AnaLouise Keating, Transformation Now!

Review by Ruken Isik
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Keating, AnaLouise. Transformation Now! Toward a Post-Oppositional Politics of Change. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press (2013). Print.

[1] In Transformation Now! one of AnaLouise Keating's colleagues greets students from different racial, class, gender, and religious backgrounds by stating "Welcome Beloved Community to our Learning Journey" (185). This shared-identity category invites students to feel connected and related to each other. Keating motivates readers to think in a non-oppositional way and to feel the interconnectedness in the universe. She says since the Enlightenment, Western education has developed opposite thinking, which leads to argumentative natures among scholars and the greater society. As a result, this practice has become second nature for all of us. For example, the author confesses that even she labels herself as anti-racist and anti-sexist.

[2] Keating discusses the limits of oppositional politics and offers alternative ways of thinking by drawing on 20th and 21st century theorizing of women of color. Thinking non-oppositionally is not easy; it is risky and requires courage. Thus, she tries to enact a new methodology and theory focusing on the dichotomous epistemological frameworks that exist across academic disciplines, such as descriptions of differences and "either/or" categories. Keating recognizes an absence of theories by women of color in academia. Since rejecting theoretical frameworks would be an oppositional action, she does not prove one idea over another. Instead, she brings different and sometimes conflicting ideas together and tries to find a common point in those.

[3] For Keating, it is not necessary to invent new theories for social transformation, instead chapters in the book build on each other, and each chapter "proceeds by foregrounding theories by women-of-colors, putting these theories in dialogue with additional theoretical and disciplinary perspectives" (4). Her alternative ways of thinking lie within an underlying concept that combines many theories; Keating calls this "threshold." In "threshold theorizing" there is no 'either/or' and established categories; and like a physical threshold, these theories represent interconnections of contradictory worlds. This is a new approach that urges us to see the conflict from a relational and dialogical perspective. By using women-of-colors scholars, Keating illuminates a crucial point.  She says scholars often discuss Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde as "discrete categories of feminist thought based on genre, culture, and race" (117); they are not discussed in relational ways.  In chapter four, she discusses revisionist mythmaking and brings theories of Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde and Mary Daly together.  A radical theologian and feminist scholar, Daly argues that visioning pre-male-dominant patriarchal societies by inventing "Goddesses" instead of the "Godfather" figure will empower women. Keating disfavors exclusionary maternal origin story categories, noting that feminist scholars like Judith Butler and Donna Haraway think these categories can lead to politically conservative and simplistic identity politics. Nevertheless, Keating says non-male gods can be empowering for some women, and rather than rejecting binary thinking, she puts Anzaldúa, Daly, and Lorde in dialogue. She says, "at most scholars use Lorde's well-known 'Open Letter to Mary Daly' to criticize or dismiss Daly's attempt to invent new images of female identity as too Eurocentric, and therefore exclusionary to be effective" (117). Contrary to how scholars use Daly and Lorde, Keating says a relational approach would help interpret and understand Daly's work and see the connections, rather than the binaries among these scholars.

[4] Keating uses the theories and practices of Gloria Anzaldúa as an example of post-oppositional threshold theories. In one of her works, Anzaldúa coined the term "nepantlera" from "nepantla" (which means to be in between spaces in Náhuatl)as a state of mind where a person "questions old ideas and belief, acquires new perspectives, changes worldviews, and shifts from one world to another" (12).  For Keating, "it represents a type of threshold person or world traveler: someone who enters into & interacts with multiple, often conflicting, political/cultural/ideological/ethnic/etc. worlds and yet refuses to entirely adopt, belong to, or identify with any single, belief, group, or location" (12). Anzaldúa herself embodies many different perspectives, enacts a "planetary identity" and rejects being labeled. Keating invites readers to adopt Anzaldúa's theory to achieve radical social transformation. Acknowledging that it is not easy for everyone to become a "Nepantlara", Keating urges us to think about the possibility and to refrain from the binary thinking imposed by the Western education system.

[5] For Keating, identity politics activists can work together in new and better ways by comprehending the perspectives of these influential women of color. The author acknowledges that oppositional consciousness has enabled some important social change, yet it lacks the potential to make long-term social transformation. One of the problems of oppositional consciousness is that it does not question the underlying paradigms that produce political action and discourse. None of the struggles against oppression has dismantled the roots of the system through which oppression operates.

[6] Throughout the book Keating urges us to think about "either/or" categories. For instance, race and gender constructs in the U.S. build walls between people. Intersectionality has become a buzzword in queer and feminist theories. Although this term is used to acknowledge the diverse experiences within power relations, it often does not go beyond this. Instead it re-centers categories of race and gender. She notes that intersectionality "historically...has offered a crucial lens enabling us to articulate and expose serious differences hidden beneath an unmarked, monolithic norm" (37). Yet, scholars often use differences to classify and divide rather than generate commonalities.

[7] The book thoroughly explains how existing identity politics prevent us from achieving radical social transformation by relying on conventional identity definitions which create exclusionary normativities. For Keating, Audre Lorde provides the solution. Discovering the other in ourselves is an important "tactic in transformational identity politics" (107), enabling people to see beyond the conventional social identities and defining in terms of non-dual terms and relational ways. Interconnectivity is the core concept throughout the book for both her theoretical and pedagogical framework.

[8] In chapter six Keating discusses "invitational pedagogies" that teachers can adopt in their teachings. Unlike critical pedagogy which focuses on critique in general, invitational pedagogy is relational and urges us to think in a connectionist way.  Keating gives examples from her own classroom experiences, where she invites her students to develop a non-oppositional stance. She introduces perspectives of interconnectedness and provides students with alternatives to "status quo stories". Keating directs her advice to teachers because the flexibility and open-mindedness of a teacher will have an impact on students. As teachers have institutional authority, they can reshape the classroom as a space where learning happens in multidirectional routes in a sense of togetherness. Teachers can start their classes by telling the students, "...I am eager to hear and learn from their perspectives" (186). This turns the classroom into a space where everyone can learn from each other.

[9] Transformation Now! challenges dichotomous, oppositional thinking with a new approach to theory and action. Yet, the book does not provide us with definitive repertoires of action. It presents an underlying concept of interdisciplinary theories rooted in writings of women of color. The book states that transformations are not easy, yet not impossible. By critically rethinking identity categories, as well as the oppositional forms of politics that we have built on the basis of such categories, we can find another way to achieve social justice and transformation. It is up to us how we make that happen. Keating's analysis can be useful for scholars of feminists, those working in literary studies, and social studies.