Marcella Bencivenni, “US communism, anticommunism and espionage: The Case of Carl Marzani, 1947-1953”. Commentary by ARC Student Fellow Daniel Vallee

The story of Carl Marzani (1912 – 1994) does not fail to disappoint.  Hostos College Historian Marcella Bencivenni presents the highly politicized life of Marzani—a charismatic and important figure of the Left—as the first victim of McCarthyism, the US national witch-hunt for communist spies and sympathizers during the Cold War.  Bencivenni’s narrative of Marzani serves as a timely (the 2016 US presidential nominations are a spectacle to behold) microcosm illustrating the oftentimes frustrating clash of political leaders, discourses of national security, public intellectuals, media narratives, and public opinion.  Bencivenni’s research, in preparation for her forthcoming book on Marzani, takes what one audience member called a “moderate stance” to the accusations of espionage hurled at Marzani, who served in the United States Government department of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS): the first intelligence office of government, predating the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

As members of the Marzani family looked on, Bencivenni described the impressive figure of Carl Marzani.  Marzani, migrating at the age of 12 from fascist Italy, was the son of a socialist postal worker father who refused to sign Mussolini’s loyalty pledge.  Subsequently they were forced to flee Rome for the mining community of Scranton, NY.  Marzani was a successful student, receiving scholarships to both Williams College and Oxford.  In Britain he joined the British communist party, and upon return to the US, joined the US communist party.

Marzani was a Marxist intellectual and excellent speaker and debater who would “talk at you” rather than with you.  A prolific writer, Marzani translated the Marxist theories of Gramsci, and wrote the first revisionist history of the cold war.   Notably, a young Bernie Sanders wrote an endorsement of Marzani’s memoir The Education of a Reluctant Radical.  Demonstrating a jack-of-all-trades flexibility, Marzani also directed Deadline for Action (Union Films, 1946).

Marzani’s intelligence and skills would be recognized by Office of Strategic Services (OSS) director William Donovan, who recruited Marzani.  Marzani’s tenure with the OSS, which according to one audience member “wouldn’t even be running if not for all the communists who worked there,” came to a grinding halt on March 17, 1947, when he was indicted by a federal grand jury—not for treason under the Smith Act, which might be expected —but rather under the False Claims Act, for defrauding the government.  What was the nature of the fraud?  Marzani’s denial of his membership with the communist party at his time of hiring at the OSS

The trial of Marzani was complicated from a legal perspective, but after a series of two split Supreme Court juries, on May 22, 1947, Carl Marzani was found guilty on all 11 counts and was sentenced to 1-3 years of jail time.  Most relevant to the case were the competing discourses from the Right and Left news media.  The Right’s narrative was epitomized in headlines such as “How the Reds do Business” by J. Parnell Thomas, who would ironically, become a civil servant himself and be slapped with the same charge as Marzani.  Thomas would only serve 6 months of his term, unlike Marzani.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Leftist discourse of the Marzani trial pointed to a pervading anti-intellectualism, decline of freedom, and the rise of fear within a police-state.  An audience member who worked as a professor at the time of the trial told the audience about a deep fear among her academic community of being identified as a communist or sympathizer.  Eleanor Roosevelt herself was outspoken about the attacks on freedom and the rise of fear.

In addition to describing the two prevailing narratives of the Marzani case, Bencivenni detailed a number of inconsistencies in the trial itself: the conditions of Marzani’s hiring, supporting documents such as the Venona Files, and the race/ethnicity of the nearly all-Black jury, which was nearly unheard of at the time.  For the sake of brevity, I will write here about only one particular aspect of the case.  Those interested in learning more must wait for Bencivenni’s book.

In the trial, the question of Marzani’s communist party membership and his hiring by the OSS is of import.  Bencivenni notes that despite perjuring himself (by the way, with the blessing of his Catholic mother) by denying his membership in the communist party, a closer look shows that Marzani was really rather open about his radical past.  Actual spies never had records of openness such as Marzani’s.  For example, Director William Donovan, a smart, conservative Republican general was not averse to hiring radicals to win his competition with rival Edgar Hoover, head of FBI.  In fact, after Marzani’s initial screening by the OSS the FBI informs the agency that he was a member of the communist party, after which Marzani is cleared of wrongdoing by the OSS.  If this is the case, asks Bencivenni, then why deny membership in the communist party in the trial?  Bencivenni states that the answer to Marzani’s denial of membership is that he’d have to name names, which is the ultimate objective of Hoover and the US government; moreover, Marzani underestimated his potential prison term, which he anticipated would only last a few months.

