Imagining Beyond Authoritarianism: Race and Gender in our Times

Imagining Beyond Authoritarianism: Race and Gender in our Times

The Center for Interdisciplinary Critical Inquiry and International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs are pleased to jointly announce the launch of a new exploratory grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “Imagining Beyond Authoritarianism: Race and Gender in our Times.” 

The Principal Investigators are Judith Butler, Co-Chair of the Board of the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs, and Debarati Sanyal, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Critical Inquiry.

We seek to produce an interconnected sequence of collective projects among academics, curators, artists, and community activists to ask whether the new authoritarianism, what some call neo-fascism, is defined in part by its opposition to the rise of race, sex, sexuality, and gender in education, art, health care, law, and public intellectual life. Indeed, in many parts of the world, the "new" authoritarianism takes aim at both "gender ideology" and "critical race theory" and, in so doing, seeks to restrict what is taught in schools, shown in museums, what health care provisions are available, and what may stand as public art and acceptable social history. To that end, we propose to partner with arts institutions which, it seems, have a way of appealing to a broader public, in order to think about the extreme distortions currently circulating of scholarly and artistic work that focus on race, gender, sex, sexuality, and their intersections. For too long, in our view, authoritarianism has remained the object of social scientific study and, of course, we all gain a great deal from the historical work that has been done in different parts of the world, along with the political theory and the sociology. But what do the arts and humanities have to offer now in light of rising authoritarianism? And how might we still work internationally on this topic without losing sight of the grave dangers of new forms of authoritarian power and fascination that have saturated so much of our political and cultural life in recent years? 

Although some on the Left argue that the right-wing focus on race, sex, gender, and sexuality is but a distraction from structural problems, we are prepared to demonstrate that each of these topics has a “structural” dimension and that authoritarian power is bound up with promoting ideals of whiteness, patriarchy, and biological reductionism in ways that are central to its new articulations. The religious fervor that runs through these movements draws upon apocalyptic imagery to instill terror in a public who is not sure what these matters of gender and race actually mean. It is our task to produce and sustain a powerful counter-imaginary not only to track and criticize authoritarianism in its current form, but to counter its terrifying phantasms with a powerful imaginary of reparation, livability, and radical equality. In a way, we already know how to show why they are wrong, but do we yet know how to produce the more powerful and compelling vision that would defeat authoritarian aims with an affirmation of radical democratic potentials? We propose to pose this question to our partners and to see what kinds of creative rejoinders are possible.

For more information, contact Victoria Jaschob at