Money Lightens?: Global Regimes of Racialized Class Mobility and Local Visions of the Good Life

Andrea Flores (Brown University):
Susan Ellison (Wellesley College):

Bianet Castellanos (University of Minnesota)

We are seeking one to two more people to join us for our panel at the
2021 AAAs.

Please see the below abstract for details and submit a paper abstract of no more than 250 words to both co-chairs/organizers by 5/18 at Noon, EST.

Panel Abstract:

Amidst a widening global wealth gap where racial orders of mobility come into stark view,
minoritized individuals strive toward a materially and socially “better” life. Anthropologists and
allied scholars explore the rise of new middle classes that include individuals historically marginalized by race (Coe and Pauli 2020, Klein et al. 2018, Shakow 2014, Vallejo 2012). Celebratory accounts of such apparent economic mobility suggest that it may lead to the softening of racial and class prejudices, enabling meaningful social mobility, inclusion, and the chance to join the ranks of those living the good life. Our existing frameworks frequently characterize these yearning efforts at class mobility as incarnations of “cruel optimism” (Berlant 2011), whereby hopeful strivers unwittingly pursue fantasies of the good life that ultimately do them harm. Alternatively, such efforts are examined as acts of transformative aspiration (Appadurai 2013) and “becoming” (Biehl and Locke 2017) that suggest the development of new subjectivities and possibilities beyond present social orders (James 2019).

Moreover, these studies of rising middle classes’ yearnings coincide with scholarly concern around
how minoritized/marginalized individuals cope with “new” forms of precarity arising from the collapse of Fordist labor regimes and the rise of micro-entrepreneurship and anti-poverty efforts that, ironically, lead to increased poverty (Hardon et al. 2019, Kar 2018, Muehlebach 2011). Emphasizing contemporary modes of precarity, and how people make do, runs the risk of ignoring long-standing racialized orders of capitalism and colonialism that have always constrained minoritized populations’ mobilities, but not their dreams of the good life (Castellanos 2020; Millar 2017; Weston 2012).

This panel pushes our collective anthropological imaginations to reconceptualize class mobility as racialized. We do so to better understand how people made marginal by race and class define and fashion a “good” life and self in material, relational, and moral registers (Fischer 2014, Gregory and Altman 2018). Toward this aim, we think with our varied interlocutors’ sensemaking of the intersecting gendered, raced, and classed structural inequalities that shape their chances of class mobility as well as their perceptions of their own mobility’s possibilities. Accordingly, this panel grapples with the following questions:

How are modes of entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, financial ruin, and white collar work
themselves racialized and imbricated with moralized perceptions of the valued minority person that
circulate locally and globally? How are these orders of racialization altered or anchored by
individuals’ movement into or out of a ‘new’ minoritized middle class? How are our interlocutors
theorizing their own experiences of racial and class-based marginalization or belonging? How do
they conceptualize the good life to which they aspire–including the material evidence of their
triumphant successes or painful failings?

At the heart of this panel, and our individual projects, is attention to the intersecting modalities of
power and privilege asserted and re-worked amid struggles over racialized class mobility. This panel
seeks to work against the epistemological violence that can occur in academic research and writing
by centering the sense-making practices of our interlocutors as co-theorists of their own experiences of racial and class-based marginalization and mobility.