Co-sponsored with the Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Working Group
In this paper, I theorize the question of violence and humanitarianism within the political theory of migration as developed in Latino political thought. Through an engagement with Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” and “Theses on the Philosophy of History” I examine how violence and its regulation illuminate how law and history figure in the sustenance of racial systems of labor exploitation. In particular, I rely on Eyal Weizman’s work on the humanitarian present to analyze how a favored strategy by portions of the left to extend humanitarian protection toward battered immigrant women and immigrants who arrived in the country as children is intimately entwined with violence. The logic of humanitarianism complements and authorizes the violent regime of enforcement, rather than countering it. In contrast, I argue that labor activism by farm workers brings to the fore the historical grounding of American capitalism on the lawful exploitation of brown and black workers. I analyze the actions of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and argue that the CIW contests the violence against black and brown bodies in the fields and in so doing attacks the lawful exclusion of farm work from labor rights and protections. Moreover, CIW’s activism sidesteps the question of migration, thus centering the question of labor and revealing the ultimate goal of immigration laws; to reinforce other legal processes that make the fields spaces of sanctioned violence.
Inés Valdez is assistant professor of political science at the Ohio State University and Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Princeton University Center for Human Values (2017-2018). Her research is on the political theory of migration, on the one hand, and that of cosmopolitanism, on the other hand, although she cannot always keep those separate. She is currently working on a book-length manuscript that critically engages Kant’s cosmopolitanism through a notion of transnational cosmopolitanism extracted from the post-World War I writings of W. E. B. Du Bois. Her ongoing work on migration explores the political economy of violence in the contemporary US regime of immigration enforcement. Her work has appeared in the American Political Science Review, Political Research Quarterly, and Political Studies, among other outlets.