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May 5, 2014 at 11:11 am

Marciniak: a Tear-Down-the-Walls Scholar

Dr. Katarzyna Marciniak

Dr. Katarzyna Marciniak

While some scholars study the science of structure and organization, Dr. Katarzyna Marciniak is a tear-down-the-walls sort of scholar.

She grew up in Poland “behind the Wall,” but as a leading author on transnational feminism, she writes about immigration, borders, and rage in what she calls “noborders scholarship.”

In an interview with a former student, Marciniak talks not about borders, but about “quivering ontologies.” It was the title of her dissertation, but at the advice of her book publisher, ontologies—a word used both in computer science and philosophy to define and organize—became a more easily understood concept: “Alienhood.”

“I, of course, don’t regret that change,” Marciniak tells Heidi R. Lewis, who earned her M.A. in English at Ohio University and studied with Marciniak, Professor of Transnational Studies in the English Department at Ohio University. Lewis is now Assistant Professor of Feminist and Gender Studies at Colorado College.

“But I always thought that my life and my work are intimately connected to the idea of quivering ontologies—the kinds of bodies that do not quite belong to a particular nation, or belong to one uneasily or provisionally, bodies that are somewhat liminal and therefore questionable. I think immigration is all about such quivering. Also, foreignness as a concept and as a lived experience is something that preoccupies me along with issues of legality and illegality. One can be a palatable foreigner (grateful, domesticated one, with a ‘cute’ accent), or a dangerous foreigner (a thief of ‘our’ national goods or, worse, a terrorist); foreignness is always overdetermined.”

Lewis’ interview appears on the Feminist Wire, titled: “Feminists We Love: Katarzyna Marciniak.”

Marciniak recently received the 2013-14 Outstanding Faculty Research and Scholarship Award in the Humanities from the Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences. The award recognizes her scholarly contributions and publications in her field at the international level.

Feminism, Rage and Pedagogy

Lewis queries Marciniak on the relatively new field of “transnational studies” as well as the evolving field of feminism. Marciniak talks about the concept of “incommensurability” in feminist studies—the lack of a common framework for understanding feminism beyond a Western-centric lens, and one that is linked to the discourse of differences and contingencies.

We all know that in the United States, the field of Women’s and Gender Studies, or Feminist Studies, has moved through a multiplicity of phases that have by now enabled feminist work to move beyond Western-centric, U.S.-centric, First/Third World binary approaches and beyond the already superseded discourses of “global sisterhood.” Both difference and incommensurability are obviously not new concepts in feminist studies, but the critical examination of these concepts in the context of transnationality is an exciting and important turn. We started our work at a time when the transnational designator was emerging with increasing vigor (through the groundbreaking work of Gayatri Spivak, Chandra Mohanty, Ella Shohat, Jacqui Alexander, Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan), and yet the space of Eastern Europe, often referred to as the Second World, seemed like a territory of perpetual invisibility even for these scholars. Feminist voices from socialist and now postsocialist spaces really had no presence at that point in feminist scholarship in the United States.

Marciniak recently co-edited a special issue of Citizenship Studies on “Immigration Protest” with Imogen Tyler in April 2013. The special issue met with such interest that Routledge (publisher of Citizenship Studies) decided to reprint it as a book, Protesting Citizenship: Migrant Activisms. Also, a book co-edited by the pair is due out in the fall, Immigrant Protest: Politics, Asthetics and Everyday Dissent.

The process of putting together this book was quite complex, as we had contributors working in both the United States and Europe, not only representing a broad variety of interests but also coming from different cultural backgrounds (Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Romania, UK). They contributed work on Islamophobia, Latino border poli tics, Eastern European discourses of whiteness and performances of foreignness, Israeli/Palestine border zone, asylum seeking in the UK, transnational feminist activism, and an exploration of citizenship through arts practice. The project is a hybridized, interdisciplinary collection, featuring scholars working in the humanities and social sciences, as well as artists and activists engaged in immigrant protest. In the end, Imogen and I argue for a noborder politics and we claim that such a politics can only be enacted through a “noborder scholarship.”

Just as Lewis was motivated by Marciniak’s course on “Transnational Feminist Practices” at Ohio University, Marciniak has been studying both immigrant rage and also how students respond to concepts of rage in the classroom. She contributed an essay in a book on Pedagogy of Rage.

As for my contribution to the book, “Pedagogy of Rage”: for a long time, I have been exploring the affective and conceptual underpinnings of “immigrant rage.” I am fascinated by the concept of rage and, of course, I have been influenced by the writings of bell hooks, Jack Halberstam, and Audre Lorde on the subject. So, while there is a definite feminist discourse on rage, the idea of immigrant rage, I have realized, is one that still needs to be articulated. If feminist rage is something feared and often mocked (in order to belittle its power), then feminist immigrant rage is definitely a hard-core offense. We know that an immigrant is expected to be quiet and grateful; barely visible and barely audible, but at the same time a hard-working body that pays off her debt to the host nation. In 2006, I published a piece on immigrant rage in differences. Last year, I published “Legal/Illegal: Protesting Citizenship in Fortress America” in Citizenship Studies. I also started writing about pedagogy in conjunction with the transnational and feminist politics and published “Pedagogy of Anxiety” in Signs. When the time came to write my contribution to Immigrant Protest, I knew I wanted to explore the idea of “pedagogy of rage.”

If you think about rage in our culture, there are definitely conflicting discourses surrounding this concept, a certain kind of schizophrenia, especially in media culture. If you watch Dr. Phil, for example, you learn that rage is unhealthy and needs to be cured and suppressed. But we also know that the contemporary social and cultural landscape is not free of multiple, deliberate manifestations of rage. It is enough to consider The Jerry Springer Show as just one indicative example of this. This is a show that thrives on eliciting rage from both invited guests and audiences. In fact, it actively encourages foul language and screaming, and orchestrates on-stage verbal attacks, physical aggression, and the intervention of security guards. It is crucial, of course, to remember that the guests on this show and others like it are often people of color, or whites coming from deprivileged social strata. Many are severely overweight, many are working class, and many are single parents, collectively creating the impression that “regular” folks do not do rage, just the “unfortunate” ones. Then, there is, of course, both online and offline anti-immigrant rage that is often presented as righteous and necessary for the protection of the “purity” of the nation. This form of rage is mainly enacted by white males who assume the position of “defenders” of the nation. So this is an almost sanctioned rage.

“Pedagogy of Rage” articulates this complex context and links it to pedagogical practices. I write about my students’ affective responses while studying Courtney Hunt’s 2008 border film, Frozen River, and reflect on the possibilities and limits of enacting “immigrant protest” and “immigrant rage” in the classroom. My interest lies in rage as a political category of intervention, one that can influence students’ sensibilities and open them up to new ways of thinking about resistance to oppressive forms of phobic nationalisms and exclusionary practices of citizenship.

Read much more in Lewis’ interview with Marciniak at the Feminist Wire.

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