The best books spotlighting race and neoliberalization

David Theo Goldberg Author Of The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism
By David Theo Goldberg

Who am I?

I grew up and completed the formative years of my college education in Cape Town, South Africa, while active also in anti-apartheid struggles. My Ph.D. dissertation in the 1980s focused on the elaboration of key racial ideas in the modern history of philosophy. I have published extensively on race and racism in the U.S. and globally, in books, articles, and public media. My interests have especially focused on the transforming logics and expressions of racism over time, and its updating to discipline and constrain its conventional targets anew and new targets more or less conventionally. My interest has always been to understand racism in order to face it down.

I wrote...

The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism

By David Theo Goldberg,

Book cover of The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism

What is my book about?

Modern states are racially structured. They become modern by assuming the structures of racial arrangement. But these arrangements are not static. As political economy shifts over time so do the conditions of racial structure. From the 1980s, neoliberalism deregulated economic activity within and across states globally, while ramping up the regulation of social order through the funding of repressive state apparatuses such as the military and police. Personal responsibility was emphasized above all in the face of the financialization of all social choices. Racial reference was erased which, rather than ending racism, rendered it less nameable, if not invisible. The book traces these developments across five regions because of the variations but especially because the threat of racism anywhere is shored up by racism elsewhere.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978--1979

Why did I love this book?

In these extraordinary lectures, Foucault offers a comprehensive social history of neoliberal theory from the 1920s to 1980 in Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S. While this work does not focus on racism, Foucault critically elaborates neoliberalism’s defining ideas: the attack on the state and dissipation of the commons, the privatization of everything, and the individualizing of all responsibility; financializing all social and individual choice, while redefining social subjectivity as “the Man of Enterprise,” of innovation and self-making. Foucault opened me to seeing how the liberal in “neoliberalism” signals the elevation of individual freedom as a counter to state power and social support. The question this raised for me is how these shifts in social thought suggest new developments in racist expression.

By Michel Foucault,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Birth of Biopolitics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michel Foucault's lectures at the College de France in 1979, The Birth of Biopolitics, pursue and develop further the themes of his lectures from the previous year, Security, Territory, Population. Having shown how Eighteenth century political economy marks the birth of a new governmental rationality -- seeking maximum effectiveness by governing less and in accordance with the naturalness of the phenomena to be governed -- Michel Foucault undertakes the detailed analysis of the forms of this liberal governmentality. This involves describing the political rationality within which the specific problems of life and population were posed: "Studying liberalism as the general…

Book cover of Selected Writings on Race and Difference

Why did I love this book?

Stuart Hall provided me with a model for mapping the shifting political conjuncture in real time, and the transforming racial dynamics that centrally shaped neoliberalism’s political emergence and cultural expression of the period. He showed how the newly emergent racial politics identified with neoliberalizing societies is increasingly linked to the immigrant, the unbelonging, the supposed rise in local crime as a consequence, and the perceived threat to the traditional culture of their host society. Hall offers the dynamic terms of analysis for these emerging phenomena: the floating signifier of race, the pluralizing of racism, racial panics, the law and order society, articulation of race with class and gender, etc. His work, so formatively brought together here by Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, was enormously generative for me in analyzing the formative connections of neoliberalization and the shifting dynamics of racial politics.

By Stuart Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Selected Writings on Race and Difference as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Selected Writings on Race and Difference, editors Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore gather more than twenty essays by Stuart Hall that highlight his extensive and groundbreaking engagement with race, representation, identity, difference, and diaspora. Spanning the whole of his career, this collection includes classic theoretical essays such as "The Whites of Their Eyes" (1981) and "Race, the Floating Signifier" (1997). It also features public lectures, political articles, and popular pieces that circulated in periodicals and newspapers, which demonstrate the breadth and depth of Hall's contribution to public discourses of race. Foregrounding how and why the analysis of race…

Book cover of The Intimacies of Four Continents

Why did I love this book?

Lisa Lowe and I were in sustained conversation as we were composing our respective books. I read earlier drafts of hers as I was writing mine. Her analysis of settler-colonialism, the African slave trade, and trade in Asian goods and peoples in the Caribbean and Americas illustrated for me ways of thinking about the global relations and interactive impacts of the movements of people, culture, and thought. Her focus on how liberal thought shaped and is shaped by these relations helped to surface the coercive and discriminatory practices that made liberal thought possible. This “history of the present” by extension was enormously generative for thinking about the history of the neoliberal present too. 

By Lisa Lowe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Intimacies of Four Continents as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this uniquely interdisciplinary work, Lisa Lowe examines the relationships between Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- centuries, exploring the links between colonialism, slavery, imperial trades and Western liberalism. Reading across archives, canons, and continents, Lowe connects the liberal narrative of freedom overcoming slavery to the expansion of Anglo-American empire, observing that abstract promises of freedom often obscure their embeddedness within colonial conditions. Race and social difference, Lowe contends, are enduring remainders of colonial processes through which "the human" is universalized and "freed" by liberal forms, while the peoples who create the conditions…

Book cover of Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition

Why did I love this book?

Digital technology, like technology generally, is commonly assumed to be value neutral. Wendy Chun reveals that structurally embedded in digital operating systems and data collection are values that reproduce and extend existing modes of discriminating while also originating new ones. In prompting and promoting the grouping together of people who are alike—in habits, culture, looks, and preferences—the logic of the algorithm reproduces and amplifies discriminatory trends. Chun reveals how the logics of the digital reinforce the restructuring of racism by the neoliberal turn that my own book lays out.

By Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Alex Barnett (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Discriminating Data as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How big data and machine learning encode discrimination and create agitated clusters of comforting rage.

In Discriminating Data, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun reveals how polarization is a goal—not an error—within big data and machine learning. These methods, she argues, encode segregation, eugenics, and identity politics through their default assumptions and conditions. Correlation, which grounds big data’s predictive potential, stems from twentieth-century eugenic attempts to “breed” a better future. Recommender systems foster angry clusters of sameness through homophily. Users are “trained” to become authentically predictable via a politics and technology of recognition. Machine learning and data analytics thus seek to disrupt…

Racism Postrace

By Roopali Mukerjee (editor), Sarah Banet-Weiser (editor), Herman Gray (editor)

Book cover of Racism Postrace

Why did I love this book?

A central idea of racial neoliberalism is the erasure of concepts referencing race, taking away the very terms by which racism can be identified and critically addressed. This is a condition that, with Obama’s election in 2008, became increasingly widely identified as “the postracial.” I find this edited volume more readily than others to provide trenchant analysis of the complex relations between the condition of the postracial and its rendering of racism less readily identifiable and more challenging to address.

By Roopali Mukerjee (editor), Sarah Banet-Weiser (editor), Herman Gray (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Racism Postrace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the election of Barack Obama, the idea that American society had become postracial-that is, race was no longer a main factor in influencing and structuring people's lives-took hold in public consciousness, increasingly accepted by many. The contributors to Racism Postrace examine the concept of postrace and its powerful history and allure, showing how proclamations of a postracial society further normalize racism and obscure structural antiblackness. They trace expressions of postrace over and through a wide variety of cultural texts, events, and people, from sports (LeBron James's move to Miami), music (Pharrell Williams's "Happy"), and television (The Voice and HGTV)…

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