Authors Meet Critics

Authors Meet Critics: “The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall,” Andrew Garrett

Recorded on January 19, 2024, this “Authors Meet Critics” panel centered on the book, The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall: Language, Memory, and Indigenous California, by Andrew Garrett, Professor of Linguistics and the Nadine M. Tang and Bruce L. Smith Professor of Cross-Cultural Social Sciences in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Garrett was joined in conversation by James Clifford, Professor Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz; William Hanks, Berkeley Distinguished Chair Professor in Linguistic Anthropology; and Julian Lang (Karuk/Wiyot), a storyteller, poet, artist, graphic designer, and writer, and author of “Ararapikva: Karuk Indian Literature from Northwest California.” Leanne Hinton, Professor Emerita of Linguistics at UC Berkeley, moderated the panel. The event was co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Department of Anthropology, Department of Linguistics, Department of Ethnic Studies, Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues, and Native American Studies. 

About the Book

In January 2021, at a time when many institutions were reevaluating fraught histories, the University of California removed anthropologist and linguist Alfred Kroeber’s name from a building on its Berkeley campus. Critics accused Kroeber of racist and dehumanizing practices that harmed Indigenous people; university leaders repudiated his values. In “The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall,” Andrew Garrett examines Kroeber’s work in the early twentieth century and his legacy today, asking how a vigorous opponent of racism and advocate for Indigenous rights in his own era became a symbol of his university’s failed relationships with Native communities. Garrett argues that Kroeber’s most important work has been overlooked: his collaborations with Indigenous people throughout California to record their languages and stories. “The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall” offers new perspectives on the early practice of anthropology and linguistics and on its significance today and in the future. Kroeber’s documentation was broader and more collaborative and multifaceted than is usually recognized. As a result, the records Indigenous people created while working with him are relevant throughout California as communities revive languages, names, songs, and stories. Garrett asks readers to consider these legacies, arguing that the University of California chose to reject critical self-examination when it unnamed Kroeber Hall.


Watch the panel above or on YouTube, or listen to it as a podcast below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


[VOICEOVER] The Matrix Podcast is a presentation of Social Science Matrix, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of California, Berkeley.

[MARION FOURCADE] Thank you very much for coming here. Such a great crowd. Actually, we have two separate small screens in the next room and one in the lobby because there’s too many people. So this is very exciting.

My name is Marion Fourcade. I am the director of Social Science Matrix. And of course, it’s always very exciting to start a new semester of events. But today is particularly exciting, not only because we have an amazing panel but also because we have in our midst Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix former director, Williams Hanks. And so that’s very special because of course, we wouldn’t be here without him and none of this would be possible. He was the person who really got Matrix off the ground and turned it into what I’m trying to pursue today.

So I also want to take a brief moment– you won’t hear me, but I want to take a brief moment to thank another Matrix stalwart, our postdoc, Julia Sizek. So not only has Julia put together this wonderful panel and indeed, she has put together much of our spring programming, but she will actually introduce all of our subsequent events this term as I go to the East Coast next week for the remainder of the semester. So Julia, you will– if you come back to Matrix, you will see Julia a lot.

So the topic of today’s discussion hits very close to home. Our presenter and discussants will address the politics of unnaming buildings on campus. We are meeting today in a building that is known as the Social Sciences Building, but it used to be called, of course, Barrows Hall. And sometimes, some of us still make the mistake of referring to this building as Barrows Hall.

Andrew Garrett, a professor of linguistics here at Berkeley, has written about another building on this campus that has been unnamed, what is now known as the Anthropology and Art Practice Building, but was formerly Kroeber Hall.

So in this new book, Garrett writes about not only the politics of unnaming but considers other questions about how to think about the legacies of controversial figures, including people like Kroeber, whose work has largely been forgotten within the discipline of anthropology. And so he offers a look into Kroeber’s life just up the road here, actually, on Arch Street, and what his work with Indigenous people throughout the state did, both then and now.

We would also like to thank our co-sponsors who helped our esteemed discussants reach this campus. The Joseph A. Myer Center for Native American Studies, the Department of Ethnic Studies, the Department of Linguistics, and the Department of Anthropology.

As always, I will mention a few upcoming events. Next month, we will have a Matrix on point. These are our signature thematic panels that one will be about the intersection between biometric identification, surveillance, and privacy. And in March, we will have another– our next Author Meets Critic in this series will be on Terracene by Salar Mameni.

So without further ado, I would like to introduce our moderator, Leanne Hinton. So Leanne Hinton is Professor Emerita of Linguistics here at Berkeley. Her recent research has focused on language revitalization of Native American languages. She strongly supports interdisciplinary approaches to linguistics and linguistic research that relates to community needs and interests as well as to theory.

Though retired, she remains active in research and consulting. Awards include the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award, the Linguistic Society of America’s Language, Linguistics and the Public Award, the Hubert Howe Bancroft award presented by the Bancroft Library, Berkeley’s– and the Honored One award presented by the Association of Tribal Archives and Libraries.

So without further ado, I’ll now turn it over to Leanne. Thank you very much for being here, everybody.

[LEANNE HINTON] Thank you. Is this on? Yeah. Good.

I have a few brief words to say just before introducing our panelists. I was not in favor of unnaming Kroeber Hall. Of the other four scholars whose names had been stripped from our buildings, Moses, Lecomte, and Boldt for their unclear and damaging views on racism and white supremacy, and for Barrows for his condescending and insulting justifications of the colonization of the Philippines.

Kroeber was not a racist. He was not a white supremacist. Those– although those were claimed about him. In fact, he had many deep and respectful friendships with Native Americans. He was a mentor to native scholars and an advocate for Indigenous rights. Moreover, his giant legacy of cultural documentation has become important to many Native Americans today.

I felt that Kroeber was being pilloried by the various charges against him. And Andrew agrees with this. As he writes on page four of his book, “The specific claims about Kroeber’s work offered in support of unnaming Kroeber Hall, accepted by many at Berkeley and beyond, are erroneous or unsubstantiated.”

But Andrew convincingly wrote in his own letter of support for the unnaming and in his book that the unnaming should take place anyway, that it was Kroeber’s era of anthropology that not the sins of a particular anthropologist that the unnaming was really about. As he writes one more time, “That name brought pain to those who should feel welcome. In the 21st century, an edifice with anthropological tenants need not take its name from an era of extractive patronizing academic attitudes toward native people.”

So I want to thank Andrew for this truly insightful book that helps us to a deeper understanding of Kroger’s own life and contributions, and at the same time, delves into the university’s own, and I’ll do one more quote, “Foundational ongoing systemic contributions to the displacement and erasure of Indigenous people,” and perhaps, make some of us take a closer look at our own legacies as well.

And now on to our panelists. I’m going to just introduce them all. First, Andrew Garrett. He’s a professor of linguistics and the Nadine M. Tang and Bruce L. Smith professor of cross-cultural social sciences in the Department of Linguistics, where he directs the California Language Archive. His research and teaching are in historical linguistics, especially Indo-European historical linguistics and in language documentation and revitalization, especially involving Indigenous California languages.

From the Linguistic Society of America, he’s received the Best Paper in Language Award 2015 for ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis supports the Indo-European step hypothesis, co-authored with three students. And he also has the Kenneth L. Hale award in 2023 for outstanding work on the documentation of a particular language or family of languages that is endangered or no longer spoken. In 2001, he has collaborated with the Yurok tribe on the documentation and revitalization of the Yurok language, preparing a short pedagogical grammar, basic Yurok, in 2014.

William F. Hanks studies the history and ethnography of Yucatan Mexico and Yucatec Maya language and culture, including early modern Spain and Spanish as a necessary step towards understanding the colonial formation of Yucatan and New Spain. He examines the organization and dynamics of routine language use, semantics, pragmatics, interactional sociolinguistics, and the social foundation of speech practices. He has studied ritual practice, comparative shamanism, and the relation between religion and health care in rural Mexico. His most recent work concerns the colonial history of Yucatan and New Spain, with a special emphasis on missionization and the emergence of colonial discourse genres.

And at the end of the table, Julie– Julian Lang, Wiyot/Karuk, is a storyteller, poet, artist, graphic designer, and a writer. He’s a first language speaker of Karuk and a tribal scholar. Julian is the chairman of the Karuk Language Committee, director and founder of the Institute of Native Knowledge, and the author of Ararapikva, Karuk Indian Literature from Northwest California. He currently teaches elementary and high school Karuk language classes, and is a longtime master speaker in the master apprentice program, and a board member for the Advocates of Indigenous California Language Survival.

And then back one from Julian is James Clifford, a Professor Emerita at UC Santa Cruz. He’s the author of books that explore the intersections of anthropology, literature, and art. The predicament of culture, 1988 routes, 19– routes, meaning R-O-U-T-E-S, 1997, and returns, becoming Indigenous in the 21st century, 2013. In the latter work, he writes at some length about Kroeber, Ishi, and the colonial legacies of ethnography museums.

So we begin with Andrew.

[ANDREW GARRETT] I have notes. I’ll try not to read them, but I’ll read them so we’ll see how this works. Does this work? Yeah. It’s really exciting to be here with four of my intellectual heroes. And I am looking forward to hearing what you guys have to say.

I am a linguist engaged with California languages, both as they are spoken today and as they have been recorded over 125 years in documents that currently– documents and sound recordings that currently sit in archives. A figure in whose intellectual shadow, I, therefore, unavoidably work is the Berkeley anthropologist and linguist, Alfred Kroeber, whose nachlass I have used probably every week for 20 or 25 years.

In 1960, the year of Kroeber’s death, a new campus building housing the anthropology and art practice departments and the anthropology museum was named after him. 60 years later, on July 1, 2020, an anonymous proposal to remove his name from that building was submitted to the Chancellor’s Office. The building was officially unnamed, as you all know, on January 26, 2021, so almost three years ago.

My book is not about whether Kroeber Hall should have been unnamed or not. If that’s what you want to learn about, you can ask, but that is not what the book is about. I do think it was good to change the name, as Leanne mentioned, for what it’s worth, but that is not the point of the book.

The proposal to unname Kroeber Hall and a lot of the discussion around the unnaming included assessments of Kroeber’s work that did not match my own sense of what was important in that work. I wrote the book to grapple with this dissonance and try to understand his legacies. So it is specifically about Berkeley and California, and more generally, it’s about the history of academic relationships, especially on the part of linguists and anthropologists with Indigenous people. It’s also about the work of scholars and scientists embedded in an extractive colonial system.

The book has two main arguments. And maybe I’ll point a little bit to the chapters in which they sit, or maybe I won’t because the correlation is imperfect. One of the arguments is parochial about Berkeley, specifically, about the actual unnaming of Kroeber Hall. That sits mostly in chapter 10, Institutional Elisions.

In that chapter, I document how a campus review process did not do any assessment of the proposals charges against Kroeber. The chancellor then presented the charges in the proposal as if they were the judgment of the review committee. And how they wound up widely disseminated in the media as campus judgment. By looking at the context of these choices, I try to account for this canonization of false facts, a phrase that McConkie taught me.

A second argument, and I think, more interesting, ultimately, because it’s less parochial, is about the legacy of Kroeber and his colleagues and proteges. He, himself, was opaque, often, as to his motivations and what he thought was important. So I sometimes use his daughter, Ursula Le Guin’s anthropological fiction to read his work.

I have some examples to show, potentially. I, sometimes, use Ursula Le Guin’s anthropological fiction, she has a lot of anthropological fiction, in order to read the motivations of her father and to understand why he did what he did. I argue that what is most important today about what he did do is the documentation of Indigenous languages and stories, and making space for many dozens of Indigenous people to tell and write their own stories, stories of all kinds, creation stories, anecdotes about daily life, stories about genocide, stories about food, stories– anecdotes, conversations, all kinds of stories, dozens and dozens of people told these in thousands of pages.

In the discourse around Kroeber and Kroeber Hall, Indigenous languages and stories were elided. This is partly a consequence, I guess, of the separation between anthropology and linguistics that happened in the academy over many years. At a certain time, they were more closely connected. And the linguistic side of his work could be seen as part of the oeuvre. Nowadays, languages belongs to linguistics and so that work is ignored.

A small example– a small example is a book of quote unquote, “Reading Lessons” made for the famous Yahi man called Ishi. This is what– they’re called Reading Lessons by– either by Theodora Kroeber, his widow, or by the catalogers in the library. These are actually writing lessons made in an attempt to teach Ishi to write his language, presumably, in the hope that he might want to write down stories or life experiences.

You can tell that they are writing lessons, not reading lessons because each page consists of a set of transcribed words that end with the same syllable. The syllable is underlined, so on the left page it’s “Hi,” the middle page, it’s “Na,” the right hand page, it’s “Si” “Si” to retroflex S.

If you were trying to teach somebody how to write Hi, you would not teach them to write H-I. That is not spell “He” in English. If you’re trying to teach them how to write “See,” you might teach them S-E-E or maybe S-E-A or something. You would not teach them to write S-I. So this would have been a really, really ineffective way of teaching him to read English, but Kroeber was very interested in helping people to learn to write their languages, and that is, obviously, what this actually was.

The book– this book this booklet. It has been interpreted as an instrument of Americanization when it was apparently actually meant to facilitate Ishi telling the stories that everybody says he loved to tell. So this is just a small example of the way in which– the way in which specifics got misinterpreted and the story recording aspect of Kroeber’s career has been lost.

In several of the book chapters, I document Kroeber’s networks of connections with Indigenous people and communities in and near California for recording their stories and languages. An example of this network of Indigenous intellectuals, which Nan already alluded to, is Gilbert Natches, this person in the middle. An artist and musician from a prominent Cui-ui Dicutta Paiute family whom Kroeber taught to– how to write his language, the language that called Paiute or Northern Paiute, taught how to write his language in 1913 and 1914. He was probably the first writer in his language. He made sound recordings of dozens of songs and stories. He created a large corpus of written stories and language information.

Natchez published a paper or a short monograph of stories in the language that’s shown at the top left. But most of what he did with Kroeber remains in manuscripts and sound recordings, like these that you can’t really see very clearly. This thing on the left is an illustration of plant parts, labeled with the names. And these names are not all recorded in subsequent literature.

The middle slide is a list– part of a long set of pages and pages in his vocabulary, is a list of non-traditional words, words for introduced technological objects, not all of which are listed in the massive Northern Paiute dictionary that was published a few years ago.

And the thing on the right is his– not just his hand transcript of a conversation that he recorded between him and a cat in which he says– in effect, he says, hey, kitty, don’t you want some food? Don’t you want some food? Here, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty. And then he sings the meowing of the cat. So he has this really awesome, rich, diverse set of recordings that he also transcribed.

In their language work today the Pyramid Lake Paiute– Pyramid Lake language program works actively with Natchez’s material. And they have expressed appreciation for what he was able to do in this quote that I put here. This is not rare. This is typical. Throughout California, the documentation created by Indigenous people working with Kroeber and his immediate circle of students and younger colleagues is the basis for cultural and linguistic reclamation.

I am also interested in how documentation acquires a renewed political life. Language can be a key piece of political activism. So throughout California, we see linguistic knowledge reclaimed from archives for Indigenous self-insertion. The name of a mountain range– that’s the top example here. The name of a mountain range was reclaimed from Kroeber’s 1902 Wiyot language notes with blue like bob for the purpose of pushing back successfully against an industrial development project in Humboldt County. And so the picture on the right shows a banner. Protect Tsakiyuwit. That name was recovered from the notes that you see on the left.

The words for people, “Muwekma” and for their language, [? Lisjan, ?] those words– I’ve lost my place, sorry, those words in the Indigenous language of the East Bay first recorded in 1904 by Kroeber at the Verona Rancheria are central for two of the political entities of Indigenous people of the East Bay.

Like all of us, Kroeber was a mixture. He was an extractive researcher who could often be paternalistic, as Leanne mentioned. He had some unappealingly Victorian attitudes. And he was committed like so many people, unfortunately, were. At the time, he was committed to the idea grounded in essentialist nationalism, the idea of vanishment, which was the hugest of possible mistakes.

But throughout his career, he advocated for Indigenous land and cultural rights, more than most people in his field. And he was a vocal opponent of the eugenic and evolutionary thinking that often dominated the discourse of the time.

My book’s first chapter has, as its epigraph, a quote from Ursula Le Guin’s 2006 book, Voices. That’s here. Because her fictional character, Auric Castro, described very well what also mattered, in my opinion, in her father’s work, finding what other makers made, speaking it, printing it, recovering it from neglect or oblivion, relighting the light of the word, “This is the chief work of my life.” My main argument in the book is that the chief work of Kroeber’s life, we can now see in retrospect, was to record Indigenous stories and languages and to find ways for Indigenous people to tell their stories and that it matters very much today that he did that. So that’s the book.

[BILL HANKS] Andrew Garrett has done us all an immense service by writing this book. And my first word to him is thank you. The care, craft, and empirical heft of the book are everywhere evident. It is dense with information and anyone would learn from reading it. I certainly learned a lot.

We learn so much about Kroeber, about research in his time, and about Indigenous people and individual persons with whom Kroeber maintained, sometimes, long and dimensional relationships. On these grounds alone, the book takes its place among the best work in the history of our field, in my opinion. And I dare say, with his background, quite likely, only Andrew could have written this book.

It is also a courageous book and one that required meticulous care with the authorial voice and how it positioned itself in relation to the field of anthropology, to Kroeber and especially, to Indigenous peoples of California. I especially respect the care and circumspection the book expresses in the matter of moral ethical evaluation of Kroeber. Andrew is very careful to avoid the ever possible anachronism of critiquing Kroeber by criteria that simply were not in the discourse space he occupied, particularly, in the first decades of his career, which is upwards of 100 years from now.

Critique need not be anachronistic, of course, and I’m not suggesting it is, nor is it unwarranted, but it does raise productive questions. And this book is a valuable exemplar of how to tread fine lines.

Regarding vanishment, I wonder where the line is between a destructive ideology that presumes it to be natural that Indigenous people will cease to be versus an assessment of inevitability based on having considered with a sick heart, the scale, raw violence, and gluttonous self-interest of those who slaughtered, dispossessed Indigenous peoples of their lands, and put their children in schools where they were not allowed to speak their own languages.

Would it have been entirely unreasonable to assume that Indigenous peoples were under massive threat of destruction? What part of this vanishment thesis is due to that in addition to the projection that Andrew mentioned?

In here, I quote Andrew, “Boas and Kroeber wrote as if assimilation and vanishment were inevitable, but the extent to which they acted in concert with the settler state dispossession is another matter.” That’s typical of the care with which the voice is crafted. I think we all know what he’s saying.

I was intrigued by your argument, Andrew, that essentialism, historical particularism cum relativism, and vanishment form a tight cluster of assumptions. Of these, essentialism seems to me the least obvious. You suggest that essentialism erases history, but Kroeber was committed to history, and Boas might have been wary of historical explanations but he never denied history, to my knowledge.

When Boas told Kroeber in 1899– I’m quoting now Ira Jacknis, in 1899 to find, quote, “What is characteristic of the life and mode of thought of the Indian,” there is no temporal predicate in that statement. It doesn’t do anything about time. The Indian is a problem, but that’s a typification problem, not a temporal problem.

These three ideas, Boas and Kroeber shared, but whereas Boas was wary of historical reconstructions, Kroeber was committed to history as one of the core contexts of the Indigenous languages. I had not been aware of the importance of his work on the classification of the languages of California nor I’m ashamed to say of his work on noun incorporation, which is such an important feature in many American languages, including Yucatec Maya, the one I work on.

The 1911 exchange with Sapir in the American anthropologist, which I read, chasing out the references, is highly instructive and I recommend it. For those of you who might not have had a chance to read this book, let me give you a glimpse of the scope of Kroeber’s fieldwork and documentary contributions. 1,000-plus audio recordings of more than 40 different languages, the classification which was the standard in the discipline of his time, the unparalleled amount and scope of field work that Kroeber did, including bringing people with him for family vacations all summer as part of the family.

By way of concluding these incredibly terse remarks, 8 to 10 minutes is impossible. I want to say a couple of words on place names. This is an area in which Indigenous languages of California and elsewhere in North America are exceptionally rich. Kroeber’s junior colleague, T.T. Waterman, published in 1920 his Yurok geography, which also got and read from, which drew heavily on Kroeber’s fieldwork and cataloged with sometimes extended description over 1,000 place names.

The Yurok elder, Domingo Jack, observed, you guys, meaning, Kroeber’s people, claimed the land was not [NON-ENGLISH], owned– glossed, owned or cared for, whereas it is owned and cared for. Along the river, everything has a name. And the name is the proof that it is cared for.

As Andrew observes, such naming is a claim of sovereignty. We might say, for a place to have a name is a sign that it is cared for by those who quote, “own,” end quote, it, although, the verb here opens a can of worms regarding the nature of ownership, especially of land. Maybe it’s easier or more accurate to say, the people who belong to it.

He also demonstrates that toponyms are semantically dense descriptions of places, like what Sapir called compressed little word poems. Here are a couple. A place name. Where water backs up, that refers to a village at the mouth of a river. Where rock speaks, referring to a place with an overhanging rock which creates an echo when one speaks in its presence. Where– one of my favorites, where children sit, which refers to a boulder in the middle of a river, quote, “where some owls carried off some children and left them to sit.” The children eventually turned to stone.

One is reminded of the stunning research done by Keith Basso on place and toponyms in Western Apache. A classic example from the Apache would be, quote, “Water flows inward underneath a Cottonwood tree,” which refers to a place. This description refers to a very precise place on the land. But it is cast also from a very precise vantage point. You have to be standing in the right place to see the scene that is coded in the name.

The use of the name therefore projects the addressee into the prospective point, looking upon the place from just the right angle that also evokes ancestral events that happened there. In short, place names are an idiom of historical consciousness, the deep time, and the ground of reciprocal ownership or care between the people and the land. Maybe this could help us think of the unnaming of Kroeber Hall and the myriad renamings of place wrought upon the people of California.

[JULIAN LANG] Oh, OK. I was a little perplexed by the invite, but I’ve known Andrew long enough to know that he needed to throw a wrench in the deal too. There has to be some unexplainable thing happen.

Kroeber is a very strange phenomenon for Native peoples. And depending upon where you go in the state, there can be a very cold response to just his name in general that certain families have grown up with this idea that this was not a good– just what happened was not good and like you said, he got painted with a pretty wide brush with a lot of pretty bad things that did happen to Native peoples. So he was just included in that. He was, we call, a [INAUDIBLE] white man. And so there’s that, I guess, as well that we have a long history of people coming in really paternalistic, very uptight white men coming in and doing things with our people.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a really uptight white man, but they’re not very fun. And so our life is not one about uptightness, necessarily. I am a grandfather. And so for me, I see how important our inter-relations with my family, with my community, with all of our people that it’s such an important– our cultural existence really is really engaging. I could see how if Kroeber comes into a community, I remember, what’s his name, Tim– Thomas Buckley when he came in, and a very tall guy, for those of you who knew him.

So he was too tall for– after the first trip to the Klamath River. So he was too tall, that’s all people knew him as. And here he was, showing all of this research and all of that. And oh, too tall. Here he comes. It’s like– and so it was he– you become a part of that community. And you don’t escape the descriptions that we would place on place, we also do on a person. So each person eventually becomes who they are within that community.

So Kroeber, there’s– I guess, there’s two stories. There’s one there’s historical view and perspective that says that debates on how good or how bad Kroeber was. And– but there’s also this other side, which is the life, I guess, of the community of our people and how we all fit in within that community, either as a outsider coming in or as an outsider coming in and trying to understand and appreciate what is happening within that community.

And so I guess towards that end, in a way, I’d like to introduce two students that are here. You guys– Can I get you guys to stand up? Yeah. And so they’re all descendants of people who worked with Kroeber. So these are great grand kids of Ellen Grant and the interpreter who worked not with Kroeber but with Bill Bright. So he was the– she was the interpreter for Bill Bright. And so in a way, that’s Kroeber.

And then next to them, there are two people in there, the granddaughters of Julius Derrick, and so who was another one of the language people that not Kroeber personally but his students. So that’s what I see, when I think of Kroeber, I think of all of the great opportunities that he had to come and be a part of our community and never did. So he would send people to come in and do work with folks. And that was– I can think of the Danish Uldall, the Danish linguist who came in and worked with all of these people in a little place called Quartz Valley and way back in the mountains and got these fantastic stories. And I guess, the process of– I guess, his need to keep sending people to our communities where the community, primarily, I’m speaking of.

So he was a very important percentage for the Karuk people. On the other hand, there’s other tribes that may not have that kind of a relationship with Kroeber or maybe he’s been painted that white brushes painted and he’s now included with a bunch of ne’er do wells, I guess, you could call them.


And anyway, yeah, I’m very conflicted about Kroeber because I think as an artist, my idea has been one, when I was here at Berkeley as an employee at the museum, I had all of the old school museum folks were the people I worked with. And they were all, I guess, dyed in the wool trobairitz or whatever from that generation. And it was a very almost like business. The idea of NAGPRA was just– I mean, unnaming of Kroeber was a problem, but NAGPRA, boy, that was– that really got him. The disgruntledness of it all.

And so anyway, but Kroeber, like I said, during my time here, I would always go to Kroeber Hall. And it just seemed so odd. Here I am, there’s Kroeber Hall. It’s like, I’m walking through the door and then there’s all of the stuff that’s the photographs and the recordings and all of this material that was something that was just unbelievable. And my little workstation, I had the– I think it was like, they would say, that’s the oldest chair in American Museum today from Egypt. And then over here where all the glass plates of all the famous– what was that book? The Almost Ancestors book, the photos of– Kroeber’s photos.

And– so I mean– I was surrounded by this primary source material and it was– I just felt– as a Native person, I guess, I don’t see this– the value of this particular thing, the way, say, an anthropologist might look and wonder about this thing. I feel– I can feel it like I have an– some sort of– some sort of an actual feeling that occurs that that person’s spirit is there still. I have to say that I really feel this and that– so working in the museum was always an odd thing, but it was really Kroeber’s legacy then fed my art as an artist. This stuff has to be returned.

So when I was doing all the research of all this material, including spending hours and hours and hours with Kroeber’s papers, trying to understand the person that wrote in such tiny little teeny letters, who was this person? I mean, anal retentive to the max, I would assume. And so– but the content of that was like so rich. In one sentence, I think, you were saying something about the Herzog movie and it was saying that– and the idea of these two eyes at the end of this movie, that was like– that was the thing that made it in a way, art, that it was– you’ll never forget that.

And so Kroeber stuff all of this work that he did with my tribe, especially, was very instrumental in a lot of my art, maybe not directly but definitely indirectly. And one in particular when I was really beginning as an artist was a picture of Ishi staring down. And I must have drawn that picture 50 times or more. And it was because the expression on his face was so incredibly intense. And I can never could figure out what was he looking at. And then later, I saw the full picture, the whole photograph, and it was him shipping– knapping arrowheads. So that intensity was so incredible, but that was–

So that was a whole part of my need to bring art into this transfer of the– this knowledge that happened in 1902 to 1930 or whatever and then bring it back to the community and try to find ways of doing that. And so that’s what my art was at that point was to return, say, the extracted.

And at that time, I remember when I first spent time in the survey, and Leanne had let me in to sit with the stuff because I was going through all of the stuff, and finding– removing the stack of paper and seeing the dust around where the paper had been sitting because nobody had moved the thing for like 10 years or something and nobody had ever looked at it. And so I’m going through this stuff and seeing the most important– one of my three most important things that– question that I’ve had about life and philosophy and all of that. And one was we have a plant called Kishwoof. And Kishwoof is a very important– it’s our best medicine, we call it– [NON-ENGLISH], our best medicine and–

So there’s, in this old stack of handwritten notes was this story that was way off in this direction. And then all of a sudden, the end was, And that’s why this is our best medicine. And so I had to somehow draw this connection between these two things.

But what ended up happening was it turned into a play, it turned into all kinds of different things in the language. So we were able to return the language, the iconography of the time, and including the songs, so many different things that we were able to reverse engineer Kroeber’s work, I guess, is what you would say, and return it back to its place within the community.

So– and I remember this one old hippie guy that lived in Orleans. We did a story about the Orleans maiden and how she turned into this mountain, Orleans Mountain, and where Ruby’s from, out back there. And the hippie said, wow, I’ll never look at that mountain again, say the same again. It’s like, now that mountain has become a person once again. Why that person is– why that mountain is so important? And why that’s one of the only spirits who didn’t have a partner? And the sadness of that and how that’s where all of our bad feelings go. So you– she takes your hurt and grief and all of that. And so now everybody gets to see and experience [NON-ENGLISH] for these men.

But Kroeber, I don’t know, Andrew. He was very– yeah, it’s a very interesting thing. I– like I said, I’m not coming– leaving this place, despising Kroeber. And on the other hand, I try to keep him at arm’s length, at least this far away.


Good idea.


But anyway, thank you.

[JAMES CLIFFORD] Thanks. Thanks. And thank you all for coming. I’m going to read this so I stay in my 10 minutes slot.

A few years back, I commented along with many others on the proposal to unname Kroeber Hall. And I was pretty critical of some of the claims made in the brief against the individual anthropologist, A. L. Kroeber. But in the end, I came to the same conclusion as Andrew Garrett, the symbolism of his name had become ineradicably painful for Native Californians and should be changed to recognize their cultural resilience and present agency.

My concluding paragraph, which I’m going to read, seems to me now like a liberal, wishful thinking, but despite my more pessimistic, better judgment, I’m doubling down. I wrote, “The current movement for changing names raises important questions about our differently positioned assessments of a shared, sometimes, ugly history. In conclusion, I’d like to urge that we not succumb to the blame games and scorched Earth moralism so prevalent in today’s political culture. I have recommended, as I did in my– above, an attitude, I called it critical generosity, especially with respect to ambiguous legacies like that of Kroeber and of cultural anthropology. This means in the current context, renaming Kroeber Hall in a way that honors native Californian resilience but that also finds ways to publicly recognize and understand the continuing contributions of that building’s former namesake and his changing discipline. This kind of thoughtful, informed critical commemoration would be especially appropriate in an educational institution.” End quote.

Whistling in the wind. A similar sentiment, I found, was expressed by others, by Kent Lightfoot in his very substantial contribution. And I noticed it too in Professor Ron Hendel’s critique of the similar unnaming of Barrow’s Hall, where we are now.

I’m not sure what we all had in mind concretely, some sort of exhibit or a public discussion, perhaps, or a teachable moment, recognizing the positive contributions of these colonial liberals whose failings are magnified in our current decolonial better judgment. We were asking our community for something more complex than either condemnation or celebration. I didn’t hold out much hope.

And Andrew Garrett has provided what I asked for, a thoughtful, informed critical commemoration of Kroeber’s life and work, including the legacies of his changing disciplines, anthropology and linguistics. How will Gareth’s complexifying book be read, if it is read? Well, it will be understood– it will be understood by some, mostly, but not only on the right as a defense of Kroeber against ignorant sanctimonious cancel culture. And by others largely on the left, it will be seen as yet another whitewashing of settler colonialism and a defense of paternalistic academic authority.

What I appreciate about the book is that it rules out conclusions such as these and tries for a complex realism, an attitude of both generous comprehension and critical historical distance. In his opening paragraphs, Garrett forthrightly acknowledges the dissonance, he calls it, the dissonance in which he finds himself. He writes throughout as an engaged participant, not as an objective outsider. I mean, he’s, after all, part of the tradition of Berkeley linguistics and working with California languages.

Working happily in the California Linguistic Archives at Berkeley, he’s brought up short by a Native language activist who tells him that she always feels sick on campus, conscious of all the ancestral remains stored in those boxes.

At the end of chapter 1, Garrett summarizes two contradictory versions of Kroeber’s legacy, one, a history of harm, the other, of generosity. One, a narrative of colonialist denial and paternalist dismissal, the other, a story of respect, collaboration in the preservation of heritage. His book, Garrett writes, is an attempt to understand the quote, “dissonance” between these narratives, both of which, he takes seriously.

It’s important to note that while he refutes particular claims, he doesn’t say that one narrative is true and the other, false. He allows different visions to cohabit uneasily in the book, not seeking to reconcile them or to find a balance. Throughout its 11 chapters, his book, in the words of my colleague, Donna Haraway, stays with the trouble. This willingness to explore the dissonance of irreconcilable stories is, to my current way of thinking, realism. History is ontologically excessive, multifarious, contested, a single smooth version is, well, ideology.

Kroeber emerges in a positive light to be sure the book leans that way, no doubt, too much for some, but it convincingly connects– corrects many errors and oversimplifications in the now widely accepted dismissive view of Kroeber. And his mistakes and omissions, as we now see them, are acknowledged directly throughout. For example, Kroeber’s cultural essentialism, with its avoidance of historical invention and change, is a recurring theme. This lack of analytic scholarly interest in real contemporary people is something Julian Lange has effectively stressed.

But the book is not only about an imperfect individual. Garrett shows how the name Kroeber today symbolizes the limits of colonial liberalism, the entitlements and omissions that accompany good intentions. And also looking beyond the man and his times, the name Kroeber also represents a tradition of research, collective and dialogical, whose consequences were and still are decolonizing.

As an academic, I appreciate the conclusion that research matters, often, beyond the intentions of the researcher. I even appreciate Garrett’s willingness to rub the noses of non-specialists in linguistic data and technical arguments that we can’t understand, though, I think, at times, he overdoes it. A little self-indulgent there, Andrew.

It’s good to make people– readers grapple with unfamiliar languages up close and to observe the detailed sustained labor by Kroeber, by his linguistic colleagues, and by his Indian collaborators like Robert Spot, Gilbert Matches, Von Dolores, and others that produces accurate descriptions and translations that anal compulsive dimension, which was shared by some of his quote unquote, “informants,” as Andrew tells us, getting it really exactly right.

Research matters in more than objective ways. Science, empiricism, documentation are built from facts, things made collaboratively in social relationships. Facts are subject to reinterpretation in new situations. Research is thus historical in the fullest sense, overdetermined and unfinished.

Garrett is the best work I know that grapples with the contradictions and unintended consequences of what was long called salvage anthropology and linguistics, now rebaptized as memory documentation. His approach rhymes with my own ongoing research in what I call, for lack of a new name, post ethnographic museums.

The colonial collections currently found all over Europe, North America, Australia, and other imperial metropoles. Times are changing there in those institutions. Human remains and cultural artifacts in these collections can no longer be considered the heritage of an abstract imperial mankind or a decontextualized science. Under pressure from former colonial subjects, activists, elders, artists, these specimens and treasures have been transformed into unfinished histories, stories, sources of knowledge reclaimed and made new. I love Gillian’s phrase, “Reverse engineering of Kroeber’s work.”

In these changing institutions, what was, even 10 years ago, unthinkable, the repatriation of museum treasures is now everywhere on the agenda for museum professionals, restitution imagined in diverse forms, scales, and relationships. I haven’t found– visiting these museums, I’ve not found any single politically virtuous pathway, but many specific entangled negotiations. Of course, there’s plenty of resistance to change, obstruction, unwillingness to relinquish the authority of universalism, the privilege of being at the end or the cutting edge of history.

But what I find in all this movement– what I find in all this is movement, history as process, inventive articulations of old and new, residual and emergent energies. I rediscover what Hegel called the cunning of reason and history, the surprises, what happens behind our backs for better and for worse. In a time of confusion and pessimism, when so many trends these days seem reactionary when liberal progress is anything but assured, the good news that accompanies the bad news of this indeterminacy can perhaps be found with Andrew Garrett’s help in Kroeber exemplary life, with all its contradictions.

1876 to 1960, Kroeber was born at a moment of triumphant imperialism. And he died as its hegemony was starting to unravel. He lived in a world structured by colonization, with its violence, assumptions of assimilation, and romantic archaisms. Within this horizon, I think we can still honor his lifelong commitment to what he believed was admirable and worth preserving in native Californian language and cultures. He thought these lifeways were doomed, but his work has contributed to their future.

[LEANNE HINTON] Thank you to all the panelists. And we are open now for questions. Yes.

[INAUDIBLE] [AUDIENCE MEMBER] anthropologist Oh. My name is Stan Farrar. I’m a Cal graduate. I didn’t study anthropology or linguistics. I’ve been gone for more than six decades. And I’m from Southern California. But I was interested in this subject because Caltech has unnamed Robert Millikan, without whom you can’t talk about Caltech, since he was one of the founders. They still accept that he got a Nobel Prize but otherwise, they’ve taken his name off buildings.

So I was fascinated by Professor Garrett’s book and the approach to it. And I think it’s an awesome piece of scholarship. But I think about all the intellectual firepower that went into that and it’s going to go into all the other books that are going to be written from here to eternity about people like Thomas Jefferson, because you resonate on vanishing.

Well, if there’s anybody– if there’s any president of the United States who thought the Indians were going to vanish and he was going to contribute to it, it was Thomas Jefferson. So if you want to focus on Kroeber’s really– I know we shouldn’t have skulls in the museum, don’t misunderstand me. But Kroeber is a pretty minor player in the scheme of things. We have big players in the scheme of things who, when the truth comes out, when the scholarship is produced, and it’s not all the pablum about cherry trees and crap like that, you’re going to find out that Thomas Jefferson wasn’t such a good guy after all, especially with Indians.

So where do we go with this? Do we just say, let’s use all the intellectual firepower to write all these books? Or do we just say, let’s take all the names off now and give them mathematical notations or whatever?


[ANDREW GARRETT] Yeah. I mean, I sometimes wondered whether the building that should be unnamed is California Hall. If we’re looking for a malefactor.


[AUDIENCE MEMBER] So as I’m outsider because I’m not growing up here, I’m not an American nor a Native American, so I’m still wrapping my head around what’s happening here about this unnaming thing. My– I have two basic questions about the claims made during the proposal of the unnaming.

The first question is that, I remember the second claim is something about Kroeber and his colleagues collected the remains of the Native Americans is completely wrong, is culturally wrong. So my question is, in the tradition, what did the Native Americans deal with the remains? This is my first question. It’s a very basic question.

The second question is that, so the third claims that something Kroeber dated back at that time is culturally extinct. And my question is, what was the reason of this statement? Is it to raise awareness of protection this culture or it’s just like his blind spots when he did his research? This is my second question.

And also, my third question is something– so no, the third thing is not a question, it’s just something came to my mind because– sorry, I’m a bit nervous. I’m not a native speaker so forgive me about that. So it’s– OK, I forget the third thing.

[ANDREW GARRETT] I think to answer the first question, certainly, what Indigenous people would not want is for people to be in museums. There are many different burial practices around California in the world but none of them included putting people in other people’s museums. So I think there’s no question about that.

With respect to– I mean, this relates to what– the other question relates to what you brought up, Bill, about the connection or the potential connection between essentialism and vanishment. My idea– my sense of that relationship was if you accept this– if essentialism– a sense of the relationship was if essentialism means you got to have features X, Y, and Z in order to be authentically whatever, Yurok or Ohlone or whatever, you’ve got to have features X, Y, Z, then since all cultures change, eventually, people don’t have X, Y, Z, and then they’re no longer– then they’re no longer that culture because those are quote unquote, “essential properties.”

So that’s the reason why I personally saw those two things as linked and that’s what enabled him to call cultures quote unquote, “extinct,” even though he knew perfectly well that there were lots of people around who belonged to those communities but they no longer, in his opinion, had the quote unquote, “essential properties” of those communities.

[BILL HANKS] Yeah, as a Mayanist who works in Yucatan, we call that the curse of the pyramid.


You’re either classic Maya or it’s all polyester.


I mean, it’s– and it’s deadly. It’s a deadly– it’s a real ideology that way.

ANDREW GARRETT] Yeah. And Kent has written really– Kent is somewhere here. But Kent Lightfoot has written really compellingly about this problem in California.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I spent many wonderful afternoons with our late beloved colleague, Ira Jacknis, who had worked a lot in the archives, studying Kroeber. And I imagine he would be– have a lot to say if he were here today. But one thing I learned from him that there’s this– in the oral tradition of Kroeber around– when they opened up the building in 1959 that– a year before he passed away, that there’s two stories that Ira would tell me again and again. And I think it’s fair for me to share oral tradition, given that oral tradition is such an important part of this tradition.

And one, he would say is that Kroeber got stuck in the elevator that they still have problems with in that building. But the second thing he would say– Ira would say to me is that there was a sense that Kroeber was deeply uncomfortable about the building being named after him. And that might speak to Andrew’s thesis too about his desire to be somewhat anonymous in some of his research, that you shared with us at the beginning of your presentation.

I’m not sure if there’s any verification for that, that Kroeber felt that way, and of course, he would pass away the year after that. But I can’t help but think, and I was thinking this during the years of debate we had, that Kroeber, himself, might agree that his name had been removed from the building in the possibility that he would not have wanted his name to be there in the first place.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] This is a question for the whole panel. Considering that the namesake of this university was a Slaver, who wrote pamphlets in defense of the institution and has had his name removed from a library at Trinity College in Dublin, what lessons can come out of this whole unnaming Kroeber Hall for a question that seems to inevitably be coming for this university at large?

I wonder if I could ask a question about the paradoxes of temporal positionality. The point of view of Kroeber and company during the period we’re talking about was one of being advanced, being modern, being ahead of a culture that was vanishing, the cultures that were behind. And we obviously feel uncomfortable with that. And yet, we do it from a position which is, in fact, also that of temporal advance, that we are hundreds years after them, we are hundreds years more, somehow, enlightened. We have learned something that they did not know.

There was, of course, a famous argument by E. P. Thompson that we ought to avoid the enormous condescension of posterity, by which of course, he meant not taking the working class of Britain as some have simpler than ourselves. But there is also a potential for the enormous condescension of posterity towards figures even like Kroeber, that is to say, our own position of being quote, “advanced” needs, I think, to be at least relativized or at least qualified by the experience of their getting it wrong. That advance, however we define, is not sufficient to justify critical judgment, that we have to have other standards besides simply being further along in a process, which is not really progressive.

[ANDERW GARRETT] So my argument in the book is not as sophisticated as that because I’m only a linguist.


But hold your wallet. I mean, my argument is that what occupies that place, is not that people– not that people are doing that but that elites in the university are generally uncomfortable with the history of the university. And picking somebody to blame allows us to stop looking at Hearst and all the other people who are much quote unquote, “worse.”

So as I say near the end of the book, he winds up being the fall guy. And I quote Raymond Chandler as saying that, “Dead people are the best fall guys,” because there are people who are still living who are responsible for quite a lot of injury. And it’s much easier to pick a professor who’s long dead than to pick ancient patrons whose families are still– hello, internet, who’s families are still influential and living, people who are still colleagues or former colleagues.

[JAMES CLIFFORD] I’d like– Martin Jay’s question has brought me up short and made me start thinking because its logic would go so far as to say, don’t do– never unname anything from the standpoint of some– more advanced knowledge, some postcolonial consciousness or whatever it might be, some sort of virtue that’s associated with an advanced– but–

And so then, well, do I agree with that? I mean, well, no, there are certain things that I think really do deserve unnaming, and then there’s those that are debatable, and then there are those that really don’t. And so I think, OK, we’re talking now about– when I say debatable, we’re talking about a context where there are actually substantial discussions and also where the process takes enough time so that people can reflect.

We have, in Santa Cruz, an argument going on about unnaming our community college, Cabrillo College, because Cabrillo, who it’s named after, was a conquistador, and he did some bad things like pretty much everybody else in his time. And the process got very fraught with many letters to the editor. And it’s now been sort of put on hold. And there’s a way that the community is thinking about it together. And that seems to me right, however it turns out.