Bencivenni closes by reminding us that archival data doesn’t provide enough evidence to prove that Carl Marzani was a spy; moreover, the element of espionage is not the most important part of the story.  The heart of the Marzani narrative is the struggle with notions of freedom, such as intellectual freedom.  Marzani was a vocal and public voice of dissent to the cold war consensus.  Bencivenni goes as far as describing this message as prophetic, and as far as prophetic voices are fiercely suppressed and attacked this much appears true.  The result of the Marzani trial was that that communism as an intellectual and political project—irrespective of its intrinsic qualities—was suppressed.  The account is a scathing critique of an ideology of freedom, supposedly a guiding US national ideology.  According to Bencivenni, the result was a diminishment of America as an idea, supporting an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism.  As a result communism is deprived of its legitimacy in the US, in contrast to European states.  In the US, the academy is one of the only places remaining in which one may engage with ideas and projects typically labelled “radical.”

And so we return to the characteristic timeliness of the Bencivenni’s interpretation of the life of Carl Marzani.  Judging from the political rise of an extremist Right and a far-left presidential nominees (Trump, Sanders), it is apparent that the electorate resonates with the complex mixture of stump-speeches that contain messages fear, xenophobia, economic insecurity, as well as a growing repudiation of social and economic inequality, and a desire for political reform.  As in the historical period of Marzani, we are witness to both a discourse of anti-intellectualism, and systemic political change.  We would do well to be reminded by the tendency for some political leaders to lead humanity towards the former rather than the latter.

–Daniel Vallee



Claudia Diehl, “Between Ethnic Options and Ethnic Boundaries – Recent Polish and Turkish Migrants’ Identification with Germany”. Commentary by ARC Student Fellow Eric Ketcham.

In the academic literature, there is much discussion on how and whether experiences and perceptions of discrimination lead to negative assimilation outcomes. However there is a lack of empirical evidence exploring this link. Claudia Diehl, Professor of Sociology at the University of Konstanz, Germany, examines the available data, and presents results from a recently collected mini-panel study of new immigrants to compare Turkish and Polish immigrants in Germany.

There are two paths by which discrimination may affect assimilation. In the first path, xenophobic attitudes in the receiving country lead to discriminatory behavior, which in turn leads to limited opportunities for migrants, maintaining ethnic boundaries and reducing assimilation into the host society. In the second path, xenophobic attitudes in the receiving country lead to discriminatory behavior, migrants’ perceptions of which limit their motivation to assimilate, again maintaining ethnic boundaries and reducing assimilation into the host society. While these two paths are by no means mutually exclusive, they must be considered as separate paths, since limited opportunities affect the ability to assimilate, even if migrants do not perceive the discrimination, and perceived discrimination may limit motivation to assimilate, even if all opportunities are equal.

While levels of discriminatory behavior are lower in Germany than in other contexts such as the United States, and according to the German Socioeconomic Panel many migrants state they have not personally experienced discrimination, many migrants do report perceived group discrimination. However these perceptions of discrimination are linked to life situation, personality, public opinion, and assimilation itself, so it is unclear what perceptions of discrimination actually measure. In addition, despite relatively low, and declining, xenophobic attitudes in Germany, it is not clear how these attitudes translate into discriminatory behavior. Despite the relatively lower levels of discrimination, it is unclear how this discrimination is perceived by migrants, as well as how these perceptions affect assimilation outcomes. Several studies have suggested that there is no link between reduced availability of opportunity and assimilation outcomes in education and the labor market – ethnic penalties can be explained by socioeconomic status rather than ethnicity itself with ethnic residuals remaining only for the upper limits of discrimination, however even these residuals could be explained by limited cultural and social resources. Perceived discrimination, as well, has been found to have no link to assimilation outcomes such as remigration intentions, religiosity, and the labor market. However it is difficult to establish causation because perceptions of discrimination and outcomes may fall outside of a given observation period, and perceived discrimination against the self does not include perceived group discrimination, which may also play a role in assimilation outcomes.

Diehl’s current work, from the SCIP project at the Norface Research Programme on Migration, seeks to correct for some of these uncertainties by using mini-panel data from newly arrived immigrants, collecting information on identification with the receiving country, experiences and perceptions of discrimination, and assimilation outcomes. Her results show that, upon migrating to Germany, Turks and Poles start off with similar levels of identification that rise over the first year or so, however Turks’ level of identification flattens and then declines, while Poles’ level of identification continues to rise over time. Moreover, Poles show increasing levels of social assimilation, low levels of perceived discrimination and low levels of perceived value incompatibility over time, while Turks show just the opposite – stagnating levels of social assimilation, increasing perceptions of discrimination, and high levels of value incompatibility. Both groups, perhaps not surprisingly, show increased language skills over time. Overall, social assimilation enhances identification with Germany, however perceived discrimination hinders this process for Turks. In short, Turks and Poles enter Germany with similar levels of identification, however higher levels of perceived discrimination among Turks leads to lower levels of identification with Germany over time compared to Poles.

Establishing a link between perceived discrimination and assimilation among new migrants opens up the question of how this link changes across generations. Will these differences between groups persist into the second or third generation in Germany? Do perceptions of discrimination affect the second generation in the same way as the first? Separately, given the current Syrian refugee crisis, and Germany as an important receiving country for refugees, it would be telling to extend this research to refugees, and Syrians in particular. How does the highly politicized and mixed context of reception affect Syrians’ assimilation in both the short and long term? Do Syrians tend not to have perceived discrimination personally, but perceive discrimination against the group, as many migrants report in the German Socioeconomic Panel? And, does the public discussion of Syrian migrants change the context of reception for Turks, Poles, and migrants from other countries, and potentially change perceptions of discrimination among all migrant groups? Diehl’s work is important in understanding the timely topic of processes of assimilation, as the public and political discourse on immigration becomes increasingly prominent in Western Europe and the United States.

-Eric Ketcham

Patrick Simon, “Lighter Than Blood: Ethnic Enumeration in the Era of Equality Policies”. Commentary by ARC Student Fellows Siqi Tu and Erik Wallenberg

Patrick Simon’s presentation “Lighter than Blood: Ethnic Enumeration in the Era of Equality Politics” is a research project looking at how states acknowledge and track racial and ethnic diversity. The title of the talk, “lighter than blood” has its reference to the famous book of Tukufu Zuberi, “Thicker than Blood: How Racial Statistics Lie”. Simon is looking at the globalization of racial and ethnic politics in the context of equality policies like affirmative action. His concerns include the paradox of the re-creation of racial categories in the practice of using racial categories to track racial disparities and in the production of statistics. Simon looks at how people react to racial classification in census surveys in a multi-country comparison (includes US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, France, among others).

The reasons historically for collecting data on racial, national, and ethnic origins are many. From the domination, subordination, and segregation of sections of populations, to the attempt to acknowledge diversity and create multiculturalist societies, and for political action to right past injustices (used to guarantee voting rights or affirmative action), gathering this data has a variety of uses. Beyond these fraught uses of this data on race and ethnicity, there are problems in the collection of this data as well. And this is not just the threat of the crude essentialization of scientific racism, but the imposition of ethnic identity in the limited choices given in surveys or the taking away of options for identifying oneself. The international human right and equality agencies like OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) and CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) have been asking for more statistical data collection broken down by race and ethnicity in an era of post-mass migration.

Simon argues that the collecting accurate statistics is essential for implementing affirmative action programs which have been implemented in a growing number of countries. He argues that statistics make visible the invisible, showing where discrimination is occurring.

Simon suggests that scholars should move toward a constructivist approach assuming that race and ethnicity are indeed subjective and socially constructed concepts. The constructivist turn in ethnic and racial statistics raises a series of epistemological and methodological issues behind ethnic categorization. Currently, states that do not directly collect data on race and ethnicity use other indicators of ethnic diversity (such as language spoken at home, parents’ original countries) as a proxy. Other methods of collecting ethnic data include self-declaration, third-party recognition and group recognition. Each has its own limits given the fluidity of race and ethnicity. The more open-ended the question is in the self-declaration method of collection, the more assumption statisticians will do in the later process of “re-coding” the race and ethnicity category. Statistics is not objective, as Simon mentions in the beginning of the talk, which only represents the convention understanding of the society. Moreover, since race and ethnicity is essentially a social construct, methodological issues like moving identities, multiple identities and misclassification will constantly emerge. Simon suggests that we do not have to be consistent in creating race and ethnicity categories for each nation, because racism is not consistent. For example, in the US census, “the Hispanic question” has been revised from an extra question outside of the “race” question into part of the “race” question. Conflating the Hispanic and race question is to avoid misclassification of “non-Hispanic white”. Also, the perception for the purpose of collecting the ethnic data has changed slightly over the years. Hispanic population starts to utilize this data to claim their rights. In the Canada case, their household survey asks the interviewee’s ancestors and whether they belong to a loosely defined “visible minority” group. In the UK case, the census asks for the interviewee’s ethnic group. In the Brazil case, the census directly asks the interviewee about his/her skin color. All these cases demonstrate that there is no standardization regarding the ethnic enumeration. It is a pragmatic description of the current situation of the nation. In the French case, the census bureau is not allowed to collect race and ethnicity data because the French constitution supposedly treats its citizen “without distinction”. However, Simon argues that it is hypocritical since the discrimination toward minority groups does exist and being colorblind will not make the situation better.

