Race, Law and Justice Symposia

RACE-LAW-JUSTICE: TOWARD A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT

A series of international symposia (February, March and April 2021). Sponsored by the Center for Critical Democracy Studies and the History, Law and Society Program at The American University of Paris. Organized by professors Miranda Spieler

The Center for Critical Democracy Studies will host seven symposia this spring that explore race and racism as problems in legal history and themes of judicial struggle.

A chief goal of this series is to treat race and racism as social constructions that vary in meaning across place and time. Participants in these symposia will examine how race, viewed as a social artifact, has been inscribed within the legal culture of Old and New World societies. These discussions will address the relationship between race and other markers of identity–class, gender, lineage, religion, political status, geographical origin–in defining the content of law and in mediating people’s experience of it. Participants will further investigate past and present forms of resistance—both to racism and to the constraints of racial categories. A final goal of this series is to reflect on the promise and limitations of law as a remedy for social wrongs.

The Center for Critical Democracy Studies intends, through this series, to foster vigorous exchange among leading historians and legal scholars while building an intellectual community before whom they may showcase new work, debate interpretive methods, and consider new avenues of research. As the American University of Paris is a bicultural institution, these symposia will address these topics with special attention to France, the French colonial empire, and the Americas.

The first of these symposia will be an introductory conversation with students and interested faculty members about interpretive approaches to race and racism since the founding of critical race theory by legal scholars in the 1980s. Because critical race theory is now under attack as un-American in the United States while being snubbed almost universally in France, we feel it is necessary for us to open our series by confronting this controversy with a text-driven discussion of this and other approaches to the topic of our series.

Four of the five remaining symposia are two-part meetings that approach race and racism as themes in global history with references to problems that include slavery, emancipation, imperial conquest, and decolonization.

  • During Part I of Symposia 2-5 participants will present their own research, whether in the form of works-in-progress or as newly published work, to be followed by a discussion with the audience.
  • During Part II of Symposia 2-5 participants will join in a moderated discussion about the state of their respective fields with the aim of posing new questions and identifying new research priorities.

The final symposium of our series will consist of a solo pre-circulated paper, remarks by a commentator, and a free discussion.

Symposium 1: Race, Law and Social Justice: An Introduction

February 23, 2021 at 10:35 CET with Miranda Spieler and Michelle Kuo

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A text-driven conversation open to all AUP students that explores legal narratives and legal historical writing on the topic of race, social inequality, and the pursuit of social justice. social hierarchy. The discussion will be led by Professor Michelle Kuo and Professor Miranda Spieler. Readings for this two-hour discussion of classic texts include excerpts from Patricia Williams, THE ALCHEMY OF RACE AND RIGHTS; from Robert Cover, JUSTICE ACCUSED: ANTISLAVERY AND THE JUDICIAL PROCESS.

Miranda Spieler

Miranda Spieler is an associate professor of history at the American University of Paris. She is the author of Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana (Harvard University Press, 2012), which received the American Historical Society’s George Mosse prize and J. Russell Major Prize. Her work-in-progress, Slaves in Paris, reconstructs the lives of slaves and masters using hitherto undiscovered archival materials to construct a global history of Old Regime Paris as an imperial capital. Her scholarship is particularly concerned with the meaning of personhood, the architecture of legal space, and the role of law in enabling state violence.

Michelle Kuo

Michelle Kuo is an associate professor of History, Law, and Society at the American University of Paris. Her book, Reading with Patrick (2017, Random House) explores incarceration, racial inequality, and literacy in the rural South. It was the runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In her work as a lawyer, Michelle has clerked for a federal judge for the Ninth Circuit and defended incarcerated and undocumented people. Currently she is a pro bono attorney for the Stanford Three Strikes Project and recently helped found a nonprofit that creates a global network of formerly incarcerated people. 

