Welcome to Race + IP ’23,

the imperial scholar revisited.

For this, the fourth conference on Race + IP, the organizers have opted to take up the crisis of the moment: the battle over white supremacy. While this battle may be most evident in politics, it is evident in other spaces as well. When Richard Delgado invoked the phrase “imperial scholar,” he was speaking of practices that animate the academy and perceptions of expertise. In his original law review article, Delgado observed, after reviewing what his research assistant considered the top twenty civil rights law review articles of the time:

Courts rarely cite [the writings of scholars of color], and the legal scholars whose work really counts almost never do. The important work is published in eight or ten law reviews and is written by a small group of professors, who teach in the major law schools.

Delgado’s article is now nearly 20 years old, with a sequel of the same name as the theme of this conference, i.e. “The Imperial Scholar Revisited,” published in 2012. Despite attempts to build more inclusive educational institutions, a recent study published in Five Thirty Eight indicates that only Asian American professors meet or exceed the percentage of the population writ large. J. Nathan Matias, Neil Lewis Jr., and Elan Hope write:

This is one of higher education’s most insidious secrets. Academia is a place where, to use the language of sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, there is racism without racists. By that, we mean that although most people prefer to think that they or their colleagues are good people who would not intentionally discriminate, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that racism plays an important role in the structure and function of academic institutions. It affects what gets researched and taught in courses, the methods that are used to conduct that research and the topic we will primarily focus on today: The people who are included — or excluded — from academic institutions in the first place.

Calls for citational justice are one useful strategy for increasing the representation of minoritized groups in published research. However, as a 2022 article in Nature indicates, the numbers have remained trenchantly inequitable: across disciplines, white and Asian authors remain citationally overrepresented while Black and Latinx authors remain citationally underrepresented; women of all races were consistently cited less frequently than men. Troublingly, citation gaps seem to be increasing instead of decreasing as diversity increases. The imperialism directed at China in the late 1800s, represented in the French political comic on the right, exemplifies why this might be the case: white scholars frequently persist in speaking amongst themselves about issues that concern people of color without so much as engaging those who have been historically oppressed.

The legal academy has fared no better. Keerthana Nunna, W. Nicholson Price II, and Jonathan Tietz report based on a recent study of law review article acknowledgments that “Hierarchy, race, and gender all have substantial effects on who gets acknowledged and how, what networks of knowledge co-production get formed, and who is helped on their path through the legal academic world.” For many people of color, these studies merely prove what they already knew, what the Critical Race Theorists under fire have argued for so long, that the systemic exclusions produced by educational institutions are doing exactly what they were designed to do: replicate capitalism and whiteness, in order to maintain stasis.

Race + IP ’23 intervenes in these conversations on the exclusionary practices of scholarship from the vantage point of intellectual property. Starting from the understanding that imperialism is the rule, not the exception, of knowledge production, the conference focuses on how individual decisions are produced through systems of power that favor stasis over change. “Choice,” “merit,” and “rigor,” the keywords of the academy, are culturally constructed indicia of achievement, that perpetuate sameness over difference. This has profound consequences for those attempting to produce knowledge that does not conform to Euroamerican standards – or the legal regimes shaped by those norms. Whether evident in the shameless theft of musical traditions produced by those who were prevented from reading, the refusal to acknowledge the inventions of those excluded from engines of science, the production of industry norms that minimize the contributions of some and elevate the contributions of others, or the compulsory participation in extractive systems of power, intellectual property and imperialism collide frequently and violently.

The goal of the conference is threefold to: 1) continue the conversations of past conferences around race and intellectual property, in community with one another, 2) consider how “imperial scholarship” manifests today, in structures and practices, and 3) explore the ways that intellectual property and imperialism intersect, through new methodologies and using distinct epistemologies. This year’s conference will not only attend to the ways that imperialism and intellectual property are embedded more deeply than we might have considered but also how our own practices are entangled with the internalized traumas of these systems. The organizers continue to deepen their commitment to intersectionality, especially as it comes under fire by the conservative rights, specifically the implications of sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and other categories of exclusion on the topics that make up “intellectual property.”

Community Guidelines

Because we do not believe that the pandemic is over and we seek to include those with disabilties in perpetuity, we have chosen a hybrid format for the event. The Cathedral of Learning and the Hotel Indigo, where the event will be taking place, have multiple accessible entrances. We encourage you to continue to honor those at high risk for severe illness by wearing masks as possible. We hope that the format and locations that we have chosen will help to create comfort in the company of one another, while also recognizing the constraints that continue to make it impossible for all to join together. We believe that such a format will honor the needs of as many individuals as possible. If we can assist in meeting additional access needs, please reach out to us at raceipconference@gmail.com.

We also expect that all participants will treat one another with respect, kindness, and grace. We begin from the premises that the -isms are real and require thoughtful engagement. We reserve the right to disengage from conversations that are oppositional to Critical Race Theory as they do not fit with the values cultivated by this community.

We look forward to joining you in conversation in Pittsburgh.

Land Acknowledgment

The organizers of the conference recognize that histories of settler colonialism nonetheless mark the lands on which we all live and work. Our recognition reaffirms our commitment to supporting Indigenous rights and expresses our gratitude for all that these lands have provided. We have made a donation to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) as a meaningful contribution to showing solidarity with Indigenous People across the United States, Canada, and indeed the globe. We ask you to consider donating to this or another organization of your choice in order to materially support the decolonization. 

Thank you to our co-sponsors whose support made this event possible: