Retroactive phantasies: discourse, discipline, and the production of race



Publication Details

Ehlers, N. 2008, 'Retroactive phantasies: discourse, discipline, and the production of race', Social Identities: journal for the study of race, nation and culture, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 333-347.


The present inquiry considers how the practice and notion of race can be figured as a type of discipline that functions to achieve the subjection of the individual to form the individual as a racial subject. Focusing on the constructions of blackness and whiteness within US racial rhetoric, and engaging the work of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, I propose that racial identity is a retroactive phantasy that is always conditional on the subject enacting the very power that marks them: the formation and maintenance of subjectivity is premised on the individual being formed and forming themselves in relation to a normalized identity site and is, thus, always an action. Precisely due to this necessity to act, and to the incoherence of power, innovative acts of anti-discipline re-negotiate the ways in which racial subjectivity is lived and realized.

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