And the distinction, I guess, I might make between the abstract, dismissive, we know better attitudes of some sort of politically advanced view that sweepingly strips away lots of names, this one seems different in a sense because at least in my– working myself around to thinking that unnaming was OK, it really does have to do with a very specific local history and a community, the local history of the settler colonial institution of Berkeley in California in relation to the dispossessed populations who didn’t go away and are now back. It’s a local story and it involves local communities in a way that some of the more sweeping dismissive ones don’t.

And in my feeling, I guess, my feeling that unnaming in that context, that is a learning or a teachable moment of a certain kind, potentially. And I don’t think this one– and I think Andrew’s last chapter is devastating in the way that the casual and self-serving way that the university rubber stamped this one covered its ass, basically, in this process.

But I do think, overall, unnaming Kroeber Hall to make Berkeley a more welcoming place for Native people who have a long relationship with Berkeley, a fraught relationship. That kind of naming, I guess, I can go for. And so I guess that’s my– as far as I got thinking through your very far-reaching question.

[BILL HANKS] Can I add just a simple minded one sentence? It’s, what I hear is a thread in a number of the comments that what I keep thinking about is the effect of unnaming on the unnamer, not on the unnamed but on the unnamer. And there’s almost a reflexive sense that, I think, goes to something that you were alluding to– well, more than alluding to, which is that if I condemn from a position that I consider better, I’m better.

And the unnaming lets the unnamer off the hook, even when it’s not as bankrupt as the one– as the last chapter that you demonstrate. And I think that’s– I think that’s a very dangerous move that is– and I feel it hovers like an atmosphere around a lot of the discourse which condemns because I’m good enough to condemn, because I’m 100 years later, and I’m– like you said, you need different independent reasons for doing it, not just because we know better.

We know better.

Yeah. Because we don’t know better, actually. And we need to do much more than change names. That can only be a beginning. We’ve got to get that stuff out of the museums. We’ve got to– we need to do something constructive.

I mean, I also entirely support the unnaming. If it’s an open wound, take the name away. The rest of the arguments fall away in my mind in significance because they’re too dubious and they’re too– they reposition the one doing the critique. But if these are– but if it’s an open wound, be done with it. And I really like the suggestion that Kroeber might have liked that.

Yeah. Yeah.

So I’m sorry. I’m done.

[LEANNE HINTON] Go until about 10 after.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi. My question is, just looking forward, you’re still training graduate students. You have postdocs in your groups and labs. How is this moment going to impact the next generation of scholars in your fields? And do you think it’s going to diminish the academic courage or the ability of people to consider studying groups that they’re not a part of? I’m just really curious about how you think this unnaming of Kroeber Hall and really the erasure of his legacy on campus, although, it is very complex and painful, how it will impact your scholarship moving forward?

[ANDREW GARRETT] Scholar students, I mean, I think it’s quite different in different fields in linguistics. I mean, the Kroeber Hall business itself, I think, doesn’t have any particular impact. That’s just like a small perturbation or whatever. But in general, the challenge of how to reconfigure the field of linguistics so that we are respectful– so that we include Indigenous people and we are respectful in our relations with Indigenous people so that this will not happen to us in 100 years, that’s an interesting challenge.

And linguists have been– linguists are behind– I don’t know, it’s always– the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It seems to me that linguists are behind anthropologists in that respect that anthropologists have been thinking about this harder for a longer time and maybe have gotten themselves into a bit of paralysis. But they have been thinking about it longer and harder than linguists have.

In the last– the very last chapter of the book, I do talk about a few ways in which linguists, I think, don’t take to heart some of what I think are the lessons of the Kroeber story, but some do, and things are changing. It’s not a very helpful answer, maybe, but that’s what I got.

[BILL HANKS] The kind of fieldwork people do today is entirely different. One of the themes in Andrew’s book is about moving away from the textual collection. It’s not that people move away from textual or textuality, it’s a move toward pragmatics and interaction. It’s a positive move, not a– and it generates a lot of stuff.

But there’s a lot more– there’s a lot more care with how one interacts with– I mean, many of the most offensive practices that are reduced in relation to Kroeber, people just simply don’t do that. I’m not saying they’ve got it right. I mean, it’s like, when things go off the rails, you avoid that particular one, you’re going to have another problem, probably. So it becomes a process.

What there is that Andrew alluded to and Jim certainly knows because he’s been a very, very important shaper of this, I don’t know of any field as given to self-critique and self-immolation.


No, I mean it, though. I mean–

But the result could be paralyzing.

Yeah. Well, when you’re on fire, it’s paralyzing.


And so it’s a– I would say, it’s like a constant struggle. So I’m a– I have a background in both fields. And I’m very into arguing from evidence, it’s just the way I’m– was trained and wired. And the self-critique is important but at the end of the day, I want to learn about the world and I want to engage the world outside myself and my own shortcomings.

And I think that’s– I mean, this is not an answer more than a extended reflection, but it’s really– it doesn’t end this issue. And it doesn’t– I mean, I’ll just put a place marker for a different discussion because it’ll take too long, but as a Mayanist, we have many analogs of what we’re talking about here. We have the killing fields of the 1980s in Guatemala and the emergence of the Pan-Maya movement out of the ashes of that. We have the Rigoberta Menchu stole ballyhoo and all kinds of displacement of Maya people, and 500 years of colonialism.

So this is– it’s– I would say that I think the problem for an anthropologist is ubiquitous. It doesn’t matter where you work. Anybody who works in the Americas anywhere knows that they’re working in the shadow of Holocaust, almost. Well, Holocaust. And so your– and you don’t get it– you don’t figure it out and get a solution and go forward. So I think with working with, say, PhD people who are really getting into the field and so forth, it’s just– it’s a matter of problem by problem, trying to think your way around it. So that’s not a particularly convincing answer but that’s what I would say.

[LEANNE HINTON] Thank you. So you can go– there’s two more questions, then let’s just not anybody else raise their hand.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I just want to preface my question with a quick perspective. I transferred from community college. And I was like, wow, I get to go where Kroeber and Ishi were. And I get to be studying anthropology. It’s such a historic place. And I graduated in 2013. And I had a wonderful time here. And I always recommend anthropology to everyone.

And so years later, I’m sitting at home in quarantine, saying they’re going to rip Kroeber off the Hall, his name. And I’m reading the reasons. And I’m largely unconvinced by these reasons, even though I understand Kroeber is controversial. And I’m thinking, what’s happening over there. And I couldn’t find any answers or anybody having any discussions because it did look, from where I was sitting, removed from the university, very reactive and the politics of the moment. And I was like, how did Kroeber become the bad guy?

But coming here today, I’ve been looking for answers. And finding your book and finding this talk, I just want to say that every answer that everyone– every statement everyone gave, I found brilliant and made me feel what I was missing, like, oh, here’s the discussion. So I want to thank you all for that.

And my question is in thinking of how we can get out of this, what does the panel think of maybe something like a name like Ishi Kroeber Hall? I know it sounds silly, but maybe we’re honoring a time and not a person, this history. I mean, anything’s better than anthropology and art. I mean, come on.


Anyway, that was just my question. Thank you.

[BILL HANKS] Call it Building 53. Put us in a Quonset hut.

[LEANNE HINTON] I just want to look forward a little bit because the newest buildings have– that have been named, they’re not named after people who’ve done stuff at all. They’re named after donors.


And they just– yeah, no, I mean, they just– the Meredith Morgan Eye Center, where I get my eyes done, is no longer Meredith Morgan– he was a beloved dean for three decades. And it’s just been renamed after a donor. And they pushed his statue into the corner too.

So I guess, what’s to keep– we have such high standards for who they’re named after, but I mean, take any donor that gives money, they slap their name on a building. So– well, they’ll be taken off when we can ask them, what have you done for us lately?


OK, everybody. Thank you, panelists, for a wonderful panel discussion. And thank you, Andrew Garrett.


[VOICEOVER] Thank you for listening. For more information about Social Science Matrix, please visit

Book Talk

Vincent Bevins – “If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution”


Recorded on October 17, 2023, this video features a talk by Vincent Bevins, an award-winning journalist and correspondent, focused on his book, If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution.

The panel was moderated by Daniel Aldana Cohen, Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and Director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2. This event was co-sponsored by (SC)2 and Social Science Matrix.

About the Book

If We Burn: The Mass Protest Decade and the Missing Revolution tells the story of the recent uprisings that sought to change the world – and what comes next. From 2010 to 2020, more people participated in protests than at any other point in human history. Yet we are not living in more just and democratic societies as a result. Over four years, the acclaimed journalist Bevins carried out hundreds of interviews around the world. The result is a stirring work of history built around one question: How did so many mass protests lead to the opposite of what they asked for? From the so-called Arab Spring to Gezi Park in Turkey, from Ukraine’s Euromaidan to student rebellions in Chile and Hong Kong, If We Burn renders street movements and their consequences in gripping detail. Bevins draws on his own strange experiences in Brazil, where a progressive-led protest explosion led to an extreme-right government that torched the Amazon. Careful investigation reveals that conventional wisdom on revolutionary change has been gravely misguided. In this groundbreaking study of an extraordinary chain of events, protesters and major actors look back on successes and defeats, offering urgent lessons for the future.

About the Speakers

Vincent Bevins is an award-winning journalist and correspondent. He covered Southeast Asia for the Washington Post, reporting from across the entire region and paying special attention to the legacy of the 1965 massacre in Indonesia. He previously served as the Brazil correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, also covering nearby parts of South America, and before that he worked for the Financial Times in London. Among the other publications he has written for are the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, the Guardian, Foreign Policy, the New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and more. Vincent was born and raised in California and spent the last few years living in Brazil.

Daniel Aldana Cohen Daniel Aldana Cohen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, where he is Director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2. He is also Founding Co-Director of the Climate and Community Project, a progressive climate policy think tank. He is the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green Deal (Verso 2019).

Watch the talk above or on YouTube. Or listen to it as a podcast below or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts. A transcript of the talk is available below.


[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Matrix, the other one. This is where the mind really gets blown, you know, that Keanu Reeves stuff. So I’m really, really thrilled that we have Vincent Bevins here to talk about if we burn. I’m going to say a little bit more about Vincent in a second.

Just the basic format here. I’m going to introduce Vincent. He’s going to give a talk for about 40 minutes. I will use my moderator’s privilege to ask a question or two. We’ll get some questions from you all. And then we’ll have a little bit of time for just kind of milling about, if folks want to meet Vincent.

We unfortunately, have not yet overthrown capitalism. So there are books for sale. There are five hard copies. I will handle the transaction. We’re not going to sell Vincent here during his talk. So there are five copies here. If you’d like to get a copy, get it signed by Vincent. And we also have flyers with the QR code that will take you, not to Amazon, but to the publisher’s website, if you want more info or want to buy that way. And I’ll note Vincent is not like some of us, is not a professor. And so these things matter.

All right. So Vincent Bevins is a brilliant, brilliant thinker and writer. He’s an award-winning journalist and a correspondent. He covered South East Asia for the Washington Post, reporting from across the entire region, paying special attention to the legacy of the 1965 massacre in Indonesia. He’s also served as a Brazil correspondent for the LA Times covering a bunch of South America. And before that, he worked for the Financial Times in London. And this gives a little bit of a sense of the geographic scope of this extraordinary book.

Vincent’s first book was the award-winning The Jakarta method: Washington’s anti-communist crusade and the mass murder program that shaped our world. This is a book that I have bought for many people, including for a very good friend of mine on July 4, Independence Day this year as a kind of ironic gift that went over really well. So just a really, really amazing world-shaping book, The Jakarta method. And I think this book is also going to be a reference for years to come and extremely important for people thinking about and working on radical social change.

Let me just other note quickly as well that Vincent has written for a number of other publications, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and many more. Vincent also grew up in California, if you want to talk about that. But just to step back, once again, it’s really, really, really an honor and a delight to host Vincent Bevins here. Thrilled to hear what you got to say. I read the book. So I feel spoiled. And I’m really excited to hear this version of your talk. So without further ado, Vincent Bevins.

[VINCENT BEVINS] Yeah. Thank you so much for that introduction, for putting this together. This book came out two weeks ago. I must have been running around the country doing bookstore quick talks. And this is my attempt to put together some version of the book talk that can be delivered in an academic context. Obviously, I’m not a professor. I don’t know how to deliver academic talks. But I put together very, very crude slides. Please forgive the graphics. This is the second time in my life I ever made slides.

But I’m going to try to talk about the book in a way that can introduce what it tries to do, and also some of the things that emerge out of it that I think could be relevant here at Berkeley. It’s really good to be back. I went here like 15 to 20 years ago. So it’s really great to be back. Yeah. Please put up with me being bad at lecturing and PowerPoint.

So this book is really a work of history written by a journalist. It’s a book of history that focuses on the entire world from 2010 to 2020. Obviously, you can’t really cover everything that happens in the world over the course of 10 years. So like most works of history, it picks a particular set of concerns, a particular set of questions around which to organize what to include, with which the answers that it tries to provide a question– sorry, it is revolved around a certain question. It tries to provide answers to that question.

Now, this book acts as if the most important thing to happen in the 2010s is a eruption of mass protests around the world. So everything indicates that from 2010 to 2020, more people participated in mass protests than at any other point in human history. These protests were often experienced as euphoric victory at the moment of the eruption. But then after a lot of the foreign journalists like me have left, and we look at what actually happened, the outcome was very different than what was originally expected or indeed hoped for.

So the question that really drives this history around which it is built is, how is it that so many mass protests led to the opposite of what they asked for? And to construct a history around that question, I carried out 225 to 250 interviews in 12 countries, with people that either put the movements together, or responded to them in the government, or lived through these eruptions around the world.

And so the answer to the question is really the history itself, right. This book is not structured as an argument. It’s not me saying, this is what happened. I think the only answer to that question is really in the events themselves. But to try to give a talk around that approach to history, I want to explain how I did approach that history, and what sort of comes out of that approach.

So the first thing, very, very quickly. If you go back to the history of protest in general, or the ways that human beings have responded to injustice over the centuries, it becomes very clear. And if you look at the work of Charles Tilly, American sociologist, that in the moments when people experience injustice or believe that they should respond to elites that are abusing them, people respond with what they already know, what they already know how to do, even if this is not the thing that would work the best, right?

So “in moments of rebellion, people turn to what is familiar, even if something unfamiliar might work much better.” And the language he uses is repertoire of contention. And that word repertoire is fittingly theatrical and musical. There’s a set of things that people know how to do, whether or not they’ve already happened in a given country, or they’ve seen them somewhere else. And they, sort of, improvise in the moments in which they’re trying to respond to injustice.

And there’s another concept he has, which is the invisible elbow, which is that unlike the theory of history, which the Adam Smith’s idea of the invisible hand, that history is not driven forward so much by rational intentional planning, but by what you do in response to unexpected difficulties or unexpected opportunities. And he has this, I’m not getting into. It’s a long metaphor, where you like bang open the door with your elbow.

And then this is another book that is really important for framing how I approach this history. So back in the era of the Russian Revolution, Lenin said that there are decades when nothing happens. And there are weeks when decades happen. But in the era of social media, things quicken even more than that. Things move at such a rapid pace that often decisions are made in a split instance.

And then social media allows for a real flattening of space and time, which allows for, I believe, the transfer of solidarity across countries, which is quite inspiring. But also allows for people to see something else that happened somewhere else in another part of the world, and to adopt it to local circumstances very, very quickly.

Now, another thing to understand about protest, before I get to the actual events of the book, is the role of mediation. So if you look at the history of protest, there is no protest without media. Before there was mass media, people didn’t do protests, because it didn’t make sense to do so. If you think back to an era before newspapers, before the ability to reproduce images or words about a particular event, it would not make sense to convene in the center of a square or in front of a capital, if the only people that would ever see or hear about it were the people that were literally looking at it as it happened.

And so this is a book by Todd Gitlin from Students for a Democratic Society, in which he recalls how unexpectedly that organization was overcome by the power of media, how much it provided a opportunity and challenge that the SDS at the time in the early half of the ’60s was unprepared for. And it ended up overwhelming the movement.

Now, this is global, which is the oligarchic and very important media conglomerate in Brazil. Brazil is the main narrative of the book, because of my personal experience as a correspondent based in Sao Paulo from 2010 to 2016. Globo ends up mattering quite a lot in the story.

And then of course, we have social media, which everybody knows has something to do with this mass protest decade. Now I think often the role of social media can be overstated in this decade. The cases that I choose to analyze in this book are the cases in which so many people come to the streets that a particular government is either overthrown or fundamentally destabilized.

And I think for that to happen, you have to have multiple causality. You have to have a lot of things happening at the same time. And social media is one of the things that, I think, gets you over that line. But that doesn’t mean that we are– that is about social media that these protests are a result of social media.

Now, as I said, people respond to injustice with what they know, even if other things might not work. What I think is important to understand about the 2010s is that a particular repertoire of contention, a particular approach to injustice, a particular way to respond to perceived abuses becomes hegemonic, if not indeed seeming as the only natural way to respond to injustice.

This is the Indymedia logo. I don’t know if anybody from my generation remembers the importance of this website in the Seattle protests. The early internet indeed itself grew out of Indymedia in many ways. But the point I want to make is that the particular repertoire that I think that ends up becoming really dominant in many of the cases that I look at is the apparently spontaneous and leaderless, horizontally structured, digitally coordinated mass protest in public squares or public spaces that were said to prefigure the world they sought to bring about.

Now, each one of these elements comes from somewhere. And in the book, I try to explain where they come from. But for the purposes of this talk, all that is important is that they all are things that emerge historically and ideologically. They are not the only ways to respond. This is– they don’t necessarily go together. But they seem like they must in the mass protest decade, what I call the mass protest decade. And they shape the outcomes of, I believe, of the actual protests.

So the actual story begins in 2010, because I chose to start it in 2010, because I decided to make it a story of this decade. But initially, you have a protest in Egypt built around, or responding to the self-immolation of a fruit vendor in the interior of the country. You have other groups, more concrete actors, organizational forces in that country acting in a way which is more or less normal in the North African context. They end up overthrowing an autocratic leader of that country. But that inspires an Egyptian movement, which leads to this.

And now this is the image of Tahrir square, which really serves as a inspiring signal to the world of what is possible in the beginning of the decade. The important things to say about this at this moment are that, one, the people that organized the actions against police brutality, which ended up becoming this, did not expect to be able to take Tahrir square. They did not expect to be in a position to take the capital.

Two, it was actually built out of anti-imperialist and pro-Palestine organizing. Once this happened, they were quite shocked to find the world portray them as sort of pro-western, whereas in their minds, democracy in the Egyptian context would mean opposition to US imperialism, opposition to Israel and Saudi Arabia. But what happens is that on January 25, 2010, so many people show up to this protest against police brutality that they’re able to actually get to the square.

On January 28, what happens is they go to war essentially with the police. The police battle them. There’s a violent battle encounter with the police. The police lose. At this point, this mass of individuals, little more than a Facebook group a few days prior, is in a position to do anything. They could take the centers of power. They could seize the television stations, broadcast a revolutionary message. What do they do? They take the square. Why? That’s because that’s what they knew how to do. That’s what they had been doing for 10 years in pro-Palestine rallies and in anti-Iraq war rallies. And they take the square.

And this image that is often broadcast to people like me and everyone else in the world by outlets like, CNN is indeed a horizontally structured prefigurative, and very, very inspiring scene, right. Like Egyptians of every type, communists, lesbians, Islamists, every single time, old people, young people, rich people, poor people are all breaking bread together in the square and saying, we want democracy, or we want the dictator.

The dictator eventually falls. But the dictator falls how exactly? Well, the military seizes power and promises they’re going to put on elections. But this is an incredibly powerful signal, so much that around the world, people try to replicate the Tahrir model, including in the United States in conditions where the economic and political structures are very, very different, right. So in Madrid, in Greece, in Chile, and then in Occupy Wall Street, you have the intentional replication of the Tahrir model. And again, these are situations where the national political and economic circumstances are really, really different.

In the US context, you probably wouldn’t want the military to seize power, no matter how much you didn’t like Barack Obama at the time, or how much you thought you didn’t like the bank bailout, right? I think that Occupy Wall Street ends up having a positive outcome for the United States, at least according to the standards that would have been articulated by Occupy Wall Street, precisely because it doesn’t really become a mass protest event, because it actually just serves as a way to get out a particular message to the country.

People hear a message for the first time. And it sounds good. And it transforms politics in the United States. But around the whole world, you get the reproduction of this tactic. Then what actually happens in the rest of the world? You get the imperial response. NATO uses protests around the Arab world as a pretext to launch a regime change operation in Libya, destroying the country.

In Bahrain, where there is a classic example of monarchical, autocratic injustice, there is a Sunni minority monarchy that represses the Shia majority. What happens to that protest movement is Bahrain is invaded by Saudi Arabia, a US ally, of course, and just simply crushes it, and nothing–

At this point, everyone that’s watching, not only in the Arab world, but around the world realizes, oh, If you want to, you can just crush it, as long as you are willing to pay the price to your reputation, if indeed there is any, because if you’re Bahrain, no one’s really paying attention, because you’re a US ally. You can just crush it. And people look to what happens to Gaddafi in Libya. You know, Assad in Syria looks to what happens to Gaddafi in Libya and decides, I’d rather crush this uprising than suffer the same fate as Gaddafi.

Then in Egypt itself, this happens a little bit slower. What actually happens is that the military, who said they’re going to put on fair elections, actually, sort of, does. Mohamed Morrissey wins. But behind the scenes, reactionary Gulf monarchies start to organize a new protest movement, which can be used as a pretext for a military coup, installing the pro-Saudi Sisi dictatorship that takes over in June 2013, and is still running Egypt to this day. So if you’re paying attention to what happens at the end of the so-called Arab Spring, this is what you get. You get imperial backlash from NATO, from Saudi Arabia, and then reactionary monarchies in the Gulf.

But nevertheless, in 2013 you have Wave Two of this mass protest explosion, starting in Turkey in Gezi Park, then moving to Brazil, where I’m based, as a foreign correspondent, in Sao Paulo, and then in Ukraine going into 2014. And a couple of things end up becoming interesting commonalities across these three countries. The reason I have football ultras here in Turkey is that in all three countries, Turkey, Brazil, and Ukraine, the far right shows up. They were not the people that put together the initial explosion. But they show up. In all three countries football ultras matter.

Now, randomly, weirdly, strangely, whether or not the football ultras in your country happen to be left wing or far right ends up really mattering for the outcome of these explosions. Because if you think about it, right, like, the deep assumptions at the beginning of the 2010s is like, well, if everybody comes to the streets, that’s the people. But really, it’s this particular set of people always. And if we’re talking about street battles with the cops, these kind of guys do the best.

Now in Turkey the Besiktas and Fenerbahce fans like take their banners. And they put anarchist A’s and hammer and sickle slogans into their banners. In Ukraine, the far right– or, sorry, the football ultras are far right nationalist, if not actual Nazis.

Now what happens in Brazil? Now this is like the real like narrative of the book, because I lived through it. In June 2013, the Movimento Passe Livre, a group of leftists and anarchists puts together a set of protests demanding a lower price of transportation in Brazil. In the long term, they want to make all public transportation, free in the country. But what they are organizing against is the reduction of a $0.20 increase in June.

Now, the first four protests cause some problems on the streets. They end up shutting down some major streets. So what happens is Brazil’s mainstream media asks the military police, the military police in Brazil are a legacy of the US-backed dictatorship, to crack down and repress the protesters.

Now, if Brazil’s media, if the members of Brazil’s media came from the sections of Brazil’s population that usually experience repression at the hands of the military police, they probably should have known how this was going to go. But the country was shocked by the level of violence and repression unleashed by the Brazilian military police. And it was so widespread, and so violent that it hit people like me. It hit me. But more famously, it hit Juliana Vallone and other journalists in Brazil’s mainstream media.

And this is what causes Brazil’s mainstream media to flip from saying, this is a bad group of punks and anarchists who are causing trouble on the streets to, this is a glorious uprising in defense of the right to uprise, rise up in defense of something. It became a protest for protest’s sake. And as this happens, the media, trying to explain why it is a good thing that there’s a protest, whereas when one day earlier, they were saying we need to crush these kids’ heads, they supply a new set of reasons, a new set of things that this is actually about.

Now the people that join the protests after this day go there with a different set of ideas about what is actually happening on the streets. And they enter into, first, verbal, but then ultimately, violent conflict with the original protesters. Fast forward one week later, and a lot happens in that one week. Like I remember like hour-by-hour discussions online. Like this is really the thickened history. This really matters. Like so much happens in that week.

But one week later, the new arrivals on the street that we would now recognize as the beginning of a far-right movement in Brazil violently expelled the original punk, anarchist, left-wing groups that had actually organized the thing in that sort of pressure cooker cauldron of social forces. On the streets of June 2013, various movements are born, which end up helping to remove elected president Dilma Rousseff, put Lula in jail, and eventually elect Jair Bolsonaro. So that’s a long story you can trace on its own.

But what’s important is that the mediation in this moment doesn’t just change how the world understands the event. It changes what is actually happening on the streets concretely, who goes, and for what reasons, because it must always be so. Like how are you ever going to hear about a protest? It’s going to be through the media. Like you’re not going to actually have seen it yourself, unless you were there on day one.

And again, the global media now, the global media having invented the Arab Spring, the term in the first place, it was a US academic and foreign policy that came up with the Arab Spring. Global media starts to ask, was this the Brazilian spring? But this makes no sense in the Brazilian context. There is a popularly elected social democratic president with like 70% approval ratings.

The Egyptian solution in this context would mean a military coup. And ultimately, you do get a coup of a certain kind in Brazil three years later building out of this. But this strange idea that this is actually a revolutionary situation, just because the protest looks visually similar to what’s happened in Egypt is a real problem. And as I think ends up shaping the outcome, because the way we cover it, people like me, shape the actual explosion on the streets.

Now we could do– I could talk for a very, very long time about the very controversial and complex Maidan uprising from 2013 to 2014. But we see a set of characteristics that are repeating themselves. You see elements here that we’ve seen already. And we’re going to see later.

First the explosion is unplanned, right? At the very beginning, there’s only a few dozen, maybe 100 people, sort of, pro-western liberals often working, funded by certain NGOs from the West. This is not a problem. I interview the people. They explain why they get this funding. But they don’t expect this small movement in favor of association agreement with the European Union to explode into something that really threatens the President of Ukraine.

And then, of course, outside mediation is fundamental to shaping perceptions and indeed, what actually happens on the street. So if you’re watching Russian language media, you get a different idea of what’s happening, than if you’re watching Ukrainian language media, or if you’re watching English language media. And the way that Russian language media describes what’s happening shapes the reaction in Eastern Ukraine. The way that English language media describes what’s happening shapes the response of governments in the West.

And then there’s again, there’s this flattening of different phases of the event into one thing. Because what you really have is three movements in Ukraine. You have the initial moving of movements of the pro-western liberals. And then you have a crackdown, which leads to quite a lot of normal people entering the square that are all there because of a response to police brutality, even though the original European Association agreement was not that popular. Only about 40% of Ukrainians actually thought it was good.

And then after this big surge of regular people, you have a moment in which 50% of the country supports the uprising. A lot of people do not. And then violent elements end up helping to shape the particular outcome of Ukraine. Of course, just like you had in the so-called Arab Spring, just like you started to see in Brazil after 2013, you have outside actors realizing that they can or should respond to what’s happening and getting involved with things on the ground.

And the actual power vacuum which was created by the uprising is taken advantage of by existing elites. It’s not the people that rush into the square and say, we want the end of an oligarchic economy. It’s not the people that rush into the square and say, we want police brutality to end. It’s other politicians that are waiting in the wings. And they rush in. And they make it about what they want it to make it about, which is not taking away their own money, unsurprisingly.

And then in Hong Kong, just very quickly, you see one of the beginnings of a process which happens throughout the decade, which is the reproduction of a tactic, not only in a context which is entirely different, but after the original thing did not even work. So the Occupy Hong Kong in 2014 is a copy of Occupy Wall Street, which is a copy of Tahrir square, which is inspired by Tunisia in 2010. But by 2014, it’s already clear back in Hong Kong, or back in Egypt that it didn’t work. You have a dictatorship, which is more violent and more oppressive than the original Mubarak regime.

Now, I’m skipping ahead to the second half of the decade. And a couple of things happen in the English-speaking world, and then in Indonesia where I am, where people start to realize like, oh, anybody can use social media. Like anyone can do a protest. At the beginning of the decade, I don’t know if everyone here will remember it. Often find that young people find it hard to believe. I even find it hard to believe, even though I lived through it. There was this widespread idea in the 2010s that anything that happened because of social media was inherently and necessarily progressive.

After the election of Trump, a lot of liberals in the United States flipped entirely to believing the exact opposite, that rather than something that would make the world more democratic, and liberal, and American, the internet was something that would allow foreign powers to infiltrate the US democracy and make it more Russian, or make it just bad.

So I bring this up just because I’m in Indonesia. I get to Indonesia after leaving Brazil, right after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, which is made possible partially because of a group that pretends to be like the original protesters of the 2013 June movement. This group called MBL intentionally copies the name MPL, trying to steal the thunder of the original anarchist and punk movement in Brazil. They do essentially steal the thunder to the point where now if you ask people about MPL, they think you’re talking about MBL.

Anyways, the coup happens in Brazil, parliamentary coup, I think it’s proper to call it. And I get to Indonesia. And essentially you have the reproduction of this tactic of the mass apparently spontaneous, apparently leaderless protests in the public square being put on by an Islamist group that basically wants to imprison the governor for being Chinese.

Basically, there is a popularly elected Chinese governor of Jakarta. And they use fake news manipulation of a quote on a video on Facebook to claim that he’s committed blasphemy. And then they do the same thing that everybody else is doing. They all wear the same– they all wear a color. They go to the square. And it just starts to become– sorry. I went the wrong way. So I told you I don’t know what I was doing. How are we doing?

Yeah. So it just starts to become clear that like social media, this particular tactic, the mass protest in public spaces or public squares is a tool. Anybody can use it. It can be used for anything. It’s not necessarily progressive. Direct action of a certain type doesn’t necessarily lead to an outcome dictated by which action you’re using. So yeah, I include this because I’m there.

Now rushing to the end of the decade. Because in 2019 really as the pandemic arrives, there is another worldwide explosion of protests in many, many countries. It would be impossible to cover them all right now. But there’s two cases that I look at that end very, very differently in 2019. And the reason I include them is they both build on cases that came up earlier in the decade.

Now, in Hong Kong, you have a movement, which in the middle of the year, puts quite a lot of people, perhaps like half of adults on the streets in favor of the rejection of an extradition bill. I think it’s mostly about autonomy from Beijing. But like, there is a really popular movement on the streets, which rejects this particular extradition bill.

But as things go on longer and longer in the year, there is a radicalization of tactics. And a lot of Hong Kong protesters told me that there was a virtuous or unvirtuous cycle of media attention, where the movement would do things that seem to be represented in a positive way by global media. And they got further away from the actual base of regular Hong Kongers that were on the streets in June.

And what happens at the end of the year is because this question of who’s representing the movement in which particular way really matters. Certain things happen at the end of the year, where if you want to back in mainland China, if you want to point to this or that thing that the Hong Kong protesters did and say, that’s really what it is, you could just do it. And there’s no one to say, no, it’s not.

And just like on Fox News, you could pick the small amount of Hong Kongers that wave the American flag and say, this is a movement that is in support of America. And then that would became the truth for the viewers of Fox News. And there was nobody that could say that it wasn’t. And ultimately, what happens is Beijing just waits it out, waits for everything to calm down, and then imposes their own vision of an acceleration towards a unification with the Chinese system.

Now in Chile, you have a very strange case, where once more in 2019, you have protests led by young left-leaning like often anarcho punk kids in protest of the rise in metro fares. So the idea is to keep down the price of transportation once more. This once more leads to a police crackdown, which once more leads to a huge upsurge of support in the general population. And you have the [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE], which is happening throughout the end of 2019 in Chile in really like making things very difficult for the people in power.

It matters. This is a theme in the book. But just skip past it. Mostly, it matters that union activity really makes it difficult for Chilean capitalism to proceed. But there is now, again, a huge amount of people in the streets, a huge amount of people, sort of, making it difficult for Chilean society to carry on as usual. But no one knows what to do.

What happens is Borich, who was part of the 2011 generation of protesters, who put students on the streets back in 2011 in protest of the neoliberal education system in Chile, he and other politicians come up with a deal behind the scenes in Congress and say, OK, we’re coming up with a peace accord. The peace accord says that the people on the streets are asking for a new constitution. And we’ll give it to them.

Now, the people on the streets say, actually, this is an authoritarian imposition of meaning onto us. The streets do not ask for this. You’re saying that’s what we asked for. We didn’t. You are in a top-down manner imposing meaning onto the street explosion. I think that they’re right. But I think that must always be the case with this particular type of explosion. There was never going to be a way in which the [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE] spoke with a unified voice and said, this is what we want. We will demobilize if we get it. And so strangely enough, this kind of imposition gets enough people to leave the streets.

Now, a lot of the original anarchists, and leftists, and like seasoned street fighters that started the thing hate Borich for doing this. And this is a clip that goes viral on social media in Chile. They threw beer on his face. Like one of the interviewees in the book says that he is canceled. Like the left is like, Borich has betrayed us. We want nothing to do with him.

A lot of those same people one year later told me that they were glad that he did it, because it was the closest thing to a kind of representation that could be imposed on the square, considering all the options. And it was clear he understood well enough sort of what the streets was about to come up with a solution that was relatively satisfying to a group of people. Of course, he becomes the president, doesn’t pass the new constitution.

So in one way, he wins personally. The movement has not restructured Chilean society in the way that it hoped for, of course. But as I say in the book, like, if you’re a student protester in 2011, the best you can really hope for is becoming president.


Then, once you have power, then you’ve got to get to work. If you fail, that’s on you But he was somebody that managed to ride this wave to power. So very quickly to summarize. Again, the answer there’s no answer. It’s not an argument. The book is a history. I’m looking forward to hearing what people bring to it themselves and come away with, come away from it with.

But one thing that I think is– one helpful way to think about what happens in this decade is that this very specific repertoire of contention proved incredibly effective, more effective than expected at getting people on the streets. This was so successful. And the success, this unexpected success, put so many people on the streets that you actually generated a revolutionary situation. A protest accidentally created the conditions for either a revolution or radical reform.

But a protest, as I said, something which is always about mediation and communication, and this particular type of protest, which is really about a bunch of individuals bringing their own causes to the streets without often knowing each other is very poorly suited to take advantage of a revolutionary situation. So in a situation where either you can, in the case of Egypt, become the new government, because there’s no one left.

The police ran away. They took off their uniforms. And they fled into the night. Or in other cases, where the existing government structures, the politicians, dictator, military are so scared that they’re willing to give up a lot to the streets in order to hold on to power. Both those situations require someone to elaborate what is wanted, or at least or to stand in for the larger movement to represent it.

Now, back in the era of more functional representative politics, there would have been already pre-existing democratic structures to decide who can stand in for this movement, who can articulate what it wants. I trace these tactics back to the split between Black civil rights organizations in ’50s and ’60s, which would have had mechanisms for deciding who’s in charge, and who’s allowed to speak. And then there’s a true representative process.

But this type of horizontally structured protest was either ideologically opposed to, or simply concretely incapable of taking advantage of the situation in a way which require representing the mass of individuals on the streets. So in this moment, you create a power vacuum. You either unseat the existing government, or there is a loss of power, a, sort of– the government’s off balance.

If you want to understand what actually happens in many, many cases, you look at who rushes into that power vacuum. And that can be existing elites, economic elites, military elites, a regional imperialist power, a global, the United States, the world’s largest imperialist power. And that tends to be a good way to understand what happens.

So then, again, taking this as a rubric for understanding what happens, you can– it starts to become clear that this particular type of contention, this particular type of mass protest explosion, tends to work best if it is happy with who’s ever going to fill that vacuum. So pro-systemic movements, which are happy to let what is in the air in the global system rush into that vacuum do very well. But counter systemic movements, which want to restructure the global system, which are really going to make problems for elites, either nationally or globally, are going to have a hard time, because there’s going to be a counter revolution. Revolution always leads to counter revolution.

And the fact that things like Tahrir were interpreted as if they were the Berlin Wall, I think, matters quite a bit. Because the Berlin Wall, at least in the case of East Germany. If you interpreted the Berlin Wall protests as we want liberalism, we want capitalism, that is what they got, because West Germany just came in and filled the vacuum. Now, in the rest of the former Communist world, things went very, very differently very, very poorly, which matters to the story in Ukraine, and many other places.

But the point that I come away with, again, being wildly over-simplistic, is that pro-systemic movements do OK with this kind of movement. When you properly want to restructure the system or make real problems for powerful forces, the counterattack is going to come. And you’re going to be poorly suited to withstand the counterattack.

Now, that’s basically the end of the talk. Here, all I’m saying is that this book was structured around, as I said, 220, 50 interviews that I did with people around the world. The reason they sat down with me, the whole point of this project, the reason that they would give me my their time and talk through moments which were very traumatic was that they wanted to learn from what happened. They wanted to align tactics with goals, if indeed, the problem is really just that there’s a slippage between tactics and goals than what appears to be a pessimistic book becomes an optimistic one.

So these are just some works. Professor John Charles here at Berkeley. He’s one of many thinkers around the world that come to similar conclusions about how to fix this mismatch of tactics and goals, and to be wildly simplistic. The idea is to organize proper– create proper organizations that allow for the proper exercise of collective action before there’s an explosion. Build in the off season. Build real structures that can allow human beings that want to reshape the world in the same way to act together in the moment of the uprising, because it’s very difficult to put together an organization in the uprising.

So I’m grateful to thinkers like this, including to you all here at Berkeley, for the work that they’ve done, thinking through these questions. And I’m grateful too for the invitation here to speak today, and to all of you for coming. So thank you very much.

[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] OK. Thank you so much for that deeply unsettling talk.


Oh, that you ended on the correct note. We need to spend more time together, especially post-pandemic. So here we are. And especially as war crimes proliferate around the world, including right now, it’s good to be together talking about radical politics.

One thing I failed to do earlier to offer huge thanks to the Matrix here at Berkeley for hosting and putting on this talk, to Eva Szeto, and the rest of the staff here. So thank you. And the spatial climate collaborative for hosting this event, which is something that I run. So thank you to myself. But it’s also supported by many.

I’m going to ask one question. Not the question–


Actually. And then I’m going to open it up. And we’ll take a couple of questions at a time. We’ll have a bit of a conversation. And then we’ll deformalize. And folks can come get books. I’m going to pass around these flyers that have links to the publisher’s website. Do you mind grabbing that?

Yeah. Just pass them around.

So one of the contradictions you bring up in the book that really resonated with me is that it seemed like this kind of movement that wasn’t well-organized. But it was more horizontal list, but poorly set up to take advantage of these moments. But that was the kind of movement that was really able to take off.

And at the time, there were like, what you call like normal organizations, or in the book, Leninist organizations that were functioning, but at had no ability to blow up. So like, I went to Wall Street marches before Occupy Wall Street. 2,000 people came. Half of them were selling Trotskyist newspapers. It was always a good time. But obviously, it did not have the ability on its own to grow.

And in Brazil, as you mentioned, like the Workers’ Party, the housing movement. There are a lot of big protests in Sao Paulo before the big ones. But they didn’t– they seemed to have a ceiling, which was pretty low. So I wonder if you could just speak a bit about this like, I guess paradox between the kind of movement that can blow up seems to be the kind of movement that can’t take advantage of blowing up.

And is that because of social media, which you talk about is that just that the organized left has been in a long creative decline, but could rebound and just learn from what happened last decade and do better. Like maybe just speak a little bit about that weird paradox, where existing well-organized movements just couldn’t explode. And the ones that could explode, couldn’t take advantage.

[VINCENT BEVINS] Yeah. Let me get back with this thing. I want to turn it off and on. Yeah, that’s a fantastic question. And in the book, I try to distinguish between two types of things that make concrete horizontality in the streets happen. I try to distinguish between the self-conscious, the ideological belief that this kind of a structure of protest, or indeed of social movements is the right or the best way to organize things.

And in the case of Brazil, the MPL believed this. A lot of what made the PT and the MST organized, either the political party that was running Brazil at the time, or a left wing social– A lot of what made them so frustrated with MPL is that they believed that there really were mechanisms that allowed for a social movement to make claims on the state and operate in an effective way. But they believed actually that this was the best way to organize.

In other situations, in other cases around the world, Egypt is one that I’ll bring up, because there was a picture on the screen of Tahrir square. It was not that there was a self-conscious belief in horizontal totalism. There was concrete horizontality, which emerged as a result of decades of the neoliberal decimation of social structures in Egypt.

A lot of the original people that put on the January 25 and January 28 uprisings would have loved to have powerful unions, and political parties, and revolutionary organizations. They were putting together the best of what they could in the years between 2005 and 2011. They were just very, very weak and ended up not having as much of a influence on the outcome, as they would have liked.

So like in most moments in history, there’s a confluence of material and ideological factors, which makes certain things happen. And I think social media is one of the material factors. Social media makes it slightly easier to get people on the streets all at once. Zeynep Tufekci, Turkish sociologist talks about this, talks at length about how much work was really put into putting or getting the Black civil rights movement protests together, how it took like years of actual organizing, which meant that everybody knew each other. They had an idea of what they were all doing.

Social media allows people to all see the same viral post, and be out there the next day, often with their own understanding of what makes this possible. So depending on where we are, it could be more or less ideological, or more or less material that causes these uprisings to be unstructured. But then looking forward, and looking at the way that these people look at the future, I’m thinking specifically of Brazilian philosopher, Rodrigo Nunez, we cannot wish ourselves back into a different technological or social space.

We do live in a social space in which concrete structures, concrete working class organizations have been decimated. We do live in a world in which people do everything based on what they see on social media. Like literally, even if you read the news afterwards, that’s how you get all of the information.

So he does not discount the need for, at the very least, the existence of this type of unexpected mass mobilization in the future. But he argues for what he calls an ecology of organizations, ecology of movements. Basically, the idea is this thing is probably going to keep happening the better– the more organization you have now, the better you’re going to be prepared for it. It’s not a guarantee of success.

But if there’s another explosion, but then also some idea to some extent to the possible extent that there are real organizations that are willing to ideologically make the bid to represent the larger movement to say, we think it’s about this. And then they win the assent of the people that is going to put us in a better situation, going forward, than the one in the last decade.

But you can’t– yeah, the concrete decimation of organized structures is something you can’t just snap your fingers and make go away. All you can do is build the best ones you can. And know that they will be interacting with very imperfect social media firms in a very individualized and atomized society that we all find ourselves in.

[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] Thank you. And I just have to note to understand more about the decimation of these movements. You need to read Vincent’s first book, The Jakarta method. It’s very clever what he’s doing here. It’s all connected.

All right. So let’s open it up. Do you want to put up your hand? And I will just try to do three at a time. OK. We’ll start here. I see a hand back there, and then over here. Go ahead.


[VINCENT BEVINS] Yeah, both really good questions. So the criterion for inclusion in this book is mass protests that get so large that they fundamentally destabilize or overthrow an existing government. According to that criterion from 2010 to 2020, all of the countries are either in the traditional Global South or at the very least, outside of the traditional first-world. So South Korea is in there. Ukraine are in there, they’re not. They’re in a special case.

