Imagine Otherwise: Priya Kandaswamy on Embracing Permanent Change

Aug 5, 2021 | Podcast

We’ve all experienced a LOT of change over the past year and a half. Many of the things we assumed to be stable anchors suddenly turned out not to be, as everything from the global economy and education to politics and media were irrevocably transformed.

Many with privilege have responded to such upheaval by demanding a swift and complete return to the same capitalist normal that unevenly organized life in the before times.

But those for whom the old normal was a source of oppression rather than comfort have had a different reaction to such changes.

Folks have instead invested in practices like mutual aid, unlearning, and interdependency, all which provide models for more just social foundations.

In episode 138 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview gender, sexuality, and ethnic studies scholar and professor Priya Kandaswamy. Priya has long been fascinated with how institutions and individuals shape and reshape one another in the context of power.

As she details in our conversation, Priya’s career shifted dramatically earlier this year. In March 2021, one full year after COVID-19 had forced major shutdowns across the US, Priya’s employer, Mills College, announced that fall 2021 would be its last year admitting new students and the beloved liberal arts college in Oakland, California, would completely close by 2023. As a result, all faculty and staff would thus need to find other employment.

Priya shares how personal upheavals (like a career change) combined with collective upheavals (like a pandemic) provide glimpses into a new normal, one that is organized around permanent change.

Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as prison abolition movements, radical herbalism, feminist of color welfare histories, and the mycorrhizal bonds between trees and fungi, Priya explains how she is learning to embrace permanent transformation as a way to individually and collectively build new worlds.

Priya Kandaswamy wearing a black shirt. Quote reads: The gift of interdisciplinary training is that we make the methods that answer our own questions. The question is what drives the method. That’s a really important scholarly approach.
Abstract maroon shape on red background. Quote reads: As people who are invested in social change, we think a lot about the future. But one of the biggest lessons about change I am learning is to embrace the idea that the future won’t be like the present. What does that mean in terms of how we live our lives in the present and also what we need to do to create the future that we want?

Priya Kandaswamy

Priya Kandaswamy is a scholar and educator who works at the intersections of ethnic studies, feminist studies, and queer studies.

She is the author of Domestic Contradictions: Race and Gendered Citizenship from Reconstruction to Welfare Reform (Duke University Press, 2021), and her scholarship has appeared in American Quarterly, Sexualities, Radical Teacher, and numerous other journals and anthologies.

Until Mills College’s recent announcement of its impending closure, Priya was a professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies there.

She is currently preparing to begin a new position as the academic program director at Mount Tamalpais College, a community college program that serves incarcerated students at San Quentin State Prison, where she is excited to explore the abolitionist possibilities of prison education.

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