Monthly Archives: March 2013

This week in the Supreme Court

It is been a good kind of week, in which we can observe how basic feminist understandings about essentialism and the public/private binary have triumphed and become thoroughly mainstream.  On the one hand, it is scandalous that so much time and money is being spent on the attempt to prevent the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. DOMA and Prop 8 should never have been passed, as they create a blatant, obvious and cruel form of discrimination. I don’t know why a minority of US politicians continue to oppose marriage equality for all citizens, as in the past two days they have failed to articulate the reasons for their opposition. Those denied the rights given to straight couples are harmed politically, economically, culturally and socially, and we are all impoverished by living in a society which discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of our own sexual orientation or desire or not to marry. By the way, Chief Justice Roberts, John Boehner and all you House Republicans trying to hang onto a discriminatory law, giving the rights to same-sex couples that are currently enjoyed by straight couples will not harm you personally in any way at all.  If you don’t like gay marriage, then don’t do it. Get married to someone of the opposite sex, or don’t get married at all. If marriage equality is upheld as a constitutional right, you won’t be forced into a gay relationship if that is not what you want.

Despite the dramatic failure of heterosexual marriage as an institution (the high rates of divorce and domestic violence, the uneven division of unpaid labour in most heterosexual households), it is something that many people still want to participate in. Ideally marriage is about love, sharing, loyalty and commitment (as well as about gaining societal status and recognition and access to equal rights such as social security and veteran benefits), so promoting through legislation a bit more love in the world, and the ability to express that love publicly can only be a good thing amidst all the things that are wrong in this world. In fact, if you care about kids and family values, this is urgent. The thousands of kids being raised by same-sex couples (some 40,000 in California alone) would cease to be subject to moral disapproval. Why should seven year old Lucy with two moms be treated differently from Sarah with a mom and a dad, or Hilary with just a mom, or Brian with a mom and a stepdad, or Sam who is being raised by his grandmother? Why should one family of one soldier killed in Afghanistan receive benefits in recognition of their sacrifice, while another family subject to the same tragedy be denied them?

Our families take many forms and gay and lesbian people who want to get married, often see themselves as a family and want to be seen as a family by the state and society in general. It is bizarre that a political party that often extols family values seems so indifferent to the suffering of actual families. Republicans don’t care about families. They remove the safety nets that allow families to get through tough times. They don’t want to ban assault weapons even though they are used to murder small children at school and US families are repeatedly torn apart by their all too frequent use. Many Republicans would prefer a desperate woman, who is somebody’s daughter or sister or mother,  with an unwanted pregnancy to risk her life in a backstreet abortion than have a safe legal abortion. They attack the Affordable Care Act even though it makes it easier for ordinary people to get health care. Accessible health care is good for families, and Michelle Bachman, it doesn’t kill women and children (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/23/michele-bachmann-obamacare_n_2940301.html), but a gun in the hands of an unstable person frequently does.

I am however really enjoying the way in which so many wonderful articulate women are putting these reactionary sexist white men in their place during the Supreme Court hearings this week, dismantling their essentializing arguments, leaving them incapable of mounting any kind of credible argument in response. Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending Prop 8, attempted to assert that marriage could only be between a man and a women in order to defend “responsible procreation”. He could not say tell Justice Sotomayor, why it would be wrong to deny someone a job on the basis of sexual orientation but not wrong to deny them the right to marry. On the question of “responsible procreation”, Justice Kagan asked Cooper if we should therefore deny marriage to people over 55, who are not able to conceive, or whether it would be inconstitutional. He was left unable to respond, and in his hilarious confusion about how babies are made, resorted to saying how men outlive their fertility. There has been a lot of laughter in the Supreme Court this week.

While some US states have legalized marriage equality, DOMA effectively annuls those state-given rights. DOMA ends up treating married same-sex couples as unmarried and thus denies them access to a whole range of federal benefits available to straight married couples, a situation which in the words of Justice Ginsberg gives us two kinds of marriage “the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage”.

Listening to Justice Scalia, it was apparent how inappropriate it is to homogenize or generalize about whole groups of people, as if families with straight parents have one set of attributes (loving, caring, good for children) while families with same-sex parents have an opposing set of attributes (dangerous, dysfunctional, bad for children). Nobody can take this seriously, as we all know that children are sometimes harmed in abusive households run by straight couples.  If children are harmed in same-sex households in any kind of general way, it is because their parents are treated like second-class citizens. Married couples, of any sexual orientation, do not of course have fixed essential attributes.

The entangling and mutual constitution of the public and private are amply revealed. It is abundantly clear that the question of marriage equality is simultaneously a public and private issue and at no point can it be reduced to one or the other. It is about our most intimate relationships, the people that we love in all kinds of ways, but it is about the presence of the state, and what it facilitates and constrains in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our military bases and our communities. The fact that a symbol of the Human Rights Campaign has gone viral on social media attests to how this political change is now inevitable. These are moments of feminist and queer triumphs, the things that you would learn in Gender Studies 101, have become part of everyday discourse, part of the common sense.

Latin American Development

Published by Routledge, March 2013

Latin America’s diverse political and economic struggles and triumphs have captured the global imagination. The region has been a site of brutal dictators, revolutionary heroes, the Cold War struggle and a place in which the global debt crisis has had some of its most lasting and devastating impacts. Latin America continues to undergo rapid transformation, demonstrating both inspirational change and frustrating continuities.

