Denise Ferreira Da Silva is a critical race scholar whose work emphasises the centrality of race to modern thought. An interdisciplinary academic, she draws on philosophy, science, political theory, feminist theory, globalization, law & human rights, Latin American & Caribbean Studies, and cultural studies.
In her book, ‘Toward A Global Idea of Race’, Silva critiques how the racial has been framed and positioned in the history of modern thought and challenges intellectual conventions by addressing “the racial as a scientific construct” (2007:3). For her, the creation of a Racial Other is foundational to the present global power configurations and resulting geopolitical issues, it allows for a supposed universalism where this Other can never be included. The Racial Other is always lacking: consciousness, subjectivity, self-determinacy, history. The post-Enlightenment “I”, by contrast, denies its production through the “violence, force, or power” of exclusion (2007: 23).
Denise Ferreira da Silva highlights the many means, including the many bodies of theory, through which the illusion of this universality without a relation to a Racial Other is maintained. She also illustrates the ways in which the racial continues to be produced as an Other, in theory and beyond. For her, every space is permeated by raciality, and thus it becomes important to address all of these spaces, from philosophical habits to workplace discrimination. As she words it:
“We need to trace every and each articulation of raciality, including those that profess its irrelevance, trace at every moment how it rewrites the racial subaltern subject in affectability, producing statements that not only excuse the violent effects of this rewriting but also deploy the transparency thesis [subjectivity by denial of relation].”
While Denise Ferreira da Silva’s texts often seem impenetrable to non-philosophers, she insists on a broad spectrum of communication directed at different audiences. In fact, she places great emphasis on not merely analysing the contemporary condition, but also acting upon it. She demands of her readers to engage her texts
“with critical strategies that will undermine the political or symbolic arsenal – the tools of obliteration – that are remapping the place of transparency by instituting global regions and people that can be ‘rescued’ through deployment of ‘total violence’, recently named ‘enduring freedom’.”
In her own practice, Silva participates in alternative academic, artist and writers collectives such as Living Commons that experiment with reorienting and restructuring knowledge making practices, including alternative forms of performing knowledge and distribution.
Silva, D. Ferreira da (2007) Toward a global idea of race. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Silva, D. Ferreira da (2003/2014) Notes towards the end of time. Living Commons 1(2).
Silva, D. Ferreira da (2016) Fractal Thinking. Accessions No. 2
Silva, D. Ferreira da (2015) Hacking the black subject: Black Feminism, Refusal, and the Limits of Critique. Presented at Barnard College, 22 October 2015.
Chakravartty, P, Silva, D. Ferreira da (2013) Race, empire, and the crisis of the subprime. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
How does post-Enlightenment thinking construct universality according to Denise Ferreira da Silva? How does it engage with ‘race’?
Why does Denise Ferreira da Silva believe that “the racial is the single most important ethico-juridical concept in the global present” (2016)?
What are Denise Ferreira da Silva’s methods for communicating her ideas and why do you think she chooses to communicate in these ways?
Submitted by Angela Last