To view my books, articles, chapters, and talks, please go to ithaca.academia.edu/naeeminayatullah
To view my website, please go to www.ithaca.edu/naeem
I am the first-born son of parents whose parents toiled in the fields of the Punjab. Both sides of my family genealogy is tied to petty rice farming. My parent’s journey from these origins to the world stage is nothing short of miraculous. This miracle is what I am trying to understand – often, but not always, by means of social theory.
Accordingly, I started my work in development studies, specifically development economics. But neo-classical economics lacked three elements that I needed for my project: politics, culture, and history. In retrospect, if I had to give my work a name I would select the following term: “cultural political economy” -- but with a strong historical flavor.
My graduate training was in the history of economic thought. I dabbled in Smith, Hegel, and Marx. But not in Ricardo. I was keen on how the concept of the “state of nature” was central to these theorists as well as to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I spent considerable energy on the labor theory of value. Specifically I concerned myself with its emergence from the labor theory of property and in Marx’s difficulties in developing its coherence. My dissertation examines how the concepts “labor” and “division of labor “ work in the texts of Smith, Marx, and Wallerstein.
The trick, which took me eight years after the completion of dissertation (1988) to solve, was how to translate my passion and “expertise” for the world of contemporary international relations theory. It was when David Blaney and I teamed up that the publishing winds finally found our sails. By then, however, I could read the writing on the wall and proceeded to relocate our family from an R1 institution (Syracuse University) to a teaching institution (Ithaca College).
The seeming demotion was anything but. Liberated from the responsibilities of training graduate students for the guild, free to experiment in writing forms, and encouraged to publish in any venue, I found friends and colleagues who provided opportunities.
I wrote on pedagogy, on film and television, on literature, on music, on autobiography and on writing itself. My work on Hegelian and Marxian dialectics was the seed I sowed in many fields. And, of course, I never stopped working on cultural political economy.
I consider myself very lucky to have survived and thrived in this profession. David Blaney and I almost did not make it – a story worth telling one day. I know three scholars – all smarter than me, and one as brilliant as anyone I know – who are lost to our field simply because the academy’s fickle winds did not fill their sails in time. I mourn their loss – a loss that tolls for us all.
Somewhere in the mid 1990s writing become fun for me. I hope you can see the joy I find in my work. I consider the highpoint of my project (with David Blaney) as Savage Economics (Routledge 2010). With this book, I sense I have said what I needed most badly to say – even if it took us 30 years to say it. (My least read but most carefully constructed article is "Theories of Spontaneous Disorder" (RIPE 1997)).
The work on pedagogy, popular culture, autobiography, and writing is no less important to me. But all the harvest of prior toiling.
In all this, I am still the son of Punjabi farmers trying to find his voice and his way in the world. Trying to understand the miracle of his trajectory in this world. But there is also anger here. The anger of someone who believes the primary purpose of social theory is to ignore the obvious injustices of our world. We believe we are liberators. But really we are the cogs of Empire’s machine. This is what I have learned so far.