112th: Aurelie Vialette on Intellectual Philanthropy
Join us at Book Culture on 112th on Friday, March 1st at 7pm as we welcome Aurelie Vialette to discuss her book, Intellectual Philanthropy: The Seduction of the Masses (Perdue Studies in Romance Literatures #73). Jordana Mendelson and Claudio Lomnitz will be joining Aurelie in the discussion.
What's in a nineteenth-century philanthropist? Fear of an uprising. But the frightened philanthropist has a remedy. Aware that the urban surge of the working-class masses in Spain would create a state of emergency, he or she devises a means to seduce the masses away from rebellion by taking on himself or herself the role of the seducer: the capitalist intellectual hero invested in the caretaking of the unpredictable working class. Intellectual Philanthropy examines cultural practices used by philanthropists in modern Iberia. It explains the meaning and role of intellectual philanthropy by focusing on the devices and apparatuses philanthropists devised to realize their projects. Intellectual philanthropists considered themselves activists in that they aimed to impact social structures and deployed a rhetoric of the affect to convince the workers to join their philanthropic enterprise.
Philanthropy, in the nineteenth century, was not necessarily linked to money. Motivations could be moral or political; they could arise from a desire to enhance social status or to acquire influence. To explicitly designate this conceptualization of the philanthropic act, the author proposes its own name: intellectual philanthropy. Intellectual philanthropy is the use of philanthropic platforms by intellectuals to deploy cultural and educational structures in which workers could acquire a cultural capital constructed and organized by the philanthropists. Vialette argues that intellectual philanthropy appeared as a reaction to the feared political and cultural organization of the working class, rather than as a process of worker emancipation.
These philanthropic processes aimed at organizing the -workers emotionally and rationally into what she calls micro-societies. Philanthropists used the technique of seduction and expressed love to and for a targeted class. However, this seduction prevented real communication, and created a moral and symbolic indebtedness. This process was perverse in that, through its cultural and educational structures, philanthropy would give workers cultural capital that was not just emancipatory, but also a way to restrict their agency.
Aurélie Vialette is an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2009. She specializes working-class culture, social movements, gender studies and prison reform. She has published her research in Spanish, English, Catalan and French. Her first book is titled Intellectual Philanthropists: the Seduction of the Masses (Purdue UP 2018).
Jordana Mendelson is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, and co-editor of Postcards: Ephemeral Histories of Modernity (Penn State, 2010).
Claudio Lomnitz is Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at the New School University. He is the author of Exits from the Labyrinth: Culture and Ideology in Mexican National Space and Deep Mexico, Silent Mexico: An Anthropology of Nationalism.