Simon’s presentation has shown that the categorization process is a dialectic one involving constant negotiation around the epistemological understanding of race and ethnicity. We are looking forward to more findings from Simon’s new project on the globalization of racial and ethnic politics in the context of equality policies (POLRACE).









Suren Pillay, “Equality Citizenship and Difference: Becoming Post-Apartheid.” Commentary by ARC Student Fellows Abigail Kolker, Parfait Kouacou, and Sarah Litvin.

Suren Pillay’s talk, “Equality Citizenship and Difference: Becoming Post-Apartheid,” is concerned with the legacies of apartheid, including justice and reparations claims, as well as inequalities and citizenship. In the post-apartheid period, South Africa is trying to transcend its history of violence and inequality by focusing on protecting equal citizenship and upholding human rights. Yet, in his lecture, Pillay underscores the continued legacy of ethnic tension in post-apartheid South Africa by exploring two recent violent instances: the Marikana Mine massacre and a spate of xenophobic violence against foreign nationals from other African countries.

While many scholars consider the “wrong” of apartheid on economic terms (as the securing of cheap labor for the gold and diamonds minds central to the South African economy at the end of the 20th Century), or in racial terms (as a system of systemized racial discrimination that distributed social, political and economic resources based on race), Pillay introduces a third avenue to think about apartheid discrimination that is often less prominent: classification and distinctions based on ethnicity.

The 1950 Population Registry Act designated eight racial categories for South Africans. The indigenous, black South African population did not fall under any of these. Instead, this law categorized and identified them according to ethnicity. Under the Bantustan policy in apartheid South Africa, these people–80% of the population– became, in Pillay’s words, “foreigners” living in “nominally independent states.” These Bantustans or “homelands” were controlled by local chieftons. In 1994, when apartheid rule ended, the racial system of power was overthrown, but the ethnic distribution of power, in the form of zones adjudicated by chieftons following customary law, remained. Of South Africa’s population of about 50 million people, 16.5 million live in these zones today, subject to chieftons and customary laws that discriminate based on ethnicity. Two maps, one showing the bantustans and the second showing the contemporary regions that operate under customary law, reveal how little these loci of authority have changed.

The effects of the country’s ethnicity-based power structure are significant. What’s at stake, Pillay says, is, “Who constitutes the community? Who speaks on behalf of community? and Who is excluded from community?” These issues are practical and philosophical; economic and political. The large platinum mines such as Marikana, elaborated upon below, have attracted major capital investments–and migrant workers–into areas that operate under customary law. This has lead to disputes about the relationship between revenues, private mining houses and chieftons’ authority, and raised questions about citizenship and equality for migrant workers, who often live in “shack areas” nearby mines and can live in these areas for generations without accumulating any rights. The country has seen political splits along ethnic lines as more and more money is at stake through mining operations in regions under customary law.

The two contemporary examples that Pillay uses to show the effects of this are the Marikana massacre and contemporary xenophobic violence. The Marikana massacre occurred in August 2012, when 34 mine strikers were gunned down by a special unit of the South African police. This was the largest instance of police killing of civilians in South Africa since 1960, and rightfully garnered much international attention. This event revealed the complexity of many contemporary issues in post-apartheid South Africa. It shows, for instance, that the Marikana massacre should not only be thought of through the lens of a labor dispute but also as how the ethnic distribution of power allows for the state to abdicate its responsibility in instances of violence. The second example Pillay employs is the discrimination and violence that foreign nationals have recently faced in South Africa. Some of the violence manifests in the quotidian, such as the dealing with immigration laws and negative treatment by the police, while other instances are more dramatic, including anti-immigrant riots and foreigner’s stores being looted. Unfortunately, extreme xenophobic violence has been on the rise; especially notable is the recent spike in physical assaults and murder of immigrants.

Most of the literature on the recent wave of xenophobia claims it all started 1994, but actually violence against the outsider has a long history in South Africa, the only difference being that the figure of the outsider was mobilized differently in the past. The figure that bridges historical and contemporary South Africa, Pillay argues, is the archetype of the migrant. In this particular context, ‘migrant’ can be defined in many ways. The “migrant” or “outsider” is a political subject, so it is not just a foreign national, but also a foreigner from another province or another state. When migrant labor is recruited for deep mining projects, as is often the case, they are usually from another town or province. Today, the migrant can be represented by either the migrant mine worker or the foreign national residing in South Africa.

