As this book is finalized, the United States is on fire. With the failure of the American socio-economic system to sufficiently prepare and respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, tensions grew, culminating in an explosion after the murder of George Floyd. The US experienced a what authors have described as a Black-led multi-racial working-class rebellion against racism and systemic oppression https://illwilleditions.com/the-rise-of-black-counter-insurgency/, which in some cities sedimented into autonomous spaces reclaimed from the state and capitalism. This has arguably been the most significant social movement to emerge in the United States since Black Power in the late 1960s. While the Capital Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) autonomous zone in Seattle and the Occupation of New York’s City Hall (OCH) have already been evicted by the police, these movements have built on people’s experiences and capacity to theorize beyond the moment, offering glimpses of a better world free of racism, classism, and patriarchal exploitation. In this text, we explore the intellectual foundations of social movements that, similar to CHOP and OCH, were organized by workers defending themselves and their families from capitalism, and by Brown and Black people’s revolts against patriarchy, colonization and slavery. We offer you this book as a framework for thinking of today’s rebellions and the autonomous spaces created within them, theorized through the lenses of radical thinkers.
Our focus is the history of social thought in the West, studied through a decolonial critique. Most of the readings assigned are primary sources, texts written by people who were living and writing at the time of the events addressed. The ideas expressed in these readings are the result of thinkers analyzing complex social processes, allowing for people to contemplate and create new ways of living that pushed the world into unchartered territories. Some of the thinkers we will engage with were considered perverts or godless, and several were executed, jailed, banned, committed, or sent into exile. Regardless, their theories contributed to movements that sparked momentous changes across the globe, with their effects still felt in our lives today.
In this course, we will interpret Jean Jacques Rousseau’s version of the Social Contract through the writings of women and workers who were excluded from it. We will read the writings of Olympe de Gouges, Karl Marx, Piotr Kropotkin and others. We also think about the connections between liberalism and colonialism, searching for the roots of racism in the social contract and beyond. We will examine these connections through Anibal Quijano’s conception of Eurocentrism, the racist disease that privileges the European experience and permeates not only liberal authors but also European Marxists and Anarchists. We then study the writings and speeches of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Gloria Anzaldua, and bell hooks, exploring their multiple connections, diverse scenarios of oppression, and revolutionary paths that emerged as a result of local resistances and global insurrections against structures of domination. We complete our course of study by reading texts written by the Zapatista movement. By taking over lands in Chiapas, Mexico in 1994, they not only created an autonomous zone through which they control three quarters of the state, but also gave rise to the anti-corporate Globalization movement in Europe and the USA. These movements sowed the seeds that gave rise to experiences such as CHOP and OCH.
Whenever possible, we share the original texts, but if copyright issues prevent us from doing so, we share the bibliographical reference. While we love our reading list, we are also proud of the Team Based Learning (TBL) exercises that STPEC graduates, undergraduate instructors and I have created throughout the years to help students from different majors access radical social theories. TBL is an invitation to learn in a group by exploring each other’s texts and videos. TBL privileges learning through social and intellectual interaction, rather than solely by listening or reading. Thus, my lectures are short, just snippets of what these authors can help us learn, as we explore together their times and thoughts through Open Educational Resources (OER).
The Open Educational Resources collected in this book were created and assembled through a joint effort by the students and faculty in the Social Thought and Political Economy (STPEC) Program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. STPEC students and faculty are interested in exploring the structural causes of poverty, the racial, sexual, and gender dimensions of capitalism, the role of gender and sex in productive and reproductive labor, and the connection between liberalism, colonialism, and racism.
Partially funded by the Office of the Provost and Libraries’ Open Education Initiative (OEI) and The Center for Teaching and Learning (CFTL), this text is the main resource for Introduction to Radical Social Theory, STPEC 189, a one hundred level General Education course taken by over 200 hundred students per year. Both in their names and mine, we would like to thank the academic programs and the people who made this book possible, most especially: Jeremy Smith and Erin Jerome at the Libraries, the CFTL, and Matt Hewett, a STPEC graduate who generously volunteered his editing work.
I hope that you find these TBL exercises useful to bridge radical theory with contemporary issues of racism, sexism, and other social maladies mushrooming under neoliberal capitalism.
Shutesbury, USA, July 2020