fond memories of the role the Yale Journal of Criticism played in the intellectual landscape of my own graduate days. Social Text is a very different journal than the Yale Journal of Criticism was, of course. But I hope it can play a similar role of sustaining interdisciplinary intellectual conversations here at Yale.
On the one hand, the present conjuncture has proved politically galvanizing for a broad segment of the population for whom Trumpism is unacceptable as a vision for our national and global future. On the other hand, we have already seen that opposition to Trump and, more generally, right-wing populism and neo-fascism globally does not alone secure a politics, much less a theoretical agenda. To that end, the journal is presently engaged in a project to sketch out a collective outline for the period we are tentatively calling “After Globalism.”
Thanks for your time.
The Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration advances work related to Ethnic Studies fields; to intersectional race, gender, and sexuality research; and to Native and diasporic communities in the United States and abroad.