ARB Recommends: From the Duke University Press Fall 2020 Catalog

ARB Recommends is a regular column of ARB that covers seasonal catalogs from indie, trade, and academic publishers, highlighting the kinds of books our editors, contributors, and readers want to read. As a publication devoted to radical critical engagement with the world—and devoted to reviewing books and media that do this—it only makes sense for ARB to support publishers by showcasing the work they and their authors do.

AB Recommends also serves as a “what to review” guide for those interested in contributing to ARB. Like what you see here? Reach out to us to review it!


This entry of ARB Recommends takes a look at the Fall 2020 catalog for Duke University Press.

The full Duke UP fall 2020 catalog can be downloaded here. The books below emphasize cultural history and cultural studies, dealing with imperialism, race, sexuality, queerness, environmentalism and their intersections. Click the book images for links to buy.


The Sense of Brown

José Esteban Muñoz
October 2020 / $25.95 / 224 pp.

The Sense of Brown is José Esteban Muñoz’s treatise on brownness and being as well as his most direct address to queer Latinx studies. In this book, which he was completing at the time of his death, Muñoz examines the work of playwrights Ricardo Bracho and Nilo Cruz, artists Nao Bustamante, Isaac Julien, and Tania Bruguera, and singer José Feliciano, among others, arguing for a sense of brownness that is not fixed within the racial and national contours of Latinidad. This sense of brown is not about the individualized brown subject; rather, it demonstrates that for brown peoples, being exists within what Muñoz calls the brown commons—a lifeworld, queer ecology, and form of collectivity. In analyzing minoritarian affect, ethnicity as a structure of feeling, and brown feelings as they emerge in, through, and beside art and performance, Muñoz illustrates how the sense of brown serves as the basis for other ways of knowing and being in the world.

Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire

Jack Halberstam
October 2020 / $26.95 / 240 pp.

In Wild Things Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the twentieth century. Halberstam theorizes the wild as an unbounded and unpredictable space that offers sources of opposition to modernity’s orderly impulses. Wildness illuminates the normative taxonomies of sexuality against which radical queer practice and politics operate. Throughout, Halberstam engages with a wide variety of texts, practices, and cultural imaginaries—from zombies, falconry, and M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and the career of Irish anticolonial revolutionary Roger Casement—to demonstrate how wildness provides the means to know and to be in ways that transgress Euro-American notions of the modern liberal subject. With Wild Things, Halberstam opens new possibilities for queer theory and for wild thinking more broadly.

The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience since the 1960s

Emily J. Lordi
August 2020 / $25.95 / 232 pp.

In The Meaning of Soul, Emily J. Lordi proposes a new understanding of this famously elusive concept. In the 1960s, Lordi argues, soul came to signify a cultural belief in black resilience, which was enacted through musical practices—inventive cover versions, falsetto vocals, ad-libs, and false endings. Through these soul techniques, artists such as Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, and Minnie Riperton performed virtuosic survivorship and thus helped to galvanize black communities in an era of peril and promise. Their soul legacies were later reanimated by such stars as Prince, Solange Knowles, and Flying Lotus. Breaking with prior understandings of soul as a vague masculinist political formation tethered to the Black Power movement, Lordi offers a vision of soul that foregrounds the intricacies of musical craft, the complex personal and social meanings of the music, the dynamic movement of soul across time, and the leading role played by black women in this musical-intellectual tradition.

Dear Science and Other Stories

Katherine McKittrick
January 2021 / $24.95 / 240 pp.

In Dear Science and Other Stories Katherine McKittrick presents a creative and rigorous study of black and anticolonial methodologies. Drawing on black studies, studies of race, cultural geography, and black feminism as well as a mix of methods, citational practices, and theoretical frameworks, she positions black storytelling and stories as strategies of invention and collaboration. She analyzes a number of texts from intellectuals and artists ranging from Sylvia Wynter to the electronica band Drexciya to explore how narratives of imprecision and relationality interrupt knowledge systems that seek to observe, index, know, and discipline blackness. Throughout, McKittrick offers curiosity, wonder, citations, numbers, playlists, friendship, poetry, inquiry, song, grooves, and anticolonial chronologies as interdisciplinary codes that entwine with the academic form. Suggesting that black life and black livingness are, in themselves, rebellious methodologies, McKittrick imagines without totally disclosing the ways in which black intellectuals invent ways of living outside prevailing knowledge systems.

¡Presente! The Politics of Presence

Diana Taylor
August 2020 / $28.95 / 344 pp.

In ¡Presente! Diana Taylor asks what it means to be physically and politically present in situations where it seems that nothing can be done. As much an act, a word, an attitude, a theoretical intervention, and a performance pedagogy, Taylor maps ¡presente! at work in scenarios ranging from conquest, through colonial enactments and resistance movements, to present moments of capitalist extractivism and forced migration in the Americas. ¡Presente!—present among, with, and to; a walking and talking with others; an ontological and epistemic reflection on presence and subjectivity as participatory and relational, founded on mutual recognition—requires rethinking and unlearning in ways that challenge colonial epistemologies. Showing how knowledge is not something to be harvested but a process of being, knowing, and acting with others, Taylor models a way for scholarship to be present in political struggles.

Militarized Global Apartheid

Catherine Besteman
November 2020 / $23.95 / 208 pp.

