Reading Cox with Ambedkar: Untouchability’s Place in the Debate over Race and Caste

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:50 AM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jon Soske, McGill University
In the past few years, we have seen a striking bifurcation in new histories of race and racism. On the one hand, a group of important interventions has sought to shift the analysis of race thinking away from the modern Atlantic by either exploring earlier articulations (the Iberian fifteenth century) or non-European genealogies of racial thought. On the other hand, a powerful critique of the very concept of "race," particularly in black critical theory, has insisted on the unique character of an anti-blackness rooted in chattel slavery, settler colonialism, and a particular construction of "the human." This paper will reflect on this bifurcation by exploring the tension between (and frequent elision of) the categories of caste and untouchability. If caste is best understood in terms of a materialist analysis, untouchability requires an understanding of forms of violence that are simultaneously ontological and symbolic. By reading Caste, Class, and Race alongside the work of B.R. Ambedkar, this paper will reflect on the possibilities (and limitations) of a dialogue between theories of untouchability and anti-blackness.