Now at the same time, I also made up that criterion myself. I could have– I could have done whatever I wanted. Why did I structure it that way? One, that is just my experience as a journalist. But two, I do think there is something about the way that Brazil is a more normal country. I mean, this book is ideally written for a global reader about the global system. I think that Brazil and Egypt are more normal countries than the United States. And I go into this in the conclusion.

The United States is the most powerful country in the world. There can never be an imperialist power that takes advantage of a power vacuum in the United States, because there’s no country that’s more powerful than the United States. In the case of western Europe, which I do talk about briefly, I talk about Occupy Wall Street when governments in western Europe decide to repress their populations using violence, like every state in the entire world, does they are not viewed by the global media as sort of crossing some line and– asking for or justifying a regime change operation.

As I say in the case of Spain and Greece, no matter how big protests got in Europe, NATO is not going to invade itself. NATO is not going to bomb itself like it did in Libya. And also just in the case of what happens in the United States in 2020, which I think is really quite relevant. I just wasn’t here. So I figured the best way for my book to interact with what everybody lived through here from 2014, starting 2014 Ferguson, right, to 2020 with the George Floyd uprising was, I think, to come with their own experiences of what happened and have that in the back of your mind, interacting with what’s in the book.

And I’ve been grateful to hear that some people said that is indeed what happened. And then yes, independent media. So media Midia Ninja does come up. I think they come out like right after June 2013. I think that the– Yeah, I think that they sort of emerged from that cauldron. And they’re one of many, many organizations that are born in that moment. And so to the extent that journalism is going to exist, I think it’s going to be dominated mostly by large corporate outlets like the ones that I work for.

This is going to be something, again, you can’t snap your fingers and wish your way out of it. But the more that there is, given the recognition that any kind of an uprising or proper social struggle will also have the media as a terrain of struggle, understanding that, I think, it becomes clear that the more tools you have at your disposal to put out a message to cover things, from your perspective, to try to tell the truth above, and around, or below what’s happening from the mainstream outlets, which are going to have their own particular ideological assumptions. This really matters.

And so yeah. So independent media is another thing– is another one of the structures, I think, that can be built as part of this learning process, looking back on the 2010s. Yeah. So I think that what you’ve just described is possible. But the inverse is also possible. So it can be the case that protests get a lot of people in the streets. They expend a lot of energy, then nothing happens. And that makes them disillusioned or that causes them to demobilize.

The exact opposite can happen. A protest can be the beginning of a movement, because people get out there. They realize what it really needs to be done. They meet other people. They realize how– they realize– at the same time that they realize how long the path is to real change, they can see the path. And then there’s a lot of experiences of people getting together in a big protest movement, and then building on that. So it can go really either way. And again, like, that’s a point– that’s kind of a point that I try to make throughout the book.

Like anything can go either way. Like a protest can be used by– yeah, it’s a tool. A protest can be used. And this relates to your second question. In 2019, there was a coup in Bolivia. That coup was preceded by protests. Like in the ideological framework of the early 2010S, that would have been very strange, because all protests were good.

But if you look at the history of Latin America going back to the coup in 1964 in Brazil, or in 1973 in Chile, the US-backed coup that removed Salvador Allende and installed the Pinochet regime, there was always protests before. Like they got the middle class and reactionary elements on the streets of protest. And then the military would use that as an excuse to do what they were going to do, which was to seize power. And this is what happened in 2019.

You can have protests in the future. And this is something that I like beg, in the conclusion, like journalists like me to pay attention to. Like who is actually in the streets? What are they actually asking for? What would actually happen if they win? Because often, journalists like me from major corporate outlets around the world, the only thing they pay attention to is, like is the government good or bad? And if it’s an enemy of the United States, then protests are always good. And if it’s an ally of the United States, then protests are always bad.

But like, the concrete configuration matters. And like this particular type of protest, I didn’t really mention this in the original talk, I did a little bit, requires, I think too much– relies too much on people like me to interpret a very discrete set of moments and provide a neat explanation. But given that people like me will do a very bad job of answering that question, everyone just needs to be as aware as possible of that dynamic, that a protest can go either way. It can have different elements. It can change from one day to the next. It can go upwards or downwards. It can mobilize people. It can inspire people. Or it can do the exact opposite.

So in the book, I look at– I recount 13 mass protest events. But then I ultimately decide that three of them aren’t really protest events. And so there’s 10. Seven of them go backwards. And three of them are either somehow victories or a mixed bag. As a rule, the more powerful and autonomous of a labor movement you had, the more likely it was for things to go well.

Now the original Tunisian revolution, which inspired so much of the rest of the so-called Arab Spring, would not have happened without the [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE] French, [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE], which was a large and well-organized labor movement, which had some autonomy from the Tunisian state, unlike the Egyptian labor union, which did not have autonomy. It was totally subsumed into the post-Nasserist social structure.

The [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE] had a large radical element in the mid-level of the union structure. So there was like Tunisia is quite intertwined intellectually with France. There was a lot of Maoist that had been in Paris in the mid-level of the [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. And also, there was other concrete like, even like lawyers organizations, proper civil society organizations, which made Tunisia initially an actually successful revolution in the way which almost no other North African or Middle Eastern case was.

South Korea, the Candlelight revolution, which is very briefly in the book, which is like a clear success, labor plays a huge role. And then in Chile, labor action in the ports plays a huge role in actually making the government need to do something. Because a government in a capitalist economy can tolerate people walking back and forth for six months. That’s not a problem. If the economy grinds to a halt, then they have to do something about it. So as a very, very broad rubric for understanding who’s the most successful, the more powerful, and organized, and genuinely autonomous working class movements you had, the better things went.

So I’ll do yours first, because I think the answer is simpler. Most people, no, do not have an answer. I found this with like org– I mean, like, I found this with like, organizers of movements around. Like because, like, many, many people that lived through 2013 in Brazil, every time something like that happened somewhere else from 2013 to 2020, we would watch it very carefully, and think like, oh, are they going to have their version of June 2013? Like, how do they think this is going to end? And like, without calling out who they are, or which movements these were.

Like I did have conversations with major figures that were either organizing or representing some of these movements in other countries towards the end of the decade. And I was like, yeah, but how is it like? What do you think’s going to happen? And there wasn’t– like there literally wasn’t an answer. The idea was just, kind of, like this deep– I think, like– and this is an assumption that I think that I held too, until June 2013. Is that if everybody– if enough people come out, if everybody comes together behind a just cause, somehow this pushes history forward in like a mystical, or like, teleological, or religious sense.

Like it just happens. Like we’ve showed the government what we want. And either they already knew, or in the case of Brazil, they also wanted the same thing. But they were like, we already want– like, why are we fighting? We actually all want the same thing. Or they knew, like we’re in the case of the Hong Kong in 2014, they demonstrate very clearly that there is a yellow movement that wants a particular system in Hong Kong. And that they– and they demonstrated that Western media will reproduce that movement positively. Beijing knew all that. They knew that very, very well for decades. That was the whole point of the yellow movement.

So no, often– and, then, in the case of Brazil, for example, just go back to my own experience, not only did people not have varying or non-existent answers as to how this was supposed to lead from one thing to the next, people like me in June 2013 were called upon– were handed this very strange task of going out into the streets, talking to 11 people, and then coming back and telling the world what the protests were about.

And what happened, and I recount this in the book, is very strange. Without any of us wanting to do this, we all came back with a different version, which flattered our own ideological predispositions. Like I had a particular idea, which lined up with my idea of what kind of things should be happening in Brazil. And everybody did this. And I think this is the Globo logo. They did this.

I talked to– so, in the book, I speak to the leaders of the [SPEAKS FOREIGN LANGUAGE] the original punks and anarchists that organized the protests in June 2013, as well as Fernando Haddad, who’s the mayor at the time. And now he’s the finance minister of Brazil. No one thinks this happened in a conspiratorial way.

But Globo, the major, sort of, right-leaning oligarch-owned media outlet redefined what happened on the streets, not out of– not on purpose, just because they’re trying to come up with what is a good thing that a protest can be about. And they don’t come up with the decommodification of public transportation that the anarchists would have wanted. They come up with, yeah, anti-corruption, which is like, again, like means nothing. Like everyone’s against corruption, right? Like it’s tautological. Everyone’s against corruption, right?

What kind of anti-corruption? The specific type of anti-corruption that Brazil got was a group of extreme right judges pretending to be apolitical that were working behind the scenes with the United States government and breaking all the laws. But initially, you could say anti-corruption. It’s like, oh, yeah, we’re all anti-corruption. I’m anti-corruption. I’m anti-crime. I’m anti-bad things, right? OK.


To come back to your question, I think, and this is me. I’m trying– I try not to speak personally, but sort of summarizing what comes out of a lot of conversations at the end of the book. I think that anyone can imagine a situation in which basically every single tactic is justified or legitimate, violence, destruction of property. Like if you can imagine– everyone can imagine like a situation in which something can be justified, and a situation in which a particular action, even if justified, is counterproductive, because it will be you’ll lose the information about it. You’ll lose the communications struggle. You’ll end up being portrayed as adventurous.

So like, I keep– there’s quite good clip on YouTube of Fred Hampton from the Black Panther Party, in which is, of course, a group which is not anti-violence, right? They like are formed here in Oakland following around cops with guns. He denounces elements on the White new left for being adventurous. And it’s like really good like three-minute clip on YouTube. And he’s not saying violence is bad.

He’s saying that the way you’re acting right now is going to hand our enemies a tool with which to crush us. You have to build. It has to be part of a larger strategy. It has to be submitted into a more concrete well-thought-out struggle that will lead somehow from A to B. So again, it’s like really, really easy and stupid answer. But like context and relationship to a larger theory of change, I think, is the only way to answer that question. Yes.


Yeah. I’ll go backwards. Absolutely. This is the thing. In January 6 and January 8, like, I was like texting Rodrigo Nunez as January 8 happened. And I was like, oh, they’re having their eschatological moment, where they think that if just enough people entered the streets, that like, somehow like God will come down from heaven and deliver the country to Jair Bolsonaro.

And also there’s quite an interesting way of understanding social media. There’s a generational reading of social media, which I find quite interesting. Which is that the reading is that from 2007 to 2015, like, millennials get on social media. But then from 2015 to 2023, boomers get on social media. And they just like have different political goals. And they just use the same tools to try to end history by storming the capital of this or that country. And it doesn’t work out for anybody.

So like, a lot of people are asked like after January 8 in Brazil, like, how is this different? Because they stormed Congress in June 2013. Now his answer, he gave this answer a lot, is that the people in June 2013, they did storm Congress. But they actually still wanted the people inside to stay. I’m not sure if that’s really right.

I think that if you like Mark Weisinger, his book at the very beginning, like he establishes like a statistical correlation between how close the protests are to the centers of power, and how likely they accidentally just like unseat them. I think that perhaps if Rio was still the capital of Brazil, you might have seen an actual coup, like a violent coup in 2013.

But yeah, like, again, by June, again, I say this all the time. I’m going to say it again. Back in January– back in 2010, liberal media, especially liberal media in the United States thought that anything that happened because of social media was good. By 2020 it was the– 2020, it was the exact opposite. Like if you were to imagine now just like theoretically conjure the idea of lot of young men storming a Capitol because of a post they saw online, you would think this is probably a bad thing, rather than a good thing. This is– a lot of red flags are going to be raised.

To answer your question, yeah, like I didn’t get to this. But like, again, this was a really, really common theme. I forget the number. But in seven, or eight, out of the of the cases that I look at, it wasn’t the first thing. And this is the thing that the media makes a big mistake. It wasn’t the first thing that got people on the streets. It was the crackdown.

So like, in the case of Euromaidan, as I said, only 40% of Ukrainians actually thought that the association agreement with the European Union was a good thing. 38% were against. It was not a great agreement. But it’s the crackdown that 70% of the country supports. And then this creates this whole new movement, which often is a huge ball of energy, which does not know where to go. So I found this was a very, very common, almost like disappointingly simple explanation for a lot of the explosions, is that there’s a crackdown, there’s some kind of a government, which responds incorrectly, or there’s just because of social media.

So every state that exists that I know about right now, you can get a cop to beat you up. Like in the final instance, the reproduction of power relies on a guy with a stick or a gun to destroy the body of an individual, of a citizen. And if you go outside of whatever the rules of that particular society are, maybe the rules are a little bit more– the lines are drawn wider in like Norway than they are in like California or in Brazil. But you can get it to happen.

And this is another strange thing that came up in Hong Kong. Because there was this cycle of media reproduction of what was happening. And it ended up becoming a lot about not only the movement to change the governance system in the special administrative region, but police brutality. But like, in 2012 or 2011, surveys in Hong Kong would have not indicated that police brutality was a big issue for regular people. Like it wasn’t like Egypt, or like, Oakland, or Los Angeles, or Sao Paulo, where everybody knew the cops were quite brutal.

But in the era of social media, that thing that happens in the final instance, at the extreme, at the far end of the reproduction of state power is now visible to everybody all at once, which previously, you would have to be walking by the guy that actually got beat up or killed by the cops. So yeah, absolutely.

This is something that I found was a huge mobilizer, in addition to all the other things, I think I said, multiple causality– multiple causality over-determination are fundamental to understanding how anything can get this big. So there’s economic factors, structural factors, ideological factors, and then media factors. And absolutely, that was one.

On the books that came out 10 years later about June 13, June 2013, what I find interesting about them is they all say different things. But they’re all still right. You get a set of contradictory narratives, really contradictory narratives that are all based, in some sense, on fact. They’re all possible constructions of a truthful story based on existing evidence back to June 2013. So I spent a lot of the summer– well, I spent a lot of the summer with Brazil’s MST to say very intentionally structured social movement.

But I also spent a lot of time in Congress talking to the most powerful voices in what is left of Bolsonarismo, the extreme right movement in Congress. And they will say, our movement was born in June 2013. June 2013 was the moment when regular conservative Brazilians came to the streets, realized that we could protest, realized that we could build a new movement. And we are a movement that arose from the pressure cooker, the inspiring uprising of June 2013.

Anti-authoritarian leftists will say June 2013 was about public services. It was demands for better public services that got regular people onto the streets. They got working class Brazilians out in support of a movement that we created intentionally. That’s what happened in June 2013. The PT, not everyone in PT, there’s like, varying narratives, will say June 2013 was the beginning of a process, which allowed for a coup that was carried out with the assistance of foreign powers and national elites.

Those three wildly different narratives, I think, are all correct. They’re all equally possible. Because this particular type of explosion ends up being, I think, fundamentally illegible. And you can find in the morass so many different stories that you end up having different narratives come out of it. And that doesn’t mean that the people that come up with those narratives are lying. It’s just that’s the way these things go, which I think you can understand why a lot of the participants and organizers come to the conclusion at the end of the decade that that’s a real weakness.

Yeah. So no. It is precisely the fear of becoming authoritarian yourself, which leads to the initial questioning of hierarchical structures in the first half of the 1960s, especially in the US. And then certainly, at the end of– after the fall of the Soviet Union, the idea that taking power will mean that you will impose your will on other people. And I try to, as much as possible, trace that from its inception in a sympathetic way. Like it makes a lot of sense why people were afraid of reproducing what they saw as the errors of the Soviet Union, or the errors of other left groups around the world. It all makes a lot of sense. It is exactly– that is exactly where it comes from.

And again, I’m just going to go to him, because he talks about this in his book. And I use it in the conclusion. He says that the left, some parts of the left are paralyzed by the trauma of the 20th century, paralyzed by the ultimate– what ultimately comes out of certain organizational structures, organizational, or well-organized movements in the 20th century.

The conclusion that he comes to, after being a real part of the horizontalist anti-globalization movement in Brazil is that organization is a tool. Organization works. And if you’re going to actually use the tools that work to restructure society, there’s a possibility you’re going to make society worse. Organization can be used for good or for evil. There is the possibility that you will become worse than what you are trying to battle. But if you do not use the tools that work, then you’re abdicating responsibility and letting somebody else figure it out. That’s the conclusion that he comes to.

So what– I try to establish historically where this questioning of structure and hierarchy comes from, because it comes from, I think, the concrete decimation of left structures in the Cold War, you know, McCarthyism, I think, matters quite a bit for why the early SDS sort of takes the conclusion that it does. In the second half of the ’60s, different groups comes to different conclusions. But there’s a story in the first half of the ’60s, which really rhymes with what happens in the 2010s.

And yeah, it’s all very understandable. That is where it comes from. And then– that’s why I try to construct the book through interviews with people that had that approach. And then they took that approach into battle. And then this is what happens. So I try not to– I try not to come in and say, this is what I think about any particular structure. This is not what I think about any particular ideological approach to social change. This is what these people thought. This is what happened. This is what they think now. Hopefully, I do it in such a way that it’s not about me. But it’s precisely because people like him believed that so deeply in 2005, 2008 that I find him so credible in 2023 to come to a different conclusion.

To answer your question quickly, yes, I believe that power is, what was the word you used, spatial and infrastructural. That there are different ways to go out power across space and time. That there are many ways that you can come– that you can put real– impose costs on elites that will require them to respond, or at least take notice. But I’m not exactly sure that the squares is one.

I mean, in Tahrir square, if they wanted to, they could have just let those people live there. Like it doesn’t get in the way of anything. Like the government of Egypt could have just let those people stay there for six months, until they– and this is what happened in a lot of other places. Like a lot of other occupy-style movements, is that if they weren’t actually putting real pressure on the government, then they could just wait until people got tired, or cold, or had to go home.

So Tahrir served as a really important signal to the world, like, a bat signal of like, what we’re doing, and what we want. But I think a lot of people would come to the conclusion that should be combined with the other things that you suggested, which is to put pressure on other power centers, the economy, political, pressure, all kinds of things, strikes, boycotts, all kinds of things that you can think work alongside the, sort of, big communicative gesture of the square.

  1. I’m going to make two observations before we close. Thank you so much. The first observation is this is just such a great conversation to have. And I feel we’re like right in the nexus of organizing, reporting, and social science. And it’s a really great and fun spot, really fills the room in a way that doing just one or the other doesn’t always do so. So really, really great.

[DANIEL ALDANA COHEN] And I think in a sub-observation of that is, I think, what brings this together, is like a big book that takes on like, a big burning question, and with really clear and simple language. Like I think anybody who reads George Orwell’s Politics in the English language, which is a beautiful text, can recognize, I think, a huge amount of those– that craft in the work that you’ve done here, Vincent. So like, we’ve covered so many big ideas, but in a language that is super understandable. And for my fellow travelers in social science, taking note of that. So really, really incredible work.

The second observation is that Vincent’s handwriting is idiosyncratic, unique, very millennial. And if you’d like a piece of that handwriting, yourself, you only need to come up to me and get one of these books. And I think he will scrawl on it for you. So huge thank you to the Matrix, to SC2, for all of you for coming. And to Vincent, a round of applause for this.



Authors Meet Critics

Trevor Jackson, “Impunity and Capitalism: the Afterlives of European Financial Crises, 1690-1830”

Recorded on December 5, 2023, this Authors Meet Critics panel focused on Impunity and Capitalism: the Afterlives of European Financial Crises, 1690-1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2022), by Trevor Jackson, Assistant Professor of History at UC Berkeley. Professor Jackson was joined by Anat Admati, the George G.C. Parker Professor of Finance and Economics at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and William H. Janeway, Affiliated Member of the Economics Faculty at Cambridge University.  The panel was moderated by David Singh Grewal, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Co-sponsored by the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative (BESI) and the UC Berkeley Department of History, the panel was presented as part of the Social Science Matrix Authors Meet Critics book series, which features lively discussions about recently published books authored by social scientists at UC Berkeley. For each event, the author discusses the key arguments of their book with fellow scholars.

About the Book

Whose fault are financial crises, and who is responsible for stopping them, or repairing the damage? Impunity and Capitalism develops a new approach to the history of capitalism and inequality by using the concept of impunity to show how financial crises stopped being crimes and became natural disasters. Trevor Jackson examines the legal regulation of capital markets in a period of unprecedented expansion in the complexity of finance ranging from the bankruptcy of Europe’s richest man in 1709, to the world’s first stock market crash in 1720, to the first Latin American debt crisis in 1825. He shows how, after each crisis, popular anger and improvised policy responses resulted in efforts to create a more just financial capitalism but succeeded only in changing who could act with impunity, and how. Henceforth financial crises came to seem normal and legitimate, caused by impersonal international markets, with the costs borne by domestic populations and nobody in particular at fault.

Watch the panel above or on YouTube. You can also listen to it as a podcast below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


[MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everybody. Welcome. My name is Marion Fourcade, and I am the Director of UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix. So you all know Matrix as the place where interdisciplinarity is not merely evoked, but we’re actually– it actually happens. But it is a particularly felicitous moment when we can bring together, not only people from across the disciplines, but also from the wider world of practice.

So we are delighted to welcome today one economic historian, one economics and finance professor, one financier and theorist of finance, and one legal scholar and political scientist to discuss how financial impunity arose during the long 18th century in Europe.

In the brilliant book that will be discussed today, Trevor Jackson combines aspects of regulatory history and financial history to narrate how, during this period of political anger and economic upheaval, financial crisis went from being understood as crimes to become naturalized as disasters. And then we will have, of course, a conversation between the present and the past with these wonderful panelists.

Today’s event is part of our Author Meets Critic series. We would like to thank our cosponsors for these events, the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative, and the UC Berkeley Department of History. As always, I will mention our last upcoming events of the semester on Friday. Elizabeth Joh will close our programming for the semester with a talk on the use of algorithms by police. And then you can already look forward to our next semester.

Julia, who’s right here in the front, and who I must thank for putting together our entire events program this semester, she’s also been hard at work, and we have a lot of fantastic panels to look forward to in the spring. So I apologize my voice is a little broken. We will return on January 19 appropriately, actually, with a discussion of a very Berkeley topic, The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall, and the title, of course, of a recent book by linguistics Professor Andrew Garrett.

So now I will introduce our moderator, David. David Singh Grewal is Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law. He’s teaching and research interests include legal and political theory, intellectual history, particularly the history of economic thought, global economic governance and international trade law, intellectual property law and biotechnology, and law and economics.

His first book, Network Power– The Social Dynamics of Globalization was published by Yale University Press in 2008, and his second book, The Invention of The Economy is forthcoming from our– perpetually forthcoming– we’ll say forthcoming from Harvard University Press. So without further ado, I will now turn it over to David. Thank you all for being here.

[DAVID GREWAL] Thank you, Marion. Let’s see. Is that how– there we go. OK. So I think it’s recording. Anyhow, thank you all for being here. I’m delighted to be able to moderate this session. To my immediate left is Trevor Jackson. He’s an economic historian who teaches here at Cal, as of this year, in both the history and the political economy departments, and we’re really delighted to have him. He researches inequality and crisis, mostly but not exclusively, in early modern Europe. I think he’s developing a side business in modern crisis, and we’ll maybe hear about that in the Q&A.

His first book, which is here available at a fine book seller near you is Impunity and Capitalism– the Afterlives of European Financial Crises, 1690 to 1830, and it was published by Cambridge University Press last fall. His current research interests focus on the problem of gluts, overproduction and overaccumulation since the 17th century, the problems of temporality and finitude in economic thought, and problems in the historical measurement and meaning of capital.

Those of you who’ve had a chance to read this great book will see a lot of those themes resonate with the history he tells. He also has ongoing research interests in the histories of extinction and catastrophe, as well as early modern occupational health. That may be why a gilded– what do they call it?


A gilded guillotine is on the front cover for those interested in occupational health. And to this wonderful list of interests, I hope that he– I think he should add law because there’s a lot of legal thought, legal history in the book. And one of the things that interests me in the book is the way in which it really is, at once, a legal history as well as a financial history. So I’m delighted to be able to moderate.

And the two commentators today are, to Trevor’s immediate left, Bill William Janeway, who is an Affiliated Member of the Economics Faculty at Cambridge University, and he’s the author of Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy. He’s a Special Limited Partner of Warburg Pincus, having joined the firm in 1988 and served as head of its information technology investment practice for 15 years.

He’s chair of the board of directors of the Social Science Research Council, and the founder of the Cambridge Endowment for Research and the Janeway Institute for Economics at Cambridge University. He was co-founder of the Institute for New Economics Thinking, which many of us know and some of us have been privileged to work with, and he received his doctorate in economics from Cambridge University where he was a Marshall Scholar.

And to his immediate left is Anat Admati, the George GC Parker Professor of Finance and Economics at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. She’s the Faculty Director of the Corporations and Society Initiative, and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, writing and teaching on the interactions of business, law, and policy. Admati is the co-author, with Martin Hellwig, of The Bankers’ New Clothes– Wrong With Banking and What to Do about It. Yes. Cover, please. There we are.

And no one got fat.

Yes. And What to Do about It. And the new and expanded edition is forthcoming in January 2024.

Just got the copy last night.

Oh, very good. So I’m afraid that’s what forthcoming actually means. So I probably should stop putting–

But they did say it’s available already. It’s available in–

It’s available at fine book sellers near you.

Not yet.

Oh, or soon to be.


Online. In 2014, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, and one of the Foreign Policy Magazine’s 100 global thinkers. She holds degrees from Hebrew U, many degrees from Yale University, and honorary doctorate from Zurich. And so we’re delighted to have both commentators and Trevor. Without further ado, I think, Trevor, would you lead us through the book a bit?

[TREVOR JACKSON] All right, great. Am I audible? Great. Well, thank you, David, for that introduction, and thank you, Marion, for inviting me and for organizing all of this, and to Julia as well. And thank you all for coming out on the end of the term, reading week. I observed more than one person who I know is on leave and is nonetheless here, and so thank you for that.

So I thought what I would do is spend a few minutes talking through the narrative of the book. My publishers tell me, scandalously, that there are, at least, three to five people in the world who’ve not read it. You know who you are. So I thought I would give you a sense of the narrative and maybe belabor the historian points that might not otherwise be evident. And then try to give you a sense of what I thought I was trying to do, and maybe a few things– since this is an Author Meets Critics panel, a few things that I think I didn’t successfully do and meant to do. And so I think that’s the plan.

So the book is about impunity. And I came to impunity, in part, because of an archival disaster, which is to say that I went off looking for something that I thought I would find and didn’t find it, and I had a long, dark night of the soul in Strasbourg in 2014. And I asked myself what I had found, what the sources were telling me, and what they were telling me was a wonderful record of frauds, scams, scandals, mendacity, lies, crimes, and other assorted malfeasance. And I thought, well, perhaps there’s something here that I can historicize.

And so just to lay the groundwork, I came at this as an economic historian. Not many people are economic historians anymore, and especially so in history departments. According to the American Historical Association, fewer than 5% of historians call themselves economic historians. I was trained by one of the last great economic historians Jan de Vries of 50 years at Berkeley, and I was preoccupied by trying to think of how the future of my discipline might look. How might I bring together history and economics in a new way? How might I make it interesting and intelligible to history departments?

And in that dark night of the soul in 2014, I thought to myself, what are the big questions that the field is pursuing? And, of course, 2014 was the year of Thomas Piketty, and everyone was talking about inequality. And I thought to myself, well, maybe there’s a way that I can try to tell a story about inequality that makes it interesting and intelligible to historians. Because I’d already found that when I talk to my historian colleagues about inequality very frequently, the answer that I would get is, do you just mean economic inequality?

And I would usually say, what do you mean just? But is there a way that I can push the concept further, while still hopefully trying to keep it analytically tractable? With ultimately the pitch perhaps unsuccessful, that inequality might be a way of bringing history and economics back together. That if we think about it, maybe inequality is the only thing that all historians work on to some degree or another, given that we’re all concerned with questions of power and different forms of injustice and inequality over time.

So with that in mind, I tried to conceptualize something that I thought would be tractable and applicable to the documents that I had found. And so what I did is try to move a lot of the conceptual framework of impunity as it currently exists in the world of international law, mostly coming since the 2002 founding of the International Criminal Court, which has, as its stated purpose, ending impunity, and so they have a legal idea of what impunity means, and seeing if I could adapt that to the history of financial crisis.

Because I felt like there were similar problems at work. When the ICC tries to prosecute world leaders for mass crimes, they tend to run into a few specific problems. There’s a problem of scale insofar as many legal systems are better equipped to handle individual crimes, say, murder rather than large-scale crimes, there’s a problem of precedent in that, malfeasance tends to exceed existing laws and regulations, and there’s a problem of culpability in that world leaders tend not themselves to be personally guilty of any sort of crime.

And I thought, well, maybe these problems and other attendant problems seem, to me, similar to the problems that I thought I was seeing, specifically, as I was researching the 1720 financial crisis. And so I thought, can I take these ideas, can I apply them to financial crises of the past, and in doing so generate some new way of thinking about economics and inequality? That was the plan.

So the book begins, really, with two related cases in the early 18th century. The first is the bankruptcy of someone called Samuel Bernard, who was the richest man in Europe. He was the personal banker to Louis XIV. And in 1709, for a series of hilarious high jinks that get terribly out of hand, he goes bankrupt. And in doing so, he undercuts the basis of something called the Lyon faire, which was the quarterly clearing mechanism for much of the finance and commerce in southeastern France, through the Rhine corridor, and into Switzerland.

People in an age before, well, bank accounts and a lot of available specie, would keep running tabs with each other over long periods of time, and they would meet, ostensibly, quarterly to clear these tabs, and some relatively small amount of specie would change hands in theory. Very often they would just roll over the outstanding debt and proceed again. But they needed some circulating liquidity to make this transaction work, and Samuel Bernard provided that.

And so when he went bankrupt, the Lyon faire collapsed. Credit dried up throughout this entire arc of Western Europe. This coincided with the coldest winter in half a Millennium, in which, suddenly, the Lyon government found itself needing to provide more support to more hungry people exactly when it didn’t have the tax revenue from the faire, and so there was a social disaster.

Samuel Bernard gets a pardon, and, in fact, his creditors get prosecuted, which was the opposite of the normal procedure in which debtors would be prosecuted and sent to debtor’s prison. He’s the personal banker of the king. He is too big to fail. He has connections to the judicial system. He gets special treatment.

In 1716, following the War of the Spanish Succession, the French government is saddled with a huge amount of outstanding debt, and they have recourse to something called the chambre de justice, the Chamber of Justice. Which was a common legal procedure in old regime France in which the entirety of the French financial community, in the case of 1716, 4,399 people, would collectively be prosecuted in the belief that they must have done something wrong.

And this being old regime France, there’s no presumption of innocence, there’s no right to counsel. Most people would flee. They would pay bribes to not be prosecuted. We generally interpret this as a structured default. Instead of just not repaying the debt, what you do is force the people that you owe to pay you in fines, which makes it easier to repay the debt.

And so this is a moment where the fiscal crisis, the French monarchy is– at least, within the legal system of the French monarchy worked out as though the creditors are all criminals and are prosecuted for that crime. And so that seems a far distant world from the one that we live in today. And so that’s where it begins. In this moment in which financial crises are interpreted through a legal order and the sovereign has the scope to decide who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t.

The book ends with the Panic of 1825, which again, through a hilarious series of circumstances is the first, perhaps, endogenously produced financial crisis in the history of the Western financial system. Meaning that it isn’t necessarily the result of wars, of famines, of some exogenous surprise, it’s generated by the financial system itself.

In the working out of the Panic of 1825, not only is nobody prosecuted, but it never even crosses anybody’s mind. It isn’t even a thinkable, intelligible, meaningful possibility. And so the book tries to explain how we go from the world of Samuel Bernard and the chambre de justice to the Panic of 1825. Or in the tagline of the book, how do we move from a world in which financial crises are understood to be crimes to a world in which they’re understood to be natural disasters? That’s the large arc of the story.

So what I thought this was going to do, or what I intended it to do was a few different things. So one I’ve already alluded to, which was to try to produce new ways of thinking about inequality that might speak to inequality scholars on the economist side of economic history, but also might provide a intelligible point of entry to my historian colleagues. Beyond that, I was trying to historicize what I viewed as a pretty commonly held narrative, which is about the emergence of the economy as a separate sphere of social life, and especially of governance.

I mean, this is almost a classic Karl Polanyi story– I know there are many sociologists in the room– that there was some time before in which economies and economic lives are embedded in social life and political life, and something happens to remove the economy. And I thought maybe this is a way of tracing that emergence of finance, specifically, so that that could confine the scope of what I’m looking at as a separate sphere with its own institutions of governance, its own regulations, its own special norms.

And that even in the case of 18th century European finance, its emergence as, at first, a separate place, because financial markets were physical locations, Exchange Alley in London, the Rue Quincampoix in Paris, where people would go to physically exchange securities. And in the literature of the moment, these were conceived as specific places with their own specific rules and specific people with strange languages and strange procedures.

Nearly every financial crisis that I read about tended to also involve some sort of moral panic about, in the early stages, people across religions doing business with each other. That finance is this place with no rules where Christians and Muslims and Jews might do business with each other. It was a place– because it was unregulated from which women were not yet excluded. And so there was a whole moral panic in the pamphlet literature in English about women getting access to money that other people couldn’t control.

And so I found like this felt like not just the emergence, conceptually, of a separate sphere, but almost socially, politically, that there was something to trace. Not just a teleological emergence, but a contested one in which there’s a possibility of emergence that meets in crisis is then regulated and tamped down on until it emerges again.

Which gets to the second thing that I was trying to do, which is that after seven years of arguing with my fellow grad students about causality, and what is history, and what are agents, what I ultimately settled on was a narrative important that I meant to be genuinely dialectical in the sense of a set of conflicts producing a crisis that has some resolution, the resolution, in turn, sets up and produces the conditions for the next crisis.

And I think we are already willing to think that insofar as we’re very willing to think that regulation is always regulating the previous crisis. And a new crisis tends to be understood given the distorted historical memory of the previous one. And so I wanted to take that seriously even at a material level. What kinds of financial activities were possible given a past set of regulations, and what kinds of ways around them generated new forms of instability?

Which gets to the last thing that I was trying to do which is that although it’s a book about financial crises, and although I would try to claim to be an economic historian, and although it’s got capitalism in the title, fundamentally, the big game that I was hunting was actually about crises of political legitimacy. Because I felt like what I saw again and again in moments of crises following which the public perceives some set of injustice that hasn’t been dealt with, I felt like I perceived, potentially, an escalation to a crisis of political legitimacy.

You see this a bit in the aftermath of the 1720 crisis, much more profoundly in the 1780s and 1790s. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. Again, this isn’t a teleological move towards more or less, but rather different moments in which there are different possibilities of legitimacy crises. And that, especially by the end, after 1825, the idea that the inequalities of the emerging capitalist economic order, or, say, the costs and consequences of financial crises were unevenly distributed.

That although this no longer had a legal implication, I think at the popular level, that the sense that there is an injustice to that world of 19th century capitalist economic life was one of the motivating factors behind most of the large-scale ideologies of the 19th century. That most 19th century political ideologies, in some way, are addressed to the question of like, whose fault are the economic injustices around us?

And perhaps for the nationalists, it’s the foreigners, and for the antisemites, it’s the Jews, and for the socialists, it’s the capitalists. But in general, that most ideologies of the 19th century were trying to deal with this question that was never quite resolved, and that they never quite had the language to deal with. So those were the things that I was trying to do.

There are a couple of things that I think I failed at. I’m going to preempt my critics. We’ll see. So the first is an empirical strategy, which is to say, I needed to choose my cases. And a thing about studying exceptions, mistakes, crimes, violations of laws and orders and so on is that people who break laws and get caught leave archival traces. People who break laws and don’t get caught don’t. People who don’t break laws at all might not leave archival traces. And so it’s very difficult to assess the denominator and the changing prevalence over time.

But I’m in the Social Science Matrix, to use the Social Science term, what I did is I selected on the dependent variable and chose cases, both because there was an archival density and so the sources were talking to me, but cases that left enough of a paper trail of malfeasance that there was a story to be told there. In my mind, the harsher version of this is that I made up a concept and went around early modern Europe saying, oh, there it is. Oh, but it’s not that.

I think there is a truth to that. The more that I read about the construction of economic concepts, the better I feel because, to some extent, I think we’ve maybe all done that. But what I didn’t do is produce some sort of falsifiable, tangible, measurable empirical thing that I could say, this is 10 impunity as opposed to 5. Some way of tracing it across time.

Now, often when I talk to my historian colleagues and I say this, they say, well, look, that’s just what history is like. We can’t know the total set of the past. We know the imperfect record that remains to us, and it’s very difficult to assess the total set of things that we can’t know. And I think that there is a truth to that.

At the same time, though, I think that in an absence of some sort of falsifiable set of claims and a set of cases that may be selected on a selection bias standpoint, then may themselves be epiphenomenal, I’m actually not persuaded that the meta-level story holds up as strong as each individual case. In the end, what I hoped to do was to be either generative or perhaps provocative enough that there might be further studies on differing forms of impunity.

I observe that there are many historians, including my excellent colleague, Puck Engman, who I don’t think is here, but nonetheless is working on transitional justice. Lots of historians are working on transitional justice in different moments and different contexts. And it’s a concept that’s providing a way for us to talk to each other across fields. And I thought maybe impunity is a way to do that. Maybe that’s a way that I thought I could bring historians and economists together to talk about inequality, but maybe, in fact, it’s a way of talking to sociologists and political scientists.

And I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find professors at law schools turn out to be terrific interlocutors to think about impunity and are very interested in the subject, and so it may have ended up doing something different from what I intended. But that’s what I thought I was doing, and I think maybe what I ended up doing and not doing instead. And so I’ll stop there before I carry on.

[WILLIAM JANEWAY] It may turn out that some of what I have to say may ease your concern, Trevor, about what you failed to do, in part. But first, I just want to begin by saying that this book deeply enriches a domain of scholarship research experience that has historically been underserved. And that is the frontier where the dynamics of the political process meet the dynamics of the market, and particularly, the dynamics of the financial markets.

And this notion of the establishment of the market economy, and particularly the financial markets, as an autonomous domain, a regime that has its own rules and laws, and which is exempt from the broader moral economy is a very powerful concept. And, of course, there’s a resonance from 1825 to 2008/9 when nobody went to jail except one junior banker, who, actually, was a foreigner.

Now, one question that that offers, and I’m going to come back to this, and this is where I think I would give you, at least, a partial pardon, the book, certainly, pushed me to think hard about, what are the conditions under which the moral world reaches out and embraces the financial system, and imposes punishment. Because we do have examples that come after 1825, in fact, in some cases very much, but I’m going to come back to that.

First, I do want to point out one of the other more specific resonances that I found very powerful is the manner in which John Law’s system in France, creating an enormous sea of liquidity in the context of a dysfunctional fiscal system, seems an awful lot like what happened in this country, and in the Western world, but particularly in the United States, in the aftermath and the context of the Great Recession, with austerity descending from what we thought, or perhaps I should say, ascending from a corpse which we thought had moldered away to assert itself across the Western world, and, in fact, across everywhere but China between 2010.

And then under the impact of COVID, the quote, “unconventional monetary policy,” serving as the functional equivalent of John Law’s system in motivating an enormous flood of liquidity into financial markets, into the financial system, which in turn engenders the unicorn bubble, the excesses and extensions of which fully meet the requirements of being resonant with the South Sea bubble. So that, I thought, was a really, really useful connection.

One aspect of this– and I think the discussion in the book of the currency Bullion Controversy in Britain approaching 1825, establishing an intellectual frame in which you have the basis for laissez-faire at a pretty deep level. David Ricardo is a really, really strong thinker and political presence, not unlike a world that your colleague, Brad DeLong, knows better than anybody else in this room, a world in which efficient markets, rational expectations, the notion that markets are self-correcting mechanisms that can be relied upon creates an environment in which we can have the global financial crisis, and then constrain the response to the global financial crisis.

Now, I do want to point out, and for those who are interested in modern, the modern echoes that this book generates. Some things worth taking a look at, what happened to the Baring family in 1890 in the first Barings crisis. They didn’t go to jail, but Barings had been, as demonstrated in the book, in the years up to 1825, the historian of the Barings Bank referred to it as– the title of the book is The Sixth Great Power of Europe.

The Barings partners, most of whom were members of the House of Lords when that was not a way of, as Boris Johnson said, embarrassing people who used to work– people who were in the House of Lords by nominating your 28-year-old personal assistant to be a peer. The Barings were wiped out. They were liquidated in 1890. So something was going on there.

And I do think there’s a linkage– for those who really want to read deeply into this history, there’s a linkage from this book to David Kynaston’s great three-volume, History of the City of London, which is replete with scoundrels, some of whom enjoy impunity, and some of whom wind up in the slammer, having been engaged in financial manipulations and frauds of one kind or another.

But then coming a little more closer to our time, not quite my generation, 1932, ’33, the Pecora hearings are an extraordinary moment in the financial history of the United States. After the Great Crash, after the bank crisis, the Senate Banking Committee, when Hoover was still president with a Republican chair, organizes an investigation of Wall Street. It goes nowhere. There’s no energy in it until Roosevelt becomes president, induces the, now Democratic, chair of the Banking Committee to reactivate the hearings.

An extraordinary lawyer called Ferdinand Pecora, hammer and fist hammer and tongs, goes after Wall Street. Sam Insull, the great entrepreneur of the utility system in Chicago flees the country ahead of the indictment. The chairman of the National City Bank, largest bank in the United States goes to jail for tax evasion. Richard Whitney, the president of the New York Stock Exchange goes to jail for stealing his client’s money. There is no impunity at that moment.

But then even closer to home– and this I remember vividly. In fact, I knew some of the players in this game. In 1990, there was the savings and loan crisis. It was nothing like the scale of the global financial crisis. But under that radical, woke President, George H. W. Bush, 200 bankers, including Mike Milken went to jail. They did jail time for that circle, that crisis within a segment of the American financial system.

In 2000, the meeting– well, the chairman of WorldCom and the then, not quite chief executive, but he became chief executive of Enron were each sentenced to 25 years in jail for their frauds that were revealed in the context of the breaking of the tech bubble. And then, of course, most recently, Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX. I don’t know– we don’t know how long he’s going to jail, but I think we are highly confident he’s going to jail, not with– he has not enjoyed impunity.

So a question is, in this context, is 2008 the anomaly, or was it really the reassertion of a central theme of the book? I think the fact that the book makes one ask those questions is part of its value. So let me just close my two brief remarks. Oh, and I should add, by the way, the other thing that’s going on right now is the question of the immunity of the Sackler family– the impunity of the Sackler family.

I was going to start with.

Yeah. Well, there you go. I turn it over to Admati. But rolling back, one of the themes that emerges in the latter part of the book is how London’s rise to dominance as the financial capital is enabled by the House of Barings and the House of Rothschild being the financiers of sovereigns, including the British sovereign, but by no means only the British sovereign. So I think of– and how they finance, particularly, the British government in the context of the Napoleonic Wars.

And I think of New York Wall Street, the House of Morgan rising to a dominant position in financing the British government in World War I, with the US and New York emerging as the financial hegemon of the last 100 years. And with that, I will end, except to note that this is a plum pudding of a book. You find extraordinary gems.

And the ones that I wrote down, the one I wrote down here, financial crises and financial speculation often come with innovations. And Minister Necker securitized annuities on seven-year-old genevois smallpox survivors on the grounds that they were going to be the most long-lived, and so selling the annuities was going to maximize the return today for a state that was functionally approaching bankruptcy. That’s a great gem to discover with that.

[ANAT ADMATI] OK. Thank you very much. Thank you, Marion, and Julia for inviting me. When I saw the title of this book, I immediately wanted to do this because I’ve been writing exactly on this, except a little bit differently. So in particular, and I brought a few things here, in the new edition of this book, the last chapter is called Above the Law, question mark, and it’s very much about impunity, the word appears.

