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

GRAD WORKSHOP - On the Margins of the Democratic State

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - 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

Hajer Al-Faham (Penn Political Science)
The Politics of Surveillance in American Muslim Communities

Mo Torres (Harvard Dept. of Sociology)
What "Emergency" Does: Democratic Decline and the Politics of Inevitability

FOR POLITICAL SCIENTISTS WHO CONDUCT FIELDWORK in environments marked by civil conflict, state violence, or authoritarianism, it is widely acknowledged that everyday political conditions occupy a crucial role in the research process, as researchers have an ethical obligation to protect research subjects and communities from repercussions. Drawing on data collected from a case study of Arab and Black American Muslim communities, HAJER AL-FAHAM shows that even in the context of non-authoritarian and putatively democratic regimes, such as the United States, everyday political conditions have profound implications for the research process. She finds that surveillance operates as a two-stage political mechanism, linking politics to the research process that unfolded in fieldwork with American Muslims. First, it disturbs the research terrain by restricting the sample of respondents who select into participation. Second, it colors the responses of participants throughout the interviews. This finding indicates that for scholars of American politics, a significant challenge moving forward, is to identify and account for the relevant political conditions shaping the study of American Muslims and other vulnerable populations.

WHAT IS A “FINANCIAL EMERGENCY,”and what does the discourse of emergency accomplish in the realm of politics? MO TORRES considers the case of the Rust Belt, where former manufacturing giants like Detroit, Flint, and other race-class subjugated cities today stand largely in ruin. For three decades, the state of Michigan’s primary form of aid to post-industrial cities has come in the form of the complete cancelation of local democracy. Michigan’s “emergency financial manager”(EFM) laws replace the elected mayors and city council members of any city deemed to be in a state of economic emergency with a governor-appointed “emergency financial manager” who assumes total control over all local operations. Using archival data and original interviews, Torres seeks to understand how emergency politics work in practice, and what they achieve politically. He shows that emergency politics follow a logic of inevitability, where policy elites demonstrate a hesitant stance to promote anti-democratic politics that simply must be adopted. Behind the scenes, however, the politics of emergency promote a political agenda—in this case, privatization—that is in fact championed by supporters of EFM. Emergency politics obscure the policymaking process, embodying what I call politics without policies.