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

Social Movements: Class, Community, and Politics

Instructor: Nara Roberta Silva
The Barnard Center for Research on Women
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Social movements are often pitted against other forms of organization, like unions or political parties, in both analysis and in everyday practice. The argument sometimes reduces 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 increase, and living standards decline. On the other, increased recognition of cultural realms beyond the economy, labor, and the workplace 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 the experiences of racialized, gendered, sexual, and other marginalities from the experiences of economic dispossession? Can economic struggles be conceived apart from struggles for recognition and vice versa? What is a social movement? What are the possibilities between identity formation and capitalist dynamics? What role has neoliberalism played in shaping the relationships between class and identity?

In this course, we’ll attempt to answer these questions as we read analyses from social movement, Marxist, and other critical theoretical perspectives. We will examine the stories and  experiences of several social movements and organizations from the mid-20th century onwards to bring together textured histories and theoretical analyses. How do these perspectives work together and complicate each other? What can be gained from examining them all together and, perhaps, synthetically? Case studies may include the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Wages for Housework, Poland’s Solidarity, Occupy Wall Street, and Brazil’s Landless Movement. Drawing from theory, history, and experience, we will explore the strategic space that exists between reductive economic and cultural accounts.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 05 — April 02, 2020
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Thursday, March 19th.


Registration Open