Symposium 2: Race, Law and Universalism: Empire and its Legacy in Modern France

March 9, 2021 from 18:00 to 20:00 CET with Jennifer Anne Boittin and Lionel Zevounou

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‘OF COURSE HE IS BLACK AND I AM WHITE’: WOMEN DEFYING LAWS, DECREES, AND POLICING IN FRENCH WEST AFRICA

Jennifer Anne Boittin

This paper traces several women who resisted men’s policing of their sexual and sentimental lives in French West Africa (AOF). These cases reveal how women were surveilled, and the nature of the debates that raged among bureaucrats and members of the judiciary who - often in the name of French prestige, which some explicitly termed white prestige - sought to bind women by preventing their mobility. Officials tried to use existing laws and principles or to write new edicts, all in the name of preventing intimacy and domesticity between white and Black people in West Africa. Women, in turn, quickly realized that if in legal principle one’s “race” was not a legitimate legal barrier to companionship, in practice officials sought to stifle interracial relationships. Women reacted by resisting and creatively circumventing such interference, including by explicitly pointing to the double standards of such obstructionist tendencies on the part of representatives of a state and legal system supposedly dedicated to universalism.

 

THEORIZING THE CONCEPT OF "RACE" IN CONTEMPORARY FRENCH LAW: FIRST STEPS

Lionel Zevounou

Why speak of "race" in French legal discourse? Or should we instead forego this term, as have many jurists in France. How can we distinguish the “race” of the sociologist from the “race” of the racist? Is it possible for scholars to detach the word race from its uses? In France, the term "race" has become a marker of, or synecdoche for the defects of American society that are otherwise derided as "separatism" and "identity politics;” In treating the term “race” as an alien excrescence, a deleterious American import, jurists and social scientists have managed, conveniently, to avoid reckoning with discriminatory practices that are deep-rooted in French society. French regulatory texts and legal statutes include anti-racist provisions; and yet, between these provisions and their interpretation by judges, there is often a huge gap. How to explain this? This paper seeks to answer this question by analyzing French positive law alongside ongoing debates on the topic of race in French legal academia.

Jennifer Anne Boittin

Jennifer Anne Boittin is an associate professor of French, Francophone Studies and History at the Pennsylvania State University. Her first book, Colonial Metropolis. The Urban Grounds of Anti-imperialism and Feminism in Interwar Paris (2010, University of Nebraska Press) is an innovative, intersectional history of radical interwar politics. Her current project, about female travelers in the French empire, is entitled Undesirable: Women Resisting Policing in the French Empire, 1919-1952. She was a resident fellow at the Institut des Etudes Avancées in Paris during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Lionel Zevounou

Lionel Zevounou is maitre de conférence of law at the University of Paris-Nanterre. He is the author of Les usages de la notion de concurrence en droit (2012) and is completing a second book about the history workplace discrimination in France. A frequent contributor to academic and popular journals, Professor Zevounou writes on topics that range from market regulation to reparations for slavery and African legal philosophy. He is the recipient of a five-year grant from the Institut Universitaire de France (2018-2023) and leads the African Sovereignty Project, a pan-African scholarly initiative funded by the Open Society Foundation.

Symposium 3: A World Before Race? Gender, Mobility and Property in the Early Modern Iberian World

March 15, 2021 from 18:00 to 20:00 CET with Mariana Dantas and Michelle McKinley

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PROTECTING HEIRS: BLACK MOTHERS, INHERITANCE, AND INTER-GENERATIONAL MOBILITY IN COLONIAL MINAS GERAIS, BRAZIL

Mariana Dantas

This paper compares the experiences of two black mothers as they tried to ensure that the children, born of their sexual relationship with their former master, inherited their father’s wealth and status. Joana Maria da Silva and Luiza Rodrigues da Cruz became mothers while still enslaved by the father of their children. They eventually attained their freedom, but only Luiza married her former master. These men’s death initiated a process of succession of property in which the children’s ability to inherit their father’s wealth and social standing was not always guaranteed. As they themselves neared death, Joana and Luiza took different legal measures to protect the future of their children. Sometimes working within the contours of inheritance and family law, at other times attempting legal shortcuts and circumventions, these women strove to ensure their descendants would be further removed from the status of slave and former slave that limited their own standing in colonial Mineiro society.

