University News

Lecture questions link between freedom and violence

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chandan Reddy, associate professor of English at the University of Washington, questioned the idea of violence as “the antithesis of freedom” in his lecture “Precarity after Rights: On Queer of Color Critique” at the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts Monday afternoon. Around 30 undergraduates, graduate students and professors attended the presentation, which was part of a lecture series presented by the theater and performance studies department this semester that considers identity in the face of social and political change. 

The lecture introduced the arguments of Reddy’s recently published book, “Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the U.S. State.” Reddy said he examines the more complex connections between freedom and violence in his book in order to “undo this pedestrian understanding of the relationship.”

The neoliberal state, which Reddy said promotes privatization and a free-market economy in order to maintain democracy, connects the expansion of civil rights with institutionalized violence, he said. And rights, he said, “expand the zone of precarity” — defining an individual’s civil rights in society raises precarious questions of individualism, cultural “norms” and interpretations of social customs. 

The fight for marriage equality, particularly California’s Proposition 8, inspires thoughts on these questions, he said. Instead of liberating individuals and stopping violence, modern civil rights legislation defines categories and actually breeds controversy. 

Reddy’s argument focused on this and another contemporary example — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The act, signed as a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010, is a perfect example of the violence and freedom contradiction, he said. The Matthew Shepard Act classified crimes committed because of sexual identity, gender or disability as hate crimes, but it was attached to the bill that expanded the Department of Defense budget, which Reddy described as funding “legitimatized violence.” 

This contradiction, Reddy suggested, forms when a state falls into a crisis because it “can no longer repress its own expression of violence.”

After this discussion of contradictions and precarity, Associate Professor of History Naoko Shibusawa, who also introduced the lecture, responded with the critical question “what can people do?”

Reddy said the next step is a student movement away from egalitarianism and towards a new state not based only on legal definition.

The next lecture in the series, “Bedding the Horizontal: Entertaining Pleasure in the Permanent Present,” will be given March 12 by Sue-Ellen Case, theater and performance studies department chair at the University of California at Los Angeles.

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