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On Friday November 9th, I was named one of the six winners of the 2018 Provost’s Award for Diversity in the Curriculum (you can read more about that here and here). Below is an excerpt from the application that explains how I overhauled the course. You can find the syllabus on my Teaching page (sorry, I’m not sophisticated enough to have mastered page jumps yet, so no link).
I have taught American Political Thought for many years, always emphasizing that the “dominant” conception of freedom in the United States works to exclude many groups from full inclusion in society. After the 2016 Presidential election and in light of the ongoing work of the Movement for Black Lives, however, I decided that the course needed a significant overhaul. Previous iterations had emphasized that people in different social positions had divergent perspectives on the dominant discourse of freedom and were differently impacted by it. Yet I came to believe that the course did not do enough to emphasize the ways in which that exclusion and marginalization are actually constitutive of the particular and peculiar notion of freedom that dominates our politics. I revised the course to make this relationship central.
I cut a significant amount of material from the old version and reworked the section on the “classical conception of freedom” (I give the dominant idea a name that the students can easily remember) to show how that conception is predicated on slavery and exclusion; and, I dramatically expanded and reworked the unit on African-American political thought.
We read Orlando Patterson’s conceptual work defining slavery in the Atlantic context, the seminal essay by Edmund S. Morgan, “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” and difficult works by the founders on slavery and by pro-slavery theorists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Through these works we explored how central race slavery has been to American political thought and institutions. We also read more work by Abolitionists and early critics of slavery, to help dispel the notion that it was “acceptable at the time.” Crucially, both the pro-slavery and Abolitionist theorists understood quite clearly that racialized slavery was necessary for the preservation of class and gender hierarchies (allowing me to introduce students to the notion of intersectionality in a course where they would not typically encounter it). This is a point underscored by DuBois’s incisive analysis in Black Reconstruction.
Then, in the expanded unit on African-American critics of the classical conception of freedom (a full three weeks), we read both classical works (Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, M.L. King Jr) as well as texts by authors less frequently anthologized in courses like this one (Maria Stewart, David Walker, Ida Wells, James Baldwin) and contemporary commenters (Michelle Alexander, James Forman, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Jesmyn Ward, Kima Jones, Carol Anderson, Claudia Rankine).
Finally, I asked students, for their final assignment, to read An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and to think, in a very preliminary way, about similarities and differences in the experiences of colonialism and marginalization that African Americans and Native Americans have experienced. The students’ work on this assignment, and throughout the course, was outstanding and inspiring.
On a very hot Wednesday evening, September 5th, I delivered the 2018 Vanka Lecture at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale, PA, just across the river from Pittsburgh. The lecture, hosted by the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka, was entitled “Picturing Injustice.” In it, I analyzed three of Vanka’s murals —The Capitalist, Croatian Mother Raises Her Son for War, and Immigrant Mother Gives Her Sons for American Industry—to illustrate the artist’s gift for representing structural injustices pictorially. Goodhart argued that developing the ability to picture and discuss injustice in straightforward and compelling ways crucially aids our struggles for a better world and helps us to counter the demagoguery and scapegoating that offer simplistic analysis and easy answers in Vanka’s time and in our own.
Why was I asked to give this lecture? One of the murals, Injustice, appears on the cover of my new book, Injustice: Political Theory for the Real World.
I’m delighted to share the news that this important book has just been published by Routledge. It’s truly a Pitt collaboration; I couldn’t have asked for better colleagues and mentors than my co-editors Jackie Smith, Patrick Manning, and John Markoff. (More information and purchasing here.)
From the back cover: At a particularly urgent world-historical moment, this volume brings together some of the leading researchers of social movements and global social change and other emerging scholars and practitioners to advance new thinking about social movements and global transformation. Social movements around the world today are responding to crisis by defying both political and epistemological borders, offering alternatives to the global capitalist order that are imperceptible through the modernist lens. Informed by a world-historical perspective, contributors explain today’s struggles as building upon the experiences of the past while also coming together globally in ways that are inspiring innovation and consolidating new thinking about what a fundamentally different, more equitable, just, and sustainable world order might look like.
This collection offers new insights into contemporary movements for global justice, challenging readers to appreciate how modernist thinking both colors our own observations and complicates the work of activists seeking to resolve inequities and contradictions that are deeply embedded in Western cultural traditions and institutions. Contributors consider today’s movements in the longue durée—that is, they ask how Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and other contemporary struggles for liberation reflect, build upon, or diverge from anti-colonial and other emancipatory struggles of the past. Critical to this volume is its exploration of how divisions over gender equity and diversity of national cultures and class have impacted what are increasingly intersectional global movements. The contributions of feminist and indigenous movements come to the fore in this collective exploration of what the movements of yesterday and today can contribute to our ongoing effort to understand the dynamics of global transformation in order to help advance a more equitable, just, and ecologically sustainable world.
This presentation was part of the forum “Democracy today with an eye on tomorrow: A public conversation,” hosted by the Whitlam Institute (within the University of Western Sydney), Catalyst, and Unions NSW. The conversation took place in August 2013.