 

BOUND BIOGRAPHIES: TRANSOCEANIC ITINERARIES AND THE AFRO-IBERIAN DIASPORA IN THE EARLY MODERN WORLD

Michelle McKinley

Bound Biographies charts the travel experiences of Afro-Iberians who left the peninsula in service of their owners, or as freed itinerant persons as they forged their lives in the Americas in the first two centuries of Spanish expansion and settlement in the New World. The paper examines Afro-Iberian life on the Iberian Peninsula, traces Afro-Iberian travelers as they relocate in various port towns in the Americas and follows their return to the peninsula after living for considerable periods of time in the New World. Bound Biographies is part of a multi-sited project that uses the sources to reconstruct the experience of black mobility that was not forced. It explores the lives of black travelers in an early diaspora that was not exclusively tied to—yet indelibly shaped by the transatlantic slave trade. The paper focuses on royal travel licenses, official chronicles, ecclesiastical documents, and parochial and probate records as an evidentiary base to create these personal histories of travel and mobility. I view early modern emigration and travel to the Americas as one of several relocations in an individual’s lifetime. Inspired by the “biographical turn” in Atlantic history and slavery scholarship, Bound Biographies recreates the lives of those who shaped the early centuries of Iberian emigration and a black diaspora. In so doing, Bound Biographies renders a more complex and nuanced history of the people inextricably linked by the processes of Conquest, slavery, and Empire.

Mariana Dantas

Mariana Dantas is an associate professor of history at Ohio University and an expert on African diasporic peoples in the Atlantic World. Her first book, Black Townsmen: Urban Slavery and Freedom in the Eighteenth-Century Americas (2008), is a comparative social history of urban slaves in Baltimore and Brazil. She is now at work on a longitudinal history of mixed-race families in a Brazilian mining town, in which she traces the changing social meaning of race across three generations of townsmen. She is a co-founder of the Global Urban History Project, a research collaborative.

Michelle McKinley

Michelle McKinley is the Bernard B. Kliks Professor of Law at the University of Oregon Law School and Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Society. Her monograph, Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima 1600-1700 (2016), reveals the efforts of enslaved women in Lima before local courts to secure their claims to liberty. Fractional Freedoms received the 2017 Judy Ewell prize for women’s history from the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies and honorable mention for the best work in sociolegal history from the Law and Society Association. She is also the founder and former director of the Amazonian Peoples' Resources Initiative in Peru, where she worked for nine years as an advocate for global health and human rights.

Symposium 4: Slavery, Race and the Law During the Long Eighteenth Century

March 22, 2021 from 18:00 to 20:00 CET with Christy Pichichero and Miranda Spieler

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RACE AND THE DOCILE BODY:POLITICS OF BLACKNESS, SOCIAL JUSTICE, AND LAW IN THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FRENCH MILITARY

Christy Pichichero

This paper explores the intersection of two juridical arenas in the eighteenth-century French empire: laws concerning slavery and policing Black bodies and those regulating the military. Black and other men of color served in French armed forces in theaters across the empire throughout the eighteenth century, some enlisting as freemen and others as enslaved with a promise of freedom through military service. Their recruitment, training, and career trajectories held extraordinary importance for multiple stakeholders, from the slaver Colonial lobby and royal ministers to military officers and the Black soldiers themselves. Historians have engaged in dynamic exchanges regarding Foucault’s concept of “docile bodies” and its historical accuracy in militaries of the eighteenth century in France and other contexts. This paper constitutes a critical intervention in this scholarly debate by interrogating the intersection of race in the discipline of militarized bodies and its implications in the contexts of the law, politics, military endeavors, and notions of social justice.

 

AMI DES NOIRS AND SLAVE TRADER THE CHEVALIER DE BOUFFLERS (1735-1815) BETWEEN PARIS AND SENEGAL

Miranda Spieler

There remains a parrot for the queen, a horse for Maréchal de Castries, a little captive for Monsieur de Beauvau, a sultan chicken for the Duc of Laon, an ostrich for Monsieur Nivernais, and a husband for you (19 July 1786). So wrote the Chevalier de Boufflers, governor of Senegal, as he sailed home on a ship laden with gifts for patrons and loved ones. A little captive was, in plainer terms, an African toddler. She was one of four or five small children whom Boufflers purchased in Senegal and dispatched to Paris in defiance of a royal edict (1777) banning “blacks, mulattos, and other people of color” from the kingdom. Bouffler’s reckoning with slavery unfolded between the advent of race laws in domestic France and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. In 1788, one year after leaving Senegal, Boufflers joined the Society of the Friends of the Blacks, a revolutionary club that soon gained undeserved notoriety among West Indian planters as a conclave of abolitionist firebrands. This paper will situate Bouffler’s tepid embrace of antislavery in light of his racial views, his fetishizing of African children, and his oversight of a giant commerce in African captives at the apex of the French slave trade. This paper is drawn from a manuscript that looks to the history of slaves and masters in Paris to sketch the city’s transformation into an imperial capital dependent on slavery on the eve of the French Revolution. The dream of French universalism, as described in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, arose in a setting that was singularly ill-suited to making that dream a reality.