And so the idea of the narrative of financial crisis as natural disasters, of course, goes back to all these narratives coming from bankers and regulators and others saying, oh, the 100-year flood, it was like an earthquake, nobody could have seen it coming, and all of that, which was completely against other narratives saying there were a lot of people at fault, and then nobody was home to actually prosecute or any of that, so that was that.

But it wasn’t unusual. But really what’s missing for me, I come from the world of corporate finance into banking and back into corporate finance, and then corporate law and law more generally. So my writing, most recently, is really about corporations and the rule of law. And one of the words that I really, really, really missed in the index, there is the word contract law, but the word corporation does not exist.

However, the whole issue happening right now with Purdue Pharma is precisely about corporations. It’s about how the corporation, a legal person with rights, a lot of rights, and with a veil that separates the corporations from all people, is filing for bankruptcy. And the people who benefited from that corporation, who owned the equity of that corporation, who had a lot of control in it, a private corporation, doesn’t have shareholders in the public are not bankrupt and yet want to get impunity out of the bankruptcy of the corporation.

And that’s just one of numerous examples where corporations commit crimes, even though they’re abstract people. I mean, PG&E right in this area pleaded guilty to 84 manslaughter charges, and the headline in Forbes magazine was, PG&E avoids 90 years in jail for not being a person. Because A person would get about a year per manslaughter.

This was 84 manslaughters, and nothing happened. I mean, the fine was ridiculous, like a decimal point for PG&E, and that was a maximum fine. Now they don’t go after PG&E criminally, but they go civilly because they can get more money out of PG&E for that. But this is basically the way it works. So the corporate form is really the way impunity works in capitalism.

And by the time this book starts, we already have the Dutch East India, we already have the key corporations that have become the dominant, almost sovereigns, in our economy, and the ones that give people the impunity that once was given to kings. In other words, Jamie Dimon has impunity, and he will pay a lot of money to hide and pay off the wrongdoings of JPMorgan Chase, and so will Mark Zuckerberg if anything is wrong with what Facebook Meta is doing, et cetera, et cetera. So the corporate form is really key to this.

Now, the book focuses on central banks, and, in fact, in the new edition of the book, we go much more to central banks. The original book was– The Bankers’ New Clothes was about private sector banks. And we still talk about private sector banks. The central banks are the enablers of a really bad financial system, including a bad system by lender of last resorts and bailouts, as we speak right now, of potentially insolvent regional banks that were just offered excessive loans from the Federal Reserve with backing by Treasury.

So you can see a bailout here slightly obscured from public eyes so they don’t have to use that dreaded word bailout. Because after all, Obama promised us no more bailouts, period, and got like two minutes of ovation when he signed the Dodd-Frank Act. So we have impunity galore. I was asked a couple of years ago with a bunch of other economists what has gone wrong with capitalism, and what to do about it by Oxford Publication.

And my essay for that volume was called Capitalism, Laws– to David’s point– and the Need for Trustworthy Institutions in both sectors. We have lost trust in our institutions, and it’s partly because of the way these institutions, basically, create symbiosis that are harming society, and create impunity for everybody involved in the private sector and in government. So when asked what’s gone wrong with capitalism, my answer was, it’s destroyed, undermined, overwhelmed corrupted democracies. And so our democracies are partly in trouble and in crisis in an intertwined crisis with the– whatever people might view is the crisis of capitalism.

And in that essay, I– well, people talk about shareholder capitalism, et cetera, I called it something similar to what you’re talking about, I called it financialized capitalism. So financialization has to do with the way corporate governance works, the maximization of stock price, return on equity, all these accounting metrics, financialized metrics as an objective, and as a way that corporate leaders are– what they’re chasing. And the inability of democratic governments to actually set the rules of the game for these legal persons and to enforce on these legal persons a set of rules.

The legal system has not envisioned corporations. The Constitution has not envisioned corporations. But corporations go to court. And in a book on this called We the corporations, Adam Winkler from UCLA discusses the civil rights movements of corporations all happening in the courts, and receiving more and more rights, including speech rights, religious rights that were intended for human beings, and then using the 14th Amendment and others to acquire more and more rights. But when it comes to piercing the corporate veil for accountability, we are nowhere good.

And Sam Bankman-Fried is the exception that proves the rule. There are extreme cases where a person like him or like Elizabeth Holmes produce a lot of evidence, especially about defrauding investors. In this case there were customers as well, but in the case of– in cases of other wrongdoings, a lot of times the impact people are employees or customers, but shareholders run supreme even in the legal system. When they can claim to be harmed, they can go to court with class action suits and anywhere else. When their lawyers think that the stock price went down, they will sue.

Meanwhile, many customers and employees, except for some new law on sexual harassment, are relegated to mandatory arbitration and don’t even have access to the law even when they are harmed. So in the private law as well as in the public law, we really have lost the battle on corporate impunity, corporate leaders impunity when they are able to do it through the corporation as opposed to be the ones at the top actually uttering the fraud as in the case of Elizabeth Holmes, of Sam Bankman-Fried. Those are extreme cases. But in other cases, the culpability and the diffused responsibility are making it so– and the ability to create legal shields is making impunity a pervasive problem in the economy, and certainly in banking and beyond.

One other final comment, the book is very much about financial crisis, but this problem is not one of crises. Crises are where we see something wrong, but it can be wrong all the time and hidden from view. So I view the entire system as highly distorted and unhealthy, starting with the financial– with the private sector corporation, and continuing to some other corporations in other sectors depending on what they need for good rules of the game and where their rules might be more or less ineffective depending on the sector and the situation.

You have wage theft, you have all kinds of pollution, you have all kinds of agencies and laws that corporations have to comply with. And oftentimes, either they just don’t, or don’t get caught breaking them, or the fines that they pay are not even commensurate with the harm, let alone do anything to the individuals involved because it’s too hard, because it’s too costly.

And there are a bunch of books on this right now, Chickenshit Club, Why the Innocent Plead Guilty and the Guilty Go Free, Too Big To Jail, multiple books about that with those kinds of titles. And we can go on into how the mechanics of corporate settlements is, and we go through a lot of these examples in the new edition of the book for which I have the preface and table of content here enough for everybody in this room. So pick up one.

Give you about 10 minutes to respond to these comments, and then we’ll open it up to have a discussion.

[TREVOR JACKSON] Great. Great. Well, thank you both for that. It’s very stimulating to be read at all, let alone read and responded to, and especially from people outside of my field and discipline. This has been a very useful and generative set of comments. So where to begin.

So on the question of, well, really, our contemporary moment in the post 2008 order, I feel like there were several questions that I might cluster together as being about the world since 2008. And I think it was a deliberate choice to have the book end in 1825 because I felt like that was the first moment in which I thought I perceived something new, which was to say, large scale, what, for lack of a better set of words, I would call, economic harms that are not broadly popularly interpreted as someone’s fault.

Which there is no agential figure, there’s no crime, there’s no law being broken, it’s like a storm. Although, of course, as we historians are increasingly aware of, natural disasters themselves are not necessarily natural disasters, but nonetheless. And that I felt like was new. And so what I was trying to get at wasn’t necessarily that nobody ever gets prosecuted for any kind of economic crime again, clearly not.

Rather, what I found interesting and wanted to trace the origins of was how we get to a world in which poverty, inequality, stagnant wages, unemployment are not perceived– well, perhaps are perceived as moral problems and certainly policy problems, but aren’t perceived as some agential figure’s fault outside of claims of political legitimacy. In a sense that I think that could have gone differently had the late 18th and early 19th century financial crises gone differently. And I think that a person from, say, 1709 would interpret economic policy today in a very different way than what we do. And so that was the particular thing that I was trying to get at.

And so to give you a little more tangible example of the distinction that I want to draw here, although I have found myself writing pretty frequently about cryptocurrency and Sam Bankman-Fried and so on, I do that because I think it’s funny when bad things happen to billionaires, not because I think they fit my cases particularly well.

What Sam Bankman-Fried was doing was just fraud, it’s garden variety fraud. Now, OK, there’s some problems with whether crypto is a security or not, there’s some problems with where– if you’re in corporate in the Bahamas or whatever, but it’s clearly just fraud. He broke some laws. He got caught breaking the laws. He writes in his documents, hello, fellow criminals, let us do crimes. It’s pretty straightforward.

The things that I found striking and I wanted to try to historicize is something more like climate change. That emitting carbon into the atmosphere may well kill all of us, but it’s not a crime, right? It’s not an intelligible agential harm. And, in fact, many corporate officers, you might say, have a fiduciary responsibility to do that because of the basis of their profits and their responsibility to their shareholders. And so that was the thing that I found particularly strange.

That this is something that is likely to be– economists are willing to think of as a market failure, but I thought, can I push that further and historicize how some harm of that scale can take place, be clearly made by people, and yet still exist outside of the same political, moral, normal, legal orders as, say, Sam Bankman-Fried.

On the question of corporations, you’re exactly right, that’s a shortcoming of ending where I do. That, in the cases that I’m looking at, is largely because the creation of limited liability happens after 1825. And in the case of 1825, at least, in English banking, there is unlimited liability. The partners are bailed in.


Yeah, exactly. And so the emergence, a thing that I wish I had done better. And if I had known that I would be read more by legal scholars, I would have– like, there’s a case to be made that a thread that should run through this entire thing is a history of the emergence of liability and how that changes over time. That’s something I came to relatively late, and I just don’t have the legal training to really parse. Do you want to get in on–

[WILLIAM JANEWAY] I just wanted to– actually, Anat mentioned the Dutch East India Company. They were corporations, but they were established by government, they had limited powers. But there was a case that fits right in the middle of your period, I would have been really interested what you made of the Warren Hastings impeachment. The head of the East India Company in India who was summoned back to London and tried and acquitted. And I was thinking that that might have made an interesting bridging example in your book.

[ANAT ADNATI] I mean, the English East India, I mean, read a fascinating book called The Anarchy. That book discusses just this one company that basically was government-like, when they gave them monopoly over the trade routes and all of that. They had armies. They pillaged them. They controlled India until the British government took it away from them. So they were very much government-like, and so the limited liability part, obviously, it came later. It enabled trading in stocks and things that you couldn’t do otherwise.

But the English East India was a joint stock company that was accountable only to its shareholders in London and to nobody else as it went around conquering India, impoverishing people, taxing people, and being violent, too.

[TREVOR JACKSON] Yeah. Well, and it’s, I think, significant that Hastings is prosecuted because of corruption. He has misused his office, which he has because of the British government, not because of, say, the–


All of stuff he did in India, yeah.

–murdering lots of people and so on. And, I mean, another– a case that I do try to draw out is the Bank of England, which is also a private corporation that’s responsible to shareholders until it’s nationalized by labor government in 1946. And they’re doing monetary policy.

And throughout the 19th century, in moments where the gold standard is at risk, they raise their interest rate to defend themselves and defend the gold standard. They know that the cost of that will be imposing unemployment and crisis on the domestic population, they also know that population largely can’t vote, and so they do it. That was the kind of– that was the afterlife of 1825 that I had in mind.

Central banks, yeah.

Yeah. But in some ways, I often wish that I had gone through 2008. It was hard to think of how to deal with the Great Depression. There is a lot that happens in the Great Depression, and I thought, well, that’s–


–that’s volume 2. We’ll see how this one goes over first. Let’s see. On maybe a last and related point about that before I turn it over to our audience, I really loved the sentence that, it isn’t necessarily about crisis. The crisis is when we see something as wrong, but things can be wrong for a long time. And indeed, the book has been plotted around these different moments of financial crisis exactly because crises really concentrate the mind and focus our attention and work as moments where something has to change. They also leave a pretty good archival record, which is helpful.

But my hope is that that’s why there are these interstitial chapters about the attempt to create historical memory around the meaning of the crises, how they worked out the way that they did, who was responsible, how we understand that, and how that feeds into the development of the history of economic thought. Which itself is a body of thought that has very specific and, perhaps, unusual beliefs about responsibility, culpability, morality, normativity, and so on that, I think, emerge in parallel with and in a relationship to the material history of the financial crises themselves.

And so I think that there’s a way that when I ask myself, when is the crisis over? Well, in some ways it’s never over because we’re always relitigating and rewriting the history of our understanding of the crisis. And I think that’s very much true of 2008 today. So I think I’ll wrap up there. I think my publishers would probably be happy if I mentioned that the far cheaper paperback will be out in January.

Some of us have research budgets. I’m not sure your publishers would be happy for–


–is a bit much. It’s under 20.

That was the one thing I tried to negotiate.

I know. Selling.

Quit selling.


They just would not move.



[DAVID GREWAL] Wonderful. Well, I won’t abuse the moderator’s privilege yet of asking my questions, but I have a lot of things I could push you on about the history as well, maybe we can–


So especially, folks want to talk about the core history stuff, and we can certainly open out into current events as well. But there’s so much to deal with here, so great. And would you please introduce yourself briefly so we all know each other?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] My name is Vicki Chang. And so, what I’m getting is that when the sovereign is corrupted by financial interests, then impunity happens for these corruptors, and it seems like the key right now to the destruction of democracy in America is Citizens United. The corporation has the power to secretly give money to anybody in the government, and they do. I mean, I think the–

It’s legal corruption.

It’s legal, and it’s completely– I don’t know– I would really like to hear what your thoughts are on how we can get rid of this because I think the number of lobbyists in Washington DC went from like 50 in 1970 to like thousands now, and it’s just– Washington is just flooding with money, and the Supreme Court is not immune either. They take these secret trips. They benefit. So when the sovereign is corrupted, then the government is not interested in doing the right thing.

[TREVOR JACKSON] I mean, sovereignty is an important conceptual component to the book. And part of what I wanted to argue is that I think there’s a broad acceptance that impunity is a characteristic that often adheres to sovereigns. There is such a thing as sovereign immunity, and that was even part of what I wanted to get at is that as we have emerged into a more constrained democratic vision of politics, that there are still spaces in which this older form of sovereign immunity or impunity continue to exist.

But that still, I want to emphasize, is where I wanted to get to at the end was a kind of idea that the real impunity isn’t breaking the rules and getting away with them, the real impunity is setting the rules. And in that sense, I don’t think that there is– that it isn’t necessarily a question of the corruption of sovereignty so much as it’s a constitutive feature of sovereignty. That that is where law comes from is through some unequal distribution of violence and legitimacy, and that that is something that we can think about being differently distributed and changing over time.

[DAVID GREWAL] Could I ask– interject a question on this point here maybe? So this interested me because the framing of impunity that you borrow from international law is just– it’s just one way that law tries to get at the question of who is subject to liability for what acts by whom, right? And so starting with impunity in international [INAUDIBLE], that’s a pretty high level, pretty far away, not– whereas something just like ordinary tort liability would be much more the heart of it.

And sometimes when you spoke about the harm that’s done by financial crisis, it reminds me of problems of complex causation and tort law, right? Where sometimes there’s not an obvious remedy when you have something that’s like a structural condition to which everyone contributes a very small part, and there’s some process of magnification, and there’s some really disproportionate harms, sometimes we try and hold people liable at the front stage, sometimes we don’t. And how sovereignty fits in is the question about whether sovereignty is corrupt.

It could be that– and then the too big to fail claim, at the heart, I think, is the claim that there are some kinds of systemically relevant activities that you can’t dispense with them and you can’t regulate them in a one-to-one level. And in those cases, the standard argument has been the government has to do those things. Too big to fail means you can’t leave it to the private sector, but it’s not like you can dispense with the activity anyway. So I wanted to hear about a different question. That might be a way in which–

So one view on the corruption would not be the Citizens United. The corruption might be a financial system is a necessary part of a modern polity. It is inherently subject to all of these feedback mechanisms that make it very unstable. Hold on, now, now I get to ask my question. It’s subject to all these loops and the ordinary ways in which we hold people liable in the person-to-person dealings that private law is most accustomed to don’t really scale.

So the corruption might be that we don’t think of this activity as sovereign at all. But if it is sovereign, then maybe sovereign immunity should apply to the banking system if we’re a public system. So, I mean–

Yeah, but it’s publicly owned.

Exactly. So with that as long preface, the question would be, there’s one direction of the book that focuses on the thought that these crises show a problem with not holding people to account. That’s the opinion. But a different angle you could take would be to say, the problem is that we’re allowing certain private actors to control something that is properly regime level. And if it’s regime level, as you say, it’s almost a deduction of legal theory that acts the sovereign can’t be subject to ordinary law because the sovereign makes the law.

And so those are two very different outcomes. One would push to something like public– the banking sector understood as a public utility that’s, in effect, been privatized improperly. The other would point to something like, we need to hold private actors who stay private to account when they engage in systemically relevant harmful activity. And there’s very different valences. One would assume that we can– and the book, ending in 1825, doesn’t deal with Progressive Era legislation on public utility doctrine, fiat currency, and the banking crisis.

But I think the response we often have to financial crises tends to be poised between these two things. We want to hold the bad guys responsible. We know that we can’t because there’s a system that they’re a part of that is bigger than them. So what’s your intuition on that if that’s at all helpful?

[TREVOR JACKSON] That is a very helpful set of questions. So I thought a lot about the tort crime boundary. And it’s a historians book, it’s not trying to be a prescriptive policy book about how we should define what’s on which side of the tort crime boundary. Rather, it’s to say that that isn’t a natural, permanent, inevitable distinction but is something that comes out of a series of crises and contested political moments and could very easily have gone in different directions.

And so if we think to ourselves, well, that’s actually an unstable political thing rather than a feature of whatever natural law, that does open up the possibility that it could go in a different direction. But I felt like I had to establish that, historicizing the distinction first. And I think the way that I would square the two prongs that you speak to is exactly the point about democracy. That we might think that there is some set of, as you say, regime-level powers. The one that I focused on in the book is central bank– that was Fried– is central banking. Which begins as a private set of activities and eventually we recognize perhaps this should be something controlled by the state.

But that returns us to the debate that we have today which is about democratic accountability of central banks. Should they be insulated? Should they not? Should they be responsive to voters? Should they not? And that when I allude to this large scale separation at the end of the book that I tried to get to, I mean, the big implication that I want the reader to come away with is that under capitalism, we distribute wages and profits as like the means of staying alive and continuing to eat through a market mechanism.

Maybe that’s the large-scale thing that should be subject to democratic accountability. And there’s actually a regime level way of organizing society but is something that, through the course of the 18th and into the 19th century, got hived off from the sphere of democracy and moral economy.

I interrupted you [INAUDIBLE].

[ANAT ADNATI] I have something to say because you talked about, Too big to fail and being systemic, the fact of the matter is, OK, we had one case study to basically fall straight into our hands as we were trying to finish the book, which is you may or may not have not followed this, but Credit Suisse in Switzerland.

So that bank, an old institution, very large and I have encountered the Swiss bank CEOs and regulators telling me, No problem, no problem. We got some magic buttons, we’re going to press them, and voila, we’re going to have bail in instead of bail out. And whoops, they didn’t do it. OK. They didn’t do it because actually it doesn’t work and it can’t work, and so we have to question whether we need institutions that are global across the border.

We can ask whether it’s worth it to create these too big to fail institutions. The word systemic, which is where we get to be hostages all of us, because the options are so bad either way, again, is preventable. Right now the word systemic is just a code word for bailouts because they have to use that word in order to provide bailouts. And so all of a sudden it’s, This systemic, and, Signature systemic, and let’s save them because somebody will be harmed and we don’t like that. So we like to appease everybody at the moment.

So the they just blink every single time in banking. So that’s all preventable if they had the guts to actually counter the bad incentives, and we advocate very sensible regulations that they just can’t seem to develop political will to do because of enormous amount of lobbying. So we are bringing them closer to the world of unlimited liability, just a little bit more liability, basic liability for losses.

[WILLIAM JANEWAY] I just wanted to pick up on something that really said, that I was just thinking, we have a nice little historical experiment in America called The Bank Crisis between Biddle and Jackson.

Right. The Bank War.

The Bank War. The US Second Bank of the United States chartered by Congress is up for renewal, and Jackson vetoes it, and the US doesn’t have a central bank. And in fact, it does have an incredibly fragile banking system that is not subject to any underwriting.

And then we have to fight a major war which the government needs to raise an enormous amount of money for, so it improvises until finally, finally, we wind up with the Fed after 80, 90 years of experimentation without a central bank. So it’s an interesting extension of the discussion that you were just having.

[DAVID GREWAL] Great. I realise we only got about 10 minutes left, I wonder could we take two or three questions and comments and then give Trevor the last word? That might be the best way.


[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi, I’m Nadar Atassi. I want to ask about your argument about the emergence of the economy as a separate sphere. I feel like scholars love to argue– I mean, sorry, historians of economic thought love to argue about who was the first to come up with the economy conceptually, was it Smith? Was it the physiocrats? Tim Missile says, No, it wasn’t until Keynes actually.

So, I mean, I find your argument about, why don’t we trace this socially and spatially very interesting, but I was wondering because the period you talk about is such a generative period for political economy, how do you view the relationship between that history, and the conceptual history, and conceptual emergence of the economy? Thanks.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] All right, thanks. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, I’m looking forward to getting the paperback. And I wanted to ask about, I guess, from a legal perspective, what laws or what specific rules were found– I mean, were the same or similar laws in place during both of these periods, the period of liability and the period of impunity that you trace, and if so, did you see anything that helps us understand what unwritten rules are being mobilized to decide when we want to actually enforce the laws on the books and when we don’t?

And actually it makes me think about another Supreme Court case from this week, which is the case about the SEC’s internal administrative law judges, and one of the arguments for going to the Article III court system and avoiding the SEC court system is that, Oh, yes, it’s OK to go to an administrative law judge, non-article three judge if the law being–

There’s a Supreme Court case that says, If the law being enforced is one that wasn’t really on the books at the time of the Seventh Amendment and 1791 or whatever, and then the argument they’re making is, Actually, this is very similar to common law fraud that was considered a crime in a civil tort type thing back then.

And so it makes me think of that. And so I’m just trying to think about what– I mean, it seems to me that as a lawyer, you could find stuff to convict people with across all of these crises. So then I think that I’m trying to get a handle on what you were seeing in your documents about how those decisions were being made. Thanks.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you very much, so interesting. Extremely interesting the discussion, I think also the book. I have a question, it’s more your opinion. I would like to have your opinion about how you explain the fact that in our time, let’s say popular masses, people, citizens, let’s say there is a kind of social apathy towards impunity.

How you explain that? Maybe the aggressive lobbying, let’s say that we observe plays a role on that, the fact that we have a high-level expertise, legal expertise, that let’s say it’s a kind of immunity for big corporate actors, so they have all the tools to convince people that actually there is nothing to discuss about. So because this is the real problem of democracy why people they don’t react on all these things they know that there is a problem but?


Can I get one more?

Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] trying to answer the question from the beginning.

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah, passing the mic is definitely the trickiest part.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I guess playing the historian, I wanted to go back to what might be some contributing factors to this emerging notion of impunity, and I’m particularly interested in the late 18th, early 19th century, I’d love to hear how they link up with some of your side interests. In the first instance catastrophe and extinction. When you’re ending this book with this model of new or emergent impunity, it’s also happening at a time where you have changing ideas about natural disaster itself.

And particularly in France and Britain, you see this dialectic between catastrophism and sentimentalism. Without trying to lead you down my rabbit hole, I’d love to hear about what you think new ideas of catastrophe do to the possibility of human agency and accountability? And I also think we should be clear that impunity doesn’t, in this case, mean there’s no punishment, no pain. It’s being dispersed, it’s being displaced.

And I’d be curious about what you think about then who has to bear the brunt and what that says about new ideas of human nature? Really quickly, decolonization.

There’s no way that’s going to be quick.

It’s a question mark, no. But what I would say is this goes to the conversation about sovereignty. Here we’re riding out the first great wave of global decolonization. American, Haitian revolutions, Latin American revolutions, the emergence of a dozen sovereign nation states into the world order.

To what extent then is impunity in investment, in speculation, to what extent is that a sort of a continuation of negotiations about sovereignty? Who’s in charge here? Fundamentally, who controls this global, not just financial order, but moral order?


With five minutes you have–



That’ll be a great test


[TREVOR JACKSON] Yeah, no problem. Those are great questions, and I actually am going to try to get to all of them.


So on the emergence of the economy. I mean, I’m an early modernist, I’m very skeptical of the Timothy Mitchell 20th century story. I am much more willing to think that this comes out of early modern jurisprudence, both spatially and thematically, in the sense of the law of the seas, thinking about–

Sophus Reinert has a terrific article about the difference between imperium and dominion, and how dominion as a space of property law emerges as a separate kind of sphere of law and sovereignty from control over territory. I would put this in the 17th century, but I put nearly everything in the 17th century, so take that for what you will.

That’s correct.

And in part, that’s because when I look at the documents and I see people writing about say, The Circulation of the Trade, in my mind metaphorically, that’s not too far off from thinking about the economy. Now maybe these are different discursive worlds and different discursive spaces meaning different things, but that still might be analogous and still in the lineage rather than a completely separate thing. So do I see similar laws before and after?

Well, the thing is that there isn’t really a before and an after, instead– my wife hates this metaphor, but I think it’s a good one– it’s like trying to squeeze a water balloon. Like if you squeeze a part of it squirts out somewhere and you squeeze that and it squirts out somewhere else, that there’s never a before and an after. Rather where impunity is and how it works, changes, and moves, and maybe sediments, and maybe erodes, and is constantly subject to political contestation.

Now, it’s true that very often when I talk to lawyers about this subject they say, Impunity? You mean prosecutorial discretion, which is there in the book a bit because I notice how often that came up. And indeed in the crisis moments that I talk about, there are moments of prosecutorial discretion. Who are we going to prosecute and for what?

But what I felt like was a more interesting story is that the crises and the book are also moments of shifts in the constitutional order itself. So the South Sea directors are prosecuted by a secret committee of the House of Commons that itself had authorized the scheme and creates four laws after the fact to retroactively prosecute the directors on. Now, OK, that’s prosecution, but it’s not quite right. What we have in mind.

The French Revolution is enough of a complicated case, I think you’ll agree that I’m not going to try to get through it in my remaining three minutes but is definitely a space in which what we mean by prosecutorial distinction or discretion is a shifting and very eminently political space. But importantly, by the time we get to 1825, the question is moot. There’s no prosecution for anything because no crime has happened, and so that’s the change over time that I’m trying to get to.

On social apathy, I’m actually slightly skeptical, and here I’m going to get more presentist than I’ve intended to be so far, which is that some reviewers have thought that I wrote this book because I was angry about 2008, and that’s true. But–


Good for you.

–but I’m also angry at George Bush and the Iraq war, which seems to me to shockingly have been largely memory hold in a way that I find as a historian very upsetting, and I have a kind of instinctive sense that’s very hard at a scholarly level to prove that the fact that nobody was held accountable for the large-scale criminality and mass crimes of the Bush years has created a kind of what I’ve elsewhere described inelegantly– excuse me– as a purge-shaped hole in the political imaginary, I think has gotten us to the point where the main thing that many political parties across the world are doing is promising their supporters that they will jail the opponents that they’re against.

Up to and including Donald Trump is up for four different felony prosecutions in four different places. Now, I’m not doubting that he did all those things. I think he probably also did a lot of other things up to and including things that many American presidents do that we’ve long stopped thinking about as in any way criminal, but it seems significant to me that in the 2022 elections, I think I counted 11 different people running promising that they would jail their opponents.

Trump is saying the same things. I mean, we’ve seen that very literally in Brazil, we’ve seen that in a lot of different places. And my sense is that in absence of the legitimate procedures of justice, there is a sense that some terrible injustice has happened and someone has to be held accountable. We just don’t know who, or how to do it. On decolonization catastrophe and accountability–

One minute.

In one minute. I thought colonial spaces would be more of spaces for impunity than in fact they turned out to be. In fact, the impunity that I felt like I saw there is very similar to sovereign impunity writ large, hence we have cases like Hastings where he’s prosecuted but for violating the laws of the metropole not for the things that he does in the colonial space.

Instead, when there are these weird moments of uncertain sovereignty, that seems to be a fruitful place for impunity to proliferate. And so exactly in a decolonial moment when sovereignty is unclear, that means all sorts of possibilities are up for grabs. And so the example that I use is the case of Gregor MacGregor and the country that he invented, which is in fact, one of many countries that were invented, but he manages to secure a sovereign loan.

Now the interesting thing about that is in 1822, when he gets a sovereign loan in London for a country that doesn’t exist, it’s hard to say that Greece existed. They also get a loa, It’s just that they survived because the sovereignty turns out to be durable in a way that Gregor McGregor’s was not. And so I almost think that the causality runs the other way.

Byron didn’t die for Gregor MacGregor.

Right. No, no, although three boatloads of colonists departed thinking that they were going to get land and had to be rescued from Belize, as you do. But as the last point on catastrophe, a fine place to end. Strikingly, I think once ideas of extinction events are first mooted, which happens after 1796, there’s a guy called Georges Cuvier who’s a kind of sinister figure in France, who–

Sinister in the sense that he’s one of the foundational figures of pseudoscientific racism, but also conceptualizes catastrophic extinction events. One of his main sets of opponents are economists who essentially argue that, Nothing can ever permanently go away, it will just get more and more expensive over time. And so they’re unwilling to think in terms of total finitude.

And that’s the thing that I find as a historian particularly interesting is the possibility of thinking seriously about finitude and whether finitude gives meaning to historical periodization and whether it also gives meaning because of the scarcity implication to not just our time but two material resources. That if things are infinite, then their value is in some ways either nonexistent or immeasurable, and if that’s true of things, it’s also true of time.

And so maybe the emergence of catastrophe is also an emergence of thinking seriously about finitude, and that poses a set of challenges to the newly emerging economic order that then are suppressed. And we have a long 19th century in which we don’t really think seriously about finitude. I urge you all to go home and think seriously about finitude–

[DAVID GREWAL] That seems a timely note to end our time on, so please join me in thanking Trevor and the commentators.


Authors Meet Critics

Authors Meet Critics: Sharad Chari, “Gramsci at Sea”

Recorded on November 28, 2023 as part of the UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” series, this panel focused on Gramsci at Sea, a book by Sharad Chari, Associate Professor in Geography and Co-Director of Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. Professor Chari was joined in conversation by Leslie Salzinger, Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley, and Colleen Lye, Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley. The panel was moderated by James Vernon, Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor of History at UC Berkeley.

The panel was co-sponsored by Social Science Matrix, the UC Berkeley Department of Geography, and the Program in Critical Theory. The Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” book series features lively discussions about recently published books authored by social scientists at UC Berkeley. For each event, the author discusses the key arguments of their book with fellow scholars.

About the Book

Gramsci at Sea book coverHow might an oceanic Gramsci speak to Black aquafuturism and other forms of oceanic critique? This succinct work reads Antonio Gramsci’s writings on the sea, focused in his prison notes on waves of imperial power in the inter-war oceans of his time. Professor Chari argues that the imprisoned militant’s method is oceanic in form, and that this oceanic Marxism can attend to the roil of sociocultural dynamics, to waves of imperial power, as well as to the capacity of Black, Drexciyan, and other forms of oceanic critique to “storm” us on different shores.

Watch the panel above or on YouTube, or listen to it as a podcast below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


[MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everybody. Welcome to Social Science Matrix. My name is Marion Fourcade. I’m the director here.

So we welcome you today to think with Sharad Chari’s new work that travels across continents to engage Antonio Gramsci’s work as oceanic in scope, considering not only what makes a thinker, as a person at sea, but also how Gramsci can help us think about the imperial and capitalist crisis that strike our common seas today in the face of environmental disaster, overfishing, global warming, and sea rise.

So while such thinking about the sea is necessarily pessimistic, one can only hope as Gramsci is often cited to have some optimism of the will. Today’s event is part of our author meets critics series, which you’re probably used to them, which is a series that features critically engaged discussions about a recent book by Berkeley faculty. And we are very grateful to our co-sponsors and the program in critical theory and the Department of Geography.

As always, I will mention a few upcoming events. So later this week, I don’t know if it’s on the– yeah, so exactly. Later this week we will feature graduate student work on a panel entitled new directions in gender and sexuality.

And then next week we will have our final author meets critics of the semester to discuss Trevor Jackson’s book Impunity and Capitalism. And we will round up the semester with a lecture by Elizabeth Joh as part of our partnership with the Berkeley Institute for Data Science.

And we will start next semester with another author meets critic, which will be Andrew Garrett. So stay tuned for the whole schedule for the next semester, which Julia has been preparing with great care. So we’ll have a fabulous programming next semester.

Today we will have a slightly different format from what you’re used to. There will be less presenting and more conversation. So Sharad will briefly present the book, and then Colleen and Leslie will ask him questions about it before we open up to the general Q&A.

So before that, though, I would like to introduce our distinguished moderator James. So James Vernon is the Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor of History here at Berkeley. He’s a historian of Britain and its empire with broad comparative and theoretical interests in the relationships between the political and the social as well as the nation and the world.

His books include Politics and the People from 1993, Hunger, a Modern History from 2007, Distant Strangers, How Britain Became Modern from 2014, and the last volume of the Cambridge History of Britain, Britain Since 1750 to the Present, which came out in 2017. And he is currently writing a book about the racialized and globalized formation of neoliberalism in Britain after empire told through Heathrow Airport. So without further ado, I turn it over to James and the panelists.

[JAMES VERNON] Thank you, Marion. And that’s really embarrassing because I’m not going to introduce any of our distinguished panelists in that way at all. So my apologies. I’m just so excited that you’re all here. Welcome. I think this is going to be a really fascinating conversation.

To me, this is a really important event because I couldn’t really sit at a table in Berkeley with three people that I could value more as friends and as comrades and as intellectual interlocutors. And it’s a real pleasure to sit here and let them go at it.

The other pleasure for me is as my three friends know, I spend a lot of time on the water. So thinking about the sea and living around the sea is something that I take very, very seriously. But I also grew up in the shadow of Gramsci in many ways because the Prison Notebooks were translated into English I think in the early ’70s.

And when I was an undergrad at University in Britain, we were all engaging through Stuart Hall with thinking about the very particular crises of welfare capitalism in the Global North through Hall’s work and using Gramsci to do that. So to be able to think at this time around the very specific conjuncture of crises that we have and to return to Gramsci through Sharad is a real privilege and a pleasure.

And if you haven’t bought this book, it’s worth every cent. We don’t know how much it’s cost, but go buy it. It has the great virtue of being small enough that you can put it in your back pocket or on a coat and it travels with you. So let me introduce the three of them without reeling off all of their publications and work.

Sharad teachers in geography as I’m sure you all know alongside this book that came out earlier this year. He is about to publish the absolutely brilliant and amazing apartheid remains, which I’ve had the privilege of reading, which is coming out with Duke in a few months, I would imagine.

And he’s also hard at work on his next one, which is written with and about the South African Black lesbian activist Beverley Ditsie. So yeah, very characteristic of the way that Sharad works very capaciously across continents and around different forms of intellectual and political work.

Leslie, who I think will start us off after Sharad has talked for 5 or 10 minutes, teaches in gender and women’s studies, but mainly is basically Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at the moment and is doing that amazing work that people sometimes have to do. Leslie works on– she’s a sociologist by training. All three of these people have Berkeley PhDs, by the way, which is, sort of, amazing. You do, right?


Oh, anyway. Yeah, sorry. They almost have Berkeley PhDs. Leslie is a sociologist by training. She works on the gendering and globalization of economic life. And her field work is primarily located in Mexico. Her first book Genders in Production explored the making of gendered work on the factory floor. And her new book is looking at a different type of gendered production on the currency exchange markets of Mexico City.

And finally, Colleen teaches in English, where she teaches about Asian-American literature. But mainly, she teaches about Marxism these days. Her first book America’s Asia analyzed the racial form of American literature after Chinese exclusion. And she’s currently writing about Asian-American contributions to Marxism, to racial capitalism, and to social reproduction.

So the format is going to be this. Sharad is going to talk for about 10 minutes, and then we’re going to begin a conversation between the three of them. It’s not going to be formal responses from Leslie and Colleen.

I’m thinking that we’ll stop around 1 o’clock, so you’ll have time to join the conversation. But if folks have to leave by 1:00 and you have things that you want to contribute to the conversation as it develops, will you just let me know so I can bring you in? Because I don’t want those people who have to leave at 1:00, I don’t want you to miss out the opportunity of joining the conversation. So Sharad, with no more ado, over to you.

[SHARAD CHARI] Thank you. First of all, thanks, everyone. Thanks for coming. Thanks to Matrix, to Julia, and Marion, and Chuck. And thanks to my comrades here, and I couldn’t– I feel like I could spend my 10 minutes speaking about how amazing these three people are and how it’s a confluence of personal, political, and intellectual interest and affection that brings us together. And I’m buttering them up because they’re going to skewer me properly in a couple of minutes.

So I’m going to jump into– I’m going to read a little bit from the beginning, and then I’m just going to lay out some of the main– some of the key arguments. And I begin with a sentence, really, from Srinivas Aravamudan in one of his last articles before his passing away. And so here it is.

“The shadow of tomorrow’s impending ecological disaster leaps over today and reunites with abandoned conceptions of human finitude from a past rich with apocalyptic nightmares that the enlightenment had temporarily vanquished. In a lucid charge to critique our imperiled present in relation to prior forms of consciousness that also faced human finitude, Aravamudan diagnoses the past and present through a slow unfolding of a determinate future.

This temporal structure offers no easy consolations of recuperating prior struggles, no reassurance that the negation of imperial catastrophe is forthcoming, and yet we witness the progressivist hopes bequeathed by the enlightenment being inexorably undone.

I add, with Gramsci in mind, that in this process of slow decay, enlightenment legacies reveal their contradictions well out into the horizon as we reach into dangerous waters of the near future to imagine what critique might yet be. This cautiously recursive structure of thought encapsulates Antonio Gramsci’s life work and in particular his political hope against the fascist high tide.

In a literal sense, the oceanic crisis of our time is planetary just as the planetary crisis is oceanic, as it links crises bequeathed by waves of capital and imperialism. But these turgid conjunctures of natural disaster are also persistent wellsprings of political hope against despair despite their best attempts not to be. While Gramsci wrote little about the oceans, what he did write recasts in his thought in useful ways.”

This is fundamentally what I’m exploring here in this pamphlet really. And the pamphlet form allows one to be a little bit audacious and go beyond the limits of reasonable arguments. So I invite disagreement and conversation. That’s, I think, with the pamphlet form is meant for.

So the first chapter tries to elaborate on this thesis by– the first chapter is called Gramsci and the Sea, and it reads his notes, his ocean of notes that would have been linked in hypertext had they been written today and reading along maritime oceanic seafarer seems to find all sorts of surprises, including, for instance, that he thought of the emergence of the Pax Americana through the sinews of British maritime imperial power. That’s quite an exciting– in the Indo-Pacific, from the Pacific, actually.

But also I also make the argument that we can think of his form of thought as oceanic. And I try to read that important for Gramscians here. I was getting to the weeds a bit, the note 17 in notebook 13, which is the key methodological note in which he thinks about the eruption of the organic on the terrain of the conjunctural. And what does that mean, and how can we think of that as an oceanic form of argument?

Also, his way of thinking with Marx’s 1859 preface about the problem spaces that are resurgent in particular times. So I try to use all this, and I also think about one of his last letters to his son, his little baby son, asking him to regard the life of the teeming life of the ocean, a beautiful line. Also, in a way about the ocean itself and the living ocean.

So what might his oceanic Marxism be? That’s what I turn to in the second essay, which is called The Oceanic Question. And the reference is to his early heuristic the Southern question, which is a heuristic in which he starts to explore the ensemble of categories that he then elaborates on and transforms throughout his life.

Also, he says that when he thinks about the Southern question, that he is thinking– that the Southern question in Italy is the agrarian question and the question of the Vatican. And I’ve wondered, as have others, about his relationship to the agrarian question, and what Lenin he had read, and whether he had read Neo-Lenin’s magisterial development of capitalism in Russia, which was so important in the 1980s, ’90s revival of agrarian studies and agrarian Marxism.

And particularly as a nonlinear and non-teleological engagement with differentiation and difference and differentiation in agrarian capitalism and capitalism more generally, there are major limits to thinking about– there are some limits to thinking about the oceans analogously to agrarian capitalism.

One major one being that the limits to capital and imagining an oceanic green revolution, except when one thinks about if one thinks of industrial agriculture is also a graveyard of a site for the remains the wastes of fossil fuel toxins, that’s what the oceans are writ large in some ways as well, toxic waste dumps.

Which then leads me to neologisms that have tried to think about these issues. The notion of the blue economy and of extractivism, one industry category, if you will, and the other an activist category. And I think about the efficacy of these categories.

And that leads me to essay three, which is that there’s an underlying issue here, which is what Marx calls the critique of political economy. That is, how do we think of the reifications of land, labor, and capital, the ways in which they seem to take on a life of their own? And as he puts it, Marx puts it, Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre do their ghost dance, these spirits dancing in the ether.

Well, I turn to a wonderful work of Fernando Coronil which tries to think about– tries to engage this question as a postcolonial Marxist. And Coronil turns for inspiration to the wonderful line from Borges about why there are no camels in the Quran and that what’s hidden in plain sight there is this is a society in which camels are taken for granted.

And what I want to say about the issues that the blue economy and extractivism point to is that what’s hidden in plain sight is the ocean in extension from Coronil’s way of thinking about the occlusion of nature and of the postcolony from the history of capital, global history of capital. And it’s a complicated thing to lay out in a second.

But Coronil also is trying to get us to think beyond what he calls occidentalism, occidentalist forms of reason that presume a West/Rest binary. And then the scholarship that tries to deal with it to think beyond Eurocentrism either erases the rest in the explanation of the West, or it folds the rest into a rendition of the West, like Europe and the people without history, Eric Wolf.

Or it uses the rest, the global south, the postcolony as a way of destabilizing the story of the West, which may be the Derridean critique, or it’s also how he looks at Tim Mitchell. Right, so how do we think beyond the West/Rest binary entirely to think about a post-occidentalist form of reason? And I bring up– I really broach this question, how do we think beyond a post-terracentric form of reason that also presumes a land, sea binary?

And that’s an opening that I think with. And, of course, also that may be all well and good in terms of our critical diagnosis, but what does it have to do with organizing collective political will, which is really what Gramsci wants us to get to?

And that’s where the last chapter, chapter 4 turns. It’s called The Storm. And there I think about the archives of oceanic struggle, beginning with the strike. Of course, the “strike,” striking the sails down, “affaler,” bringing the sails down, French, Flemish, Dutch sailors inventing this form of this concept in relation to the hostile nature and hostile ships, and then radical seafarers turning this into a political concept of a different kind, and then that spilling out in the pool of London into the general strike.

Abolition, the maritime origins of abolition from the struggles of slaves themselves, the struggles over the notion of the international in the legal struggles around the sea after Bandung, the long set of legal struggles leading up to UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which affects one of the biggest enclosures in the world of the territorial waters which become nationalized. And the deep sea, supposedly a commons, becomes a place for big capital to plunder the ocean bed.

These are in some ways legally concluded, but, of course, the struggles continue and the ongoing struggles around the refusal of planetary ecocide. And I think of these histories of struggle in relation to– I juxtapose them really with Black aqua-futurist art as a way of– and particularly, Drexciya, the wonderful artist Ellen Gallagher, John Akomfrah and his Vertigo Sea. Some of you may have seen it at SFMOMA a few years ago.

