Sébastien Chauvin (2017)

Possibility, Legitimacy, and the New Ontologies of Choice: A Comment on Brubaker. 

Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(8), 2017.

In Trans: Gender and Race in the Age of Unsettled Identities (Princeton UP, 2016), Rogers Brubaker makes a major argument about the contentious politics of the contemporary self.In this commentary, I first lay out what is think is the solidity of the book’s contrasting tableau of the functioning of race and gender in American society and beyond. I then point to Brubaker’s bundling together of issues of legitimacy and issues of ontology and begin to imagine what alternative analyses can come out of their unbundling – suggesting that race and gender are perhaps more analogous social formations than Trans argues. Finally, I bring attention to the role of ontological hierarchy in the formulation and policing of identity claims and conclude that the return of biology and the new empire of choice may not be two parallel, independent developments but one and the same process. Theoretically, I amplify one of the book’s epistemological contributions by calling for a reflexive turn in social-constructionist thought.