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Critical Race Conversations /

Critical Race Conversations: Race, Philosophy, and Political Thought

Moderated by Sharon Achinstein, who is joined by Charles W. Mills, Jennifer L. Morgan, and Robert Bernasconi

Originally recorded on June 17, 2021

Program Overview

This Critical Race Conversation is associated with the Center for the History of British Political Thought

How can thinking with the category of race organize a conversation in the history of political thought? Morgan, Mills, and Bernasconi bring their three different disciplinary perspectives to this question. What key understandings emerge out of recent critical work in race history and philosophy that ask for a significant reconceptualization of the field? How can the archive be brought to recontextualize such a history?  What can the history of political thought help to explain about the formation of racialized hierarchies of power? How can scholars write within and against a disciplinary tradition that has been interested in discourses of will, property, agency, contract, choice, humanity, and freedom yet has been late to reckon with the forms of unfreedom and racialized categories that coexisted with and, some would say, served to underwrite those discourses? This “Critical Race Conversation” will explore interpretive tools or vocabularies needed to approach histories of racialization in the early modern period.

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About the Speakers

Dr. Charles W. Mills was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He worked in the general area of social and political philosophy, particularly in oppositional political theory as centered on class, gender, and race. He authored over a hundred journal articles, book chapters, comments, and replies, and six books, including his first, The Racial Contract (1997), which won a Myers Outstanding Book Award for the study of bigotry and human rights in America.

Dr. Jennifer L. Morgan is Professor of History in the department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University where she also serves as Chair.  Her research examines the intersections of gender and race in in the Black Atlantic world. Her recently published work, Reckoning with Slavery: Gender, Kinship and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic considers colonial numeracy, racism and the rise of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the seventeenth-century English Atlantic world.

Dr. Robert Bernasconi is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy and African American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. In addition to his work in nineteenth and twentieth century European philosophy he has written essays on Otttobah Cugoano, Frederick Douglas, Antenor Firmin, W. E. B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Frantz Fanon. He has extensively challenged the way that the philosophical canon has excluded or marginalized non-Western philosophy, actively exposing the racism of such philosophers as Locke, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Arendt.

Dr. Sharon Achinstein, the Sir William Osler Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University and member of the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought Steering Committee, explores the intersection of literature and political communication in the early modern period. Her work often places literature in relation to the emerging public sphere and challenges to political and religious authority. Her most recent research faces the history of marriage towards literature, law, politics, and theology, directions she pursued in her forthcoming edition of Milton’s writings on divorce.