Resisting the Will to Institutionality: A Letter to Roderick Ferguson

Dear Rod,

This is so much more than a thank you letter ever could be, but I will call it that for now as I continue to search for the right words to describe what your work means to me. I just finished re-reading The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012) and I am still reeling from the enormity of this project that you have undertaken with such grace and precision.

You have done the difficult, often under-appreciated thing, of asking us to look again, to reevaluate the victories of the Civil Rights Era and, in particular, the interdisciplinary fields that were born in its wake. Your assertion that the establishment of these interdisciplines also signals the advent of new mechanisms of racialization to quantify, regulate, and discipline minoritized subjects and knowledges cuts to the quick. Your words are hard to read and hear and process all at once, especially as someone who identifies as an Asian Americanist, who benefits from those earlier struggles, and whose scholarship is necessarily shaped by them.

And yet, you show us how institutionalization has its costs. Even though it was the end goal, the horizon for many students and activists of the 1960s and 70s–and, in some places, it is still the horizon that slips from grasp–we have to recognize how institutionalization was also used to placate unruly scholar-activists and constrain the energies of antiracist social movements.

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