This text provides a comprehensive introduction to Latin American development in the twenty-first century, emphasizing political, economic, social, cultural and environmental dimensions of development. It considers key challenges facing the region and the diverse ways in which its people are responding, as well as providing analysis of the ways in which such challenges and responses can be theorized. This book also explores the region’s historical trajectory, the implementation and rejection of the neoliberal model and the role played by diverse social movements. Relations of gender, class and race are considered, as well as the ways in which media and popular culture are forging new global imaginaries of the continent. The text also considers the increasing difficulties that Latin America faces in confronting climate change and environmental degradation.

This accessible text gives an overarching historical and geographical analysis of the region and critical analysis of recent developments. It is accompanied by a diverse range of critical historical and contemporary case studies from all parts of the continent, providing readers with the conceptual tools required to analyse theories on Latin American development. Each chapter ends with a summary section, discussion topics, suggestions for further reading, websites and media resources. This is an indispensable resource for scholars, students and practitioners.

Review

“This book is a delight and its approach long overdue. By broadening its interpretation of the meaning of ‘development’ and by addressing many of the most contested issues in academic and political debates in and on Latin America, it brings home to the reader, but in an eminently comprehensible and digestible form, the complexity of the region’s recent and contemporary patterns of economic, social and political transformation. Moreover, to its great credit, it does so with a sharp eye, a sympathetic ear and a clarity and comprehensiveness which have all been sadly lacking in such books for several decades. This book sets the picture straight and does us all an invaluable service.” Antoni Kapcia, Professor in Latin American History, Faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham, UK.

“This book is a critical introduction to Latin America and its experience with development, and provides an invaluable resource to both students and scholars. Historically and geographically rich, this book examines processes of state formation and political economic thought through the colonial period and the Republican era, the emergence of Industrial Import Substitution and the dependency school, and the rise of neoliberalism and its discontents. These historical transformations have of course been marked by ideological struggle and political violence, and Julie Cupples proves the ideal guide to the continent’s shifting political and economic landscapes. The book highlights difference as well as continuity, and its attention to the region’s immense ethnic, linguistic, cultural, class, and ecological diversity is particularly valuable. Latin American Development provides a nuanced and authoritative look at political and economic change in the American continent.” Tom Perreault, Associate Professor of Geography, Department of Geography, Syracuse University, USA

The text can be purchased from:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Latin-American-Development-Routledge-Perspectives/dp/041568062X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1364503129&sr=1-1

http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415680622/

Adiós, presidente

Just because Hugo Chávez is a polarizing figure, which he is/was, does not mean we have to sit on one side or the other. It is not a matter of being pro-Chávez or anti-Chávez, especially for Latin Americans and Latin Americanists who are not Venezuelan. I got a little frustrated last night at the amount of airtime that CNN devoted to the views of Roger Noriega and Eva Golinger. For Noriega, who has often put his support behind coups and attempted coups in Latin America, Hugo Chávez was a dictator (Noriega is not really sure if he is socialist or fascist one though) and a threat to the US and his demise is wonderful news, while for Golinger, the man could do no wrong and his contributions to the creation of a better world are truly immense. What we need is a more complex picture of Chávez and what will be his legacy. Sure, Chávez put (some) oil wealth into social programmes, he provided a welcome and desperately needed challenge to US foreign policy and neoliberal economic policy and during the past decade or so, the Bolivarian revolution, along with the crisis of capitalism, has enabled socialism to become a thinkable and tangible political aspiration again in Venezuela and beyond. There is no end of history in Latin America today. Chávez also dared to complain at the smell of sulphur left by George Bush at the United Nations and got a new generation to read Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America. On the other hand, the Venezuelan economy is in a mess and murder rates are astonishingly high. He was democratically elected, but he was also without doubt a masculinist, populist and authoritarian caudillo. Many people loved him, adored him, and many are grieving. Just as many will be rejoicing, and hoping that the opposition now stands a realistic chance of returning to power. Those grieving are largely poor, darker-skinned and disadvantaged, those rejoicing are largely wealthy and white. That class and racial difference is significant.

But Chávez’ political style actually jeopardizes rather than foments revolution, because it is built around a cult of personality, rather than around a dynamic and proliferating social movement. He changed the constitution so he could remain in power. And it is a model that he has helped to reproduce elsewhere, most notably in Nicaragua, where there is also a masculinist, populist, and authoritarian leader in power, who is also clinging onto power. Daniel Ortega was re-elected in 2011 although the Nicaraguan Constitution forbids re-election. Along with his wife, Rosario Murillo, he has taken Venezuela’s oil wealth, some $2.5 billion since 2007 (but they privatized it through a company called ALBANISA so it doesn’t appear in the National Budget), while ordinary Nicaraguans are struggling with the highest gas prices in Central America, people have lost faith in the electoral system and small children are still cleaning windscreens late at night at the traffic lights of the capital.  But what will become of Nicaragua’s ageing caudillo and his destructive and anti-democratic determination to remain in power, now that his mate is dead? As Nicaraguan journalist and author, Sofía Montenegro commented on Twitter yesterday, with the death of Chávez, Nicaragua’s inconstitutional couple (Ortega and Murillo) has lost the goose that laid the golden egg. The death of Hugo Chávez changes Latin American politics, he was a significant actor that enrolled many other actors, in quite dramatic and decisive ways, in Nicaragua, in Cuba, in Bolivia. Without him, his discourse, his embodied presence and his bankrolling of his allies in the continent, these other actors will inevitably be reassembled and they won’t look the same in the medium to long term.

Ortega, Chávez and AhmadinejadSource: The Daily Telegraph

Ortega, Chávez and Ahmadinejad
Source: The Daily Telegraph