Pillay claims that South Africa has yet to reckon with its system of ethnic based inequality, a system that dates all the way back to British colonial rule in the 1890s, and was folded into Apartheid South Africa. While empowering local chieftons was initially a useful strategy to consolidate control for the British, today it poses a threat to the programs of equality and human rights of the South African government. He argues that we must see “colonialism as something that has purchase in 20h century, not just history,” and concludes that this research demands a reassessment of “how, whether, and if we are becoming post apartheid.”

Pillay’s presentation is the most recent in the series of ARC’s lectures on inequality in the age of globalization. ARC fellows have explored this topic from a variety of historical, political, and economic perspectives. For example, Richard Drayton was interested in the origins of modern inequality and how inequality is reconstituted across temporal and geographic expanses.  Naomi Murakawa examined the reproduction of inequality as well, by showing how sometimes reforms, such as U.S. police reforms, intend to correct racial injustice, but can unintentionally intensify it. Pillay, by contrast, provides a case-study approach to highlight how one particular system of ethnic inequality, the South African case, prevents progress toward programs intending to promote equality. What is especially interesting about Pillay case is that it begs into question the particularities of how equality is achieved; often, the quest for justice and empowerment of one vulnerable group can come at the expense of another. As these two instances in recent South African history demonstrate, the righteous empowerment of indigenous populations through the official sanctioning of customary law can have negative effects for another vulnerable population, i.e. migrants. His talk added richness and depth to the ARC’s continuing conversation about how to understand and confront inequality in the age of globalization.

Reflection on “The Performance of Exile: Deportation as a Theater of Cruelty”

In an eloquent presentation entitled “The Performance of Exile: Deportation as a Theater of Cruelty,” David C. Brotherton presented his research on deportation hearings, using the framework of Antonin Artaud’s theory of the theater of cruelty. Based on his experience as an expert witness in over 50 deportation hearings held at immigrant detention centers, Brotherton’s research sheds light on the experience of some of the 350,000 people deported each year, and the families many deportees leave behind. For Antonin Artaud, the theater needed to show the vibrant and cruel reality of modernity and represent the unrepresentable of society, which Brotherton argues, fits with the spectacle of immigration court in the United States today. Brotherton notes that in 2011 Congress appropriated nearly 700 million dollars for the government’s deportation programs, that ICE receives about 9% of the total funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and that record numbers of immigrants are being held in immigrant detention centers.

Brotherton argues that in the courtroom of deportation proceedings, emotional turmoil affects all those involved, including the deportable subjects, their families, the judges, and the lawyers present. The proceedings are performative. Brotherton describes five scenes from the inner proceedings of deportation and detention centers including the story of Frank Medira who is blind, diabetic, paralyzed on his right side, has had five strokes, and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Frank is trying to contest the government’s deportation order. His lawyer argues that his deportation should be seen as a death sentence and asks the judge to use his discretion to stop the deportation. The judge finds that the case does not meet the criteria for him to use discretion and orders him removed. Brotherton poses the question: What possible threat does Frank pose to U.S. society? He argues that the proceedings continue as if failure to adhere to tropes of good versus bad and deserving versus undeserving will cause a social crumbling.

In other scenes described by Brotherton, family members of the deportees are present and their emotional torment becomes part of the spectacle of deportation proceedings. In one “scene” a mother stands up and begins to pray and plead with the judge to release her son, swearing that she believes something terrible will happen to him if he is deported back to the Dominican Republic, before she collapses onto the bench having had a heart attack. In another case, the niece of a deportable man testifies that she believes her uncle will indeed face conditions akin to torture if he is deported. When pushed on her definition of torture, she states “If you want to know what torture is, this is torture, what you’re doing to my uncle…I have done my research, I have studied criminal justice and I don’t see any here today.” And in yet another case, a deportable man is cross-examined on the details of a long past criminal charge. Unlike in any other modern court, this crime is dragged up and its perpetrator re-tried and re-punished over and over again. For Brotherton, the performance spectacle of deportation court can be well served with Artaud’s frame of the theater of cruelty. These performative scenes illustrate the severity and the cruelty involved in state threats against immigrants, which constitute a particular form of othering that is indicative of denying processes of legal and social citizenship. This draws upon and reconstitutes moral panics around immigrants and criminality.

