Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRAD WORKSHOP - Contesting Democratic Equality through Material (Re)construction

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Room 350, Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics (133 S. 36th Street)
Food provided / Free and open to the public

Hala Habib (New School Dept. of Anthropology)
Between States of Matter: Kabul and Its Concrete Problem

Angus McLeod (Penn Dept. of History)
Redeeming Schools: Public Education in Post Civil-War Texas

In HALA HABIB’s work on the repatriation program initiated by the government of Pakistan and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan, she looks at the homes of the repatriated as biographical agents in the democratization process of the post-Taliban state. The story of the democratic order is as much a story of materials as it is of people. In the making of citizens, specific “attachments” to material manufacture and technological use is set into motion and amplified, what Michael Callon has named “agencements” (or socio-technical assemblages) and Arjun Appadurai has called for the study of as “the social life of things.” Habib explores how these materials conform imperfectly with the development schemes of the global world order. In Afghanistan, the “good” versus “bad” repatriate is dictated by who weathers Kabul as a local, or Kabuli, and who does not. Habib seeks to investigate what kind of testimony and agency is produced by the materials used to house some of the repatriated in order to engage with the question of what marks the difference between locals and non-locals in the context of war and displacement. In the process, she also asks how, if Afghanistan is flagged by State travel advisories as the site of on-going conflict, it has simultaneously become a “post”-war country eligible to receive repatriated citizens?

In 1871, former Confederates and Democratic politicians rallied together in Austin, Texas to protest the state’s reconstruction government. Conservative leaders drew protestors under the banner of a “Taxpayers’ Convention” to oppose the state government’s allegedly extravagant spending, and to attack policies of racial equality. Almost a century and a half before the Obama-era Tea Party, Texas’ political elite mobilized against a profligate, racially progressive governor, putting schools at the center of their partisan, anti-tax campaign. In his paper, ANGUS MCLEOD explores how this “Taxpayers’ Convention” reveals the centrality of public schools as a political flashpoint between Radical Republicans attempting to construct a new society built on politically active Freedmen, and Bourbon Democrats who wanted to return to a proto-feudal system centered on planter dominance, labor control, and indebtedness. Schools became one of the most visible manifestations of the Republican political project and opposition to schools and their concomitant taxes became the central plank of the reformulated Democracy. Schools also served as one of the most prominent and visible aspects of a state government largely hidden “out of sight.” For many citizens, the Republican-crafted school system was their first interaction with the state government. The public school system represented a major expansion of state power that had been almost wholly absent in the South. McLeod contextualizes Texas’ Reconstruction-era public school system to show how state institutions have developed over time and to explain the politicization of those institutions in a highly partisan period. Reconstruction necessarily pulls in race, economic inequality, social hierarchies, and mass political movements, and all of these feature prominently in the struggle over schooling. The failure of the Republican effort to create a robust public school system reverberated through the state of Texas and set a pattern in which schools served as a contested site for political battles over taxation, racial equality, and economic control.