To think about this concept in Drexciya of storming and of the political storm. And my argument at the end is that we should think non-sequentially about the strike abolition in the international and the refusal of planetary ecocide, that all these forms of struggle continue to have the possibility of storming different shores in different ways.

That’s the final political and some ways will in that Gramscian way throwing caution to the wind political argument in dire times. That’s where I end. Over to you both.

[LESLIE SALZINGER] Well, thank you for that, Sharad. That was a great summary of what you’re doing here. I think it’s really, really helpful. And yeah, I do feel like for the four of us to be talking about the set of ideas, this is like a real privilege. We’ve done so many forms of political work on campus that are, I think for all four of us, I would say deeply linked to these sets of questions, the sort of a microcosm of larger set of questions of what it means to make a community of thinkers.

And for that to be part of making change, so yeah, it feels lucky to get to be here. Last night Colleen and I checked in briefly and talked for an hour and a half. So we’ll see where this goes.

I thought it would be interesting to start with this question of methods. So what you’re doing here, what it means to think of Gramsci as an oceanic theorist. And in a sense, the question of, is that versus a kind of terracentric theorist, an earthly theorist?

And so as we were talking last night, it felt like you’re doing a, sort of, moving back and forth between working against a major classic binary, which I’ll say a little bit about what I think that might be and refusing it. And so I just want to lay out what the binary might be and then what the interstitial parts might be. And then I’d love to hear you talk about how you think about their relationship with each other.

So there’s a way when you say that Gramsci is an oceanic theorist, you’re thinking of that as connecting, as transnational, as fluid, also as Southern, as subaltern maybe versus the earthly, the terracentric, stagist, static, Northern, Metropolitan maybe. And that’s a very classic binary.

And that seems to hover beneath a lot of what you’re doing. And yet at the same time, you also are interested in this question of the interstitial of the borderline of what you call in the book, or the pamphlet, the terraqueous, the area that’s between the ocean and the sea. And that blurring is also part of the project.

And so I guess I’m curious to hear you think with us about how you think about that methodologically, both really insisting on a certain kind of binary and then really refusing it, but it’s there hovering. This is obviously an old problem, but it comes back because it’s an important one. And I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit.

SHARAD CHARI] Thank you. Just turn this back on. Yeah, that’s a great– that’s a great question. And it’s certainly something that animates this pamphlet because it is only– it’s such a big question, right?

OK, so Gramsci does say that he calls his dialectical– he says he’s interested in a dialectical method that is committed to the absolute earthliness of thought. And it’s something that I think that we have a lot more to think with there. And I don’t– the wonderful thing about Gramsci is he leaves a lot of conversations open for others to pick up. It really requires a world of Gramscians or just a world.

And so what is this earthiness of thought? And thought thinking of that, that’s this complicated chapter 3, that thinking about the land/sea binary is not something that can be done away with in theory. What is it? And it’s not exactly analogous to the relation between Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre. But it’s connected to how we think about landed property, rents. There’s a whole question of rents here that is lurking in the background as well.

The question of capital accumulation through the ocean is fundamentally a question of rents, whether it’s around– and of negotiating those rents through the state, through the interstate system. That’s also part of it. And so I think it’s in that area that that’s one area that I think is productive to explore further to open up the power of the binary.

It connected, of course, you’re right to the idea of Gramsci’s concern with the subaltern. I think these things go together, by the way. The earthliness and the subalternity are intertwined as well. There’s been a mistaken– mistaken sounds too party, you know, deviationist. But the turn to hone in the question of the subaltern on identity has been a certain kind of blind spot.

And so the question of earthliness and subalternity I think we have to think together. That also means that when Spivak backtracks about her own trajectory and says planetarity is underived from us, and this is somehow a continuation of the question of subaltern. There’s a Marxist path not taken there as well in thinking about earthliness in relation to that unfinished question of the subaltern.

Global South, I was thinking about this when you said the South, how long we’ve tarried with this concept of the global South and never quite got there. And so it’s always a fudge, right? We always think, OK, we know it’s here as well, it’s here and there. It’s a failed concept in a certain way.

But yeah, I think that’s what I have to say so far about this. The terraqueous– I know I’ve struggled in that chapter 3 with finding an exemplary text that tells a Marxist terraqueous account that actually engages with the power of land/sea reification in a way.

[COLLEEN LYE] Let me jump in here because I had similar questions about method. Everything’s about method in some ways. And ultimately, I want to get to metaphor as a method because, well, why? Because I’m a literary critic but just backing up to since there was this question about where did my PhD.

I did do my PhD– I first read Gramsci actually during the First Intifada with Said at Columbia, who has been on my mind a lot lately because it was a time when Said and Columbia were synonymous in terms of what it meant to be doing critical, intellectual work at the university.

And we seem to be in a very different moment obviously regarding Columbia and postcolonial theory. So these things come to mind inevitably as I’m reading Gramsci now. I’m reading Gramsci through Sharad’s reading of Gramsci, also in a different moment of Gramsci’s studies from that moment of British cultural studies reception in the US so mediated by postcolonial theory and the Saidian inflection of what Gramsci meant to be an American third-worldist academic in the humanities at that time of, OK, this is how old I am, late ’80s, early ’90s.

So this brings me back then to actually– this is going to connect to the question of the binary, OK, and the kind of work because I do think that– OK, first of all, I did want to situate for those of you who don’t know that I feel like that Sharad’s intervention here with his pamphlet is part of a conversation of a revival in Gramsci studies now that marks a different kind of approach to Gramsci that is associated with the so-called philological turn, so somewhat different from the British cultural studies reception of Gramsci at that time in the ’80s and ’90s.

And this philological turn both makes it more textual, closer to the kind of literary work that we were attempting to do at the time but also weirdly in a way further away insofar as this philological turn right now in Gramsci’s study seems to be happening, not in literature departments so much, but in political theory, maybe geography. So there’s this weird disjuncture in terms of where the literary is and the textuality of approaching Gramsci vis-a-vis the so-called philological turn.

So this is a different kind of disjuncture in our current conjuncture that I feel animated by in approaching reading Sharad, who seems very literary to me maybe because we’re generationally closer in a way. So he’s a bit of an odd man out, I feel like, in this philological conversation. He’s more literary than a lot of that philological conversation, I feel like, on Gramsci’s studies.

But then at the same time, I’ll just say biographically I’m moving more towards the conceptual. So my approach is like, I want to hammer in on the conceptual. So I’m going to be like, coming back metaphor concept.

OK, so sorry, long preamble but this is where I’m coming at vis-a-vis the question of the binary. So maybe one way for me to– OK, so where I’m coming at this after studying with Said and Spivak at Columbia was to work on Pax Americana actually since you raised that already, right?

And so for me, the interest of coming to Gramscian, Americanism, and Fordism, and then your approach to Gramsci via thinking about America as empire as almost in a regent frame, a kind of successor to British empire in the 19th century. How do we think about the post frontier? Is the American expansion across the Pacific after so-called declaration of the end of the frontier in 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner, do we understand that?

So now metaphorically, do we understand that as a post-frontier moment insofar as the extension across the Pacific is a kind of displacement of the logic of the continental frontier? Or is it an extension of the logic of that continental frontier into the Philippines, Spanish-American war and then so on and so forth, right?

So that’s to then come back in a way– that’s one concrete way in which I want to ask you that question similar to the sort of question that Leslie was asking about how do we think about– how are you thinking about Gramsci as a dialectician of a more fluid sort that is not, in fact, a kind of Laclau and Mouffean version of Gramsci as short circuiting dialectics?

But you use the term Thai dialectics to name a more fluid kind of dialectics. And I have more to say about that if my version is different from what you’re going to say as a way of thinking sublation in a more fluid way.

And I raise the Pax Americana as a post-frontier thing as a concrete example because it’s interesting because I would think of the literal as a way of remaining with liminal spaces, but then a lot of your examples are really more deep sea, I feel like, where the sea is a contradictory social space of a blue economy that cannot completely be captured by capital accumulation.

And so in that sense, it seems like you’re turning to the sea as a space itself with its own specific dynamics that’s quite different from the land, which means that I don’t think you’re simply lingering with the liminal or the literal in order to interrupt a binary so as to deconstruct it. So sorry, is that a lot of clues?

[SHARAD CHARI] It’s a lot of– yeah. All in different ways about method and literary method. My own path– my own entry drug to Gramsci was in this building with Michael Burawoy. And Michael Burawoy’s the Church of Gramsci was probably a Marxist church.

But it was so compelling and useful for so many of us to bring in– to think about Gramscian concepts, to bring them to life in a Marxist critique of political economy that was lived in parallel to the socialist street. It’s a similar kind of move to think about.

In fact, these are parallel trajectories, Marxism and social history, Marxism through Burawoy and the kind of ethnographic political economy. These are parallel trajectories, and they connect as well.

Very different from Said. And I dug up this paper on Said talk on Gramsci and Lukacs, which I got from the Said archives. If anyone wants it, I can send it to you. Please email me. I think it’s very interesting and thoughtful.

But it did get me thinking that Said was interested in what Gramsci thought of as his philological approach. And what that meant, given the trajectory that I come at Gramsci, given this sort of materialist trajectory, it meant something different. For me, what it pointed to– well, on his concept metaphors, he works with them, and he elaborates them as he says. And he labors with them and transforms them, leaves some aside, goes on with others.

And you can see that when you read across the notes. And that’s one gift, so you don’t look for fixed concepts, which I think the sociological approach we tended to think this is how you define hegemony, this is how you– and I think this processual approach to its concepts is perhaps useful in thinking also about how hegemony itself is transforming in our time and in different domains. And so the concepts transform with the objects of analysis. That’s also what Gramsci is interested in.

And returning to that 1859 passage from– he has these little passages he keeps going back to, right? And that passage from Marx is about how do we figure out the problem space we’re interested in? It’s emergent in relation to the problems we face. And the solutions emerge alongside the problems.

But then this ciphering those is not a purely intellectual task. It’s not simply about sitting in Columbia University. It’s about learning from the oppressed and learning from– that’s then the task which the social historians and the ethnographers were doing in a particular way. It doesn’t exhaust the ways they we can do it, but I think then if thinking philologically is not reducible to language and abstraction, which is never Gramsci’s interest, right? It’s always lived language.

When he writes– in the final years, he writes his family to send them the latest folklore or send them folklore. He’s trying to compile an arsenal for his conception of what it would take to organize collective political will as a social historian, as an ethnographer would.

But something else is lurking in the background here, which is not so much a background for a geographer. It’s the foreground. It’s the question of space and time and how prior space times are drawn into the new. So the question of sublation in a materialist sense, that’s part of what this kind of, if you want, a broader sense of the philological is trying to get at.

I think it’s also genealogical. Conrad Hart and I have a dispute about this. But his dialectical method is also about drawing in prior space times into the new. I think that’s also what the category racial capitalism really is fumbling with. It’s not just about the racist ideology. It’s about prior space times drawn into the new and that then with their symbolic and ideological and various other aspects.

And that’s why Gramsci is interested in folklore, and that’s what he’s trying to then think through how to radicalize those forms, how to bring them out of the realm of doxa into the realm of critique. And so something about philology, something about this idea, the concept matter of metaphor of philological method is useful for something we call the social sciences as if they’re abstracted from humanities.

That is then– that points to something broader about a method for thinking about prior socio-spatial forms is always conserved in the new, something like that. And I think of that as a kind of oceanic form. That’s the provocation.

I’m willing to hear you say that because that’s how I read you as well but yes.

Thank you.

[JAMES VERNON] And if anyone wants to come in before 1 o’clock, just put your hand up. Let me know. But Leslie, can you go on?

[LESLIE SALZINGER] Of course. Sure, yes, for those of you who have not read this yet, the pamphlet itself is very– it wanders in a very poetic way. And I feel like there’s a way in which our conversation is following that genre, which I think is nice.

Being the kind of person I am, though, I’m like, where? But what precisely do you mean here? So I have a question about how you understand the idea of the oceanic as useful in reading Gramsci. In a way, this is just going back to the same thing, but I want to hear you expand on it.

So sometimes it’s metaphorical and stylistic. Gramsci is an ocean of notes. He clearly is playing. He’s not tying things down. You’re inspired by that in certain ways, and there’s a way in which understanding his thought as fluid is part of what you’re doing.

But then there are ways in which the ocean’s material existence is that thinking about the ocean forces one to think about the transnational. The ocean is a connector between nation states. You go, they overflow their boundaries by definition.

You have a fascinating part which I knew nothing about the legal structure of the ocean and the continental shelf, and who controls it, and nation states get to control the top but they don’t control the bottom. And so when you harvest things from the ocean, you’re always moving through nation states. So it’s a deeply enriched image of the way capital works through the ocean space, which is different in important ways than the way capital works on land.

And so I guess I’m still just– I just want to hear you talk more about which sides of that are more interesting to you or maybe more importantly, how those two sides, which you’re clearly interested in both, the fluidity of the language, thinking fluidly, and thinking what it means to actually think about the ocean with Gramsci, how those speak to each other and illuminate Gramsci’s thought more generally.

[SHARAD CHARI] Thank you. So in the most direct way of answering, the most direct answer is that when he literally talks about, when you just do word searches and find his notes on oceanic matters, what becomes apparent is that he is not just a thinker who is– he’s not a thinker who is recognizable in much of Gramsci studies, at least in the social sciences, which is who is a methodological nationalist?

Gramsci is often thought of in a national frame partly because of the regulation theory and the way it had read Gramsci or used Gramsci maybe. And so I thought that was interesting for one key.

There are some insights that are surprising and exciting, but that’s one of the big things that I thought he’s interested in a different kind of– he’s interested in imperialism and in a surprising way.

Secondly, that then got me to think about what he says when you think about a thinker, you’ve got to think about their leitmotifs, their forms of thought. And so then I said, OK, well, every time he talks about the things that really matter to him, when he gets into, he says he’s trying to figure out his own predicament or what has happened in Italy, let’s say.

We think of that as a national argument, but then he tells it, and he does what seems like a potted history in some ways. This is what happened after the French Revolution. This is what happens to Jacobinism after the French Revolution. This is what happens at the Risorgimento, and this is how the Risorgimento fails to achieve certain aims and produce something else.

And then you see something else, a different kind of spatial temporal object of analysis, which is accumulative. It’s trying to get an analytical point about a complex, dense, historical, spatial historical conjuncture and its remains as they accumulate in a particular direction. Presumably, there are all sorts of other directions.

I thought that form of thought is also in– it has that feel of an oceanic form of thought and also the sense of the kind of resurgence. Then when you think about his arguments about what is to be done– what is to be done for critical diagnosis and for politics, how do we steer clear of the shoals of economism and idealism?

He has a surprising thing about the levels of analysis, and it’s not a stratigraphy. That would seem like it’s a stratigraphy, but it’s not. And he says that, not in those terms.

And he also says what we should look for is the moment when the organic erupts into the conjunctural. What does that mean? Again, there’s some kind of– I call a kind of oceanic concept metaphor in its form. So formally and in terms of content, there’s something exciting here that is different from how we usually read Gramsci.

[COLLEEN LYE] I’m going to try to answer for him.

[SHARAD CHARI] No, you can subtract as well.

[COLLEEN LYE] I just want to add. So I think that’s right actually because I was having trouble grasping your argument precisely because it is very associative and metaphoric. You’re arguing through metaphor, right? This is the style of your argument.

I kept asking myself as I was reading this like, what are you– how do you follow through? It’s not like an expository essay. You’re not arguing through in a standard, academic way.


But what you just said confirmed my hunch that there is an intervention here conceptually through the metaphor of working through the ocean– and you can disagree with my reading, the ocean as both matter and form. You are interested. I feel like you’re toggling back and forth between thinking about ocean as matter that forces us to constantly come up against the impossibility of its enclosure, right? A space that refuses enclosure but also is continually subject to exploitation as the continual frontier where exploitation and exploitability is coming up against its limit.

And on the other hand, how is it also in that refusal and continual movement also a form of thought that interestingly makes us not simply associate fluidity, the oceanic with fluidity versus fixity of land, which is to say that what I got from your emphasis on thinking sublation in the fluid way was the emphasis not simply on the preservation of past forms of oppression but also past forms of struggle, past forms of counter-hegemonic popular folk ways that resist.

And it seemed to me that conceptually, that was your contribution to current debates and racial capitalism. And by revisiting the agrarian question within the Marxist tradition, as you say, which is very good on thinking about the uneven persistence of formal subsumption and uneven development, but your interesting appreciation for Gramsci’s Leninism actually forces us– and this is where I want to just bring out for people who haven’t read the pamphlet yet, that your focus specifically on waves and currents you say–

Yeah, that section.

You say, “Waves on the surface–” this is a quote, “Waves on the surface come and go capriciously, but deep down there’s a strong historical current, right?” So that’s your way of–

[SHARAD CHARI] That’s Gramsci.

[COLLEEN LYE] OK, yeah, you quote in your book. And so your reading of that is that Gramsci’s break– that is Gramsci’s break with mechanistic materialism and Marxist tradition or his own way of thinking about structure and superstructure. And then you say, “In studying structure, let’s distinguish organic movements, the relatively permanent–” that’s the currents, “–from movements which may be termed occasional, immediate, almost accidental, the waves, right?”

So OK, here’s where I feel like your metaphor is more than just a metaphor, it’s also a concept. It’s the matter but also the concept. And then you say on page 17, the sublimation of the spirit of Jacobinism points to submerged legacies of popular struggle that might surface at various opportune moments.

OK, good. So what’s interesting is that if pelagic imperialism cannot really accumulate on the sea in the same way that it can easily accumulate on land, and that’s part of the resistance to a continuous accumulation, then it seems like you’re countering the pelagic imperialism, which is someone else’s term, I forget who, with this idea of a different idea of base superstructure in a more fluid sense that also conserves past struggles.

And so yeah, so I just wanted to emphasize the preservation of the past but the preservation not of past forms of oppression re-adapted to present forms of exploitation but past forms of sequence of popular struggles, which also seems super relevant for our present.

[SHARAD CHARI] Thanks, Colleen. There’s a book that haunts the pamphlet. It doesn’t exist, so don’t worry. It’s a book that– so I’ve been doing research in the Southern African, Indian Ocean region, and Mauritius, Réunion, ports of Mozambique and trying to figure out what is this about, and I thought I’d hinge it on the idea of the blue economy.

And I wrote this partly to figure out where I am, what I want to think about. And it’s around these issues. So really, to properly answer, you have to work through that, elaborate through that material and those struggles.

So I’ll give you one example of one of the sites. Mauritius has the sort of very mythologized and highly symbolically overloaded region, which is the place of maroonage. And that’s where the annual march to commemorate the end of the slave trade ends there, with Rastafarians actually leading the way in the Indian Ocean.

And anyway, that archives of the end of the slave trade in this particular corner of where the Black Atlantic and the Indian Ocean intersect. There’s a thriving illegal slave trade after the end of the formal slave trade, with ships changing names and people changing names and continuing to trafficking humans in this.

And I found someone– amazing stuff about the way in which people are trafficked through the infrastructure of that perfect in, back traffic back in the landscape of maroonage. And there’s a site which refuses some kind of determinism around what maroonage looks like, what those shoals, the land space, land-sea interface.

Here is not a place of freedom but also a place of re-enslavement, which requires one to work through the concrete material. That’s how I would work through some of this with, where I had to actually write a book.

And then the other thing that I thought of, yeah, so fluidity fixity is, of course, another dialectical relation that has to be thought through concretely. And that passage that you read from Gramsci is, of course, also an engagement through oceanic metaphors of Marx and Marx’s 1857 introduction to the Grundrisse and the notion of a rising to the concrete of deeper relations that the mistake is of thinking of that in some kind of layering. So I think these are– it’s also about rereading Marx methodologically.

[JAMES VERNON] I’m going to throw it open to other people in the–

[LESLIE SALZINGER] James, before you do, I just want to say one thing. I know we’re at time. But I just think one thing about this pamphlet that’s wonderful is that it just shows us the virtues of going back to great theorists over and over again. And that this is so clearly a reading from now from a time of climate crisis and from a time in which discussions of racial capitalism– so it’s just very much a reading from this moment. And I just think that’s really interesting and wonderful.

Thank you.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi, I was wondering if you could talk a bit about if we accept Colleen’s reading or if we think about the oceanic in terms of form and matter, what happens to organic intellectuals? Because that seems like he sets up conjunctural versus organic and the task of separating those two where all things appear conjunctural and identifying that Jacobin spirit, identifying conjuncture seems to be the duty of the party. And it’s collected in the modern prince chapter of that anthology so yeah.

I just wondered also, if we’re reading Gramsci again towards this sort of Leninism, I wonder in the light of what happened to his reception in workerist Italy that he was ultimately rejected because of what happened to the PCI and the party and its effect on the Italian working class, that he became an enemy of Italian communism in the ’60s. Yeah, I guess I just wondered if that sparked something.

[SHARAD CHARI] What do we make of the organic intellectual and the modern prince? The organic intellectual I point to is Pip in Moby-Dick, the young Black cabin boy who falls into the sea. And all the– Ellen Gallagher is interested in Pip. C.L.R James is interested in Pip.

But when we read Pip now, I’m struck that– so Pip falls into the sea. And the first time he falls in from the whaling boat, they rescue him. And the second time the guy says, if you fall in again, your life isn’t worth it rescuing basically.

The whales are much more– the whales are more lucrative than you would cost– than you would fetch if I were to sell you again in Alabama, something like that. There’s a reference to this. This is still the Fugitive Slave Act is still in the background and so on.

And he falls in. And the second time he falls in, he’s abandoned and then he’s plucked out of the sea, but he’s never the same. And he’s this figure who has seen something, and he is also the only person that Ahab listens to and sees as the voice of reason.

This is a kind of Shakespearean figure in some ways, right, but also– and not quite an answer to the modern prince because they have the modern princess. It doesn’t come together in Moby-Dick, actually. But Pip is that figure who has seen something.

Also, Ellen Gallagher is interested in Pip as a figure who sees the climate catastrophe. What does that mean? What is the organic intellectual if young Delio, Gramsci’s child, grows up and can regard the teeming life of the sea in a different way than the party could? What does that mean? That’s part of it, I think, what is an ecological modern– what is a planetary modern France?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] OK. Yeah, thank you very much for the extremely thoughtful and stimulating presentation and discussion. Thinking about oceans over time and the Atlantic Ocean but also the Mediterranean Sea over time during the lengthy period of slavery, British slavery in the Caribbean and the lengthy period of British imperialism.

So thinking literally about a littoral zone, I did work on the salt on the rice production in the rural, the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina, which produced more than 90% of rice that was produced in the United States and had a very distinctive plantation labor regime. So I’m curious about that in terms of the binary and breaking down the binary. So that’s during the period of slavery.

But during imperialism, working again from my hometown Liverpool and the role it played in slavery but also in West Africa, the oil rivers region, where the Brits initially thought there was one river but thought there were multiple rivers. Well, I forget how they got confused. I’m getting confused now.

But it turns out that there are multiple strands, and these zones, they have their own labor regimes because the big ships can’t go in. And they employ mainly male but some female. So there are two littoral littorals that act, and I wonder how they– I got it from you. It’s very imaginative. I’m very appreciative. I’ve made some notes for future use.

But my second– so that’s one question for reflections. But my second one is that geography, as I see it, is the home of Black geography in this country. And I wonder what Gramsci had to say about the Mediterranean and what the people writing about Black geographies are saying about the Mediterranean.

I know it’s a big place. It’s a sea. It’s not an ocean. But I wonder if there are ways in which thinking about Gramsci enables us to think about the Black Mediterranean as a very different zone from the Black Atlantic. Thanks very much.

[SHARAD CHARI] Well, we do have one of our rising stars in Black geographies. Camilla Hawthorne works on the Black Mediterranean. Yeah, we learn from the work of supervision. Yeah, so let’s see. Can I answer about how I– a lot of what you offered were comments.

But Gramsci’s relation to Blackness is an interesting one. And I engage Frank Wilderson’s response in his essay Gramsci’s Black Marx. The way that I think the essay calls for– the essay begins with an axiomatic refusal of the possibility of Black Marxism. It’s a death sentence, literally, the first sentence.

And I think it’s actually not a useful way to read. Gramsci is strangely– I looked and I found sites, places where he’s totally racist about Black music and Black popular culture. For someone who’s so excited about popular culture, that’s interesting.

So what is this aphasia– not aphasia, what is this blindness? What is going on there? I think Fumi Okiji here is, for me, the person to think with, the way she reads Adorno’s blindness to jazz and reads that as a way of reading Jazz as Critique, as she puts it, and Adorno’s deafness in relation. That’s exciting to me. Well, that’s what I suggest is possible.

And then it’s interesting that that’s my segue into thinking about Drexciya, which emerges in the ruins of Fordism. Gramsci doesn’t see that despite having been in the common term around the discussion of the Negro question that Claude McKay brought to the Comintern. He doesn’t engage it, and it is an emergent in the Americanism and Fordism essay as it probably should.

So he would have heard it and known it, so it’s strange. But so there is some deafness or aphasia or something, right? That’s how I try to think about that.

But I don’t think it’s a death sentence because this is the Gramsci, the young Gramsci in revolution against capital warns against deifying Marx because the Bolsheviks didn’t follow a prescription there. We should do the same with Gramsci, right? We should open up many forms of reading, which then takes us back to the importance of reading or doing a reading, which is what he always does.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you so much for this. So I’m going to return in my disciplinary role to the question of metaphor as method, partly because you talk about one of my favorite moments in Freud early on, which is the oceanic feeling. And I wanted to think about whether or not the oceanic is in fact metaphoric in this moment and what that might do for your later use of the oceanic.

Because while Freud and Rolland dramatically disagree about what the oceanic feeling can be and who might have it, it is for both of them, not a metaphor. They understand that the oceanic feeling is phenomenological and it’s psychic.

And I’m wondering if that materiality of the oceanic feeling might be a way to return to oceanic Marxism, which is where you take us, right? You go from the oceanic feeling to oceanic Marxism. So I’m wondering about materiality and the body as we move from feeling to, let’s say, politics.

And the reason I’m thinking with you quite in a current is because of your example of Pip right now. Because when you say that Pip returns having seen something, this is actually the story that Rolland is reading right of Ramakrishna.

He says, the salt doll goes into the ocean to measure the depths, and he finds that he’s become one with the ocean, except the actual story is that most cannot return. And sometimes the salt doll comes back but cannot say what he has seen, right? That there is something about having seen something that you cannot say that seems essential to the movement between, let’s say, the affective, or even the perceptual and the political.



[SHARAD CHARI] Thank you. That’s brilliant. I realize that I just threw that out at some point as a question, what would Gramsci have done with the oceanic feeling? He wouldn’t have– and I think he would have done something. And even that little letter to his son indicates something.

In terms of his reading of– Freud’s reading of Rolland I would need to think more about it. But I’m with you on this point. I do think– I’m sure he would do something. I think he would have to interrogate Rolland’s Orientalism, right? And that would then make him– would have to make him question what he thinks of as absolute secularization of thought today. We would have to think about that differently.

But primary narcissism, that wouldn’t be the direction he would go. But there’s something else that is possible. I’d like to talk to you more about this. I appreciate the provocation. Thank you.

One more.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Quick question in the middle. First, thanks so much. This panel is great, and I can’t wait to go out and get your book, which I will read, I think, with great enthusiasm and pleasure. Here’s the question. What– and I don’t mean to be– I don’t want to involve myself in the theological term.

But in the Gramsci texts, what is the word in Italian for ocean? Is it mare? Because if it is mare, then the map gets redefined, right? Mare Nostrum, the Mediterranean. And it doesn’t mean that the readings are different, but there is a colonial space marked out.

I’m thinking of this really in retrospection from contemporary debates about the Mediterranean as a site of unity and connection. And also, that brings in race as well, and it also brings in the emigration from Italy. But anyway, that was just my question which could supplement your proposals, which are, of course great. But anyway, wanted to know what you thought about ocean and mare.

[SHARAD CHARI] I don’t know actually. Maybe some of the– maybe some other– I’m not sure what that carries. I’m not sure what– he does use– the translated terms you can find are the sea and maritime and the ocean as well both for different things.

The ocean is in that section on the Pacific and the shift in the global– in the axis of geopolitics, something like that. But I’d have to think about the– one would have to think about the entailments in this method and the entailments within the act of translation. I take your point. I appreciate it.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hey, there, Sharad. Thank you so much for your talk. My name is William. I’m a geography PhD student. And I wanted to– I had two questions. And the first was on a phrase that kept on coming up.

The idea that terracentrism presupposes a land/sea binary. And through this, I was thinking– I immediately went to Kevin Dawson’s work and undercurrents of power and his use of the term waterscapes or aquascapes to get out of this binary between the rivers and the swamps and the sea.

And as you were talking, I was thinking that if we do take the sea as our framework and we take maritime lens, that could exclude a lot of aquatic material culture, particularly in the continent. So if we look at West Africa, prior to 1600s, you had a lot of interior travel on the lagoons and the rivers and the latrines but not necessarily out to sea. And so if we focus on the maritime, we exclude their material history.

So I was thinking about if terracentrism does presuppose a land/sea binary, then what does it mean to use waterscapes or aquascapes to rethink this binary in this way? And just you know, I’m thinking about method. If we’re looking at slave ships, we can still see wrecks in the sea. If we’re looking at canoes, they’ve all rotted, right?

And the second question I had was related to this is one thing that comes up in terracentric histories is periodization and this impulse to periodize, particularly according to anodyne timescales. And I was thinking about what focusing on aquatics, what focusing on the sea can help do to refuse periodization and how you deal with that.

[SHARAD CHARI] Thanks. Well, I’ve read some of Kevin Dawson’s articles about slave surfing and all that. I actually didn’t turn to him in this piece because I didn’t think he was engaging, but I haven’t read the book. I don’t know what he does in the book.

And I did actually say incorrectly earlier that I didn’t find exemplary works that are wrestling with thinking beyond the land/sea binary. I do find several– I thought Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery is very interesting for thinking about– and one could read it or thinking about some of what you’re asking for, the connections between the oceanic and the canoes and so on and the canoe trade and also the aftermath in the US and saltwater slaves, slaves marked by recent passage.

And I was thinking about some other texts that try to– but I think this is an area of work that your dissertation will be an interesting addition to this hopefully, yeah.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] OK, thank you for this panel. Since I’m coming last, I’m going to ask the dystopian climate future question. Someone had to do it. OK, so in two parts.

So part one is the origin story or myth or story of eco-Marxism is that Marx is interested in soil science. And from that comes this concept of the metabolism. And so then now eco-Marxism is about the metabolic rift.

And hearing you all talk makes me think that there’s maybe something to interrogate there about a land bias to the metabolic rift and then to what eco-Marxism thinks about and how that metaphor organizes eco-Marxist thoughts.

The second part is if we think about the ocean and the future of the ocean, I wonder if you think it is the land-ocean dialectic or Thai dialectic is qualitatively similar to what it is now. So in the future, a notion with probably radical reduction in its own biodiversity from carbon absorption, potentially much hotter in many ways is like the shock absorber of both carbon and heat but also the tormentor of society because the hurricanes, much stronger storms, wetter.

And then most importantly, maybe sea level rise could mean the elimination of every single beach in the world. Seems virtually certain in the absence of geoengineering that 5 feet of sea level rise of course wipes out all the beaches. So how does the future of the ocean inform a different kind of eco-Marxism or eco-socialism?

[JAMES VERNON] You got five minutes, four minutes.

[SHARAD CHARI] Yeah, well, I can only go back to optimism of the intellect, right? Optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect. He gets that from Rolland but right. The political challenges to refuse this future but it is a future that is in the near– it’s in the near future.

It’s a future we cannot avoid.

Yeah. That is the challenge that Aravamudan poses for us, but he also then go back to that initial quotation that the shadow of impending ecological disaster leaps over today and reunites with abandoned conceptions of human finitude from a past rich with apocalyptic nightmares that the enlightenment and temporarily vanquished.

But that presumes that forms of response to this predicament are going to be varied if we take sublation of prior struggles, prior cultural forms, prior socio spatial, prior land/sea, prior dialectics. Seriously, there is no point in hoping for a singular modern prince. This is the time, if ever, to think about united front in research as well as in politics, right?

But methodologically, that is actually quite an interesting opening for us. If one takes our modern position seriously that prior forms continue to shape multiple ways of meeting this challenge, that’s an abstract way of engaging.

[JAMES VERNON] I think a good place to end at least somehow. Join me in thanking this panel for a wonderful time.

Thank you.





Authors Meet Critics

Dylan Penningroth, “Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights”

Recorded on November 14, 2023 at UC Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix, this “Authors Meet Critics” panel is focused on Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights, by Dylan Penningroth, Professor of Law and Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of History at UC Berkeley, and Associate Dean, Program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy / Legal Studies at Berkeley Law.

Professor Penningroth was joined in conversation by Ula Yvette Taylor, Professor and 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education in the UC Berkeley Department of African American Studies and African Diaspora Studies; and Eric Schickler, Professor, Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Endowed Chair in the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley. The panel was moderated by Waldo E. Martin Jr., the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History and Citizenship at UC Berkeley.

The Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” book series features lively discussions about recently published books authored by social scientists at UC Berkeley. For each event, the author discusses the key arguments of their book with fellow scholars. The panel was co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP) graduate program, Berkeley School of Law, the Center for the Study of Law and Society (CSLS), the Center for Race and Gender (CRG), and the UC Berkeley Department of History.

About the Book

dylan penningroth book coverThe familiar story of civil rights goes something like this: Once, the American legal system was dominated by racist officials who shut Black people out and refused to recognize their basic human dignity. Then, starting in the 1940s, a few brave lawyers ventured south, bent on changing the law—and soon, everyday African Americans joined with them to launch the Civil Rights Movement. In Before the Movement, historian Dylan C. Penningroth overturns this story, demonstrating that Black people had long exercised “the rights of everyday use,” and that this lesser-known private-law tradition paved the way for the modern vision of civil rights. Well-versed in the law, Black people had used it to their advantage for nearly a century to shape how they worked, worshiped, learned, and loved. Based on long-forgotten sources found in the basements of county courthouses, Before the Movement recovers a vision of Black life allied with, yet distinct from, “the freedom struggle.”

Watch the panel above or on YouTube, or listen to it as a podcast below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.



[MARION FOURCADE] OK. Hello, everybody. Welcome. My name is Marion Fourcade. I’m the director of Social Science Matrix. And I am very delighted to welcome you to our discussion of Dylan Penningroth’s book, Before The Movement– The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights, which just came out two months ago.

The book examines the everyday use of the law by ordinary Black people going back to the last decades of slavery. Penningroth shows that Black people exercised their legal rights at the local level and change the law in myriad and often unspectacular ways for well over a century before the civil rights movement. So Before the Movement challenges conventional historical accounts by recovering the agency of earlier generations and the essential role of local courthouses as theaters of legal and social change.

So we’re very grateful for the many co-sponsors for this event, which include the Center for Race and Gender, the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program, the law school, the Center for the Study of Law and Society, and the history department, only that. Today’s event is part of our Author Meets Critics series which features critically engaged discussions about recent books by Berkeley faculty.

So as always, I will mention a few upcoming events. Tomorrow, we will have a talk by Nivedita Menon who’s visiting Berkeley on her recently published book, Secularism as Misdirection. And then our next Authors Meet Critic is from Sharad Chari from the geography department. The book is called Gramsci at Sea.

We’ll have later that week after Thanksgiving, we’ll have a Matrix On Point featuring graduate students in conversation around new directions in the Study of Gender and Sexuality. And then our final Author Meets Critics of the season is a book by a new faculty member in the history department Trevor Jackson titled Impunity and Capitalism. And we have a lot more events. But those are just some of the highlights of this upcoming months.

Now, I will introduce our moderator. So Waldo E. Martin Jr. Is the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison professor of American history and citizenship here at the University of California Berkeley. He’s the author of No Coward Soldiers– Black Cultural Politics in Postwar America, which came out in 2005 as well as Brown V. Board of Education, A Short History with Documents, which came out in 2021, and The Mind of Frederick Douglass from 1985.

He’s a co-author with Mia Bay and Deborah Gray White of Freedom On My Mind– a History of African-Americans with Documents. Sorry. Yes. And also with another co-authored book with Joshua Bloom, Black Against Empire– The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, which came out in 2016. With Patricia Sullivan, he co-edited Civil Rights in the United States– An Encyclopedia.

So aspects of the modern African-American freedom struggle and the history of modern social movements unite, his current research and writing interests. And he’s currently completing another book titled, A Change is Gonna Come– the Cultural Politics of the Black Freedom Struggle and the Making of Modern America. So without further ado, Waldo, I’ll leave it to you to introduce our speaker and critics.

[WALDO E. MARTIN JR.] First off, I want to say it is an extraordinary pleasure to be a part of this event. I’m honored. I’m delighted. On some level, I feel like it’s old home week.

I first met this brother in the early ’90s. He was trying to figure out where to go to graduate school. He visited us. And then he had an epiphany and went to Hopkins. The rest they say is history, right?

And I’ve known you for decades. And it’s such a wonderful pleasure to meet Eric. I’ve actually read a number of pieces by you. And so I welcome you into the fold, my brother. Yeah.

First time meeting you. But it’s like old home week for me and all these, as I like to call them precious memories are flooding back. For example, his very first prize winning book was part of a series that I co-edited at the University of North Carolina Press, 2003. I think it was something like that. And Ula’s most recent book is also in that series, The Promise of Patriarchy– Women and the Nation of Islam.

Dylan specializes in African-American history as well as US sociolegal history. In addition to this amazing book Before the Movement, as I mentioned, he’s the author of The Claims of Kinfolk– African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth Century South, which won a lot of awards. He has held a number of fellowships, not only research fellowships.

But he’s been recognized equally by a number of organizations for his teaching excellence. He is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. And before coming to Berkeley in 2015– and I was also part of the team that kept trying to hassle him about joining the faculty here. Eventually, it worked out.

He taught at the University of Virginia. He only taught three years. I was there for 10 years, my brother.


How long? Too long. Oops. You didn’t hear that. Cut that. Cut that. And he taught at Northwestern and was a research professor at the American Bar Association– American Bar Foundation.

Eric is the Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott professor of political science and the co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California. He’s the author of six books. One, Investigating the President– Congressional Checks on Presidential Power with Doug Kriner, which came out in 2016. And the book that I’ve actually, the piece that I’ve dipped into, Racial Realignment– The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965. In 2017, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Ula Taylor is professor of African-American Studies here at Berkeley and the 1960 chair of undergraduate education. She is the author of numerous books. The Veiled Garvey on Amy Jacques Garvey is a book that even to this day her concept of community feminism, I’m trying to figure out exactly what we’re talking about, my sister, dominates the kinds of conversations that I have.

And most recently, The Promise of Patriarchy, which came out on Women and the Nation of Islam. She’s a number of amazing and important pieces on African-American women’s history and feminist theory. She also won a Distinguished Professor Teaching Award.

And I must say I sat on the committee that gave her the award and did not recuse myself. Number one, because I knew she was an extraordinary teacher. But the encomiums from the other members on the committee went beyond me. So I felt OK. It’s OK for me to say she’s good. But Ula is most proud of her former students, a number of whom I’ve had the honor of working with her in their work. And a number of them are indeed transforming the field of Black studies.

So as I said, this is an august group to be a part of. I’m honored. And we’re going to do this. We’re going to start off with Dylan. He’s going to talk for about 20 minutes.

And then we’re going to move to Eric, 10 to 12 minutes. And then Ula will take us home. And then Dylan will have the opportunity to respond. And then we will open it up for questions. And thank you for coming. It’s nice to see so many wonderful beautiful faces in the place.

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Well, thank you, Waldo for that generous introduction. It’s really good to be here. I want to first thank Marion Fourcade for inviting me to be here and Julius Isaac for shepherding this event into being. I’m really grateful to Waldo and Ula and Eric for agreeing to be part of this conversation.

And I really want to thank all of you for choosing to spend part of your afternoon, your lunch hour, actually with us here. It’s really a privilege to be able to share some of my research with you here today. So I’m going to talk probably for close to the full 20 minutes because I don’t think anyone’s read the book. And it might be helpful for me to lay out what’s going on in this book.

So for the past several years, I’ve been trying to learn all that I can about how Black people use law, talked about law and thought about law from the 1830s to the 1970s. And so these brief remarks are aimed at trying to recount some of what I’ve learned. And I’m going to tell it in a few places partly through the eyes of some of my own relatives.

And what I want to do here and what I do in the book is I try to use the history of Black legal lives to challenge some of the ways that we as historians and law scholars have come to talk about civil rights and about African-American history more generally. I’m going to keep this as short as I can because I very much want to engage with questions from all of you.

So the story of civil rights that I think most people are familiar with goes something like this. So once upon a time, the legal system was dominated by racist state and local officials who refused to recognize not only Black people’s civil rights, but their basic human dignity and even their lives. So law was a fearsome, hostile power, something you needed to avoid whenever possible. It was full of unknowable secrets and often deadly.

Then according to the story in the 1940s, a few brave lawyers ventured south bent on changing the law. They confronted the system with a carefully planned series of strategic lawsuits. And also, they confronted the system with the powerful symbolism of a Black lawyer in a white courthouse.

And so soon ordinary African-Americans their sense of possibility awakened by Brown versus Board of Education and other Supreme Court victories. And then galvanized by racial justice activists, coalesced into a mass movement, demanding that the federal government force those racist state and local officials to recognize Black people as free full members of American society. This, I think, is the master narrative of civil rights. And it is powerful. It’s powerful not least because it refuses to concede to right wing reactionaries what the word freedom means.

But I think it’s also powerful because history is not just about the past. James Baldwin put it very well when he said history is literally present in all that we do. We carry it within us. And so the choices that historians make, what we choose to write about, what counts as evidence, and how to interpret it, these choices are inevitably shaped by the world around us. And African-American history is no different.

In its modern form, it grew directly out of the civil rights movement itself. Activists in the 1960s created Black history units to teach in the Mississippi Freedom schools. At colleges, a Black student movement demanded Black history courses.

They demanded faculty to teach them. And they demanded a wholesale rethinking of what our country’s history is and how it should be taught. Now, many leading historians, Black historians came into the field profoundly shaped by their own experiences as activists in the 1960s. In fact, some of them explicitly said that their scholarship was a continuation of the struggle for Black freedom.

Today, even as many historians remain committed to the idea of scholarship as struggle, they are debating what that struggle actually was and what lessons it holds for us today. So the first generation of historians after the civil rights movement, they tended to look from the top down. From the perspective of great leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and from the Supreme Court justices like Earl Warren.

Over the past 30 years, a grass roots approach, grass roots approach has transformed our understanding of the movement by rethinking it from the perspective of ordinary people, local people. And also by widening our view beyond the era of mass protests commonly known as the movement. So if we look backward to the 1930s and forward to the 1980s, these historians have shown, we can see a much bigger struggle.

A struggle that burned as fiercely in New York and Los Angeles as it did in Selma, Alabama. Movement activists, these historians have shown, realized that civil rights were not enough. Real freedom required changing the underlying structures that kept most Black people poor, politically weak, undereducated, and abused by police. It meant transforming American democracy itself.

What hasn’t been rethought is the fundamental moral drama of the movement in which civil rights and Black history more broadly are framed as an unfinished freedom struggle. A battle against the forces of plunder. A journey from humiliation to dignity, from second class citizenship to full citizenship. From Black fear in the face of white lawlessness to Black people defiantly asserting their rights under the law.

