Accepted Paper:

Ordinary life: surpassing normative categories of race  


Beth Epstein (New York University-Paris)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on Daniel Miller’s articulation of the “ordinary” to think about race. As opposed to the normative, the ordinary disrupts overdetermined conceptions of difference, allowing engagements that break with the assumption of stable identities upon which racial categories make claim.

Paper long abstract:

Among the more perplexing questions of contemporary social life is the persistence of racialized forms of thought in these post-colonial, nominally "post-racial" times. Regularly discredited as a valid biological category, the concept of race nonetheless endures as a salient variable of contemporary life. Central to this tension is the extent to which race aligns with actually existing differences or is simply, or only, a social construction that corresponds to, and regularly reaffirms, racial difference as an objective fact. The constructedness of race aside, its realness is all too often lived and felt, a tension that leaves many convinced of race's relevance, as either a foundational principle of social life, or a troubling reality it would be best to overcome.

In this paper I seek to move beyond these debates through a consideration of the exchanges of everyday life in the culturally plural, and many would argue racially troubled, suburbs outside of Paris. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in towns to the west and north of the city, I reflect in particular on Daniel Miller's articulation of the "ordinary" to argue that a focus on ordinary life allows a promising means to move beyond the round-robin debates that considerations of race often spawn. In contra-distinction to the normative, which carries an intrinsic moral claim, the ordinary carries the potential to disrupt overdetermined conceptions of difference, giving way to renewed forms of engagement that break up the assumption of stable identities upon which racial categories make claim.

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