Reflection on “How to Pick Apples: Colonialism and Citizenship in the Formation of Puerto Rican Migrant Farm Labor”

In a presentation at The Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) on Thursday, October 2nd, professor Ismael García Colón shared with the audience the first results of his ongoing research…

A fascinating collection of interviews, documents, and reports on rural workers from Puerto Rico in the United States, “How to Pick Apples: Colonialism and Citizenship in the Formation of Puerto Rican Migrant Farm Labor” is part of a book project on the experiences of Puerto Rican farmworkers in the United States. In a presentation at The Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) on Thursday, October 2nd, professor Ismael García Colón shared with the audience the first results of his ongoing research.

Instead of looking at Puerto Rican farmers only from the perspective of transnationalism and migration policies, García Colón considers the group as part of the history of U.S. farm labor. The contrast between Puerto Ricans (as U.S. citizens) and guest workers from countries such as Jamaica and Mexico (frequently holding H-2 visas) raises questions of labor policies, state-formation, and practices of citizenship.

Professor García Colón focused on the lives of Puerto Rican apple pickers in the 1960s and 1970s, but the evidences presented suggest that some fundamental questions can be extended to Puerto Rican rural workers in the United States, in general. How conflicting classifications of nationalism, and citizenship impacts labor relations? What are the rights and working conditions of U.S citizens and guest workers, and in what category Puerto Ricans fit (in theory and in practice)? How Puerto Rican and U.S. governmental policies relate to everyday forms of labor relation? And what role nationalism plays in such dynamic?

The presentation began with the narrative of a New England apple grower who fired a group of Puerto Rican workers who complained about working conditions, wages, and working benefits. García Colón suggests that the episode is part of “a series of escalating events that accelerated the demise of Puerto Rico’s farm labor program.” He goes back to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, which reaffirmed to Puerto Rican U.S citizenship, a status granted in 1917 as a result of the Spanish-American War.

The brief history of U.S. migratory policy towards Puerto Ricans is the first step to understand how U.S. colonialism (the author uses, here, Eric Wolf’s concept of structural power) shaped Puerto Rican migration. It is interesting to notice that the author reinforced the application of the term “migration,” instead of “immigration,” during the presentation. García Colón claims that transnationalism is not enough to understand how Puerto Ricans participated of U.S. legal and political structures. It is necessary to smoke out the limits of citizenship, and how apple growers and other workers perceived this group.

“Chronicles of Illustrious Women”: A Feminist Approach to the Spanish Conquest in the Americas

Challenging the dominant patriarchal narrative of the Spanish conquest in Latin America, Dr. Patricia Tovar’s project incorporates the history of women as wives, landowners, businesswomen, servants, warriors, foes and friends.

“Women’s studies are not just about women—but about the social systems and ideological schemata which sustain the domination of men over women within the other mutually inflecting regimes of power in the world, namely those of class and those of race.”

-Griselda Pollack, “Feminist Interventions in the Histories of Art: An Introduction.” In Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art (Routledge: London, 1988), 1-17.


Challenging the dominant patriarchal narrative of the Spanish conquest in Latin America, Dr. Patricia Tovar’s project incorporates the history of women as wives, landowners, businesswomen, servants, warriors, foes and friends. Focusing in part on the geographic area of Santa Maria, a colonial settlement in present-day Columbia that lasted fifteen years, Tovar’s project recounts the conquest through the lens of Spanish, indigenous and enslaved women, joining several contemporary scholars (such as art historian David Lubin) who defy the conventional domestic or promiscuous portrayal of women in the early modern period.

On Thursday, Tovar introduced her talk by debunking common myths about the early conquest, including the one recounting that prostitutes, servants and indigenous women were the only women present in the New World. Tovar provided countless examples of women holding diverse positions in the Americas. One of the most striking stories is of Isabel de Barreto, a Spanish woman who led an expedition from Peru to the Philippines after her husband, the ship’s captain, died en route. Another one is Columbus’ official request for thirty women to travel on his fourth voyage to the Americas.

Deeply interested in cross-Atlantic relations and kinship, Tovar argues for women’s vital role in the settlement of the New World and their part in maintaining strong ties with ruling women of Spain. In fact, Bobadilla women in the New World were very close to Isabel de Castilla and are found in Latin American until today. While some Spanish women who traveled to the New World are romanticized in novels (one of the only currently available published texts about them), Tovar’s study brings to the fore primary documents—including contracts, passenger lists, travel documents, death registrations, requests to the crown, maps, chronicles of expeditions—that she consulted at the Casa de Contratación in Madrid. These reveal accounts about infidelity, adultery, and requests for funds.