That moral vision gleams brightly today as police killings mercilessly continue and as Republican politicians knowingly enact policies that systematically hurt Black people. Movement centered scholarship is as urgent and necessary today as it was in the 1960s. But the notion of Black history as a freedom struggle has also cost us something. It has helped to make Black history almost synonymous with the history of race relations as if Black lives only matter when white people are somehow are in the picture.

It has laid a moral burden on African-American history that few other scholarly fields must carry. It urges us to judge our ancestors according to how well they advanced the freedom struggle. It is often infused a subtle romanticism into African-American history with Black people playing the role of humble folk heroes overcoming adversity against the odds. And most of all, it has shrunk our vision of Black life down to the few areas of law where federal law and social movements made a difference.

So there are shelves full of books about the struggles for the right to vote, to open up the workplace, the schools, and the military, and to challenge a violently racist criminal justice system. But surely, Black people cared just as much about things like marriage and divorce, old age care, property owning, running churches and businesses. But these do not fit easily into a story of freedom.

In a sense, historians have tended to echo the racial justice activists of the 1950s and ’60s whose courthouse showdowns with white officials have become canonized in films like Selma and Just Mercy. Because African-Americans were afraid to go to the courthouse to vote as one Black farmworker wrote in a letter to the NAACP, scholars today have assumed that they were afraid to go to the courthouse for anything else.

In the freedom struggle story, Black people are often seen as ordinary and heroic precisely because they knew so little about law. But if that is so, then why when a mass movement against racial injustice finally took hold in the 1950s did so many Black people put their faith in law at all? Civil rights history has left Black people disconnected from our own legal common sense. The way that we actually think about and use law in our daily lives.

It has made it harder to see Black people as people in full. African-Americans use civil rights all the time. They just weren’t the rights that we think of as civil rights. They weren’t about protection from discrimination or subordination on the basis of race or sex or other protected categories.

Instead, they were the ordinary rights of a free man, as one of the framers of the 14th Amendment put it. The basic rights of property, contract, and standing that Congress wrote into America’s first national civil rights law, the Civil Rights Act of 1866. And during the grim decades of Jim Crow, those were the rights that people exercised, not just in court but in their daily lives. Although they rarely had any reason to call them civil rights.

When my great great aunt Annie Holcomb paid my mother’s burial insurance policy each week on her doorstep. When she and my great great Uncle Thomas sold land to midweight Baptist church in Virginia. When they wrote down instructions about how and where they wanted to be buried on that land. Every time they did something that a court could protect, they were doing civil rights. They were exercising freedom.

They were making it mean something more than the negation of slavery, something more than the end of whips and chains. Civil rights were rights of everyday use. Now, big picture history has tended to veil this history. But the real reason it has stayed hidden is because of a basic institutional practice.

Legal documents do not typically identify people by race. Not in the keyword searchable appellate reports that are available on Westlaw or Lexis. And not even in county courts in Mississippi. Now, this was a surprise.

I mean, after all, the local courts, especially in Mississippi, played a key role in enforcing segregation. And most of these old records were written in the era when even the water fountains were marked as white and colored. Now, I’ll come back later if you want with a partial explanation of why and why that matters.

But my most urgent problem at that time was practical. I wanted to write Black history. And I couldn’t figure out who was Black. So that’s a head scratcher.

To get around it, I would hop in the car and spend a week or two visiting county courthouses. I usually made sure to include Cumberland, Virginia so I could go see my Uncle Henry and Aunt Margaret. I took pictures along the way as one does. And then I’d show up in the office of the local circuit clerk.

If they let me in the back room, I would pull down dockets, these big, heavy ledger books. I would pull them down at 10-year intervals. And I would copy down the names of a subset of cases for that year.

And then my research assistants and I would look up those names on So it’s more than the swabs, the DNA. You can also look up people by name in the census. So then once I had a list of cases involving Black people, I went back to each of the courthouses, sometimes twice. And then I read some of the cases.

It wasn’t foolproof. Really, no historical method is foolproof. Sometimes it was kind of gnarly. But gradually, we started to see a picture of when, where, and why Black people used the courts. By the end, we looked up more than 14,000 civil cases from two dozen courthouses in five states and the District of Columbia. And we identified more than 1,500 that involved Black people.

So race ducks in and out of west law. And it’s pretty much invisible in the county court dockets. This is how we made it visible. In fact, we found more cases involving Black people during the Jim Crow era than during Reconstruction.

Black people went from filing an average of 8% of the civil suits in my 1872 sample slice. And then that percentage rose to 11% in 1892 and 17% in 1902 where it leveled off for about 20 years. I do not know why it dips there. And I’d be happy to get ideas from people about why that is.

But it remained level for quite a while during Jim Crow. What did they go to court about? All sorts of things, just much the same as white people did. They went to court about divorces, about insurance payouts, railroad accidents, unpaid rent, and personal property.

They also used private law in more routine non-adversarial ways. So they weren’t always going to sue somebody. So they did things like they sold easements on their land. They made wills and got them probated. They had cars towed off their property. They sorted out homebuilding contracts, drunk driving disputes, and landlord tenant disputes. And they bought and sold and gifted land.

Now, of course, this was not a level playing field. With few exceptions, Black people’s legal activity did not challenge white supremacy in any substantive way. Most of their lawsuits were against other Black people. Only 8% of the cases in my Jim Crow slice of the sample crossed the color line.

And yet even as white local officials cut Black people off from formal schooling, farmers in places like Alabama took pride in having what Nate Shaw, an Alabama tenant farmer called goat sense, which I think is what he means is the common sense that God gave a goat. This is the rough and ready knowledge, the legal knowledge, the ideas and assumptions about law that most grown ups possess to varying degrees. So Shaw knew, for example, that each party to a joint promissory note is liable for the other’s debt.

He knew that a husband’s mortgage did not cover household goods unless his wife signed too. And he knew that a renter at the end of his lease had the right and privilege to take anything that ain’t tied down. That goat sense got refined through daily experience. And it was discussed in churches and in schools and in Black-owned newspapers.

In fact, even in the worst years of segregation, prominent African-Americans expressed a wary faith in contract and property as levers that could be used to quote, “uplift the race.” So for example, the AME Church review predicted. When we own railroad stock, we can have the Jim Crow car taken from the road.

Another leading minister put it bluntly, “By land, be a freeholder. And no powers on Earth can keep you down.” When I say that my Uncle Craig is ringing in my ears. He would say stuff like that.

In short, the obstacles to Black people using their civil rights during Jim Crow were not always as simple as the white and colored signs that we’re going up over the water fountains. By the 1960s, southern county courthouses had become a stage for protest just as Rosa Parks in 1955 had turned a bus into what Robin Kelly calls a moving theater of injustice. Voting rights activists in the 1960s turned county courthouses into a made for television drama in which ordinary Black people suddenly seemed to shake off centuries of fear, confronting racist white sheriffs and county clerks to demand their rights.

Over and over, in one county seat after another, Black marchers kneeled to pray on the courthouse steps as white cops glowered down on them from in front of the tall heavy double doors. Now, Black Southerner’s decisions during these 1960s campaigns were shaped by their working knowledge of state based private law. And yet movement activists tended to interpret their behaviors, the southerner’s behaviors, in nostalgic, almost anti-legalist terms as part of a southern way of life that they believed had kept generations of Black Southerners alienated from the law and afraid to approach the courthouse.

The activist said and I’ll quote, just one group of them, that African African-American Southerners quote, “Did not know much about legal things. They just wanted the right to vote, to use public facilities, to have jobs and decent schools, as well as a larger freedom, a freedom of the human spirit.”

But of course, Black people had known about legal things for a long time. And they were still highly active in local courts during the 1950s and ’60s. And again and again, the movement lifted up civil rights from the house porch and the county courthouse into the universal values of freedom, and justice, and dignity. And then it returned them transfigured as moral arguments.

Now, something of course got lost in that transfiguration. And that is the long, rich history of Black people’s legal experiences and ideas about rights. And so I think activists bequeathed to historians three deeply flawed assumptions.

First, that common law rights under state law and the local courts that judge those rights had been a closed book to Black people before the modern freedom struggle. Second, that those rights were not civil rights. And third, that they were essentially irrelevant compared with discrimination or subordination as defined by Congress and the Supreme Court, much less compared to the broader human freedoms that activists were now seeking.

There’s much to learn from the history of the Black freedom struggle. But if we want to understand Black people’s demands for the rights that America denied them, we have to pay more attention to how they talked about and use the rights that were not denied them. The associational privileges and common law civil rights they had been exercising for generations in county clerks offices and church basements. Rights of everyday use.

But I think we should go further. We should try to see Black people’s political, and economic, and religious, and family commitments as something more than episodes in the history of race relations, something more than echoes of America’s original sin, something more than signposts on the road to a more perfect union or facets of a struggle for Black freedom.

We have to put Black people at the center of our own history. And when we take that broader view, I think we’ll be able to see better the rich diversity of Black life. My basic premise is that Black people’s lives are worth studying in themselves.

[ERIC SCHICKLER] All right. Thanks so much. Beautiful summary of a tremendous book. So before I was asked to participate on this panel, I knew a little bit about Dylan’s work as a historian. And I also remembered how happy several of my colleagues were when he was recruited to Berkeley several years ago.

So I took a quick look at the blurb for the book and found it really interesting. And so it was an easy yes. I’m excited to read it. But I’ll confess that before I started reading the book, I thought I knew what it was about based just on I think probably my two quick reading of the blurb and maybe my own assumptions about how history tends to be read.

And that assumption was that its main contribution was going to be to push back the historical narrative of the civil rights movement to an earlier point than the kind of standard interpretations. And I thought, well, I’m kind of interested to see how does, how does he go about doing that. Because there’s been a bunch of work of rich literature that Dylan talks about in the book about the long civil rights movement that pushes back the narrative to the 1920s and ’30s. And it’s made tremendous contributions. As well as a little bit of work in political science with related ambitions.

Point out Megan Ming Francis has a really great book on the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign starting in the 1910s and into the 20s, and its role in state building in the US. And by tracing these earlier developments, I think these other works have identified different actors and agents as important. For example, highlighting the work of Ida B. Wells and bringing lynching onto the national agenda. And these works have often changed our understanding of the key causal factors shaping movement success as well as limitations.

So I assumed this book would do something similar to that. And it does, but it also does so much more than that. It really changes how– for me, changes how I think about civil rights in a fundamental way. And I think it’ll do so for other readers as well.

So at a basic level, the book offers a dramatic rethinking of the political, social, and legal history of civil rights in the US with important implications for how political scientists, historians, and legal scholars think and also teach. Something I’ll bring up at the very end. As Dylan just described, the archival work here is just amazing to behold. I mean, it was really– both as a foundation for evidence in terms of these court records and then linking it to And then also as a source.

When you read the chapters, what’s striking is there are these beautifully crafted narratives that tell the stories of these individual lives while connecting it up to these much broader analytical themes, which I think is really hard to do. And this book does it just exceptionally well. Brings the reader into a world that has not been explored in this way in the past by scholars.

Now, I’m going to recapitulate a little bit, but hopefully not too much some of what Dylan just talked about, and then get into what I see as the implications. The book really shows that a lot of what we think of today as prosaic rights, rights to property, contract, marriage, divorce among them form the core of much of how civil rights were understood both by Black and white Americans in the 19th century and into the 20th century. They were rightly long understood to be fundamental to living one’s life as an individual person.

But this view of civil rights has largely dropped out. And I think one of the most striking implications of the book is to demonstrate how legal scholarship has wrongly created a bifurcation where Black people are seen as relevant to the law in particular ways generally as Dylan just talked about, in juxtaposition to white controlled authority. Cases about voting rights, job discrimination, integrating schools, criminal justice.

When in reality, Black people were plaintiffs and defendants struggling for their civil rights in critical contract, property marriage law cases that not only affected their own lives as individuals, but also helped in important cases shape legal doctrines more broadly. And the basic claim is we’ve not seen this because of the shift in how civil rights are understood. Where the civil rights movement came to focus on these struggles for voting integration and job discrimination, which are very different from these private law cases.

And I think one of the key points here is that we should see civil rights both as the fundamental rights of any free people as well as the rights of particular groups, especially minorities, not to be discriminated against. And what’s happened is, we’ve come to see the latter. And we’ve lost sight of the former with really important consequences.

And so from this perspective, the NAACP’s legal strategy even with its many strengths, Dylan argues ceded the vast ground of private law that had actually been the kind of law that was in effect shaped the everyday lives of Black people. And just one example I thought was really interesting here is thinking about discrimination on trains and restaurants in terms of their contract and property rights as individuals. That was the rhetoric or the way it lens through which individual Black people in the south thought about and experience that. And it sort of gets cut out of our narrative or our understanding.

All right. So let me talk a little bit about implications. One of which Dylan talked about so I’m not going to say a lot about, but this idea of thinking about Black history not just in terms of race relations, but the everyday lives, struggles, and successes of Black people as agents. And so not just as agents with respect to white authorities. I think he talked about that wonderfully already.

Second, I think that maybe gets less attention directly in the book, and I’d be really interested to hear you talk more about it is the relationship between race and capitalism. And I think this is kind of implicit in the book. So one of the really interesting points is that even at the height of Jim Crow and to some extent in the pre-civil war era as well, white people recognize certain Black rights. And Dylan is very careful to argue that this was not due to some sense of fairness, paternalism, or absence of racism, but rather because life’s ordinary business.

Transactions in a market economy required it. or was facilitated it by it. In other words, Black people’s ability to enter into contracts and convey property benefited white and Black people alike under certain circumstances. So as the beautiful wording, framing that it’s easier to padlock the rail car and voter rolls and the property deed books in the courts.

And this also, I think, as he notes relates to the history of married women’s property rights. There’s also– one of the former student here, Sara Chatfield, has a really great book about this. One of the striking things in her book was even states like Mississippi ended up being among the first to pass married women’s property rights legislation. And it was bound up with these questions of how do you organize an economy.

Again, it was nothing to do with a lack of, in this case, gender discrimination, sexism. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about this. And also maybe to hear more about the discussion of property owning by free black people as well as in some cases enslaved people in the pre-civil war south where Dylon notes that 250,000 free Black people in the south owned the equivalent of $8.8 billion of property in 2021 values in 1860.

And one of the points made in the book is this kind of disrupts this challenge of dichotomy that there are white freedom and Black slavery, right? And so this led to various efforts to roll back these rights, limit the rights of free Black people. And one thing– and this happens in both the north and the south. And one thing and maybe I’ll be interested, and he notes the relationship to the rise of free labor ideology in relation to this.

So one thing I’d like to hear more about or maybe talk more about is the relationship of all this to developments in the party system where we know free Black voting rights initially were not a partisan issue, but become a partisan issue in the Jacksonian era. And so I’m just wondering if there’s also– how that relates to the property rights as well, for example.

All right. I’ve been going– another point here that I think is really valuable is connecting in a direct way the civil rights movement strategy to things that were learned from or a material basis created by this earlier court cases and property development of law earlier on. So a couple points here. One is just the observation that even in Brown versus Board, the litigation, the use of dolls and psychological damage can be traced back to thinking about a tort logic, a legal tort claim logic that Dylan notes.

Pauli Murray, one of the Black lawyer working on the case came up with this idea. So this connects the very legal strategies used in the civil rights movement to this earlier history. And again, something that’s been cut out.

And then also thinking– we talked about the role of the Black church in the civil rights movement. And I think one of the things this shows is, well, how did you get a Black church with enough resources and authority in a sense to play that role? Well, a lot of these cases about church property, church autonomy are contributed to that story. All right.

Finally, the study has really important implications for legal education. And so the book argues that one’s understanding of the development of property and contract law can be changed by reading cases in this way. In other words, with attention to the race of the plaintiffs and parties, both parties involved.

And Dylan argues I think quite persuasively that attention to this broader concept of civil rights can then help foster a more inclusive legal education where currently, the way law is taught– I haven’t gone to law school. But certainly rung true that legal education basically treats much of the kind of core legal education. It’s totally aside from, apart from Black people’s experience or race.

And then there’s a separate segment of anti-discrimination law. But the claim here, the contribution is that well, Blacks that when you– that actually, Black people were quite involved in formation of contract law, property law. And when you teach those concepts, it should not be taught in this sort of exclusive way. So I thought that was also just a really rich contribution.

All right. One maybe last question I’ll just pose is there’s been a lot of work in political science and elsewhere critiquing the legal strategy from a standpoint of reducing the radicalism of the movement, narrowing away from economic claims. And so I just was curious. This is a very different critique of the legal strategy.

And I’d just be interested to hear more about how do you see the relationship between this critique that you’re making or this revision that you’re making? I don’t know. Critique is probably not the right word.

And that body of scholarship that’s challenging from a kind of, could say broadly left social movement that the legal strategy de-radicalized the movement. And so I’d love to hear more about that. The bottom line, I mean, this is just a rich, deeply insightful book. It was just a pleasure to read. And I definitely recommend you pick up a copy. Thank you.

[ULA YVETTE TAYLOR] Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this conversation. Before the Movement– The Hidden History of Civil Rights is a seminal book that will no doubt become a canonical text in the fields of African-American and legal history. It’s a masterful rendering of African-American’s inner lives via their legal entanglements.

But it’s written in a fashion that reminds us of the most important and gifted Black women writers. There is no substitute for beautiful storytelling. And Dylan gives us snapshots into worlds that have largely remained hidden in plain sight.

I see two main goals of the book. The first is to push us to rethink how African African-Americans have impacted the shaping and enforcement of all kinds of legal proceedings and laws before what is understood as the modern 1950’s civil rights movement. Second, and what I find most fascinating, is the disentanglement of Black history from the freedom struggle.

That is, every time a Black person went to court, sought out a lawyer, or organized an association, it was not to dismantle an oppressive structure. Sometimes they just wanted to be treated fairly and to reap the benefits, both real and imagined, of legal protection. Neither of these goals is easy to achieve. And I am in awe of Dylan’s intellectual grasp of so many moving parts.

Before the end of legal slavery, Dylan enters into the vortex of African-American’s legal possibilities through the rubric of privileges. And I’m putting it in parentheses, privileges. And after the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments, so-called privileges move into the category of rights. And Dylan builds an argument that makes real how Black people with careful intention learn how to make meaning of their rights largely through Black newspapers and the Black church.

During both periods, what becomes crystal clear is that both enslaved and legally free African-Americans were daily determined to embrace all possibilities of a better life. To be able to feed their families. To hold property that allowed them to work the land. To work as artisans. To keep their churches, benevolent societies and associations solvent. And to give their heirs a chance to have a financial leg up.

Overall, what Dylan drives home is that the legal lives of many Black people had nothing to do with dismantling oppressive structures, but everything to do with making the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities. Going to court or assessing lawyers, serve to keep what they had or what they felt they were entitled to, the courthouse is more of a place to secure a property. Even though most African-American historians document it as a site for civil rights, which are largely linked to the principles of non-discrimination.

County court records are the primary archive and unwieldy collection of documents that take the patience of a saint to slog through. But I also love reading the snatches from the rare collections of lawyer’s papers as an enhancement to the primary archive, to narrate the legal lives and culture of Black people. Now, please know this is also not an easy task. Because just like today, documents are filled with truths and lies.

And while sometimes I wondered about the truth of the documents, the more I read Dylan’s careful prose filled with nuances and an ethic of care, the more I realized that there are important stories in the lives as well. Narratives of the way duplicitous people take advantage of others. Narratives of stereotypes. Narratives of the power of literacy.

Dylan points out the mark that Black people used an x on most of the documents. Narratives of determination. Narratives of remaking who constitutes family. What I found so informative about these documents is how Black people can corral their communities to vouch for them, to support their claims, to give them confidence in their efforts to protect what they have.

Dylan begins the documented legal lives of Black people during the 1830s. This decade also anchors the organized abolitionist movement when Frederick Douglass and others were making written and verbal cases against slavery to the world. Freedom was in the air. But on the ground, enslaved people wanted a receipt for the money that they loaned to white people.

And free Black people wanted their associations to be protected from embezzlers. Debt and credit just like today keep and kept the capitalist system going. I’m interested in knowing why Dylan doesn’t discuss capitalism as he narrates the power of cash in the lives of everyone. I agree with him when he writes, quote, “White southerners cared more about making money and preventing revolts than about keeping slaves away from contracts and property.” End of quote.

During freedom, white lawyers are representing Black people because they need money. For example, as Dylan explains, two lawyers saw a particular quote, “Black family case as a meal ticket, not a crusade” end of quote. Or as Dylan describes quote, “Of course, a lawyer could laugh at stories about Black clients and still take their money” end of quote.

Whites quote, “sometimes short on cash and long on debt, they looked at a Black person and saw something else, a potential buyer.” End of quote. Given all of these IOUs, the credit and the lack of cash, capitalism seemed to me to also be a controlling factor in this history.

Another question that I have for Dylan is at times during the history of slavery, it seems as if the slaves become normalized subjects because of these so-called privileges. I worry about conservatives quoting sentences such as quote, “many slaves, maybe even most of them, got paid incentives for overwork during harvest and planting seasons.” End of quote.

The foundations of overtime work is linked to their ability to pay cash for wagons, mules, and other goods compared to poor whites who usually required credit because they had little cash. And while Dylan follows these sentences with quote, “Slaveholders didn’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it to save money.” As well as talking and stating that Black people were super exploited.

I still have fears about the manipulation to feed into conservative, troubling arguments. That is, slavery was bad, but not as bad as we have been told because of these so-called privileges. And as Dylan writes, quote, “After all, except for land, few white people had debts and bill– had deeds or bills of sale for their property either.” End of quote.

Lastly, the calculation of free Black people’s wealth could be evidenced that during legal slavery, they were not harmed by racial discrimination. Dylan tells us that in short, the more that free Black people bought, sold, mortgaged, and bequeathed property, the more their civil rights became essential to white people’s civil rights. Dylan is careful at all of these terms to say that given Black people– giving free Black people rights of everyday use didn’t threaten the racial order. But I’m wondering what it did to Black people to know the racial limits in their lives.

We know that– we know that context matters less and less in our contemporary world. And I know we cannot write history based on our current lives. But it’s so hard to ignore. And I’m wondering how you, Dylan, move through this material. And how you struggle to balance quote unquote, “privileges” and quote unquote, “Black wealth” with violence and terror, especially given our divisive anti-Black climate.

I am a historian. I’m a historian of Black women’s history. And I want to conclude that I cannot tell you how much my heart was warmed by the way Dylan incorporates how women experience legal culture sometimes as independent people, and sometimes because of the men in their lives.

Either way, they are there with all of their complexity, using the she/her pronoun when Dylan could have easily said he/him speaks to Dylan’s commitment to recognize Black women’s humanity in the world. Some of the stories are classic. When two Black women brought a bag of nails to the altar to club Minister Payne who bent the rules of the church and women were not allowed to vote.

The sweeping patriarchal ideas that forced former slave– former slave couples into marriage. How family and kinfolk are remade in the courts. All of these stories of family, friends, neighbors, and communities can easily be mapped on to 2023.

I love seeing myself in this book. As Dylan states, quote, “inheritance suits became seminars on the history of Black family,” end of quote. You drop the mic with that one. Congratulations.

You want to go ahead [INAUDIBLE].

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Yeah. I’m bowled over. Thank you for these comments. These are just incredibly thoughtful. I’m just going to try and address a couple of the things that you said because I know that there may be questions in the audience. And there may be other opportunities for me to circle back.

And I think, I think I’m going to start with the series of questions that you ended with, Ula, which is about how I tried to balance– I think the way you put it was how to balance privileges with terror and violence? And I will tell you, I struggled early and often with how to write this book so that people who do not mean well would not twist what I had written.

I mean, I went back and forth on individual sentences, even on whole chapters. I think at a certain point, it became clear to me that I would not be able to write the book that I wanted to write or any book at all if I worried too much about what others might do to twist my words. I think I concluded that people were going to twist my words no matter how I wrote. And the only solution would be to not write.

But you have put your finger on one of the things that I did, which is I tried to– and this gets at your question to some extent, Eric. I tried to connect the part of the story that has to do with Black people’s ability to exercise economic privileges or rights. I tried to connect it to the system that was exploiting them.

And I did it– although I didn’t name him explicitly in the text, it’s basically a CRT argument. It’s Derrick Bell’s interest convergence. I sort of smuggled that in there. So in a sense, if conservatives want to come after me and say, it was good for– then maybe I can smile and say, OK, you’re a critical race theorist now.

But I mean, when I talk about things like chain of title, where you have more and more Black people, the two generations after slavery, you see this enormous rise in Black land ownership, 15 million acres by 1910. Each one of those acres is legally part of a chain of title. And anyone who wants to buy that land or anyone who wants to lend money against that land needs to be aware of the chain of title. And if it gets broken, there are problems.

So that implicates white people in Black people’s civil rights. It’s not perfect. Obviously, there were whites who rode around and just took land. But I think that the moments when white violence paused to take account of the legal implications of what they were doing, it doesn’t obviate or negate the violence.

It says something about the system that they were in. And so by the same token enslaved people earning a little bit of money after hours. I start the book with a story about my great great great uncle, Jackson Holcomb, who had a boat and earned money on the side rowing people across the river.

That was good for the system. It was good for master’s bottom line. They spent in the cotton belt. They spent about 20% of their revenues feeding and clothing slaves.

So any time that they allocated to slaves after hours, it’s not like they were cutting slaves work time in the fields. They were simply saying, OK, if you want to stay up until midnight four days a week and work on Sundays, then you can have this. So it’s just this super exploitation that’s starting to sound a little bit like partly an answer to where is the capitalism part of the question. I think that’s where it comes in.

And I think that you’re correct, that I didn’t play it up. I didn’t make it explicit. It’s kind of below the surface of a lot of what I’ve written. But it’s very much there. I firmly believe that a lot of what I’m seeing in this story is not only things that are good for the workings of capitalism, even racial capitalism, but are integral to its functioning.

So I think I’ll just say one last thing to put a point on that last statement. So Jackson Holcomb in Cumberland County, he was able to buy I think it was his first 100 acres of land in gosh, what was it, 1883. And then later, he got wind via another white person who came and told him about a white man named Robert Garnett, who was going bankrupt.

And I’m pretty sure Garnett owned or was connected to the people who owned Jackson Holcomb. So Garnett is going bankrupt. Land is for sale. And this white man comes and tells Jackson Holcomb, you can buy it. And you can buy it cheap because this man’s bankrupt. He needs money now.

It’s like a fire sale. Now, why did he do that? I mean, one structural answer could be, well, it’s good for the system. Another answer could be he knew him, so there’s this story of like personalism where you can have very hostile feelings toward Black people as a race, but not toward this particular Black person. So that could be part of the story.

But then at the end of the day, there’s this element that I think all of us historians are familiar with where you come to the end of your evidentiary rope, and you just don’t know. And so for me, that remains often the land where I have to be careful not to overreach the evidence. Not to read too much into. Leave space for human complexity.

But at the same time, I want to make it clear to readers and maybe clearer than it is in the book that capitalism is at work in so many facets of this story. So I want to open it up.

[WALDO MARTIN] OK. What we’re going to do is pass the mic. So if you have a question, please raise your hand, shout out, do a dance, whatever, however you choose to be recognized. And I know there are some questions because I can feel the energy. I can feel the questions. So just bring it all. OK.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hey, professor. For question, the thing that resonates with me is the archival work that you did. And I’m wondering, can you go a little bit deeper into what that was like? Especially the outreach to the courthouses. Were they like, yeah, you can totally take a look at these records. Don’t get a paper cut. Or are there any apprehension towards after explaining what you were doing?

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] It’s a great question. So there are two ways that I’ve been thinking about in answer to that question over the past few weeks. So one answer is practically speaking, most of the clerks were fine with me coming in as long as I didn’t get in people’s way. And as long as I didn’t make it seem as though I was getting privileges that some of the working lawyers and title searchers didn’t get.

So they’re wary that these are people who come every day. And I don’t come every day. But most of them, once they figured out what I was doing were fine with it. Some were not. I’ll never know why not.

Sometimes they would kind of use excuses or they would invent things like they’d say, well, you can use these records. But it’s going to cost you $5 for every picture that you take of the docket books. Yeah. I’m not going to say who that was.

But I guess the larger point is, they have enormous discretion over the records. And they’re not an archive. It’s a courthouse. What they do is they process traffic tickets. I heard a lot of gossip about traffic tickets. And they make title searches possible for people.

Now, there is this kind of litigation wing. That’s typically in a separate building. I actually got to talk with some of the working lawyers, including in Cumberland. One knew my great great uncle. So that’s the first answer to the question.

But the second answer, it has to do with my positionality. So I was able to do this kind of work. And I kind of know that I came into the courthouse with certain kinds of privileges that other people didn’t.

So for example, I could drive past midnight to get from one part of Mississippi to another part. And I think it’s because of how I look partly. I was not super worried. I was a little worried. There were times when I was a lot worried when interacting with people who had confederate flags and gun racks and stuff like that.

But there was a certain way in which I could move through the courthouse. I could walk up the courthouse steps and say, I’m doing African-American history. And I would like you– can I get in the back?

And I think I don’t know how they would have reacted if I looked differently, if I was a woman. It’s hard to tell. But that’s always in your mind when you’re a historian and you’re going out into the field to do this kind of thing. So I just wanted to surface that as well.

Hi. Thanks. I wanted to ask maybe a more narrow question. When you were showing the data on those bars of what percentage of cases involved a Black party, I guess. And you said that 8% were like, so I guess 92% were Black defendant, Black plaintiff. But 8% were not.

So I wanted to ask what you saw going on in that 8%? So were they all like Black plaintiff, white defendant? Or was there a mix? And what kind of characterized that?

That’s a great question. It was a mix. And one of the things that I think surprised me a little bit was that of the cases that did cross the color line. Thank you. I appreciate that.


Yeah. Mine does that too. Of the cases that crossed the color line, many of them actually featured a white, sorry, a Black plaintiff and a white defendant. It’s not like all of the cases that crossed the color line involved a white plaintiff and a Black defendant.

So I think if your question is about what characterize the Black-Black cases, I think a fair description would be that sort run through that I mentioned in my initial remarks. With respect to Black plaintiffs and white defendants, it was I think a similar mix of causes of action. I didn’t see very often claims of racial discrimination. In part because that’s not really a cause of action in Mississippi in 1910. You can’t bring a claim like that.

But between the lines, you can sometimes see it. And especially in these cases of duress where– and you talked about the lies that records can tell. One of the big lies, which I think you alluded to was this lie about the ignorant Negro. Which is this trope that a couple of other scholars have talked about where in order for– in a contract case where a white plaintiff is suing a Black defendant. And the Black defendant respondent wants to be out of the contract.

Like you got him to sign away his house. And now, the White plaintiff is saying, I want your house. I want you to follow through and convey the house to me. Sometimes the Black defendant would essentially say, I’m so ignorant. I couldn’t have known what I was doing when I signed this.

And together with the lawyers, they would play up their ignorance. And there’s this one scene where this guy in Mississippi, and he’s saying basically like well, I can’t read this document. And then they bring him his eyeglasses. And he says, well, I can read a little better. But now, I don’t understand what this document says.

He clearly does understand a lot about law. He’s kind of playing up his ignorance in order to get out of this contract. And so that’s a way in which you can see race working in these lawsuits that cross the color line, but don’t challenge white supremacy head-on.

They’re using standard doctrines of contract law– standard defenses like duress or fraud or duty to read to get out of these contracts. But the other part that’s interesting to me is sometimes they use those defenses and variations on them in the cases that are against other Black people. And that’s where things get really weird. It’s a great question.


[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I wonder if there was a moment when you were surprised by what you were finding throughout your research? And I also wonder about the idea of surprise in the very earliest days of people accessing the legal system that, holy cow, we won or got something.

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] I really like that question. To answer the second question, I think that it was not surprising to white and Black southerners at all when Black people started going to courthouses in 1865. And that’s because of these privileges of slavery. It’s because slaves had privileges that they couldn’t defend in court, but which followed the general logic of property and contract law.

And so when 1865 comes and they become free, and they begin signing contracts to work, not only are they necessary for the South’s economy, this cotton economy to get back on its feet. You need Black people to work. You can’t whip them anymore. You need contract law. You have to recognize them as having this civil right.

Not only that, but also they’re used to seeing Black people make deals that are not contracts, but are bargains that are treated and often as contracts. They’re used to seeing Black people own property. So 1865-1866 doesn’t seem like such a contrast.

But to answer the first part of your question, what was surprising to me? Honestly, it’s how emotional I got reading some of these files. Precisely because of what you said. They’re intimate.

People when they go to court over say like police violence, that’s a certain kind of intimacy, like the intimacy of violence. But there’s a different kind of intimacy when someone is going to court over an inheritance. So this is one case, one of the very first cases I read in Washington DC was an elderly woman named Eliza Brown.

And she was enslaved in Maryland. And she came to DC sometime in the 1860s. And then by 1885, she owns a house and a lot. And she decides to leave it not to her biological children but to another woman, her best friend’s daughter.

And so she does that using a pocket deed. And then her biological nieces show up. They come down from Baltimore. And they’re like, what’s up? That’s ours.

And so in the course of that lawsuit and others like it, one of the things that comes out is the emotion of people saying no, she’s not your family. We’re your family. Or the emotion of describing for the court why should you get the property.

The court says, why should you get the property? Sometimes the answer is because I cared for her as she was dying. And then the court says, well, tell us how you did that? And when I read that testimony, it broke my heart. And yeah, it’s incredible.

Now, wherever books are sold. It’s here.

It’s [INAUDIBLE] or in the library.

It should be. Well, if it’s not in the library, then I’ll walk a copy over there.

It takes them a while.

It takes them a while?

To get it through the system.

It’ll get barcoded soon.


But, yeah, it’s on all– it’s on the evil empire Amazon. And it’s on nicer websites than that.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Do you think this type of analytical framework can be used to analyze other types of race relations in America? Because when you were describing your book, I just thought of myself. I’m Mexican-American. And I could see a similar study happening in the southwest and describing like how other Mexican-Americans or Mexicans, first generation Mexicans saw their legal consciousness. So do you think that could be applied to other types of ethnic studies?

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Absolutely. I think so. I think so. I mean, I’ve spent my career studying African-American history. But my instincts tell me there’s no reason why one couldn’t apply some of the approaches, some of the perspectives to other subordinated populations.

And for that matter, to white people. I mean, it’s not like there’s a lot of work out there that looks at white people’s experiences in local courts either. It’s not easy to do. But once you figure out how, there are ways. But I’d love to talk with you about that.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I was wondering, do you think slave revolts were the beginning of civil rights movement after American independence? And did you use any of those records or narratives within this book? Also, do you see African-Americans as subordinate to the law? Because I get the sense you– the way you vote it seems a little intuitive to African-Americans because you’re African-American. So I just want to get your thoughts.

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Repeat the last part of the question. Do I think African-Americans are–

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Like when you said subordinate minority or subordinate race, the way you’re– the language that you use put African-Americans in a category where it’s like they use the law to free themselves. But the law is based and built on subordinating them like keeping them suppressed. So–

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Oh, I see what you’re saying. Yeah. No, it’s a great question. So here, for the second part of your question, I’m going to think back to the ways that I’ve been borrowing from legal sociologists, Cal Morrill. They helped me walk through this literature.

I think that you’re right that law tend to subordinate African-Americans, including contract law. So it’s facially neutral. It doesn’t say that– there’s no such thing as the Negro law of contract. But it’s ordinary workings tend to work against certain kinds of people.

The challenge, though, is that precisely because it doesn’t work against African-Americans, you have to figure out how is it disadvantaging African-Americans. And I think that what’s happening is it is perpetuating and enlarging, aggrandizing inequalities that exist outside the courthouse. So there’s this famous article, Why the Haves Always Come Out Ahead and the theory of Marc Galanter.

He’s sort of saying, look, when you go to a courthouse, there are certain kinds of people who are there all the time. They’re repeat players. And they know the lawyers. I saw– these are the people who were around me as I was in the courthouse. They’re doing title searches. They know, they’re like slapping hands with the clerk and so forth.

Then you have these one shot people who might go to court once in their life, if ever. They don’t know everybody. Whether they’re poor or rich matters also. And whether they’re Black matters a lot.

But I think that what matters an awful lot is that they’re just one shot. They’re never going to be back. And the people in the courthouse don’t have to take them seriously quite the same way. So it’s perpetuating and aggrandizing inequalities that exist outside the courthouse. It’s making them worse in many cases.

So when I use the word subordinated, I’m borrowing it from law talk, like subordinated minorities. I don’t mean that they are subordinate people, of course. I mean, that they’re being subordinated in many different spheres that interlock.

And you can see that interlocking effect sometimes in the courthouse. The first part, slave revolts. I didn’t really talk about them in the book. I think that you could make a good case that they are part of a long civil rights movement. I didn’t make that case. Perhaps others have.

[WALDO MARTIN] Vincent Harding. You have brother Vincent up there.

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Yeah. So he’s, so he’s talking about this long river where the revolts are part of this freedom struggle. And if civil rights are part of the freedom struggle, then yes, it is part of a civil rights movement.

[WALDO MARTIN] Well, I think– OK, brother. Take us on. Yeah, take us on.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] My question is kind of historiographical. So you talked about the grand narratives of civil rights history and Black legal history more broadly. But it’s usually centered around Black folks trying to be integrated with whites. So did you think about– and clearly, the court cases you’re looking at didn’t have anything to do with that. Did you see this? Did you think about this when writing this? Or can you just share your thoughts about legal history and the idea of integration?

[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Now, that’s a great question. And I think maybe– the answer that springs to mind about your question is that although desegregation or integration don’t appear explicitly in the sources that I’m using because it’s not a cause of action, you can see traces of that history in the sources because the sources reflect some of the reality that exists outside the courthouse. And a lot of the reality in the rural south in 1910 is that there’s no segregation. People don’t live apart.

In fact, white people want Black people to be living close by so they can have easy access to their services. But then the story of segregation and integration takes these interesting turns when people go to the north. And that’s a story that I think links back to some of my own family’s history. And it connects, it touches in many nuanced ways with the kinds of zoning laws, the kinds of restrictive covenants that people engage with.

But above all, it reveals I think the fragility of legalized segregation. We often think of it as this really incredibly powerful sturdy thing. It was in many ways fragile, which helps explain the violence that often whites used to defend it.

But racially restrictive covenants, they’re kind of not easy to defeat. But they’re really shaky as a matter of property doctrine. And so you can see that playing out in the sources as well. Thank you for that question.

[WALDO MARTIN] Well. And I thank you, my brother. Let’s give him a round of applause. And the book is available. And please get a copy. And somebody want to sponsor something, bring brother Dylan out sell 100 books.


[DYLAN PENNINGROTH] Thank you all for coming. This is great.



Matrix On Point

Matrix on Point: New Directions in Gender and Sexuality

While the last 20 years have marked a significant change in increased acceptance of varied gender expressions and sexual orientations, these changes haven’t made the importance of gender and sexuality as concepts disappear. If anything, they’ve become more relevant for understanding the world today.

Recorded on November 30, 2023, this panel brought together a group of UC Berkeley graduate students from the fields of sociology, ethnic studies, and political science for a discussion of gender and sexuality through the lens of such topics as medicine, transnational migration, and marriage. The panel featured David Pham, a PhD candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies; Emily Ruppel, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology; and Soosun You, a PhD candidate in Political Science at UC Berkeley. The panel was moderated by Laura C. Nelson, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley.

The panel was co-sponsored by the Center for Race & Gender (CRG) and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. This event was part of the Matrix on Point series, a discussion series promoting focused, cross-disciplinary conversations on today’s most pressing issues. Offering opportunities for scholarly exchange and interaction, each Matrix On Point features the perspectives of leading scholars and specialists from different disciplines, followed by an open conversation.

Watch the panel above or on YouTube, or listen to it as a podcast below, or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.


Julia Sizek: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this event. So I’m Julia Sizek. I’m a post-doc here at the Social Science Matrix. And I’m standing in for Marion Fourcade, who is ill today and not in attendance. Although I understand that she’s online, so I hope she doesn’t mind that I disclosed that she’s ill. And I know that we have a lot of online audience today, in addition to the folks in the room. And so we welcome you as well.

So this event today, which is part of our New Directions series, is part of a series of events that we have every year to feature the work of graduate students and junior scholars. This series is very near and dear to my heart, not only because I started this series, but because I think that graduate students are doing some of the most interesting work at this institution. And it’s important to value their contributions to Berkeley’s scholarship, and that often, graduate students are not getting the rewards that I think are due to them.

So today’s topic is about something that graduate students, as typically younger than tenured faculty members, actually have special purchase on because of the vast changes that have happened in this field over the last 20 years, and arguably, over the last many years since before I was born. And so this topic, in addition to changing rather dramatically, has also, I think, been reshaping how we think about other fields intersectionally.

And I think that this group of panelists that we have today will be able to speak to the ways that many of the analytical categories that we commonly use in the social sciences like race, for example, often intersect with gender and sexuality. So I am super excited to have this group of scholars here today.

And so the next thing I will do is introduce our lovely moderator, Laura Nelson. So Laura is an Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. She received her PhD in anthropology– oh, sorry wrong intro. We’re going to the correct intro. Her research focuses on the way that societal changes are drawn through gender.

Her two current research projects, like one of our panelists, is situated in South Korea. So one of her projects is an examination of breast cancer in South Korea as a medical, cultural, personal, environmental, political, and transnational phenomenon. That’s a lot of phenomena there.

The other probes the demographic gender imbalance of the decades after the Korean War, asking both what personal experiences were of this imbalance, and also what effects the erasure of unmarried adults from this time of cultural and memory have had on South Koreans’ ideas of gender normativity. In earlier work, she looked at consumer nationalism in South Korea, and at credit car policies and personal bankruptcy in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. She’s also held positions outside of academia in public policy evaluation and in microenterprise development.

In addition to her role as professor, she’s also an Associate Dean of the Social Sciences, and is affiliated with the Center for Korean Studies, the Group in Asian Studies, and the Department of Anthropology. She received her PhD in anthro at Stanford, and holds a Master’s in City Planning– City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley, with a focus on housing and community economic development. So now I will go ahead and hand it over to Laura.

Laura Nelson: Great. Thank you so much, Julia. So I want to thank the Matrix, Julie and Marion, for inviting me and putting together this exciting panel. Julie actually already said a number of the things that I would also like to say about this panel.

So along with all of us gathered here today, I’m really looking forward to hearing from our speakers about the new directions they’re pursuing as they examine gender and sexuality as central organizing aspects of their research. The academic field of gender and sexuality studies is both broad and dynamic, encompassing perspectives and methods from across the social sciences, which is the focus here at Matrix, but also the humanities and the biological and physical sciences themselves.

In recent years, new politics and new viewpoints have opened new questions for research, particularly around the pervasiveness of– pervasiveness and re-entrenchment of gender and sexuality-based inequities throughout politics– sort of politics with a capital and politics with a small c– and also the complexities of intersectional entanglements, of race and disability, class, gender, and sexuality, and the particularities of places and cultures, and how different ontologies of gender affect social and cultural formation. So I’m really excited to hear how each of these scholars takes up these issues and others as they contribute to the new directions in gender and sexuality studies.

So I will introduce each of our speakers. I’m going to introduce all three of them right now, and then they’ll provide each of their presentations in the order, in that order. So David Pham is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Fellowship. He’s also completing a designated emphasis in women gender and sexuality studies. His research interests broadly include Asian-American literary and cultural studies, queer of color critique, gender and sexuality studies, women of color feminisms, visual culture, and theories of racialized subjectivity.

