Spring 2019 Colloquium Series - 11 January

January 11, 2019

Emmalon Davis, The New School :: Self-Undermining Undermining Propaganda: Reconceiving Procreative Responsibility
Friday, January 11 2019

Abstract: At the end of his chapter on reproduction, Tommie Shelby (2016) discusses the racist and sexist ideology of the black “welfare mother” critiqued by Dorothy Roberts (1997). According to Roberts’s critique, welfare reform that proposes punitive interventions into black women’s reproductive lives is a tool of oppression, motivated by the prejudicial ideology that (1) black women are unfit mothers and (2) racial inequality persists as a result of irresponsible reproductive decisions on the part of black women. While Shelby acknowledges that Roberts’s critique is compelling and concedes that such an ideology is “no doubt” at work in shaping the perceptions of policy makers (and the public, more broadly), he nonetheless maintains that this critique “does not settle the question of whether there is a valid justification for welfare policies that deter reproduction among poor single women” (139). This paper offers a feminist critical analysis of Shelby’s account of procreative responsibility. In the paper, I argue that in attempting to “settle the question,” Shelby (unwittingly) reinforces the ideology that Roberts critiques. Using Jason Stanley’s (2007) notion of undermining propaganda, I articulate two ways in which undermining propaganda—a rhetorical strategy employed by Shelby—risks undermining itself. I critically evaluate the central components of Shelby’s argument to illuminate the dangers of utilizing undermining propaganda in service of democratic ideals.



Talks are held at the Burnaby Campus in room WMC 3250 from 3:30 - 5:00 p.m., unless otherwise indicated. They are free and open to the public.

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