Thinking Conjuncturally: The Ruses of Parsimony and the Promise of Messiness

Amy Chin, Brown University

At the heart of what Stuart Hall understands as conjuncture is a particular relationship to contradiction. This comes from Hall’s own conditions of existence—an assemblage of seemingly opposing forces of colonialism, migration, and relative privilege that formed his subjectivities. To think conjuncturally is to think about how different elements cluster into a formation or moment that condition one’s way of being—whereby being is a process of becoming not a finite state. This encounter and congealing of different forces allows us to think about time and history as tools that can help us understand why we experience what we experience. By refusing to instrumentalize history as an explanation for a particular phenomena that establishes a causal relationship with an end for (pre)determination, Hall’s epistemic intervention through conjuncture can help sociologists think in less totalizing, predictive and carceral ways. Thus, conjuncture uses history to create a different relationship to the entangled messiness of human experience rather than enabling its parsimonious dissection and (re)organization. This paper grapples with the current sociological literature on Asian American identity formation and offers a conjuncturally sensitive reading of the entangled histories of war, militarism and empire that “brought” Asians to America—departing from neat narratives of Asian existence in America that schematically begin with immigration legislation. I draw from my research on intergenerational trauma within Asian American veteran families to explore how—like Hall—a meeting of seemingly contradictory forces created the embodied and psychic conditions of existence for these families and their subsequent subjectivities and identity formation. Using conjuncture as method, analytic and epistemology offers a more emancipatory approach to theorizing the intersections of identity, race and history.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 195. Thinking with Stuart Hall: World-Making and the Afterlives of Empire