Don’t Let Racism Divide Us, See Red Women's Workshop, 1978

Social Movements: Class, Community, and Politics

Instructor: Nara Roberta Silva
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Social movements are often pitted against other forms of organization, like unions or political parties, in both analysis and everyday practice. The argument sometimes reduces them to a pitched battle between community, or “identity”-based, politics and “class struggle.” But is this the case? Since the mid-20th century, social movements have increasingly reflected the complexity of modern capitalism. On the one hand, conditions related to social class—and capitalism more broadly—remain pivotal as inequality and precarity rise and living standards decline. On the other, further recognition of cultural realms beyond the economic has recast social and political life, spurring greater popular participation in political life and reframing questions of democracy, activism, and oppression. What are the arguments for (and against) separating experiences of racialized, gendered, sexual, and other marginalities from experiences of economic dispossession? Can economic struggles be conceived apart from struggles for recognition and vice versa?

This course will examine the stories and experiences of several social movements, broadly speaking, and bring together these textured histories and theoretical analyses. We’ll investigate the reasons for the class-identity chasm dividing organizations, explore the strategic vacuum between reductive economic and cultural accounts, consider the possibilities of bridging the divide, and reflect on the persistence of boundaries and pitfalls despite all. By reading ethnographies, social movement ephemera, and analyses from social movement, Marxist, and other critical theoretical perspectives, we’ll ask: What is a social movement after all? Why have struggles against the status quo been segmented in the first place? What does “class struggle” encompass? What is “identity politics,” and where does the term come from? What are the links between identity formation and capitalist dynamics? Has neoliberalism played a particular role in shaping the relationships between class and identity? What challenges do movements face when trying to consider both “fronts?” What can be gained from examining class and identity altogether and, perhaps, synthetically? What are the potential blind spots of such analyses? Case studies may include the Combahee River Collective, Young Lords, Wages for Housework, Poland’s Solidarity, Occupy Wall Street, Brazil’s Landless Movement, and others. Authors such as Charles Tilly, Craig Calhoun, Nancy Fraser, Premilla Nadasen, Angela Davis, Colin Barker, Rick Fantasia, and others may make up the bibliography.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 11 — May 02, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open