Christy Pichichero

Christy Pichichero is an associate professor of French and history and Director of Faculty Diversity at George Mason University and the current president of the Western Society for French History. Her first book, The Military Enlightenment: War and Culture from Louis XIV to Napoleon (2017), was a finalist for the Kenshur Book Prize for the best interdisciplinary book in eighteenth-century studies. She is currently writing two books: the first examines processes of racialization in eighteenth-century Europe; the second is about war and humanism. As an activist scholar, Pichichero organizes pedagogical workshops and roundtables on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism at institutions throughout the United States.

Miranda Spieler

Miranda Spieler is an associate professor of history at the American University of Paris. She is the author of Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana (Harvard University Press, 2012), which received the American Historical Society’s George Mosse prize and J. Russell Major Prize. Her work-in-progress, Slaves in Paris, reconstructs the lives of slaves and masters using hitherto undiscovered archival materials to construct a global history of Old Regime Paris as an imperial capital. Her scholarship is particularly concerned with the meaning of personhood, the architecture of legal space, and the role of law in enabling state violence.

Symposium 5: The Construction of Race and Racial Hatred by the State in French Algeria

March 29, 2021 from 18:00 to 20:30 CET with Joshua Cole and Judith Surkis

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LETHAL PROVOCATION: THE CONSTANTINE MURDERS AND THE POLITICS OF FRENCH ALGERIA (CORNELL 2019)

Joshua Cole

Part murder mystery, part social history of political violence, Lethal Provocation revisits the deadliest peacetime episode of anti-Jewish violence in modern French history. Cole reconstructs the 1934 riots in Constantine, Algeria, in which tensions between Muslims and Jews were aggravated by right-wing extremists, resulting in the deaths of twenty-eight people. Animating the unrest was Mohamed El Maadi, a soldier in the French army, who later rallied to France’s Vichy regime during the Second World War; he finished his career in the Waffen SS. Lethal Provocation lays bare El Maadi’s motives as a provocateur and exposes official efforts to cover up his role as an instigator of this massacre. Cole’s bracing exposé of the Constantine murders reveals the government’s role in shaping ethno-religious antagonisms in Algeria during the years preceding anti-colonial war and independence.

 

THE CORPOREALIZATION OF “MUSLIM LAW”: LEGAL EMBODIMENTS OF RELIGION, RACE, AND SEX IN FRENCH ALGERIA

Judith Surkis

In Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830–1930 (Cornell, 2019), Judith Surkis traces how colonial authorities constructed Muslim legal difference and used it to deny Algerian Muslims full citizenship. Her book provides a sweeping legal genealogy of French Algeria, and elucidates how "the Muslim question" in France became—and remains—a question of sex. Drawing on her book, Surkis’s talk will explore longstanding French legal fantasies of Muslim law– born out, most recently, by Emmanuel Macron’s bill targeting “Muslim” separatism. The colonial genealogy of a particularized conception of Muslim sex and the family as instituted in and by law illuminates enduring ideas of the embodied difference between secular French people and Muslims. Her paper will explore how the very legal technologies deployed by the state to eliminate so-called Muslim separatism in fact reproduce difference, thus sustaining and legitimating discriminatory practices

Joshua Cole

Joshua Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan whose work focuses on the entangled colonial and post-colonial pasts of France and Algeria. His most recent book, Lethal Provocation: The Constantine Murders and the Politics of French Algeria (2019) is a microhistory of a 1934 anti-Jewish pogrom in Constantine that reveals the role of French colonial administrators in inciting ethnic hatred and killing. His new book project examines the relationship between the colonial past and contemporary relations between France and Algeria. He has been a visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris) and the University of Alger-Bouzareah (Algeria). Lethal Provocation won the Mimi S. Frank Award in Sephardic Culture (Jewish Book Council), the J. Russell Major Prize (American Historical Association), and the Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize (French Colonial History Society).