Within the feminist sphere, Tovar is also concerned with marginalized groups of women, including indentured and African slaves, and indigenous peoples. She described the caciques, women warriors who killed men, and fables of islands populated only by women. This multicultural focus adds a layer of complexity to her project; in fact, since Tovar is relying primarily on accounts by Spanish women, how will she draw an objective analysis of these further marginalized groups? During her talk, Tovar discussed the problematic sources, as they clearly reflect the women’s personal ambitions and relate conflicting stories. Some documents do shed light on this problem, such as one that discussed Spanish men being brought to justice for rapping enslaved women.


Throughout her talk, Tovar posed some guiding questions: How was gender and family organized during the conquest? How was femininity constructed in the New World? What were the relationships between marginal and dominant women in this contested space and at this time? It will indeed be very interesting to read Tovar’s socio-biographical narrative of these cross-cultural relationships.

Chad Goldberg on sociology of culture, Jewish studies, and collaboration

The following interview is with ARC Distinguished Visiting Fellow Chad Alan Goldberg, Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UW-Madison Goldberg is also affiliated with European Studies, Jewish Studies, and the Mosse Program in History. His primary research interest is the historical sociology of citizenship, broadly understood to include the development of citizenship rights and duties over time, changing levels and forms of civic engagement and political participation, and shifting patterns of civil inclusion and exclusion. He is the author of Citizens and Paupers: Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen’s Bureau to Workfare (University of Chicago Press, 2008).


Question: Please tell us about your research project.

Answer: I’m completing a book that compares the portrayal and meaning of Jews in the French, German, and American sociological traditions from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. This is the discipline’s formative period, when its fundamental ideas first took shape. Those ideas were a response to the big upheavals that shook Western societies during the long nineteenth century from 1789 and 1914, including democratization, modern industrial capitalism, and urbanization. Sociology’s raison d’être was to interpret and explain the modern world that those upheavals produced. The thesis of my book is that ideas about the Jews formed an important part of the cultural toolkit with which classical sociologists constructed their understanding of modernity in an era of rapid social change. One chapter focuses on the perceived relationship of the Jews to the French Revolution within the French sociological tradition. Another chapter examines the perceived relationship of the Jews to modern industrial capitalism in the German tradition. A third chapter turns to the Chicago School of American sociology, where the key metaphor of modernity was neither democracy nor industrial capitalism, but the city, partly conceived by reference to Jewish immigrants as a quintessentially urban people. I plan to conclude with a chapter that highlights the relevance and implications of the study for the present, particularly in regard to how modernity and European and American identities are defined today.


Q. What is about this research most excites you?

A: I started this project thinking I’d draw on expertise I already have: at the University of Wisconsin, I’ve been teaching classical sociological theory for years, and I’ve been affiliated with Jewish Studies for nearly as long. But in fact, I’ve learned an enormous amount in the course of researching and writing the book. It’s always exciting to have your intellectual horizons expanded that way, and ARC has been a big part of it. My project connects in one way or another to all three of this year’s themes—immigration, inequality, and religion—and my conversations with other fellows and with faculty at the Graduate Center have really stimulated my thinking in fruitful ways. The meaning of American and European modernity today is still constructed in relation to out-groups. New minority groups make up part of that dynamic today; immigration scholars at ARC have provided engaging conversation on this subject, particularly on the importance of Muslim immigrants in Europe. At the same time, I don’t think that Jews have disappeared as a touchstone. At the end of my book I want to draw out these contemporary resonances from my research. Overall, I suggest that we need to not just reflect on the past but to historicize ourselves as contemporary inquirers, regardless of our discipline.


Q: How is this research interdisciplinary?

A: I believe the book will have strong interdisciplinary appeal: it engages scholarship in sociology, Jewish studies, and history, and it is also relevant for scholars in anthropology, cultural studies, and European and American studies. I hope that it will provide some insight and inspiration to other scholars interested in broadly similar questions about the formation of the social sciences, the representation of out-groups, and the uses to which those representations have been put.


Q: What broad implications does this research present for your field?

A: The book is intended both as a study of social theory and as a study in the sociology of ideas. On the one hand, it aims to advance our understanding of classical social theory by situating it more fully in the historical and social context in which it was produced. I want to expand our view of that context to encompass conversations and arguments about the Jews (including depictions that circulated in the public sphere and negative stereotypes promoted by antisemitic and nativist movements), which in my view is an aspect of the context of classical sociology which has not yet been adequately explored. (An important step in that direction is Antisemitism and the Constitution of Sociology, an edited volume to which I contributed a chapter that the University of Nebraska Press will publish this summer.) On the other hand, my project also aims to contribute to the sociology of culture by identifying patterns in how classical sociologists discussed Jews and Judaism, accounting for those patterns, and showing how recurring patterns in social thought (in this case, about Jews) are reproduced over time.


Q: How have your time and experiences at the Advanced Research Collaborative influenced your work?