In Militarized Global Apartheid Catherine Besteman offers a sweeping theorization of the ways in which countries from the global north are reproducing South Africa’s apartheid system on a worldwide scale to control the mobility and labor of people from the global south. Exploring the different manifestations of global apartheid, Besteman traces how militarization and securitization reconfigure older forms of white supremacy and deploy them in new contexts to maintain this racialized global order. Whether using the language of security, military intervention, surveillance technologies, or detention centers and other forms of incarceration, these projects reinforce and consolidate the global north’s political and economic interests at the expense of the poor, migrants, refugees, Indigenous populations, and people of color. By drawing out how this new form of apartheid functions and pointing to areas of resistance, Besteman opens up new space to theorize potential sources of liberatory politics.

Beyond the World′s End: Arts of Living at the Crossing

T. J. Demos
September 2020 / $26.95 / 272 pp.

In Beyond the World’s End T. J. Demos explores cultural practices that provide radical propositions for living in a world beset by environmental and political crises. Rethinking relationships between aesthetics and an expanded political ecology that foregrounds just futurity, Demos examines how contemporary artists are diversely addressing urgent themes, including John Akomfrah’s cinematic entanglements of racial capitalism with current environmental threats, the visual politics of climate refugees in work by Forensic Architecture and Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, and moving images of Afrofuturist climate justice in projects by Arthur Jafa and Martine Syms. Demos considers video and mixed-media art that responds to resource extraction in works by Angela Melitopoulos, Allora & Calzadilla, and Ursula Biemann, as well as the multispecies ecologies of Terike Haapoja and Public Studio. Throughout Demos contends that contemporary intersections of aesthetics and politics, as exemplified in the Standing Rock #NoDAPL campaign and the Zad’s autonomous zone in France, are creating the imaginaries that will be crucial to building a socially just and flourishing future.

Unseeing Empire: Photography, Representation, South Asian America

Bakirathi Mani
December 2020 / $26.95 / 288 pp.

In Unseeing Empire Bakirathi Mani examines how empire continues to haunt South Asian American visual cultures. Weaving close readings of fine art together with archival research and ethnographic fieldwork at museums and galleries across South Asia and North America, Mani outlines the visual and affective relationships between South Asian diasporic artists, their photographic work, and their viewers. She notes that the desire for South Asian Americans to see visual representations of themselves is rooted in the use of photography as a form of colonial documentation and surveillance. She examines fine art photography by South Asian diasporic artists who employ aesthetic strategies such as duplication and alteration that run counter to viewers’ demands for greater visibility. These works fail to deliver on viewers’ desires to see themselves, producing instead feelings of alienation, estrangement, and loss. These feelings, Mani contends, allow viewers to question their own visibility as South Asian Americans in U.S. public culture and to reflect on their desires to be represented.

Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System

Christopher Chitty
August 2020 / $25.95 / 240 pp.

In Sexual Hegemony Christopher Chitty traces the five-hundred year history of capitalist sexual relations by excavating the class dynamics of the bourgeoisie’s attempts to regulate homosexuality. Tracking the politicization of male homosexuality in Renaissance Florence, Amsterdam, Paris, and London between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as twentieth-century New York City, Chitty shows how sexuality became a crucial dimension of the accumulation of capital and a technique of bourgeois rule. Whether policing male sodomy during the Medici rule in Florence or accusing the French aristocracy of monstrous sexuality in the wake of the French Revolution, the bourgeoisie weaponized both sexual constraint and sexual freedom in order to produce and control a reliable and regimented labor class and subordinate it to civil society and the state. Only by grasping sexuality as a field of social contention and the site of class conflict, Chitty contends, can we embark on a politics that destroys sexuality as a tool and an effect of power and open a front against the forces that keep us unfree.

Genetic Afterlives: Black Jewish Indigeneity in South Africa

Noah Tamarkin
October 2020 / $26.95 / 280 pp.

In 1997, M. E. R. Mathivha, an elder of the black Jewish Lemba people of South Africa, announced to the Lemba Cultural Association that a recent DNA study substantiated their ancestral connections to Jews. Lemba people subsequently leveraged their genetic test results to seek recognition from the post-apartheid government as indigenous Africans with rights to traditional leadership and land, retheorizing genetic ancestry in the process. In Genetic Afterlives, Noah Tamarkin illustrates how Lemba people give their own meanings to the results of DNA tests and employ them to manage competing claims of Jewish ethnic and religious identity, African indigeneity, and South African citizenship. Tamarkin turns away from genetics researchers’ results that defined a single story of Lemba peoples’ “true” origins and toward Lemba understandings of their own genealogy as multivalent. Guided by Lemba people’s negotiations of their belonging as diasporic Jews, South African citizens, and indigenous Africans, Tamarkin considers new ways to think about belonging that can acknowledge the importance of historical and sacred ties to land without valorizing autochthony, borders, or other technologies of exclusion.

Island Futures: Caribbean Survival in the Anthropocene

Mimi Sheller
November 2020 / $24.95 / 256 pp.

In Island Futures Mimi Sheller delves into the ecological crises and reconstruction challenges affecting the entire Caribbean region during a time of climate catastrophe. Drawing on fieldwork on postearthquake reconstruction in Haiti, flooding on the Haitian-Dominican border, and recent hurricanes, Sheller shows how ecological vulnerability and the quest for a “just recovery” in the Caribbean emerge from specific transnational political, economic, and cultural dynamics. Because foreigners are largely ignorant of Haiti’s political, cultural, and economic contexts, especially the historical role of the United States, their efforts to help often exacerbate inequities. Caribbean survival under ever-worsening environmental and political conditions, Sheller contends, demands radical alternatives to the pervasive neocolonialism, racial capitalism, and US military domination that have perpetuated what she calls the “coloniality of climate.” Sheller insists that alternative projects for Haitian reconstruction, social justice, and climate resilience—and the sustainability of the entire region—must be grounded in radical Caribbean intellectual traditions that call for deeper transformations of transnational economies, ecologies, and human relations writ large.

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