Monday, July 09, 2007

R.I.P. Ruth Frankenberg: 1957 - 2007


Sociologist Ruth Frankenberg and her surviving partner, cultural critic/historian and poet Lata Mani, were among a constellation of people with whom I was loosely associated in the 1990s. Her research on whiteness in relation to feminism, and anti-racist work undertaken by white feminists, culminating in her first book, 1993's, The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters (Routledge, but republished by U Minnesota Press), has had it's celebrants and more recently some detractors (which may be a generational issue), and created a necessary intervention into questions of racial formation and cross-cultural relationships and organizing dynamics in the United States prior to fellow Brit Richard Dyer having provided the same on the other side of the Atlantic (in the introduction to his 1997 tome on whiteness in the Classical Hollywood-period machine, which was titled simply, White). Frankenberg's work made the politics of undertaking and completing research on questions of racial construction that moved beyond race as an issue that only specifically racinated people have (i.e.: 'we never had a race problem until ya'll people came to town and started talking about it'), considerably less charged/detrimental for emerging scholars. As a result, questions of power and access were made explicit among progressives in a way they hadn't previously been.

Frankenberg followed up her work on white feminism and race, with the edited volume, Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism (Duke University Press, 1997). This publication is still in print, as is her more recent foray into studies of religion, identity, and social change, Living Spirit, Living Practice: Poetics, Politics, Epistemology (Duke University Press, 2004). Ruth moved with her partner Lata Mani to Bangalore, India where they were both engaged in more direct-action-based socially and spiritually collaborative work. She passed away there from lung cancer on 22 April 2007, with partner Lata Mani, and sister Rose, at her side. Former mentor, and eventual colleague, science historian/feminist cultural critic Donna Haraway, has written an obituary for Frankenberg which was published yesterday in the Guardian UK.
Rest In Peace, Ruth.

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