A: Thanks to the generous support of ARC, I’ve been able to complete a 24,000-word chapter (including notes and references) of my book-in-progress. I’ve also completed two related articles, one submitted to the journal Jewish Social Studies and another commissioned by the editors of the Enzyklopädie jüdischer Geschichte und Kultur. ARC provided valuable time, library resources, and most importantly, opportunities to share and discuss my work with its director Don Robotham, other fellows, and regular CUNY faculty in a creative, intellectually vibrant, interdisciplinary environment. For example, an informal discussion over lunch with another fellow, Mauricio Pietrocola, about the role of cultural schemas in education—a topic seemingly unrelated to my own—helped me to conceptualize the transmission of the intellectual influences about which I’m writing. My work has really benefited from these cross-disciplinary exchanges, and I hope I’ve contributed in equal measure to others’ work. I particularly enjoyed working with the student fellows, who are embarking on interesting and innovative work of their own. Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude for the very helpful and capable Assistant Program Officer Alida Rojas and Ally Murphy, without whom my time would not have been nearly as productive or enjoyable.


Q: What’s next? Or what other projects are you working on concurrently?

A: Once this project is completed, I’d like to embark on an intellectual biography of Horace Kallen, a twentieth-century American intellectual best known as the architect of cultural pluralism in the Progressive era. This is an interest that partly comes out of my chapter on the American sociological tradition. I’m interested in exploring how Kallen negotiated the tension between his commitment to cultural pluralism and the ideal of a common democratic culture promoted by the American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, who exercised an important intellectual influence on him. It seems to me that we’re still struggling with that tension today, so a historical study of Kallen’s thought would very much speak to contemporary concerns.


Q: Finally, where do you hope your field is headed? What do you look forward to seeing more of?

A: Sociology is a very big tent, and it’s pulled in competing directions because like all social sciences it occupies an intermediary position between the “hard” sciences and the humanities. As a result, sociology is always galloping off in multiple directions at once. But I hope my work will encourage younger scholars to see the value of the discipline’s historical and humanistic wing and to take up that kind of social inquiry.

Storytelling as Resistance

From chapter 5 of her upcoming book, Dr. Fernandes’ talk centers around the increasing use of storytelling as a campaign strategy for social movements. As she explains, “stories are constructed in ways that promote reconciliation, provide a therapeutic release for the teller, and win sympathy in media circles, among politicians, and the broader public.” In precise details, Fernandes weaves through the ways in which storytelling was invoked in organizing meetings, public hearings and in press conferences throughout the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights campaign. A much watered down bill was passed in 2010 guaranteeing the same basic rights as other workers. Despite its modest legislative success, Fernandes is concerned that the involvement of funders, coaches and advocacy groups in framing of the stories to win legislators over represents a retrenchment from the kind of (more confrontational?) organizing work needed to change the conditions for immigrant workers.

Many interesting points were raised during the Q&A: How effective is storytelling when much of the legislative negotiations tend to happen behind close doors between powerful stakeholders? How does the actual labor process of domestic work, where emotions play a significant role in the employer-employee dynamic, complicate campaign strategies? More broadly, is storytelling part of a larger cultural pattern in American society that valorizes the presentation of the “self” (e.g. reality TV shows, facebook, instagram, selfies)? If we agree on this point, then isn’t storytelling a manifestation of the liberal, and by extension, the neoliberal trope that the “self” must be worked on? This is particularly salient in the framing of victimization in individual stories to win over legislators and the public, as if to suggest only in extreme individual hardships can we make claims for social change.

Still, concerns were also raised over the use of the “American Dream” narrative in stories and public outreach. The idea that these domestic workers work hard and play by the rules and thus deserve basic human dignity effectively appeals to a broader sentiment, but, it also creates a distinction between “good” and “bad” immigrants, sectioning off a certain group to be the undeserving. Indeed, this contradiction speaks to Fernandes’ claim that perhaps storytelling represents the narrowing of space for which social movement work can operate, where the moral high ground is fought over individual troubles and injustices

Not all hope is lost though. The domestic workers campaign effectively brought these private troubles at home/work into the public consciousness. This is particularly relevant to my own research on undocumented Chinese restaurant workers who share some similar working conditions – small family-owned businesses, labor exploitation, abusive treatment, low wages and having to live in the shadows. I share in Fernandes’ interest in thinking through how political subjectivity is formed and in critically analyzing organizing strategies, even when they have progressive intentions. In the end, my take away message is that we should continue to be critical of the ways in which neoliberal thought can mutate and reappear, while keenly aware that we don’t operate in conditions of our own choosing.