Brief response to Gingras

Projit Bihari Mukharji and Myrna Perez Sheldon

This essay is in response to the contribution by Yves Gingras.

As the curators of the open conversation, we are delighted that it is inspiring further conversations. We thank Prof. Gingras and the others for taking the conversation forward. Having earlier said what we wanted to say, we do not wish to take up more of our colleague’s time. We will therefore only very briefly repeat three points we had made in the original conversation.

First, one of our core points was that gathering “more data” without a full-throated discussion of the limitations of the categories being used risks further entrenching precisely the forms of exclusion we hope to transcend. It would be trite to point out to this audience that categories are neither natural, nor obvious.

Second, a good many of us were born, raised and educated outside of the USA and in the Majority World. We continue to have deep familial, emotional, political and intellectual ties with and stakes in the regions from which we hail. In fact, we had explicitly raised the issue of these mobilities and challenged how such movements are rendered invisible in the current categories. Such international immigration and mobility are of course forced by the unequal global distribution of resources. To dismiss all this, once again, and insist that anyone who happens to now be employed in the US has thereby somehow ceased to be able to represent the regions they come from, betrays a profound misunderstanding not only of geopolitics and social exclusion, but also of the very meaning of “representation.” One wonders, for instance, whether elected parliamentarians who upon election have to spend substantial time in national capitals thereby lose the capacity to represent their constituencies as a result?

Finally, we admittedly refrained from caging “diversity” in some crisp and suitably philosophical definition. This was because we do not think there is, or indeed there should be, any single definition that captures the multitude of ways in which plurality and exclusion work in the world. And we certainly do not imagine that we have the right to declare what that single definition ought to be to others.

Myrna Perez Sheldon is assistant professor, jointly appointed in Classics & Religious Studies and in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality studies at Ohio University. She has been a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice University and received her doctorate in the History of Science from Harvard University.

Projit Bihari Mukharji is an Associate Professor in the History & Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. His latest monograph is Brown Skins, White Coats: Race Science in India, 1920-66 (Chicago, forthcoming).