Andrew Zimmerman (George Washington University): Race against Revolution in Central and Eastern Europe: From Hegel to Weber, from Rural Insurgency to ‘Polonization’

Date: 
February 21, 2014 - 17:30 - 19:45
Building: 
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Room: 
Gellner
Event type: 
Event audience: 

 

characterized as the biopolitical management of populations. These racial discourses had not only to serve
elite powers but also, and from the beginning, to contend with the knowledge and power of populations
they were designed to subjugate politically and exploit economically. This lecture will reverse the
common relation of power and resistance, where popular knowledge and power are seen to emerge in
response to, and against, elite knowledge and power. Instead it will begin with popular insurgencies and
suggest that it is elite power that should be considered opposition and resistance - resistance to popular
democratic and autonomous politics. The development of racial science in the nineteenth century, it will
argue, was an elite response to a set of worldwide popular rural insurgencies against bonded labor,
principally serfdom in Europe and slavery in the Americas.
This lecture will begin with the rebellions that ended serfdom in East Elbian Germany under
Napoleonic occupation and the way the knowledge these movements created found its way into the work
of Hegel and his successors, including Marx and Engels. It will then look at how Prussian authorities
employed racial knowledge about Poles and Germans to manage and control the seasonal migrant
workers who replaced the labor of emancipated serfs on Prussian estates. The German social scientist Max
Weber built a theory of economics and culture on these racializing strategies of Prussian political and
economic elites. Weber’s cultural and social understanding of race, to an extent at least as great as
biological racisms, has had a major impact on contemporary forms of racisms, in both the Cold War and
the neoliberal era. Returning to the Central and Eastern European roots of these racisms, as well as to the
popular democratic insurrections to which they were responses, thus has not only an historical but also a
critical-political contemporary interest.

In the nineteenth century, scientific discourses about race emerged around the world in the service of imperial and domestic state power, capital accumulation, and, most broadly, what Michel Foucault has characterized as the biopolitical management of populations. These racial discourses had not only to serve elite powers but also, and from the beginning, to contend with the knowledge and power of populations they were designed to subjugate politically and exploit economically. This lecture will reverse the common relation of power and resistance, where popular knowledge and power are seen to emerge in response to, and against, elite knowledge and power. Instead it will begin with popular insurgencies and suggest that it is elite power that should be considered opposition and resistance - resistance to popular democratic and autonomous politics. The development of racial science in the nineteenth century, it will argue, was an elite response to a set of worldwide popular rural insurgencies against bonded labor, principally serfdom in Europe and slavery in the Americas.

This lecture will begin with the rebellions that ended serfdom in East Elbian Germany under Napoleonic occupation and the way the knowledge these movements created found its way into the work of Hegel and his successors, including Marx and Engels. It will then look at how Prussian authorities employed racial knowledge about Poles and Germans to manage and control the seasonal migrant workers who replaced the labor of emancipated serfs on Prussian estates. The German social scientist Max Weber built a theory of economics and culture on these racializing strategies of Prussian political and economic elites. Weber’s cultural and social understanding of race, to an extent at least as great as biological racisms, has had a major impact on contemporary forms of racisms, in both the Cold War and the neoliberal era. Returning to the Central and Eastern European roots of these racisms, as well as to the popular democratic insurrections to which they were responses, thus has not only an historical but also a critical-political contemporary interest.

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