Sociologist of the Month, October 2021
Please welcome our Sociologist of the Month for October 2021, Ali Meghji (Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, UK). His Open Access article for Current Sociology, Towards a theoretical synergy: Critical race theory and decolonial thought in Trumpamerica and Brexit Britain is promoted here this month.
Could you please tell us about yourself? How did you come to your field of study?
A. Meghji: I am currently an Assistant Professor in Social Inequalities, in the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. I have always had an interest in the sociology of race, though that exact empirical scope has changed over time. One of my first empirical studies was on the Black middle-class in Britain, looking at how structural racism shapes the unequal distribution of cultural capital. In this empirical study, I used the racialized social system approach from critical race theory (CRT), pioneered by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, and as my research developed, I became more interested in systematically engaging with this racialized social system approach, looking at what it is well placed to study, and where its limitations may lie. It was in examining its limitations that I was pushed towards embracing central tenets of decolonial thought too, as I outline in this paper ‘Towards a theoretical synergy’.
What prompted you to research the area of your article, “Towards a theoretical synergy: critical race theory and decolonial thought in Trumpamerica and Brexit Britain”?
A. Meghji: The central driving argument of this paper is that you can build a successful ‘both and’ approach to CRT and decolonial thought, despite the fact that there are crucial differences that separate them. CRT – especially in the racialized social system approach – is largely geared towards the study of national racialized social systems, and how these various systems have their own schemes of racial ideologies, racial interests, racialized emotional repertoires, and so on. However, this approach is not necessarily geared towards studying the relations that exist between racialized social systems (though some excellent scholarship has been done on trying to do this, such as Melissa Weiner’s and Michelle Christian’s works). On the other hand, decolonial thought is focused on the historical, global social analysis that CRT sometimes elides. Rather than endorsing a form of universalism, I started form the position that theories do not have to be theories of everything, and neither do theories have to be ranked against one another in a hierarchy. Sometimes, as I show in this paper, you can use quite different theories in your research in a way that is especially productive. The study of Brexit and Trump, therefore, is mostly a ‘case of’ this synergized analysis, highlighting the benefits of using this both-and approach.
What do you see as the key findings of your article?
A. Meghji: The central argument of this paper – in terms of the empirical contribution – is that you can’t fully understand the electoral victories of Brexit and Trump in 2016, and nor their immediate aftermaths, without incorporating insights from CRT and decolonial thought. In both cases, for instance, critical race analysis helps us to see how both projects stemmed from and built on particular racial ideologies (colorblind racism / post-racialism) and emergent racialized emotions (white victimhood, white estrangement). At the same time, in both cases we also need a much more historically based, transnational form of analysis offered by decolonial thought, in order to highlight the imperial nostalgia articulated by both projects.
What are the wider social implications of your research in the current social climate? How do you think things will change in the future?
A. Meghji: As I alluded to above, this paper is about the interplay between CRT and decolonial thought much more than it is really about Brexit and Trump. Brexit and Trump were more so cases to highlight the need for this interplay. In this regard, I hope that one of the implications of this research is to show us how important it is to have a balance in our analysis between national specificity and presentism on the one hand, and historical, transnational analysis on the other. It does not have to be either/or. Indeed, in the book I am currently writing on this synergy, I show how this both-and approach applies to a range of phenomena – including global capitalism, the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and 21st century nationalisms. All of these find life and reproduction in national racialized social systems, but are equally articulations of global coloniality.
Do you have any links to images, documents or other pieces of research which build on or add to the article? Or a suggested reading list?
A. Meghji: As I mentioned, this research brings together my interest in critical race theory and the decolonization of knowledge. In this regard, this paper published in Current Sociology connects with these two streams of research that I have been working on in books such as Decolonizing Sociology, and papers such as “Just what is critical race theory” in the British Journal of Sociology. I am currently writing a monograph looking at the synergy between CRT and decoloniality, due to be published with Temple University Press, and I have published another ‘synergy’ analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic with one of my brilliant PhD students – Sophie Marie Niang – entitled “Between Post-Racial Ideology and Provincial Universalisms”. I was over the moon to find out that Debbie Bargallie and Alana Lentin had engaged with my paper in their own iteration of the CRT-decoloniality synergy in a paper they published: “Towards a ‘both and’ approach to critical race and critical Indigenous studies in Australia”, and Debbie Bargallie’s recent book Unmasking the racial contract also develops this ‘both and’ approach.