In his dissertation, he explores the relationship between aesthetics and politics, and how the cultural productions of feminist and queer artists of color produce aesthetic imaginaries that respond to and contest dominant structures of oppression and exploitation. He holds an MA in ethnic studies from the Department and an AB in sociology from Vassar College.

Emily Ruppel is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley here. She’s broadly interested in connections between political-economic transformations and embodied experiences, particularly experiences in gender, sexuality, and disability. Her dissertation focuses empirically on job training programs for disabled workers, using historical research to trace the growth of this industry since the 1970s and ethnographic fieldwork to investigate contemporary labor practices.

She’s worked on other projects, addressing the co-construction of gender and autism in scientific discourse, class dynamics in LGBTQ communities, and the causal effects of social networks on health. Her work has been published in journals including Sexualities, a journal of health and social behavior, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and Family Relations, and has been funded by Policy Research inc and recognized by the disability in society section of the American Sociological Association. She holds an Ma from Berkeley and a BA from Smith college, both in sociology.

Soosun You is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a research associate at the Center on the Politics of Development. Her work focuses on addressing various challenges to gender equality, with a particular focus on the causes of backlash against women’s empowerment. She studies this in the South Korean context, and in East Asia more broadly, looking at how individuals navigate the constraints of the local instantiation of the patriarchal environment, and how this leads to political demands.

Her dissertation specifically examines how politics of the marriage market have shaped the feminist and anti-feminist movements in South Korea and the region. She examines how the anti-natalist and pro-natalist government campaigns and policies have affected different dimensions of women’s empowerment, using both qualitative and quantitative methods such as in-depth interviews, surveys, and natural experiments. Soosun holds a BA in economics from Berkeley. So we get to hear first from David Pham.

David Pham: Can everyone hear me? OK, perfect. Thank you, Julia, so much for the original invitation to be on this panel. And I’d like to thank everyone in the audience here and on Zoom for joining us today. I’m really looking forward to the interdisciplinary conversation that we’ll be having.

So my presentation today is called Geologic Memory in the Work of Kelly Akashi. And it draws from my dissertation project titled Losing Touch of One’s Self, Negotiating Subjectivity in Feminist and Queer Asian-American Aesthetics. In my research, I look at the cultural productions of feminist and queer Asian-American artists who interrogate the senses, and in particular, the sense of touch, to examine alternative modes of being that issued a desire for stable, self-possessed subjectivity.

Today, I will be discussing the work of contemporary Asian-American feminist artist Kelly Akashi in the context of what has been called the, quote, “geologic turn, a line of inquiry taken up by scholars such as Dana Luciano, Kathryn Yusoff, Mel Chen, and Elizabeth Povinelli. This turn is nested within the wider debate over the anthropocene which has swept the humanities and social sciences, and has had the effect of critiquing the anthropocentrism of humanist thought.

One of the consequences of this geologic turn has been a more critical examination of what it means to be, quote, “geologically human,” a phrase coined by philosopher David Wood. In my talk, I will discuss how Akashi’s art deals with this provocation, specifically as a question of race, given her own family’s history of incarceration during World War II.

Kelly Akashi is a contemporary multimedia artist based in Los Angeles. Incorporating a variety of materials in her practice such as rope, glass, soil, bronze, and wax, she employs old world craft techniques such as glass blowing and candle-making in order to bring out the alchemical potentiality of these materials. Her work expounds upon the possibility of material items to relate immaterial themes. Akashi’s insistent foregrounding of the materiality of her pieces has led one critic to describe them as, quote, “counterweights to discourse.”

The artist is known for her sculptures, which often feature the uncanny juxtaposition of materials such as glass and metal, or wax and wood. These sculptural installations illustrate Akashi’s interest in change over time, as well as in timelines that predate and go beyond this idea of the human. Before turning toward her specific aesthetic engagement with her family’s history of incarceration through her inheritance series, I’d like to speak first about two other installations briefly to give a sense of the wider arc of her ecoaesthetic vision.

Akashi’s interest in the ecological and its non-human temporalities takes hold in her sculptural installation A Device To See The World Twice. The piece was part of a larger site-responsive outdoor exhibition on the campus of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from 2020 to 2021. Tucked into the far corner of the campus, nestled at the bend of one of the Clark’s wooded trails, Device comes into view with its distinctively large 30-inch acrylic lens. The central element of the piece, the lens, is supported by an armature of bronze-cast branches, which the artist found while in residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts, and they are held together by rope.

At the time of the peace– excuse me, as the title of the piece intimates, the sculpture is meant to have functionality, assisting viewers in seeing the world with more clarity. Akashi had originally planned for the lens to focus on the upright ash tree at the center of the clearing. However, in the months before the installation was to take place, the tree broke and fell over.

In her decision to move forward with the project by having the lens trained on the breaking point of the tree, Device both nods to the history of photographic representation of nature and land, while simultaneously distinguishing itself from its fraught ethos. It draws a critique of the violent impulses of photography to capture and possess its object by fixing it in time. This critique is salient to the history of landscape photography, given the genre’s history of depicting the pristine beauty of nature as something to be conquered and possessed, thereby aiding the settler colonial project of US imperial expansion.

Rejecting the settler colonial ideology of 19th century landscape photography, Device invites a kind of second sight that offers another perception of the natural ecosystem that releases itself from, quote, “the confines of a single image as authority.” The broken ash tree represents the entropic drive of nature which cannot be adequately depicted by means of photographic representation. Many of Akashi’s sculptures feature casts of her own hands in bronze or glass, each of which is unique to the specific artwork.

So in Akashi’s sculpture Mirror Image, a cast of the artist’s hand sits on top of a walnut pedestal and touches a patterned glass orb. The pedestal stages a scene of tenderness and erotic play. The fingers’ pressure on the orb creates a dimple on the glass object, reaching into it with intrigue and curiosity. Rather than being ancillary to the work, the pedestal figures centrally to the meaning of the piece, given that its spindle is fashioned off of Akashi’s EKG of her own heartbeat.

This element, in addition to the cast hand, conveys Akashi’s desire to include her own self within her pieces, fostering a sense of embodied presence in her work. The presence of Akashi’s lifeline literally through the spindle draws attention to the various entangled and intertwined lines that pattern the glass orb, which perhaps might represent the presence of other traces of other lives with which the hand strives to make contact.

The accretion of these lifelines swirl around a vortex, which lends a sense to the cosmic dynamic manifested by the orb as a dematerialization of memory and time. Time itself becomes a medium for the hand to reach into and play with in an effort to connect with those of different timelines. In addition, the work captures the limited temporality of the human body.

The orb’s dynamic movement suggests that the hand will soon be enveloped by time itself, and that in time, the human will lose what is left of its corporeal being. Mirror Image might perhaps be thought of then as a rendering of an intimate encounter in exchange with temporality, illuminating the kind of awareness that issues from touching it and becoming unraveled by it at the same time.

Akashi’s focus on time and space are clear in her investigation of geologic being as well, which can be seen as an aesthetic response to the wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In order to contextualize the stakes of Akashi’s intervention, I’d like to briefly recount the events related to the discovery of the Wakasa monument, which, as multiple sources have noted, has been the most significant archeological find related to Japanese-American internment.

James Wakasa was an [INAUDIBLE] man who was killed at the Topaz incarceration camp while walking his dog on the evening of April 11, 1943. Against the desires of authorities, members of the landscape team built a stone monument dedicated to his memory that was located near where he was killed. However, according to community member Nancy Ukai, the monument lasted only days before officials ordered it to be demolished.

Rather than destroy the monument, the landscape team instead buried it in the Earth, where it stayed hidden for 77 years until September 2020, when the monument was discovered by two archeologists using a map that Ukai found in the national archives. However, the circumstances following its discovery and removal have been marred with controversy. On July 27, 2021, the monument was unearthed unceremoniously upon orders from the Topaz museum board out of fear that published reporting of its discovery would lead to vandalism.

News of the monument’s unearthing shocked and outraged members of the Japanese-American community since no descendants, survivors, or other stakeholders were consulted or present when the stone was removed. To this day, the Topaz museum board has refused to release video of the monument’s removal, and it’s unclear whether community members’ calls for a community archeology project will be implemented at Topaz.

Given its original mishandling of the excavation, the museum board’s relationship with community members and its representative entities has been frosty and acrimonious. Nonetheless, the two entities were able to work together to organize an event that commemorated the 80th anniversary of Wakasa’s death this past April. Survivors and descendants of Topaz were invited to return to the camp as part of a weekend of healing. And in one ceremony, they were able to place the palm of their hand on the Wakasa monument. In the words of Yonsei poet Brandon Shimoda, survivors were able to, quote, “touch however briefly, however lightly, the hands of the [INAUDIBLE].

I bring this history up to foreground the geological dimension of Japanese-American incarceration. The discovery of the Wakasa monument provides a distinct reminder of how communal memory and history were literally embedded into the Earth, so that a discussion of incarceration would be incomplete without also acknowledging how that history left its physical imprint on the surrounding landscape. This history provides an important backdrop to Akashi’s Inheritance series. This series consists of three sculptures which reflect a negotiation with her family’s experience of incarceration at Poston, where her father was imprisoned.

In two sculptures– in two of the sculptures, casts of Akashi’s hand in lead crystal rest on top of a stone. And in the third sculpture, Akashi’s cast hand cradles pebbles in its palm. The artist took these stones from Poston. And we also see that in each hand is adorned with family heirlooms belonging to Akashi’s grandmother– a ring on the first hand, a ring and a bracelet on the second, and a brooch on the rest of the third.

The captivating quality of Akashi’s Inheritance series owes much to these sculptures’ ability to render an engagement with history intimate and with intense feeling, accomplishing this feat even as the history of wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans is not readily evident itself. It’s worth noting that none of the hands are gripping the stone or are positioned in a way that would indicate domination or mastery, neither are these hands overcome by the history materialized in the stone, which we can infer from their relaxed manner. Rather, these hands are engaging the stone rather delicately, even gracefully.

The juxtaposition of dualities Akashi is known for in her sculptures are evident here also– dualities of personal memory and collective history, notions of abstract and concrete, life and non-life, biological and geological. Categorical distinctions ultimately never hold for her. And through Akashi’s work, she illustrates how these distinctions are always already inseparable and entangled.

The entanglement between biological and geological, the last pair in the set of dualities I mentioned a moment ago, is illustrated to poignant effect in Akashi’s Long Exposure, which is a full body portrait of the artist carved out of stone, where before the hands we saw in the Inheritance series were merely touching stone, we see now in Long Exposure how the artist’s body is subsumed into it. But her mineralized corporeality is not the only thing we see.

Signs of biological life are not absent in the full body portrait, but are hinted at, as we see in the figure’s left hand cradling purple flowers. Long Exposure thus destabilizes the categories we take for granted, and visualizes what Kathryn Yusoff has described as the, quote, “interior and interior non slash inhuman excess of subjectivity.” The work conveys a surrendering to stone, acknowledging the eventual return of the body to the Earth.

Viewing Kelly Akashi’s sculptural installations facilitates a change in perception that bears on how we think about concepts such as the body or the human. Through her exploration of ecological consciousness through the geological, her work destabilizes these categories, and makes fundamentally clear that the thick relations in which we exist are ones that we can’t really opt out of, let alone dominate.

But if there’s one thing to remember about Akashi’s hand sculptures, it is the way that her work conveys the intimacy of stone itself to reveal how such an unassuming substance can hold such deep memory. Her hand sculptures are portals to communal memory, and offer a method of historical inquiry that insists on the necessity of touching the traumatic past with grace, delicacy, and care. Thanks.

Emily Ruppel: Great. Hi, everyone. I’m Emily. Thank you so much to everyone at the Social Science Matrix who is involved in organizing this. And thank all of you– thanks to all of you for coming. So I’m going to start off with some general remarks on feminist disability studies, then share some of my own research on gender and autism.

And I want to thank my four undergraduate research assistants who helped with data analysis also– Alexandra Ward, Genevieve Bellavance, Zoe Anderson, and Christian Burke. And I’m really excited to talk about how research linking gender and disability can push feminist theory forward. This click work? Oh, oops. There we go.

Scholars often date the emergence of feminist disability studies to the 2002 publication of Rosemary Garland Thompson’s famous essay Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory. In the subsequent decades, this field has flourished through Garland Thompson’s continued writings, brilliant monographs by Mel Chen, Alison Kafer, and Ellen Samuels, among many others, and an emergent feminist of color critique.

Feminist disability studies engages with Judith Butler’s critique of sex categorization to advance what Tobin Siebers calls a theory of complex embodiment. As Kim Hall summarizes the overall contribution of this field in her influential edited collection, “feminist disability studies makes the body, bodily variety, and normalization central to analyses of all forms of oppression. Feminist disability studies proposes ways of rethinking and reimagining the body and embodiment.” End quote. Disability serves as a limiting case for feminists critiquing the naturalization of difference through refrains to bodily reality. So disability theory may advance feminist work on the embodiment of the social.

Gender inequality rests on the naturalization of sexual difference, the belief in innate embodied differences between men and women. This feminist axiom incites critical analysis of the role of science and medicine in the social construction of sexual difference. Building on Butler’s characterization of sex as always already gender, feminist scholars like Anne Fausto-Sterling show how the scientific interpretation of embodied attributes, from bone structure, to neurology, is filtered through the lens of gender, leading scientists to present bodily difference as both innate and binary. Even attempts to challenge gender inequality within science may reify sexual difference. For instance, Steve Epstein finds that the activist push for women’s inclusion in medical research may naturalize male and female as discrete bodily categories.

Recent work suggests that disability may anchor our understandings of sexual difference. Ellen Samuels argues that gender, race, and disability are tied together through what she terms fantasies of identification, the fantasy that social categories are static, impermeable, and indelibly marked on the body. As Samuels explains the centrality of disability to these fantasies, “this shadow function of disability is to hold the fact of physicality, unmoored from social or representational meanings.” End quote.

Gender and race are commonly understood as partially embodied, partially social. But most people understand disability as entirely embodied. So mapping it onto other forms of difference naturalizes these differences. Samuels’ analysis of disability and sex categorization contributes to the broader feminist critique of sex.

Following Samuels, my research shows that autism anchors sexual difference in the medical literature and in popular discourse. So autism is a neurodevelopmental disability linked to differences in a range of areas. While autism has historically been stigmatized, disability rights advocates argue that autism is a valuable form of difference.

Around 1 in 54 children today have been diagnosed with autism, but the rates are about five times higher in boys and men than in girls and women. So many scientists studying autism believe that understanding these disparate diagnostic rates by gender will help them understand what autism is and where it comes from. Therefore, gendered constructions of autism are widespread in both scientific literature and in popular discourse.

This paper uses a combination of inductive and deductive analytic methods to trace these gendered constructions. Crucially, this project does not intervene in ongoing debates over the gendered etiology of autism. So my objective analysis is the scientific construction of autism, not autism itself.

So in the first inductive stage of research, I read widely within this discursive field. So during this stage, I read scientific journal articles, news coverage, autism memoirs, activists’ writings, and a wide range of other documents. I also read several secondary histories of autism to place these materials in context. During this first stage of analysis, three specific gendered paradigms emerged.

In the second deductive stage of analysis, I evaluated the emergence and proliferation of these three paradigms in the scientific literature with the emergence of four undergraduate research assistants. We conducted a web of science search for articles which referenced relevant keywords. Then we sampled the 25 most cited articles published before 2005, from 2006 to 2010, from 2011 to 2015, and from 2016 to 2020, comprising an overall data set of 100 highly cited articles stratified by period.

We coded for three major paradigms in each article, highlighting passages where these paradigms were discussed, and classifying articles by the primary paradigms that they advocated. We also coded for adoption of biological, social, mixed, or ambiguous explanations for findings.

So the extreme male brain, or EMB theory of autism, is one of the dominant neuroscientific paradigms of autism in the research literature. Proposed in 2002 by Simon Baron, whose initial expostulation of the theory has been cited over 2,500 times, the EMB perspective holds that autism represents an exaggerated version of men’s typical differences from women, so researchers should look to sex-linked variables like fetal testosterone exposure to explain autism itself.

EMB theorists argue that the female brain is characterized by superior empathizing, while the male brain is characterized by superior systematizing. So as evidence for these supposed differences between the male and female brain, EMB theorists claim that women show increased tendencies to share and take turns, comfort others, pick up on subtle emotional cues, talk about feelings, perform poorly in math and science, as opposed to men’s greater tendencies towards physical violence, leadership, attention to detail, mechanical occupations, and math and science.

EMB advocates identify systematizing as the defining characteristic of autism, rendering the autistic brain a supposed extreme of the male brain. Naturalizing sexual difference is an explicit part of the EMB project. So for example, Baron-Cohen’s original EMB manifesto contains an interlude dismissing theories of the social construction of sexual difference and advocating for the determinative role of biology.

EMB theory dominated the autism literature during the early 2000s, but it’s come under fire in recent years from feminists, autistic self-advocates, and some scientific researchers. Critics of EMB theory allege that it presents a skewed view of autism, missing its symptoms in autistic women. For instance, some researchers argue that the autism quotient, a diagnostic instrument developed by Baron-Cohen, gives masculinized examples of systematizing, like obsessive interest in cars, computers, or financial information, or sports. It thus misses systematizing behaviors in autistic women, who these activists argue are more likely to obsess over gardening, makeup, boy bands, knitting, dolls, et cetera.

Today, many activists and scientists argue that autistic girls and women go underdiagnosed because researchers and practitioners miss their symptoms. This critique has led scientists to formulate an alternative theory of autism which identifies distinct male and female autistic phenotypes. Researchers delineating these phenotypes identify autistic women as more socially and emotionally capable than autistic men, identify autistic women as more interested in feminized objects– knitting, boy bands, et cetera– relative to autistic men, and identify women as showing more internalizing symptoms like disordered eating, and men are showing more externalizing symptoms like anger.

This delineation of male and female phenotypes may reinforce preconceptions of men and women’s intrinsic differences. Some researchers identify biological causes for these divergent symptom profiles, while others attribute them to autistic men and women’s different socialization, which they suggest teaches autistic women to camouflage classic symptoms. This research program first developed in the late 20th century, but it really exploded as a critique of EMB theory in the 2010s.

A third emergent paradigm identifies autism as a gender-defiant disorder, citing high rates of queerness among autistic people as evidence for a link between autism and gender nonconformity. This paradigm comes out of activism and clinical practice, and remains more prominent in these domains than in the scientific literature. About 70% of autistic people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, and about 15% identify as trans or non-binary, rates far above those seen in the general population.

Recent research identifies autistic people as more androgynous than their non-autistic counterparts in several areas, including personality traits, sexual identities, and physical features. Some researchers– some research routes this androgyny in the body and in biology, assessing bodily traits like shoulder width or skull size for their relative androgyny, for instance.

Other research identifies autistic people’s gender nonconformity as predominantly social in nature and potentially stemming from autistic people’s experiences of marginalization. Some research handles this positive link between autism and gender nonconformity positively or neutrally. But a lot of work pathologizes this link and identifies gender conformity as a treatment goal. Indeed, some therapeutic interventions have been designed to increase gender conformity among autistic youth or autistic adults.

Therefore, the understanding of autism as a gender-defiant disorder establishes sexual difference as a baseline from which autistic people deviate. This perspective on autism has been less influential than EMB theory or the theory of male and female autistic phenotypes, but it’s become a more significant research program in the last few years. And as I mentioned, it’s driven some recent therapeutic interventions.

Our discursive analysis of a stratified sample of highly cited articles enables me to map trends in the emergence and dispersal of these three paradigms. Extreme male brain theory dominates the other two paradigms in terms of influence, with articles in this paradigm occurring significantly more citations on average than those in any other paradigm, and with scientists across this research field characterizing EMB theory as the best known gendered paradigm of autism.

However, this graph shows that articles espousing other paradigms have been published at a steady rate for the last several decades, with articles promoting male and female autistic phenotypes indeed surpassing EMB theory articles numerically. Over time, the figure on this slide shows that the share of articles promoting EMB theory declined, while the share promoting the theory of male and female autistic phenotypes and autism as a gender-defiant disorder rose.

The theory of male and female autistic phenotypes has emerged today as the leading scientific understanding of the gender dimensions of autism. While the theory of autism as a gender-defiant disorder appears scientifically nascent, yet influences autism activism, popular discourse, and clinical practice.

Furthermore, as I’ve indicated, conflict over the biological versus social roots of gender and sexual difference has emerged within and between these three camps. 37 articles in the stratified sample of 100 articles explicitly attributed difference to biological factors, and 14 to social factors, with the remainder of the sample discussing a combination of factors or taking no explicit position. This figure shows that while biological explanations have continuously dominated the literature, as autistic and feminist activism have challenged these explanations, the number of articles probing social explanations for the gender dimensions of autism have risen. However, articles adopting a sociological frame still remain a minority.

Feminists and activists within the autism discursive field are highly critical of extreme male brain theory, and identify theories of male and female autistic phenotypes and autism as a gender-defiant disorder as advances on this perspective. To some extent, they are advances, granting more credence than EMB theory to sociological factors underpinning differences between men and women. However, I find that all three paradigms ultimately contribute to the naturalization of sexual difference.

Extreme male brain theory essentializes empathizing and systematizing as sex traits. The theory of male and female autistic phenotypes essentializes a range of behavioral differences and differences in interests between men and women. And the theory of autism as a gender-defiant disorder pathologizes queerness and gender variance.

Assumptions about sexual difference thus thread through autism discourse, including both extreme male brain theory and its scientific and activist backlash. These findings contribute to the research literature on the scientific construction of sexual difference. In particular, following the work of Ellen Samuels, they illustrate that disability anchors our understandings of sexual difference.

Autism research naturalizes preexisting views of men and women as intrinsically different, offering supposed proof that these differences are grounded in neurology. This research illustrates the analytic importance of disability for feminist theory. Disability proves the embodied reality of sex as well as other social categories, most centrally race, to the extent that social agents, institutions, and discourses map disability onto sex categorization. Centering disability thus helps feminist theorists make sense of the bodily dimensions of gender inequality. I’d love to talk in the Q&A about future directions for feminist disability studies and what all feminist theorists can learn from this literature. Thank you all.

Soosun You: Hi, my name is Soosun You. Thank you so much for being here and for organizing, or for moderating. So I’ll be presenting a part of my dissertation with you today. And the talk that I’ll be delivering today is titled The Main Squeeze, A Constricting Marriage Market backlash. Against Women’s Empowerment in South Korea.

And so what I’ll be talking about today tries to understand some of the causes behind the backlash that we’re seeing against women’s empowerment in South Korea. So just to give you some context first, here are some examples of the pushback against women that we’ve been seeing in South Korea. On the left, we have young men who have gathered to call for stricter legal punishments against women who make false sexual– false accusations of sexual harassment. And on the right a group of men have gathered to call for an immediate abolishment of all women and feminist organizations from the country.

These are very recent examples and just two examples of the recent pushback against women’s empowerment in South Korea. And what these instances have in common are that, first, these are young men who have gathered against women’s rights, and second, they are taking political action, right? They are calling on the government to take institutional measures to reduce women’s empowerment in South Korea.

Now, these pushback against women’s empowerment have now become explicitly political in South Korea, as key political leaders like Yoon Suk-yeol, the current president, really capitalizing on the anti-feminist backlash. He won an overwhelming support from young men in South Korea by promising to abolish the gender ministry and by also proclaiming that gender discrimination no longer exists in the country. And now I want to show you that that statement is far from the truth.

So first, looking at the share of legislators who are women, you can see that South Korea ranks among the last. So of the National Assembly, only 19% of the seats are held by women, far below the OECD average of, I believe, 34%. It’s also below the world average, as well as the average across all of Asia. And we can see that this disparity extends to the economic realm.

So you can see that looking at the gender wage gap, South Korea ranks at the last, ranks last among all the OECD countries. For every dollar that a man makes, a South Korean woman only makes $0.68. So again, far below the OECD average of $0.88. In fact, The Economist puts South Korea as the worst place for a woman to work, so based on a more composite index of gender inequality in the workforce. And ever since it released this glass ceiling index in 2016, it’s persistently ranked last.

And so it’s puzzling that we’re seeing this level of backlash in a place where gains for women have been pretty modest. And it is also puzzling that we’re seeing this backlash among young men, whom the literature typically tells us that they hold more progressive social values. And so my research question is, what explains the backlash against women’s rights among young men in South Korea today?

And for the South Korean case, I argue that we really need to pay attention to the marital market dynamics. So I argue that the marriage market squeeze concerning the heterosexual– heterosexual marriage market, the marriage market squeeze in which there’s more men compared to women seeking to marry is an important cause for the backlash that we’re seeing against women’s empowerment in South Korea.

And I argue that the squeeze is created by the interaction of state policies, specifically anti-natalist policies that were implemented in the 20th century that interacted with societal norms governing gender relations. And I’ll talk more about this in the next few slides. But the point here that I’m making is that this interaction is producing status threats for men in South Korea, that men are seeking to resolve by making political demands to reverse a range of women’s rights.

So to test my arguments, I use three different methods. So first, I use semi-structured interviews. And these interviews were really critical in informing me that women and– women and men in South Korea face very polarizing pressures in navigating the marriage market. They have very different obligations and duties that they are expected to fulfill that are pushing them in different directions in the marriage market.

And second, I use policy analysis, or I use observational data analysis, to examine the effect of the marriage market squeeze on attitudes of men toward women empowerment. And I show that state policies that led to an imbalanced marriage market led these men, or the affected cohorts, to hold more conservative gender views.

And lastly, I use a survey experiment showing that increasing the salience of the marriage market squeeze causes young men to demand the abolition of women’s rights. And today, for the interest of time, I’ll probably only have time to go over the interviews, but we will see. OK.

Now, first, I’ll– so first– so to show you the first– the state policies that have been critical in creating this marriage market squeeze, between the 1960s and early 2000s, South Korean government really aggressively implemented anti-natalist policies to discourage families from having birth. And so particularly, the authoritarian regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan were very aggressive in pushing these policies through sterilization policies, as well as through national campaigns that discouraged individuals from having children. So this one reads, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which means two is too many. So they’re telling people that having two kids is too many.

And so it was through these campaigns that really ideologically sought to make individuals believe in having smaller families, such as by linking not only the household’s wealth with having fewer children, but also the economic fate of the country with having fewer children, that was very successful in reducing the fertility rates. So in 1960, the fertility rate in South Korea was about six children per woman. And today, it’s 0.78, the lowest in the world. And it’s been that way for multiple years now.

And one thing that I looked at is the effect of the policies that permitted ultrasound technology for sex– sex-selective screening in the 1980s. Because of the patrilineal norms in South Korea that was prevalent then and still prevalent today, these policies interacted with preference for sons, as these are– kind of the sons are the ones expected to continue the ancestral line. And this caused an imbalanced sex ratio for many of the cohorts that were born during this time. And so I’m interested in looking at the consequences of the past policies for women’s empowerment, or backlash against women’s empowerment today.

Now, one thing I want to stress is that while they were– the South Korean government was very successful in promoting economic growth as well as reducing fertility rates, many patriarchal norms endured in South Korean society. So for instance, for men, the norms governing men’s roles as gajang, the breadwinner, and jangnam, the first born son, were especially kind of strong in Korea.

So in order to become the breadwinner, you have to get married and you have to provide for your wife. And later on, you have to also care for your elderly, or your parents. And this pressure is especially strong for the jangnams, or the first-born sons, because they are usually the ones expected to continue the ancestral line.

And so through interviews, I was struck by how deeply rooted these norms still are in South Korean society today. So for instance, one woman in fact told me that there was no option but for her brother to get married because he needed to bring a bride who would take over the family rituals. And so he was successful in bringing a bride who would willingly take over the family rituals. But this woman did not want to get married because precisely for this reason.

And for women, the norms are slightly different. So norms binding women really kick in once you enter the marriage. So a lot of the economic reforms did bring about changes, or the loosening of norms, for unmarried women, not entirely, but some. But particularly for married women, these norms really kind of maintained intact.

So a woman’s role as myeoneuri, which translates to daughter-in-law, was especially something that is strong in South Korean society today. That prevents, or that at least reduces, the appeal of marriage for many women in Korean society. So there are many high costs upon marriage for women, including having to partake, or at least having this pressure to partake, in family rituals, bearing and caring for children, as well as reduced freedom. And these are kind of the things that many of my interviewees spoke as primary reasons that drove them away from getting married.

And so this pressure is so salient in South Korea, that there are even K-dramas of this theme. So this is one example of it. This woman is newly married. And now, she’s having the pressure to work. But at the same time, she has to fulfill the duties of being a daughter-in-law and cooking for her– not for her– not just for her husband, but also for her in-laws.

And so through my interviews, this was also evidenced in my interviews. So one woman, and she’s a politician, and so she told me that while she wasn’t planning on having children, once her in-laws got involved, she did not have a choice but to give birth. And so you can see that there is this pressure that really forces, or that really constrains the behaviors of women in Korean society. And many women, knowing this, decide to preemptively opt out of the marriage market.

So what am kind of arguing here is that due to past policies, many younger male cohorts face this constricted marriage market in which there are more men than women seeking to marry, or available to marry in the first place. And these norms are pushing men into marry– into marriage, as they have high costs, or they face high costs for not fulfilling expectations of being the breadwinner and being the jangnam, or the first-born son, that eventually takes over the family line.

However, these norms are simultaneously pulling women away from marriage because there are so such high costs to being wives and the myeoneuri, or the daughter-in-law, in South Korea. And just to show you an example of how this is playing out in practice in South Korea, this is news that was broadcasted in Korea a few years ago about a dating event that occurred in Korea.

And it’s called Competition for Singles. And this man is quoted as saying he came here because he thought there would be a lot of women in this event, but in fact, there are more pigeons than women. And so just an example of how this is playing out.

And one more just kind of funny, but– what do you call it, kind of this disconcerting kind of anecdote is that I’ve heard many politicians tell me about how many city governments and provincial governments are opening these types of dating events these days. And sometimes, because there aren’t enough women who are willing to come, they would recruit women from government institutions or public hospitals that they are affiliated with to come to these events. So I can see that this is a real problem in Korea.

And this polarizing pressure was evident again and again in my interviews. So one man in his 30s who lives in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, told me that men have much more social pressure to get married. And he also told me that he is concerned that he may not be able to achieve a level of socioeconomic status that is required to get married in South Korea. And so the men have both social and material pressure that kind of comes– that is associated with marriage.

While a woman told me that she has a friend who recently got married, and she became very upset. She just warned her that she should not give up on her career and become a [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]. A [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] is a common term used to describe women whose career came to a halt because she decided to get married and eventually had children. And so this is a very prevalent kind of phenomenon in Korea, that there is even a term for it. And so you can see that there is really these polarizing pressures for women and men in the marriage market.

And so I’m arguing that this is a primary or an important source of the backlash that we might be seeing in South Korea against women’s rights because marriage is such an important, kind of, duty and obligation for men in this society. So failing to marry, or this prospect, or the low prospect of marriage in South Korea, can be considered a cultural threat because the patriarchal norms are deeply rooted, and because marriage is seen as a duty and an obligation, especially for the jangnams of South Korea.

It can also be a material threat because marriage is often perceived as an economic symbol, right? So you have to be of a certain kind of standing in order to successfully get married. And in order to continue the ancestral line and inherit wealth, one of the expectation is that you do get married and bring home a wife who may continue the family rituals.

And so I argue that’s in response to these threats, men respond with political backlash as a solution aimed at addressing this mismatch between asocial norms and demographic realities created by past state policies.

I’m out of time. So actually– so I think I’ll just leave it here. And I’m curious to hear what you think about this kind of the expectation and the theory because it’s the first time that I’m sharing this with a non-political science audience. But just to give you a brief, brief overview of what I found, I find that the individuals who were born during eras in which there was this cohort sex imbalance, the men do, in fact, show much stronger backlash attitudes during this period.

And additionally, using survey experiments that increases the salience of this marriage market squeeze for men, I find that they do respond by demanding more institutional measures to reduce women’s rights in South Korea. So I’m happy to talk more in the Q&A. But thank you. And I look forward to receiving your comments and feedback. Thank you.

Julia Sizek: OK, we are now going to move into the Q&A. So I will be walking around the room with the microphone and then also monitoring the online questions. So if you’re online, you put your questions into the Q&A feature, not into the chat. That just makes sure that I can see them. Thank you.

Laura Nelson: Great. So thank you all so much for those papers. They’re so interesting and so different one from the other, that it makes it for a really rich conversation, I’m sure. So do people in the audience here in the room have any questions they want to kick us off with? [INAUDIBLE]

Audience Member: Thank you all. This was such a terrific– such a terrific panel. So I’m going to start with a question for David. And in a way, I’m curious, sort of we were talking about this geological turn. And I was wondering if you could talk more about what– what it means to be a humanist sort of thinking about geological time, for example, or thinking about our affective encounters with stones. So– so talk me through that move from the human to these non-human entities for humanities, right, which are so often centered on the human.

A broad question.

David Pham: Thanks so much, [INAUDIBLE], for that question. And it’s a question that I thought a lot about because I came up as a humanist. And– and it’s interesting to think about these artists such as Kelly Akashi who worked through the geological, because the geological offers a vast time span, that the human mind finds it very difficult to kind of accept. And I don’t think the brain is wired to, kind of, cognitively processed the billions of years that came before us.

And I think many humanist literary critics who work on geology talk about how the engagement with stone sends one reeling. This kind of– to touch stone, as Akashi and several other Asian-American feminists have been working through, to touch touchstone really sends one reeling because you have this immediate sense of the vastness of time and space without being able to process that cognitively, but you feel it. And I think that’s what I find so powerful about Akashi’s work, because some of these things we can’t describe through language. And I don’t know if we want to. Because it just can’t– language is so limited, so we– she– Akashi resorts to sculpture to think about historical inquiry.

And so, yeah, I think that’s why, you know, I talk about stone being so unassuming an object to talk about humanist ideas such as emotion or feeling or like, memory, but it’s exactly what I think this new direction is going toward. Like, stone remembers. And I think the historical anecdote that I give about the Wakasa monument really, I think, situates Akashi’s intervention really powerfully. Because for those descendants and survivors of Topaz to get the chance to return to the monument and put their hand on the stone itself is really kind of takes on a spiritual dimension.

I was able to attend that weekend. And the pastor there was talking about how the survivors were able to transcend time and space, and to reconnect with the ancestors through that kind of touch. So I think all of that comes to bear on Akashi’s work as well.

Julia Sizek: Actually, I want to add a related question on this stone topic. Because one of the things I was really curious about– and I work on– I work on rocks in a very different way. But I was really curious about how different metaphors and actual patterns that show up on stone appear in this work, so things like erosion or weathering, and how those might intersect with some of the material that you’re looking at in these sculptures.

David Pham: Yeah, that’s the side of geology that I’m trying to strengthen. But you know, going back to the Wakasa monument– is there any way to pull up that image again?

So just thinking about the parts of the stone that the survivors and descendants could touch, on the top half where it’s darker, I was able to talk with the archeologist who was responsible for unearthing this monument. And the top part, the darker part, is something called desert varnish. And it’s much more fragile. And they didn’t want anyone touching that because it could just disintegrate.

But the bottom half I think is called andesite. That’s a type of– I think a type of rock that was more, I guess, stable. And the descendants were able to walk by and place their hand however long they wanted on that part of the stone itself. Yeah, that’s my reply to– my best answer to your question, yeah.

Laura Nelson: Actually, I just want to– I don’t want to have the entire conversation on this presentation, but it was so rich. But I also made the observation in this panel which says New Directions on Gender and Sexuality that you didn’t use the term gender or sexuality once in your presentation. And I’m just wondering whether you can situate for us the ways in which you see this as a new direction in gender and sexuality-focused research.

David Pham: Yeah, a huge question. I– I think a lot about the way– you know, Kelly Akashi is part of a cohort of Asian-American feminists thinking about the question of embodiment, which I think is clearly a feminist concern, and how that embodiment changes with regard to thinking about non-organic materials or these kind of strange juxtapositions that we think of at first that actually kind of make sense I think.

I think the kind of strains of feminist thought that I really draw from are ones that think about the feminist– the categories that we take for granted, such as the human and the body, to really kind of critique those notions and see something different. And I think the reification of those categories is what I was trying to get at through my presentation.

Audience Member: Soosun. So first context for my question, I was adopted from China. So having been told, or heard, all my life that the Chinese prefer sons, I later learned to question that narrative. For example, given– there’s this nonfiction book called Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. There’s also the documentary film One Child Nation.

And I know your presentation is just on young, mostly young men and women’s preferences regarding marriage and not getting– or not getting marriage rather than children, but how does this situation in South Korea compare and contrast with that in China? And if you can’t answer that question, just what possibilities do you– what hope or what could we do instead?

Soosun You: Thank you for your questions. These are both big questions. So I am trying to learn more about China because I think it would be a great comparison child case. What I know from the South Korean case is that the sex selection slash susceptive abortion, or sex selective adoption, these issues were especially prominent during the ’80s in South Korea, and then continued into the ’90s as well.

But I know that at least in terms of the sex ratio, it has pretty much, like, naturalized to what demographers call the natural sex ratio nowadays. But to the extent that social norms are pushing and pulling women and– men and women in different directions in South Korea, I think this is going to be an ongoing issue. And I see the sex imbalance as one, kind of, legacy of state policy that will continue to exacerbate this issue for South Koreans.

That said, I believe for China and India, I did see a paper which said that the rates of male bachelorhood will likely peak in about 2050. And so I think that my study does have some implications for this context. And I’m really interested in extending this study to those places. And so I’ll have a better answer for you then. But that’s what I know in comparison at the moment.

And yeah, I think– look, solution, I don’t know. I think end of patriarchy might be something that– and I don’t think it’s the men, but it’s the patriarchal system that is causing men and women in these directions that I see as being really problematic. So yeah, thank you for your questions.

Audience Member: I’m sorry, I forgot your name.

Emily Ruppel: Emily.

Audience Member: Hi, Emily. I’ve really enjoyed your presentation. I wanted to ask you about this, if we call it a gender-defiant presentation, rather than disorder.

So if we start by getting rid of the disorder, if we think of neurodivergent people as also potentially being– what I understand about autism is folks are less rule-bound by social rules and social norms sometimes. Yeah, that when people are less bound by social norms, more queerness, more gender diversity ensues. How’s that as an angle?

Emily Ruppel: Yeah. No, I completely agree with you basically. So when I– and let me just set this up. So this is an analysis of– oh, let me turn my mic on.

Of course, I get it.

Yeah, so this is an analysis of the medical literature. So disorder is very much their language, not my language. So I would totally agree with you. For me, as a scholar, and thinking from a more normative perspective or whatever, I definitely think a presentation would be a better framing. And in terms of that interpretation, I totally agree with you. And that’s sort of what my instincts would say might actually be going on here.

And there’s– a lot of the autism memoirs I read and a lot of the writings by autistic activists, that is their framing of this. Their framing is basically if autistic people are less bound by social rules in general and then identify as queer at higher rates, identify as trans at higher rates, or presenting in varied ways, if society was less patriarchal, then maybe gender and sexuality in the general population would come to resemble gender and sexuality in the autistic population.

So that’s definitely the angle that a lot of autistic activists and feminists are taking here. And I think it’s a really generative one. There’s a great article by Christian Bumiller called– I think it’s called The Neurodiversity Movement as a Feminist Project, basically, which is basically about what feminist theorists can learn from autistic activists’ writings on this. And so I find that body of work really promising.

Analytically, from an activist perspective, I think it’s gotten taken up and appropriated in strange ways in the scientific and medical literature, right? So some of these scientific researchers will cite some of these writings as their inspiration, but then use it to say, oh, so autistic people are queer at higher rates, what can we do about that? And use it in this more pathologizing way. So are noticing the same trends as autistic activists themselves are writing about, but taking a much more medicalizing, pathologizing perspective, and then, in some instances, trying to design these therapeutic interventions to increase gender conformity.

Audience Member: I guess I’m just wondering– I’m not a social scientist. And so in terms of how you might frame a research question in a positive way, right, that might allow you to access– I guess it’s– I’m sort of struck by it. It’s like, oh, the medical literature says this. And here’s all this other stuff that we’re not supposed to pay attention to, which are the people that are talking about their own experience, right?

So two things. One, how could we invert the value of other kinds of statements that are not coming from perhaps the scientific literature? And how could we maybe ask the questions– yeah, how– I don’t know, I don’t know how to do this. So how do you ask the question in order to come up with a hypothesis, a potential conclusion that suggests, wow, reduced social norms produce greater gender diversity? My other question is sort of related to this, is I’m just wondering about the queer people in South Korea. Yeah.

Emily Ruppel: Yeah. So I mean, for me, for this project, and I was only– we were given 12 to 15 minutes, so this is a pretty limited part of it. But that’s one of the things I’m really interested in, is this interaction between scientific and medical researchers, and activists, and people writing about their lives, and things like that. Because I think autism is a really interesting case of this because there has been a really strong activist backlash against how scientists and clinicians and practitioners have spoken about autism.

A lot of autistic people saying, no, you’re wrong. Autism should be not thought of as a disorder. It should be a really direct contestation of scientific discourse. We see that in some other cases as well. There’s extensive literature on health social movements. AIDS activism is kind of the classic case.


Exactly. Yeah, we see this around a lot of disability movements. But autism in particular, there’s been a lot of really direct interaction between– between autistic people themselves and researchers, and some autistic people then going to graduate school and becoming researchers in this field. So I am really interested in that.

And unfortunately, one of the dynamics I was seeing was this thing where activists would raise some critique, and then researchers would find a way to adopt it, but reframe it in a much more pathologizing way, or a much more essentialist way. So activists make claims. And then they’re taken up by researchers and taken out of context and turned into much more gender essentialist claims than they were, sort of, in their initial context. And so I think figuring out how to, yes, center the original activist statements and voices and prevent that seems like a really important next stage for autistic activism, I think, and preventing that tort of appropriation of autistic claims about gender and sexuality.

[INAUDIBLE] people in South Korea.

Soosun You: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a really good question. So that’s not the focal, kind of, point of my dissertation. But just from what I know, the population that identifies as queer is growing in Korea. And there are more contents of queer and LGBTQ in South Korea.

However, that said, there is still a lot of stigma attached to queer and LGBTQ in general in South Korea. But one of the things that struck me during some of my interviews is that the men who were against women’s empowerment were not necessarily against LGBTQ. And that was something that I thought was kind of interesting, that I’m hoping to look more into in the future. But yeah, yeah.

Audience Member: Hello, it’s me again. So this question is for Emily. I– Oh, so– since I’m also a disabled person and I– like, sometimes I say I’m neurodivergent, but there’s a big difference between being identified as disability– as disabled or pathologized in a certain way, like, diagnosed with something from the very beginning, and then finding out later. So that’s the case for both queerness and for disability, or neurodivergence.

And like, there’s a– I’m just– get my question together. I’m just– like, I’m wondering about the nuances there. And like, for example, what about the other direction? So well, you’re talking about the discourse. But for people who maybe didn’t– adults who later find out, I mean, maybe this is supporting the scientific discourse, which is problematic, which you’re critiquing.

But has the scientific discourse considered, like, those adults who were already queer and then found out as adults that they were diagnosed? I’ve also– like, what I have not found within disability– at least not found exactly. And like, I went to this panel on disability and queerness. It just had students on it at UC Berkeley. But it was all people, like, those who started out queer and then were coming out as disabled. But I haven’t really found it the other way. But of course, we’re talking about autism– you’re talking about autism specifically.