Judith Surkis

Judith Surkis is a professor of history at Rutgers University. Her first book, Sexing the Citizen: Masculinity and Morality in France, 1870-1920, shows how masculine sexuality became central to the making of a social order in republican France. Her new book, Sex, Law and Sovereignty in French Algeria 1830-1930 (2019), which won the Middle East Women’s Studies 2020 book prize, explores the politics of identity in France and colonial Algeria from the vantagepoint of legal and gender history. The recipient of many prestigious fellowships and awards, Surkis is currently at work on a new project, entitled The Intimate Life of International Law: Children and Development After Decolonization.

Symposium 6: A Prophetic Vision of the Past: Glissant's Poetic of Nonhistory

April 8, 2021 from 18:30 to 20:00 CET with Gary Wilder

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A Prophetic Vision of the Past: Glissant's Poetic of Nonhistory

Gary Wilder

This chapter of my book manuscript, entitled “Untimely History, Unhomely Times: On the Politics of Temporality and Solidarity,” analyzes Édouard Glissant’s innovative understandings of history and critique of contemporary historiography. He developed both from the standpoint of Antillean historical experience which, in his view, anticipated a globalized future that we now inhabit. Specifically, I propose ways of understanding Glissant’s conceptions of nonhistorytormented chronology, a painful sense of time, and a prophetic vision of the past. These temporal concepts are as important for Glissant’s thinking as his more familiar spatial concepts (e.g., creolization, wandering, detour). They are integral to his poetic politics of worldwide Relation. Glissant’s attempt to employ an Antillean optic to think history otherwise also helps us to grasp untimely temporal objects, processes, and practices that shape social life (especially in post-slavery societies), but for which conventional disciplinary history cannot easily account, or even recognize.

Gary Wilder

Gary Wilder is a Professor in the Ph.D. Program of Anthropology, with a cross-appointment in History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he is also Director of the Committee on Globalization and Social Change. He is the author of Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Duke University Press, 2015) and The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude and Colonial Humanism Between the World Wars (University of Chicago Press, 2005).  His newest book, entitled “Untimely History, Unhomely Times: On the Politics of Temporality and Solidarity,” will be published by Fordham University Press in 2021. In Spring 2018 he co-authored Theses on Theory and History, an open-source digital publication, with Ethan Kleinberg and Joan Wallach Scott. He is co-editor of two books: The Postcolonial Contemporary: Political Imaginaries for the Global Present, with Jini Kim Watson (Fordham University Press, 2018) and The Fernando Coronil Reader: The Struggle for the Life is the Matter, with Mariana Coronil, Laurent Dubois Paul Eiss, Edward Murphy, David Pedersen, and Julie Skurski, (Duke University Press, 2019). He is currently working on a manuscript provisionally entitled “More Abundant Life: Black Radical Humanism and the Atlantic World.”

Symposium 7: The Prison Abolitionist Movement: The Convergence of Movements to End Immigrant Detention and Mass Incarceration

April 12, 2021 from 18:00 to 20:00 CET with Michelle Kuo

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THE PRISON ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT: THE CONVERGENCE OF MOVEMENTS TO END IMMIGRANT DETENTIONAND MASS INCARCERATION

Michelle Kuo

This paper begins with the observation that the prison abolitionist movement stands at the intersection of two social justice struggles: the demand to end mass incarceration and the call to end immigrant detention and deportation. The former, which alternately describes incarceration as “the new Jim Crow” or “carceral slavery,” centers incarcerated Black people as the inheritors of America’s long history of racial violence. The latter, embodied by #Abolish ICE, has increasingly called detention centers “immigration prisons” and figures the unauthorized immigrant as a longstanding victim of exclusionary policies underpinned by claims of American sovereignty. This convergence has not been inevitable. The legal doctrines under which prisoners and detained migrants are incarcerated—criminal law and administrative law, respectively—have been mostly discrete. This paper describes the legal conditions in the past thirty years, in particular the implications of the crimmigration field, that have made this convergence possible. It asks how this convergence might be fruitful in imagining new forms of collectivity among immigrants and descendants of American slaves.

Michelle Kuo

Michelle Kuo is an associate professor of History, Law, and Society at the American University of Paris. Her book, Reading with Patrick (2017, Random House) explores incarceration, racial inequality, and literacy in the rural South. It was the runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. In her work as a lawyer, Michelle has clerked for a federal judge for the Ninth Circuit and defended incarcerated and undocumented people. Currently she is a pro bono attorney for the Stanford Three Strikes Project and recently helped found a nonprofit that creates a global network of formerly incarcerated people.