Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Death of Theory, Part II

So, I'm looking over my CV, which it is now technically called since I'm no longer just some law monkey looking for a summer associateship where they pay you to eat lunch. (I'm now a grad student with a few TA'ships and guest lectureships under my belt begging for a free lunch) Um, I haven't published yet, but I'm preparing an article to shop for fall submission deadlines (I missed the spring deadline because of the much hated Bar). The problem is, the article is no longer really a part of my research interests.

But I realize, nothing I've written in the past three years is something I want to keep writing about. Here are a few seminar papers I'm not too excited to try to make publishable (mainly because they're no longer very timely):

  1. From Bakke to Grutter: Diversity as a Compelling Interest (hmm, a few years too late to the debate)
  2. The Myth and the Metonymy of the "Oriental Woman" in Graham Greene's The Quiet Man (uh, my contribution to the field of law and literature)
  3. Different Kinds of Diversity: What is a Compelling Interest? (again, uh, too late to the debate)

So the article I should probably clean up and shop around for publication?

The Struggle to Maintain a Critical Pedagogy: Mediating Issues of Race, Gender and Professorial Authority in the Classroom

It's not as though I'm wavering in my belief that scholarship abouut anti-discrimination law and race-consciuos pedagogy is important and necessary. It's just that I've kind of lost the passion to write about it. This is weird, people. It's making me feel tremendously conflicted and guilty (and many of you know I'm pretty much prone to flights of dramatic introspection, nostalgia, conflict and regret). I remain proud of my Critical Race Studies notation on my diploma and transcript. I remain supportive of Critical Race Theory scholarship and I believe firmly in its project. I'm just not so sure I'm the person to continue this project.

This doesn't mean that I'm no less committed to a project of anti-subordination in my legal research. It's just that, rather than explain how the property value of whiteness has changed over time and how it will change as it becomes ever transmuted to respond to different "others," well, I'll be focusing on federalism as it affects intergovernmental relations, distributive welfare programs, and civil rights. So I won't be totally abandoning the CRT anti-discrimination project. I'll just be focusing that effort in a different way--mainly towards administrative law and public policy. At least for now, that's the direction I want to go. My most immediate project will probably involve the analysis of the current federalism decisions' potential effect on minority rights, particularly in the areas of civil rights and remedies, hate crimes laws, and federal criminal sentencing laws. So while not straight up CRT, that does have a clear anti-discrimination project. But in the future, I want to branch out to study welfare reform law and bankruptcy reform law. I want to become really knowledgeable about administrative law and public policy. I'll always be aware of the race, gender and sexuality discrimination aspects of the law--but I no longer want to focus exclusively on that.

So what am I going to focus less on? Well, the following central premises of CRT:

  1. story telling is a significant part of the law and disenfranchised people have different stories and ways of telling them than enfranchised people(s)
  2. racist behavior is not an aberration, but is normal practice
  3. elites act against racist behavior in society only when it serves them--the Derrick Bell interest-convergence theory
  4. race is a social construct, not biological
  5. characteristics ascribed to a particular race will change (for example, African American people have been called "happy go lucky and childlike" historically in order to rationalize slavery, but are now most commonly called "threatening and criminal" in order to rationalize increased control through police, etc.)
  6. people have intersecting identities, i.e. there is more than one way that they are affected by disenfranchisement or inequality. We all have multiple lenses through which we experience the world (and are experienced by others).

Writing about federalism, intergovernmental relations, and distributive welfare programs does not lend itself to analyzing race as a social construct, the changing of racial constructs, etc. I may get my one last CRT-tinged project writing about hate crimes and federal sentencing laws. But it's still not straight up CRT. In fact, I'm getting away from CRT methodology. In particular, I will probably be employing less narrative in my scholarship--particularly the personal storytelling method, in which the scholar situates him/herself in her project. Patricia Williams, a black scholar, recounted her experience being denied service at Benetton (ironic, I know) to show how everyday racism is still the norm. One of my own professors told his story of being racially profiled by police in his article about race and the 4th Amendment. In my own papers, I've talked about my own racial and gender experiences in the academic setting.

I just don't want to do this anymore. Do I have to explain why? I don't know myself. It just doesn't appeal to me personally anymore. I don't discredit such work, and I read it with interest still. I am not one of those academics that disdain storytelling and narrativity as being faux scholarship. I think it is valid scholarship. I just don't want to do it anymore. I want to get away from narrative and personal storytelling and do some statutory analysis. And this is a betrayal of what I learned.

I feel really guilty. Rejecting narrative and storytelling, one of the central methodologies of CRT--that's a betrayal of my program and my professors. Not continuing their work and continuing the project of theorizing about race, identity, and legal construction of race--that too is a betrayal. In fact, it is the ultimate betrayal. I know what I'll do in the future will be good, important work, but it won't be CRT. It won't be using interpellation to analyze the racial constructs in Plessy. It won't be theorizing about Asian Americans as the perpetual foreign other even as they are called the "model minority" and "honorary whites." It won't be about intersectional gay-Asian identity and the dual pressure to cover and assimilate. It won't be about cultural defenses to crimes and whether they can be analogized to battered woman syndrome as a carving out of the legal defenses based on identity. I really feel like I'm betraying all my old professors. I entered the CRS program as an aspiring academic. My professors probably had hopes that I'd continue this kind of research and keept eh CRS project alive. The CRS program's goal is to create a class of future academics trained in CRT and able to carry on it's project. Either I failed it, or it failed me.

I honestly don't know. For the most part, I enjoyed my CRT classes, but I can't deny that they were incredibly emotionally draining. You can only spend so much time reading about sexism and racism before you feel like someone has beaten the shit out of you. In the end, while I think the program was important to me and the project valuable, I just don't have the energy to continue it. Whatever enthusiasm I had in the project at the beginning of my second year has dissipated somewhat. A part of it is questioning the utility of theory and its relevancy. Another part is that my interests have broadened, and I'm interested in the larger picture of the law--intergovrnmental relations--and not just the minutiae of analyzing a legal opinion, line by line, sussing out the racial implications. I'm not going to deconstruct the law a few lines at a time anymore. For some reason, by the end of third year, I found the work to be personally unsatisfying. I'm fine reading CRT, with its Spivakian analyses of the law--but I can't do it anymore.

And I don't know why. All I know is that by third year, I was more excited about Corporations, First Amendment Law, and Employment Discrimination than I was by my Race Conscious Remedies class. I liked Employment Discrimination not just because of its anti-subordination project, but because it combined so many interesting fields of law--federalism, preemption, administrative law, and remedies. I found myself hungry to study non-traditional anti-discrimination law. I always like to try to understand the racial/gender implications of the law--but right now I like not having to talk about reparations, identity politics, personal racial experiences, and whether or not people will ever think that I'm assimilated. I'm just tired of writing about that.

Maybe this is just fatigue. Maybe this too, shall pass. Maybe one day I'll return to it and start writing about "Race and the Law." Goodness knows that with my background, I'll probably teach it one day. But for now, I'm laying down my pen for it.

I don't know if this makes me less committed to the anti-subordination project. Maybe I'm just tired. Or maybe I'm selling out.