Post-Katrina New Orleans has served as fertile site for debates over the nature of neoliberalism, racism, and reform. The rapid conversion of public institutions such as schools and public housing into privately managed forms has offered scholars and activists the occasion to witness and comment upon an experiment in racialized governance of unprecedented scale and intensity. Many have scrutinized reconstruction and reform in New Orleans under the rubric of "disaster capitalism" (Adams 2013, Giroux 2006, Johnson 2011, Lipsitz 2006, Klein 2008, Saltman 2007), emphasizing how the disruptions and dislocations of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures provided an opportunity for elite fractions to carry out neoliberal and/or white supremacist agendas of the privatization of public services and the removal of black residents in favor of wealthy and white transplants and a smaller city footprint. The unprecedented conversion of public schools into privately managed charter schools in particular has received the greatest popular and scholarly attention as an experiment, exception, and model (Buras et al 2010, Buras 2015, Dixson 2011, Sondel 2013). These interventions have sought to cast a critical eye on the claims that education reform has been an unqualified benefit to New Orleans students and communities, emphasizing the displacement of unionized black veteran educators in favor of young, at-will, white transplants as well as critiquing the market oriented ideologies of charter school proponents as opposed to democracy and social justice. These critical exegeses of the remaking of a public school system at an unheard of scale focus valuable attention on racialized marginalization and class exploitation in the reform experiment. However, while audit cultures and theories of choice, human capital, and governance are richly analyzed and narrated, race remains an a priori identificatory factor calculated into the scales of inequality rather than a performative, ideological, heterogeneous, contingent, and epistemologically rich phenomenon. My dissertation, Reconstructing Race: New Orleans Education Reform as Experimental Labor, interrogates the forms of racial expertise that have emerged in Post-Katrina New Orleans education work. In particular, I explore how the shift toward private management and governance along with changes in the racial composition of teachers, non-profit workers, and entrepreneurs creates experimental sites for the professionalization and formalization of racial knowledges. Based on 16 months of fieldwork and over 50 interviews with New Orleans charter schools, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, and activists and community organizations, Reconstructing Race attends to the formalization and professionalization of forms of racial expertise in a moment of experimentation with privatized modes of education governance. The dissertation draws on critical theories and ethnographies of race, education, and political economy, as well as Science and Technology Studies to draw attention to race as a techno-political craft, a form subject to strategic deployment and revision as well as performance, identification, and ideological obfuscation. Reconstructing Race takes shape over the course of five chapters, each attending to an emergent form of education labor enabled by the sweeping experimental nature of Post-Katrina reform. Chapter one examines the human capital strategies of charter schools and reform organizations. While many scholarly and media accounts of New Orleans charter schools focus on the exclusionary practices of privately managed charter management organizations and education non-profits, this chapter focuses on how newer emphases on “diversity” in hiring show how the racialization of teaching talent is also shaped through expert and experimental forms of regulated recognition and selective inclusion. Chapter two, based on regular participant observation in several charter schools, attends to the reconfiguration of teaching as a form of racialized labor. This chapter considers how the daily working lives of educators are structured in the particular charter school environments of New Orleans and how educators negotiate their working relationships, cultures of evaluation, identity, and the contradictions between their pedagogical visions and the mundane requirements of their employment. Particular attention is paid to way that ideology works to mediate desires, critiques, fantasies, dissatisfactions, and conflicts among staff. Chapter three contemplates how charter based reform disrupted the flows of racial expertise between social groups and amplified the disintegration of unseen racial infrastructures. It looks at how, after the displacement of entire classes of African American professional educators by post-Katrina reforms, groups of black professionals have emerged to broker relationships between communities, schools, the state, and non-governmental organizations, attending to their techniques of translation and arbitrage to demonstrate how racial recognition and expertise develop under privatized governance, where traditional patronage structures have been disrupted. Chapter four attends to an education entrepreneur incubator that seeks to use "design thinking" principles drawn from Silicon Valley companies to challenge reform orthodoxies by providing a venue for more robust "innovation". These education entrepreneurs use speculative rituals, cultures of innovation, and ethnographically inflected intelligence gathering to revise reform agendas, partially as a response to racial cleavages. However, in doing so, they conscript race and racial knowledge into techniques of design, engineering, and assimilating feedback. Chapter five scrutinizes a start-up which seeks to provide substitute teachers for charter schools who reflect the backgrounds of students, are "creative", and are trained to be familiar with idiosyncratic school cultures. The ways that management and freelance employees employ and embody race and culture as forms of value serve as an opportunity to consider how racial expertise is constructed in increasingly precarious forms of education work. I argue that we should attend to the forms of racial brokering, intelligence gathering, and arbitrage present in the work occurring in charter schools, education non-profits, and education incubators and startups. By doing so, we can better apprehend the cultivation of race knowledge as a form of techno-political expertise and logic of settlement along with its performative and ideological dimensions. The modes of private governance under discussion in Reconstructing Race don't merely have unequal and differential effects on racialized fractions. They are created, in part, by the degeneration of a public regime of racial expertise and serve as the experimental grounds for the development of new techniques of racecraft. New Orleans education reform isn’t merely a project which determines the institutional forms provided to public school constituencies. It is an experiment in techniques for how such constituencies will be recognized, valued, incorporated, and excluded.




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