Emily Ruppel: Yeah, that’s a fascinating question. I love that question. I think it actually connects a little bit to my answer to the previous question as well. Because this– what I’m calling the theory of male and female autistic phenotypes, that very much emerged, and again, was somewhat appropriated, from activism among women who were diagnosed with autism later in life, and many of them queer.

And so there’s been sort of this wave of adult diagnoses in autistic women. And I think that that is changing– that is changing autism as a social category, that wave of diagnoses, that now for some people, not everyone, but for some people, that’s the first thing they think of now when they think of autism as you know, like, women college students getting diagnosed, things like that. And I think– you know, I think– it came out of some of these women, and to a lesser extent, maybe practitioners who worked with them, saying, oh, this is a problem. We’re missing autism and women. And then researchers start developing this theory of male and female autistic phenotypes, which, as I described, ends up going to very essentialist places in saying autism is just intrinsically different in men and women because men and women are intrinsically different.

But I do think– I think you’re right. That sort of the experience of late diagnosis versus diagnosis in childhood where you sort of always know it does lead to a very different subjective experience of autism, or whatever the case may be. And it shifts disability as a cultural category. And it shifts autism as a cultural category.

I worked with an undergraduate a couple of years ago who was writing a thesis about autistic college students. And she had a much easier time recruiting women for her sample and nonbinary people for her sample, and a much harder time recruiting autistic men. And she and I were talking a bunch about this, because men are much more likely to be diagnosed.

So we were like, what’s going on with that? And what my theory was, which I don’t know if this is actually true, but what I was speculating from what she was seeing is that when women are diagnosed as adults, they end up identifying with autism more as a political category. They have a much more political sense of what it means to be autistic, what it means to be disabled. Whereas if you’re diagnosed in childhood, you might have a more medicalized understanding of that, and might not so much identify with it, might feel shame about it. Whereas people getting diagnosed in adulthood maybe are finding resources, finding community, things like that.

So I think autism as a cultural category is transforming with this wave of adult diagnoses. These women diagnosed in adulthood are becoming activists. They’re contesting scientific depictions of autism. But sometimes also, their contestations then get taken up by scientists and taken in very essentialist directions, like I said. Does that address your question?

Audience Member: Thank you. That was such an interesting, fascinating answer.

Emily Ruppel: Thank you. All right. I think it’s a really interesting case.

Laura Nelson: So as the panel moderator, I think that it’s my responsibility to, first of all, thank the three panelists, and also recognize the real richness of how diverse the panel presentations were in looking at institutions and systems that produce gender binaries, institutions and systems that contest gender binaries, and ways of being and expression that erodes and avoids that kind of expression and understanding and feeling of humanity as part of a binary system at all.

So I think that when we’re thinking about what are new directions for gender and sexuality studies, it’s really this kind of multifaceted, multiperspectival opportunities for really intervening and, again, understanding the field. So thank you so much, David, Emily, and Soosun.



California Spotlight

California Spotlight: From Boom to Doom in San Francisco

During the peak of the most recent tech upswing, downtown San Francisco was booming. Now, after the pandemic and a new round of tech layoffs, commentators fear that the so-called “doom loop” has come to valuable commercial real estate. While boom and bust cycles are not new to The City, what can we learn from the struggles of commercial real estate?

Recorded on October 31, 2023 at UC Berkley’s Social Science Matrix, this California Spotlight panel featured a discussion of the current state of commercial real estate in San Francisco — and what lies ahead.

Panelists include Nicholas Bloom, the William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University; Ted Egan, Chief Economist of the City and County of San Francisco; and Nancy Wallace, the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate Capital Markets at Berkeley Haas. Amir Kermani, Associate Professor of Finance and Real Estate at the Haas School of Business and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, moderated.

This panel was co-sponsored by Global Metropolitan Studies (GMS), Haas School of Business, the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative (BESI), and the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics. Learn more at

A transcript of the event is included below.

Listen to the panel as a podcast.

Paul Pierson: Even on Berkeley time, we’re ready to go now. I’m Paul Pierson, I’m the director of the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative. And it’s my pleasure to welcome you to this panel– very appropriate for Halloween, From Boom to Doom in San Francisco. We have four distinguished guests to lead us here. And I just want to give a couple of preliminary notes, just mention here on the slides, I won’t run through all of these, but we’ll leave this up for a second for people to look at– look at upcoming events at the Social Science Matrix.

So we have a bunch of great events coming up here. OK, so I’d like to just begin by introducing Amir Kirmani, Associate Professor of Finance and Real Estate at the Haas School of Business, and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Professor Kirmani is going to moderate this session, and he can also introduce our distinguished guests.

Amir Kermani: OK, so thank you so much for coming. So today, actually, I’m very pleased to discuss this very important topic on how San Francisco went from the hottest city in the US to almost a dubious one. So basically, in the decade before COVID, if we look at the data, San Francisco had the highest job growth rate, basically, in the US, with a growth rate of 3.8% annually. Since COVID, actually, San Francisco has had the highest decline in the population.

So population– I mean, we– I mean, San Francisco had lost more than 3% of its population. If we look at office vacancies, again, like, we went from the lowest in the country to the highest in the country. We went from 4% to 30%. If we look at office space prices, we are seeing something, 60% to 80% discount compared to the latest assessments that these properties had. And unfortunately, if we look at some statistics related to safety and security, those also don’t look that good.

So if, for example, we look at the car thefts, that’s 40% more than what it was in 2019. So I think– I mean, the main question today for everyone is how San Francisco is going to look like going forward. And in particular, like, I mean, can we do something about it to make it a better place? So– and for that question, I couldn’t think of any better group of people than basically the group that we have today.

So today, we will start with Ted. Ted Egan is the chief economist of the City and County of San Francisco, and directs the Office of Economic Analysis in the city comptroller office. Basically, that office prepares independent economic analysis. Since he joined the office in 2007, they published over 100 economic impact reports on policy issues like minimum wage, affordable housing, business taxes, land use planning, sporting events, and short term rentals.

During this time, Ted served as the expert witness on the economics of same sex marriage and he won a good governance award for his work redesigning the city’s business tax. And in general, like, basically, if you are looking for someone who knows the best, every detail of what’s happening in San Francisco, with the numbers– I mean, Ted is that person. Then, after that, we will have Nick. Nick, I know him since almost the first year of my graduate school. I think he was always, like, the source of admiration for all of us as a graduate student.

So Nick is the William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford. His research focused on working from home, management practices, and uncertainty. He previously worked at the UK Treasury and McKinsey & Company, and the IFS. He has a BA from Cambridge, MPhil from Oxford, and he got his PhD from UCL. He’s a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the recipient of Guggenheim and Sloan Fellowship, and Frisch Medal, and a NSF Career Award.

He was elected also as the Bloomberg 50 for his advice on working from home. I was telling to Nick that I think the difference between Nick and other great economists is that a lot of us are working on good topics, and Nick defines what is a good topic. So I remember when I was a grad student, he defined uncertainty as a very hot topic of research. Then, it was very much about management. And now, like, I think since COVID, he has been the main driving force behind research on working from home.

And then, finally, we will have Nancy Wallace. I mean, Nancy is the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in the Real Estate Capital Market at Berkeley Haas. She serves as the chair of the Real Estate group, which means that she is my boss, and co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. That also means that my research money comes from her. So– and I mean, Nancy, is the expert, basically, on mortgage, mortgage related securities, and other real estate topics.

Again, like, I think– I mean, if you’re looking about solutions and how we can fix the issues, I can hardly think of anyone who knows more details about all of things that are not only happening within the city, but also, like, in the US, and what are the tax rules that– basically, I mean, we should take advantage of those. I think Nancy is the expert on all of those topics. So I’m very pleased to have this group today.

So we will start with Ted. And so Ted, thank you.

Ted Egan: Good afternoon, everyone. I’ve been nominated to speak first, but one of the things I should say is everything I say kind of depends on what Nick will say, so– I’m the, as Amir mentioned, I’m the city’s chief economist. And I’ve had a lot of inquiries from the press and from others this year about what’s going on in San Francisco. And especially, the word “doom” is appearing a lot in these kinds of questions.

And so my slides are basically going to be– or my talk is basically going to be about this question of, is San Francisco in a doom loop? I think the doom, per se, is sort of a given. But the loop question is, I think, an interesting question. So I’m going to mainly focus on that. As I say, I’m going to be relying on stuff Nick hasn’t said yet. But basically, the starting point I think for understanding where San Francisco is, I think, is that remote work, this phenomenon that’s persisted since the pandemic, is affecting office demand, reducing office demand.

San Francisco is an office center. More than 75% of the city’s GDP comes from the office industries here that I’ve highlighted in a shade of red– professional services, information, finance, government, et cetera. Everything else– tourism, health, retail, is less than 25% of the city’s economy. So when something big happens to the office sector, like people are coming into the office 43% of normal, that’s going to have ripple effects on the entire city’s economy.

And the real question is, what becomes of the city’s economy? How does it adjust to that shock? It’s clear that the San Francisco office market is facing a giant adjustment. It’s in the process of resetting now. This is data from JLL on the change in office vacancy rates across major markets since 2019. They’ve gone up everywhere. I think that’s the first thing I say to people. It’s like, I hear San Francisco has a bad office market. Well, the office market is bad everywhere.

But yes, it is true. San Francisco has gone from the hottest office market, where the vacancy rate was 6% four years ago, and now, it’s one of the coldest, if not the coldest, at more than 30% vacancy. That is a lot of companies giving up their space. And as I mentioned, even the people who have leases are not coming into the office. And so this is a process that is still underway. We are– as Amir mentioned, we’re seeing office buildings sell for 60, 70, 75% below what they were sold at before the pandemic.

And so that’s bad for the office sector. On the other hand, no, San Francisco is not the fastest growing job center in the country anymore. But its jobs have been recovering. Until the middle of last year, when high interest rates put a crimp in the tech sector, the city had pretty healthy employment growth coming out of COVID. City’s unemployment rate is a little below 4%, which is one of the lowest rates in California. The labor market of the city isn’t showing the kind of crisis that you would see in a city that is classically going into a downward spiral.

We did lose a lot of population in 2020 to 2021. The population loss slowed a lot the following year, so we’re also not seeing a kind of accelerating loss of population. But I do think there’s a real question about what happens to the city’s economy, given what’s happening to offices. So for offices, there’s doom. And again, the interesting question is, is there a doom loop? And one of the reasons it’s an interesting question is just the way urban economies work.

There’s so many– what economists call externalities in cities, so many shocks affect other things in ways that can make bad situations worse, or good situations better. And these aggravating factors affecting a place like San Francisco are, like, what happens to the talent pool, the base of skilled workers in San Francisco area, the Bay Area, that’s driven all of this economic growth for the past 15 years, certainly in San Francisco.

Do they move away? And if they move away, is there less reason to stay there? Is there less reason to– if venture capital goes away, is there less reason to start a company in San Francisco? And therefore, is there less venture capital? All of these critical mass effects can start to unwind in ways that could be potentially risky for the city’s economy, the region’s economy, as a result of reduced office attendance.

Downtown businesses have seen a significant shock because of remote work. When there’s less things to do downtown, either from a business supply point of view, or workers looking for things to do at lunchtime or after work, that makes downtown less attractive. And if downtown is less attractive, there are even less people coming to downtown, and even more reasons for business to close. So that’s another way things can unwind.

The most common route that people say to me as why you must be in a doom loop is because we’ve heard you’ve lost tax revenue because of remote work. And so surely, that means you’ll have to cut vital services. That will make people move out of San Francisco. Maybe, that’s a possibility. And that’s certainly true for transit as well. The transit ridership to San Francisco is a fraction of what it was before, and those agencies are looking at fiscal cliffs.

But there are also potential compensatory factors, or equilibrating factors, if you like, things that make San Francisco more attractive as a result of the negative shock, one of which is office rents, which are cheaper, and are about to get much cheaper, as some of these buildings that are selling at a huge discount reposition in the market. Housing costs have gotten cheaper and are going to likely continue to get cheaper, so San Francisco’s more affordable.

Transportation congestion is a maybe. It’s a funny story. But certainly, there are less people commuting to downtown. So the real question for me about a doom loop is, which of these factors outweighs? Is it the aggravating factors that make everything worse in response to shock? Or is it the compensating factors that say, you know what? It’s just cheaper now. And so now’s the time to make that investment, or come in there.

So let me speak from a data point of view on some of these questions. Amir mentioned, and it’s sort of well known now, that San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole had a big population loss in the COVID years. And people are quick to say, oh, yeah, I heard that was all due because of remote work. And everybody moved to Lake Tahoe. But when you look at the actual industry of people who live in the San Francisco metro area and how that changed from 2019 to the latest census data we have, I’ve ranked here by the change during that time.

Industries like information professional services, the number of people who work in the information sector, who live in the San Francisco metro, has actually increased. That’s mostly tech. Professional, scientific, and technical services, sort of the other half of information technology, that talent pool hasn’t really budged. Where we lost people is low wage workers, so accommodation and food services, like, 30% of those workers are not in the Bay Area by 2022.

And administrative services, and arts, and wholesale trade, and retail trade– so it’s the low wage workforce that really contributed to the loss in the metro area. The city is a little bit of a different story. But in terms of the labor pool that a downtown office would draw from, it didn’t really dissipate. At least, that hasn’t happened yet. Downtown offices have shrunk. The base of businesses in downtown have shrunk. This is a chart showing the number of businesses that pay sales tax in San Francisco.

And the blue line is downtown sales, downtown zip codes, and the yellow line is the rest of the city. Downtown is kind of flat for the past couple of years. And you could say, wow, that’s a really slow recovery, or it’s not a recovery at all. And I think that’s fair. It isn’t also a downward spiral of businesses fleeing as offices empty, so it is very stable. I would describe it, when I look at the sales data, as a slow recovery. It’s also a fairly slow recovery across the city as a whole.

There isn’t a ton of economic dynamism in the city right now. But again, it isn’t a classic downward spiral. The city finances issue is a real issue. The sale of office buildings at steep discounts is going to translate into property tax loss for the city. We’re also forecasting property tax loss because houses are going to be trading at below where they were before. We’ve estimated that remote work, because businesses owe less business tax to the city when their workers are working from home, outside of the city, we estimate that cost us nearly half a billion dollars in 2021.

So that’s a lot of money for even a local government like San Francisco. And all of that is translating into accumulating fiscal stresses, I would say. The flat line here is our revenues that we’re forecasting for the next five years, and the sort of consistently growing line is our planned costs. So we’re looking, by ’27, ’28, at a $1.2 billion sort of working deficit. These aren’t committed city expenditures, but these are expenditures that the city would plan with normal escalation rates. And it’s going to require budgetary changes.

It’s going to require difficult budget choices. A bit of context about this, though, is the city’s overall tax revenue has doubled per capita in the last 20 years. So the city has a lot of money to work with. And this budget, in the context of the city’s $16 billion budget, is not insurmountable. It’s not the kind of thing we haven’t faced before. It is difficult decisions. I don’t think they’re impossible decisions.

And so it certainly doesn’t seem inevitable to me that the city is going to have to cut the kinds of services that are going to make people say, I just don’t like San Francisco anymore, and that’s why I’m leaving. And then lastly, let me turn to the biggest, I think, compensatory factor that will be good news for San Francisco as it adjusts to this. And that’s housing prices. San Francisco housing was about 400%– these are condo prices– about 400% of the US average until about the middle of last decade, when we had a few years of craziness and they got almost six times the US average.

That’s all gone. It’s now below 400% of the US average, dropping pretty consistently during the pandemic, after the pandemic, isn’t done dropping, and will probably drop until there is a real sign of economic dynamism again. A major question for the city is who’s tempted to move to San Francisco as housing gets cheaper. It’s a similar question you could ask on the office market side, who’s tempted to San Francisco office space as rents come down?

And these are big unknowns. But I do think this is a major piece of economic good news for San Francisco’s recovery. And it is cheaper, even as it is– there’s other factors that are being aggravated. So I guess my conclusion is the San Francisco doom loop is a risk. It’s a real risk. It’s worth looking at. But it isn’t the reality today. The labor market is good, generally. We’re seeing weakness now, but that’s for cyclical reasons and interest rates, and what’s going on in tech. There’s no reason to think that that’s permanent.

There aren’t any, really, economic indicators that are trending down over multiple years in a way that’s typical of a downward spiral. These risks I’ve talked about are real risks. We’re going to keep watching them. And I think for the long run, once– if we can see to an office market adjustment and a reduced vacancy, there are reasons to think that hybrid work may be good for high productivity, high wage job centers like the Bay Area. And one of the reasons for that is we’re able to have people from a much wider area work at least some of the time in San Francisco.

Cities– the biggest things that were holding back the growth of the city’s economy before the pandemic were housing, because you needed to be near downtown San Francisco, office space, because it was supply constrained, and transportation. But now every time you hire a hybrid worker, they don’t need to be nearby. They don’t need as much office space. And they don’t put as much load on the infrastructure for transportation every day that they work.

So remote work, in some ways, may wind up solving the biggest planning challenges that the Bay Area has always had, which is not enough infrastructure. So on that potentially hopeful note, I will pass it on.

Amir Kermani: OK, now it’s time to have Nick. And there will be a quiz at the end of Nick’s comments about, like, golf during the week, how many percent that has increased.

Nicholas Bloom: I see, great. So thanks, Ted. Fantastic to see that. Oh, I’m a bit loud. I’m going to talk about the future of work from home and then link it up to San Francisco. So I noticed on the way up, you talked about three sections. I removed one, which is on managing work from home, which I’m happy to share on slides at the end. But I’m just going to talk about current stats on work from home and then three impacts on the economy.

So where are? I actually posted out on LinkedIn this morning– like, you know, a Halloween treat, I guess if you like work from home. It looks like it’s stabilized. So there’s two different figures here. I’ll talk through the bigger one and then briefly mention the smaller one. So the bigger one on the left here, this is the share of days that people work from home in the US for a US workforce aged 20 to 64. Why do we look at share of data? Because work from home, turns out, is not binary, as Ted mentioned. A lot of people are doing hybrid, so we’re going to do day by day.

You can see that early in the pandemic is about 60%, so most people are fully remote if you go to kind of March, April, May 2020. It’s then dropped down, and since, really, the beginning of 2023, has just been flat. So the blue line is our line. We serve about 10,000 Americans a month. The red is the census. They serve about 40,000. They are both flat for 2023 onwards. So I know the media is full of stories– like, apparently, Zoom is calling everyone back in the office. But it’s just– they’re occasional stories. If you just look at the big data, that’s just not True.

On average, it’s flat. In the top right, you can actually see just the swipe card data from Kastle Security. So Kastle offers security for a bunch of offices– you know, hundreds of them around the country. They know how many people swipe in every day. That has been completely flat for this year. In fact, the data that came out this morning showed that last week was down versus the week before. So it’s of like the weather. It’s just fluctuating around, but there’s no net trend. Do you have a question– yeah, per person.

So percentage of– so if it’s 30%, it means 30% of people on any given day are working from home, 70% are on premises. Sorry, it’s days, just because– in fact, it’s said to be on any given day, there are 160 million working Americans, roughly. So if 30% of days are work from home, I should do my maths, it’s something like 45, 48 million something Americans are working from home on any random day. Turns out it’s not totally random. There are more of them working from home on Friday and Monday.

But across the week, that’s where we’re coming from. The way we get the data is we survey, as does the census. We both– we have a survey that’s random through the month, and we ask last week, what was your status on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday? Were you working, if so home, on business premises, et cetera, or traveling? So fact one, it looks like it’s stabilized. So coming back to Ted, I’m very aligned. It’s not declining downwards. This is national data, but San Francisco looks similar.

One of those lines in San Francisco, there’s not a downward drop, but there is a flat line in terms of the return to office has stalled out. Second point, related to this, it turns out there’s three groups. So the biggest group is actually people that are fully on site, so think of Stanford or Berkeley. I mean, for Stanford, probably same as Berkeley, about half of employees have to come in every day. They’re the people that bring the food, clean, security, transport, retail, manufacturing.

If you teach my kids, you know, schoolteachers come in every day. There’s hybrid, which is most of our students, MBAs, most people– probably, graduates in our world are typically coming in– I mean the vanilla version here is, come in the office. Like, she’s doing, say, Thursday, work from home, Monday, Friday. And then there’s about 10% that are fully remote. They tend to be more– they’re somewhat high end coders, like Airbnb or Atlassian. There’s a lot of people that sit here, like, IT support, payroll, HR.

So this is the highest paid group. These are our world of our students and Stanford students. This is the middle pay group. Fully on site turns out to be the lowest paid group. It looks like it’s permanent. This graph, I think, is the most amazing figure in many ways, rather than the one on the right. So the one on the left is the share of online retail expenditure. So on a log scale– so the straight line is constant growth rate, and it was growing very constantly from 2010 up to the beginning of the pandemic.

So this is not surprising at all. This is like Amazon, Instacart, and eBay, et cetera, et cetera. During the pandemic, hardly surprising, it jumps up a lot. Everyone ships– like, our household, we were buying from Safeway online and from Instacart, et cetera. The amazing thing is it drops back down. It’s totally back to trend. It’s, like, amazing. If you’re an alien and you had– you missed three years and landed, you just think, well, nothing’s happened. You just took out the pandemic, it’s completely back to trend.

And it’s not just this. If you look at things like open tables, eating out data, airline data, NFL attendance data, concert data, all of this is totally back to trend. So much of the economy has completely returned. The thing that hasn’t is work from home and anything that’s upstream and downstream. So I really think this is permanent. I mean, at this point, maybe it’s obvious, I still occasionally come across people who say when we return fully to the office– I’m like, that’s just not happening.

Not– maybe you might have thought that in 2020, but not by now. And on Ted’s point, you know– and I’ve seen Nancy’s slides, they’re fantastic as well. We were just talking about this earlier. There’s very– connected up. Ted showed the three biggest industries for San Francisco, collectively 56%, turn out to be the top three here. San Francisco is like ground zero for work from home. This is work from home levels by industry. Look at the bottom– hospitality, transport, retail, trade, very low levels.

Even managers often, when I speak to them, will say, you know, I talked to someone that ran a construction company. And he was saying, you know, I’ve got to come in every day, pretty much, because the front line people do. So I can’t work from home. I may do Fridays. At the top is information, which is tech, finance, and professional business services. San Francisco, over half of its employees are in the top three, so it’s just– it’s industry skew is very skewed towards work from home makeup.

So why is this here? There are four reasons, I’m going to skip three and four and just focus just on one and one, just to kind of benchmark why it’s permanent. The reason this is permanent is it’s profitable for businesses. So businesses make money from hybrid. Because of that, it’s going to stay. It’s going to be permanent. We’re in a capitalist economy, and anything that’s profitable tends to stick around. So by far the biggest thing is one. And the thing that CEOs complain about is two.

And I’m just going to go through these– so one, unhappiness, hybrid is really driven by recruitment and retention. So there’s two ways to look at it. One is we’ve surveyed by now tens of thousands of people in the US, and actually globally. And you get the same number over and over again. People value the ability to work from home two, three days a week as about the same as a 5% to 10% pay increase. So I don’t really think that’s a lot, but it’s a material amount of money.

When you talk to firms, if you want to haul everyone back five days a week, you’ve got to think in your mind of paying them 5% to 10% more. And like, why would you do that? You’d only do that if it improved productivity. In a minute, I’ll show you it just doesn’t seem to do much at all. So this is driving everything. Here’s just one concrete data point. It’s a randomized, controlled trial we did with, which is a big travel agent. They’re one of the big three, along with Priceline and Booking– sorry, the Expedia and

And they took 1,600 employees who are all grads, a third of them are post grads, and they randomized them into either five days in the office or working from home Wednesday, Friday. They did it by even or odd birthday. So if you have an even birthday, you come in five days a week. You have an odd birthday, you got to work from home on Wednesday, Friday. They ran this for six months.

What did they find? They found nothing on performance. Like, absolutely nothing, the point estimates were positive for working from home, hybrid, but it was very insignificant. They looked at lines of code written, performance reviews, promotions, assessments. They just couldn’t find anything. And then the one thing they did find is quit rate, so people that are allowed to work from home two days a week, they had a 35% lower quit rate. And so the c-suite looked at this and were, like, what’s not to link? There’s just no downside.

It’s really expensive. It costs, they reckon, $15,000 every time somebody quits, because you’ve got to hire them and train them. There’s no downside. There’s only upsides, so they just rolled it out. So this kind of explains why hybrids dominated. Then, the big critique you hear from execs, sometimes Jamie Dimon’s of this world, others, say, look, it’s really bad for productivity– Elon Musk. What’s the evidence? The evidence is– first, it’s really important to think about hybrid versus fully remote.

And they’re right. There’s a bunch of studies on hybrid. They basically find zero. So why might that be? Well, you kind of initially think, well, surely, people are working from home two days a week, that’s– maybe you think that’s bad. Like, I don’t know. They’re not being monitored, or they’re asleep, or whatever people worry about. On the other hand, it turns out, A, if you work from home, you save about 70 minutes a day from less commute. About 40% of that, people spend on more work. They’re less tired.

So A, you get a productivity benefit from avoiding commute. And B, it’s actually a lot quieter at home on average. So if you survey employees, they’ll say it’s quieter. There’s psychology evidence on, like, bursting, et cetera, suggests it’s best to be creative and productive, have a mix of in-person time and quiet time. So it looks like over a week, it’s kind of helpful, actually, to have a couple of quiet days. So hybrid is about flat. Fully remote is an enormous mix. There’s some very famous headline studies that found, like, -20% effects. Others have found plus 13%.

It’s all over the place. How can this be? From looking at a lot of this data, the big driver is basically how it’s managed. So there are a bunch of studies that look at people thrown home at the beginning of the pandemic, and like, lo and behold, their productivity plummets because there’s no management. It’s chaotic. They don’t have equipment. And so these studies say work from home is negative, which it is, I think, if you don’t have proper management control systems.

Some of the other studies look at very well organized setups, where people may be meeting retreats once a month for a day. They have performance review systems and proper training. And in that case, it looks like productivity, you can get to flat or even positive. So that kind of conclusion– you can imagine, if you’re setting this up, there’s a bunch of upsides. There’s no obvious downside. Therefore, for firms, that’s profitable. And that’s why it’s stuck.

So what are three impacts? One is the donut effect. So a lot of people have left city centers. So we have data from the United States Postal Service, change of address data, that– you can get it. It’s free on their website. It’s really great data. It’s by zip code by month, net flow. And here’s New York on the left. To echo Ted’s points, it’s not just San Francisco that’s been particularly hit. We looked at the 12 largest cities in the US. And collectively, they’ve lost almost a million people. They lost them mostly in 2020. They don’t seem to be coming back.

So if you look at the flows, there’s a huge rush out in 2020. And then, they went back to zero. It’s not that they’re– I kind of thought they’d leave out and then they’d come back again. It would net out. They’ve left and just haven’t come back. Where are they going? They’re actually mostly going to the suburbs of the same places. So we actually have a different data set. We track individuals. You see that over 60% are going to the suburbs of the same cities.

So if you take San Francisco, you can see here, a lot of people left– this is downtown San Francisco. This is Oakland. You see big losses of population. They’re actually going out to East Bay, South Bay, North Bay. Come back to Ted’s comment, if you’re working in the city two days a week, you don’t want to leave– mostly, people are not going to tar. They’re just going somewhere it’s cheaper. You can get a yard, maybe a home office. You only need to come in two days a week. You’ll put up with an hour and a half.

In some ways, this is fantastic. So there’s a lot of empty space here. If anyone that’s flown over, taken a flight, and looked out the window over Central Valley, it’s mostly farmland. There’s a lot of space that’s within two hours commute. If you’re only coming in a day or two a week, you can live there. And that is an enormous improvement on the cost of housing. Another thing we see is– again, exactly as Ted said, it’s actually cut the cost of living in city centers in real terms.

So this is Zillow data. If you look at the chain, this is rents on the left. This is home values on the right. For the top 12 cities, here’s the city center, kind of the higher density, the suburbs and exurbs, which are outer suburbs, typically one to two hours away. If you look, city center rents have gone up by about 13% since just before the beginning of the pandemic. So it seems like they’ve increased. But inflation is 17%. So in real terms, they’re actually cheaper. Rents are, actually, in real terms, down.

Home values are down a lot. If you look at home values in city centers, they’re down about 20% in real terms. San Francisco is maybe 30%. So if you bought a condo in Central San Francisco, it’s probably worth about 30% less in real terms than it was. So that’s an enormous drop in value, but it also means it’s cheaper to live here. The other thing we had is we have data from Mastercard, just from spending data. And again, a donut effect.

So here– it’s a bit sensitive showing overall levels, because Mastercard don’t want to reveal its over network spending, but they show differences in the center versus the various rings. What this basically shows is– this is 5 miles out from the center all the way up to 50 miles out. You can see the center has dropped massively versus 50 miles out. Expenditures shifted from city centers out to the suburbs. The suburbs are booming. The money, this tax revenue and spending has not disappeared. The aggregate economy is doing well.

It’s just not in the city center. It’s gone out to the suburbs. So one is there’s a donut effect. Two is– the thing that worries me most, in some ways, is as Ted said, is on transit. So people drive less. That’s great. That’s all good news. On the right, they’re also taking less public transit. Nationally, it’s down 30%. That’s bus and rail. Bus has dropped far less, because the people that tend to use buses tend to be frontline workers. They’re mostly back. The people that use trains tend to be more professionals, that basically are not back.

The numbers I’ve seen from San Francisco are more like 40% to 45% drop in train usership. The big issue is our budgets for the public transit are not set up to deal with this. So far, it’s been bailed out by the federal government. I just don’t know what happens in ’25, ’26. My kids actually take Caltrain. I mean, it’s pretty scary. I don’t know where this is heading. I don’t really have an answer.

And then finally, to end on a positive note, golf– so I don’t actually play golf, but I heard this so many times, that people complain about golf courses. So with a student, we got data on GPS data from a company called INRIX. They have about 100 million journeys a day. It’s really easy to figure out if somebody playing golf because they drive to a golf course and stay there for between two to six hours. You’re not living there and you’re not– you might have a very long lunch. But it’s a pretty good indicator.

And you notice in 2019, it was low in the week and peaked on the weekends. In 2022, it’s basically flat, at close to peak capacity throughout the week. This is the daily data, 2019, it was mostly in the morning, then people went off to work. I don’t know how. That’s like nine– I mean, I don’t know how they got away with starting work at 10, but anyway, they did. Here is 2022. The only reason it drops in the afternoon is this is national data. In the South, it’s just too hot. You just can’t play in the middle of the afternoon.

So basically, golf is dramatically up. The reason I put this up, connect to the next slide in a minute– I’ll conclude– is one of the things we’ve seen is because of work from home, there’s been a swiveling of time use. During the day, people are doing more leisure. I don’t think this is a bad thing, to be honest. So if Nancy is my boss and said, you got to get your job done. And decide I’m into golf and go play golf for a couple of hours, and work in the evenings, there’s nothing wrong with that– or go to the dentist, or put my kids up.

What it points to is the leisure economy, so shopping malls, gyms, you know, pickleball, whatever people want to do, that stuff– skiing– that stuff has actually seen a boom in demand because you can use the capacity better. So my guess is ski resorts have done really well, because now people can go ski Monday to Friday, rather than all crammed on the weekend.

Whereas this heading– I wrote something in The Economist. I think it’s pretty clearly, like, a Nike swoosh. It dropped from 2020 to ’22. It’s been flat. In the long run, technology is going to drive it up. We know in the very long run, what drives the remote work is technology. So think of laptops. Now, I’m one of four kids. Both my parents worked. When I grew up in the ’80s, my parents would occasionally work from home. Back then, there were no– not even personal computers. So it was, like, carrying a piece of paper. It was terrible.

So in the long run, this is slowly trending upwards. So I would conclude– is work from home is here to stay. It is not– it’s flat. It’s been flat now for about a year. It’s going to gradually edge up. I’m in line with Ted. I don’t think San Francisco– you know, it’s stable. I mean, it had a big negative shock. I don’t think it’s in a doom loop. I think it’s down, but it’s definitely not out. I think for me, the key is cities are rotated a bit more towards consumption activity, leisure, and a bit of away from offices.

I mean, there’s– offices are still here, but they’re less office dependent. They’re less retail. They’re more leisure, eating out. And also, people living in them– actually, some of that office space will convert. OK, I’ll stop and hand over to Nancy.

Amir Kermani: I think it’s very good to have Nancy as the last speaker, because you will see a lot of solutions as well.

Nancy Wallace: OK, great. So thank you for having me talk. I’m going to talk about, how do we think about the doom predictions for the Bay Area? And some of my slides are slightly less gloom and doom-y, and then thinking about how– what we do about, what we know, what Nick’s told us, what we’ve heard about the city budgets, all of this information? What do we do about it? What kind of thinking forward in terms of investments, in terms of responses?

So that’s how I’ve set my talk up. And obviously, we were, pre-pandemic, a start up culture. And we still are. So these are the very recent data, 2023 data, looking at the start up dollars per capita in the Bay Area. And as you can see, San Jose and San Francisco continue to dominate the United States. So relative to any other city’s per capita, expenditures in venture is high, and very early start up dollars, which is the other graph to your right, are also very high.

And again, compare– the only other sort of in the running city is Boston. And this relative has been true for a very long time. The Bay Area has been the site. These dollars are very substantial. And they have been maintained. So that seems very good news, sort of a counter to the doom loop. And then other significant employment that we’re now seeing have new types of payoffs that were perhaps unanticipated. We are still preeminent in semiconductors, both innovation and creating them.

And manufacturer– the fabs are coming back to the United States. There’s going to be a lot of repositioning of this manufacturing equipment here. So California still has 23% of that employment. And again, these are just brand new, 2023 data. AI venture capital, even in the last 18 months, it’s now $45.5 billion. And it’s hard to see this graph, but this is a map that I harvested from the Chronicle. And a lot of these are located in downtown San Francisco, in older buildings.

So one of the biggest ones is a $15 billion start up. It’s a Cruise facility. And then there’s a second one, again, another second round funding, $11.8 billion. You can’t see it on the map, it didn’t project well. But they’re right in downtown San Francisco. So again, we’re seeing these startups in buildings that are getting more fragile, similar to what we saw in the dot-com, where suddenly our brick buildings, where the windows open, became sites that people sought after.

Now, they’re looking for sites that are cheaper. And it is now a market that accommodates that. So the employment growth since the pandemic is now mostly positive. As you can see, I’m anchoring this on the pandemic. And these numbers are small. But nevertheless, they’re mostly positive. Everything is above the zero line. And so that’s a good news story. And then the other issue is, like, in what are we seeing the growth? And we’re seeing it in education, and health care and health services.

That includes things like pharma, all that flat line– pharmaceuticals in Berkeley, the South San Francisco activity that’s very dynamic, and then also education. So those are growth areas that are important to our economy in terms of building for the future. The other really interesting statistic, which, given where we are and who’s in this room very likely will not be surprising, but when you look at the educational attainment levels, again, the Bay Area is remarkably resilient.

49% of our over 25’s seconds have bachelor’s degrees at a minimum. And these show the overall attainment. And when higher than bachelor’s– so these are census data– of 59.4 bachelor’s, master’s, and PhDs. So those are very, very strong numbers. And again, they dominate any other urban area in the United States, with the exception of Boston. We’re always sort of close to or tied with Boston.

And then looking at the breakdown of higher education, again, it’s bachelor’s, master’s, PhDs, associate degrees. The amount of human capital that exists in this agglomeration is very impressive. And San Francisco is still ground zero on these facts. And this is just San Francisco. So these are pretty impressive. If we expanded it to the East Bay and the South Bay, we’ll have to make a concession to Stanford, we are– statistics change very little.

So it’s pretty much the same everywhere in the Bay Area. It dominates in terms of the strength of the human capital that exists in this area. And then when you take that and look at what are the fields these people are trained in, again, you see this very heavy tech emphasis, engineering, STEM fields, that are now and will continue to be the growth areas in this agglomeration, including the South Bay, and are leading to really important capital flows, which I’m going to talk about in just a minute.

And that’s the growth of tomorrow. And sure, perhaps we will be working at home less, or, well, perhaps, as we grow, but there still will be the work from home component of this. But I think what is more important is thinking of where the capital dollars are going to be spent and how the Bay Area can attract those dollars. And these are the ingredients of a really positive future.

And the fact that, really, the pandemic hasn’t changed this much at all is really important, and especially with the venture dollars that are coming in with new areas and new inventions that are very much complements to what’s already here. So obviously, we’ve seen the other part of this. The San Francisco population trends are not that favorable. And in many ways, this has to do with a very significant lack of housing. California is way behind in producing housing.

And the recent information from Stanford, San Francisco, that it takes five to seven years to get a permit to build anything is really remarkable– and the fact that the UC Berkeley been battling the courts over the fact that students are now deemed pollution under the California Environmental Quality Act, and we’ve only just prevailed in those court suits. So we haven’t been able to build housing in Berkeley related to the university for about 15 years.

We have a lot downtown. Berkeley is really to be credited with this. But there are reasons for this, the long commutes, having to live further and further away because of the price of housing. So although the population trends are not favorable right now, especially to our cheaper competitors in Texas, Florid– Houston. I was in Houston, it’s booming, and Florida as well, I do think the big drivers of the capital flows are going to sustain the Bay Area.

OK, so how do you take what’s the positives, which is what I’ve been stressing. I have– none of us really have been talking about crime, homelessness, mental illness, the fentanyl crisis. These are big issues. I wasn’t asked to talk about those. But we have some ideas about that as well. I think a key thing is the slight imbalances, especially in downtown San Francisco, with the lack of housing. I just was in New York. And New York is booming. And there’s just a lot more housing in New York in the central business areas than there is in the Bay Area.

So I think this is going to take us reimagining what San Francisco downtown can be and what live, work, innovation hubs could be. And thinking about this, promoting 3D printing, additive manufacturing, smaller site manufacturing, AI innovation and research offices. And even though my map didn’t project well, of this $45 billion of new venture capital, a lot of it’s located in the city. We have actual maps of where these things are located.

And then universities satellite campuses and research labs, so we’re very proud about the new NASA Ames Berkeley partnership. That’s a $2 billion capital investment which has just been deployed. Those agreements came out in October. They’ve been in the works several years. But nevertheless, this is a huge satellite source, a site for the University, and for harnessing this human capital that’s very much a part of our labor markets.

And there are other opportunities in failed malls, especially in San Francisco, that the universities and the labs can take advantage of. The other thing that’s really interesting is with the falling prices in the office market, I’m less confident about rehabbing office and turning it into housing, but I’m very confident about repositioning A minus and B plus buildings into innovation hub sites. And again, that’s where this new capital flow and the investments that are coming with it, and the real estate deals that are happening around this, because it is currently a buyer’s market.

So the positive side of this negative is that when you see the cost per square feet has gone down from 600 to 200, these are perfect sites for all this new venture capital, these new industries, and the strengths of the area. Another untapped area that we’ve been working with a lot at our center is all the mall space. We have a lot of failed malls, or poorly performing malls. All in all, we’re talking about almost 200 acres of space.

So one of them is the San Leandro Mall, the Bayfair Mall. There’s also one outside of USF, the Stonestown Mall. And then in Richmond here, just north of Berkeley, there is the Hilltop Mall. Each of these are between– 50 to 70 to 170 acre sites. And right now, they’re being repositioned. All of them have significant real estate capital that’s just moved there, large scale investment, supported by the local communities.

And what’s planned for these are transit oriented development, which is extremely important, and significant workforce housing. So these are dollars that have already been deployed. These are dollars that you don’t see yet, but the dollars are there. And they’re here to house these people in a closer way because they’re tied to the BART stations. And then lastly, this is– there’s been a lot going on, especially in sustainability and alternative ways of funding.

I mean, when interest rates are at 8%, people have to get creative. But a lot of creative dollars have been unlocked. Our university is really working on accessing those dollars having to do with transportation related infrastructure, carbon neutrality related investments. And we need to harness our congresspeople and senators to bring some of these federal dollars here. So what are these programs? Well, they’re the Inflation Reduction Act, which comes with tax credits, which is all designed for infrastructure.

We’re looking at that for a huge new energy plant here on our campus. And this is going to go on in other places in the city as well– buildings, roads, and also the BART stations. So just last week, the Biden administration announced the new Transportation Infrastructure, Finance, and Innovation Act. Again, these are federal dollars that are competitive, but there’s no reason red states should get all these dollars. We need to harness our elected official human capital to access some of these dollars.

And then there are other programs. There’s a Good Neighbor program, the sale of federal buildings, unlocking California low income housing tax credit dollars, which have not– and this is Fiona Ma. It’s she that controls those dollars– towards more transit and lower income sites for that investment. And that’s where a lot of the housing dollars, and especially the workforce housing dollars are going to come from.

And then lastly, creative uses of tax incremental finance– so the state has not experimented with these other sources of capital as much as they should, but these enhanced infrastructure financing districts are going to be very important. There have been two or three of them approved by local governments. And they’re, again, very transit oriented, one of them being the West Oakland BART station.

And these are ways that we can start building the infrastructure, especially around housing and transit access, to provide the workers that are going to go back at least three days a week to San Francisco. Thank you.

Amir Kermani: Thank you so much, Nancy. OK, so I think now it’s time to open to questions. We do have our own questions as well. But I think let’s just start from the questions of people in the room. Then, we will see a number of questions that we have on the Zoom. But we may– like, depending on that, we will decide whether after this, go to our own questions, and then to the Zoom call questions.

Audience member: OK, so I guess the message for Ted and Nancy is timing, because if you look at over 30,000,000 square feet available– and, you know, San Francisco’s pretty desolate compared to what it was before, downtown area. So what’s the timing for all this innovation to occur? And is it a shakeout where we lose 40% of office space in San Francisco? Because I have businesses in downtown and in the financial district, and it’s been pretty significant impact from that standpoint.

And it’s flat. I agree with you, 100%. We’ve seen it for years and years and years.

Ted Egan: I would say one of the reasons I less expect we’re going to lose the spaces is I don’t know what we would lose it to. It’s in the nature of the structure of the San Francisco economy– but if you lose it, you know, what we’re seeing in the reset or bottom finding of the office market now is office buildings selling for $200, $300 a square foot that were $800, or $900, or $1,000 a square foot. You’re not seeing zero. You’re not seeing boarded up abandonment, blight, just not seeing that now.

You do see that in a lot of cities that have a doom loop, but you’re not seeing that in San Francisco. So again, I raise the question of is there a higher and better use at that kind of price? I don’t see it. It doesn’t seem to be housing. I think housing needs to be, like, less than $100 a square foot, in which case, I’m not that worried about that. But I take your point about timing. I mean, there’s a dynamic going on. A couple– you’re always sort of dealing with contradictory threads of evidence.

And one thing you’re hearing is there was a ton of startups that got a ton of venture capital in San Francisco in 2020 and 2021. People have been waiting for them to sign leases for a while now. And it’s just not happening. On the other hand, when I talk to tech companies about, what’s the deal with your return to office, San Francisco tech companies, a refrain I hear over and over again is the people who live in the suburbs don’t want to come to the office very often.

The people who live in the city, who tend to be very young, in their 20s, they have no problem with coming in the office five days a week. The pre-COVID energy around, yeah, it’s very normal to, like, share a house with eight other techies, wake up and code, go to work, code until six, do some hackathon at night, it’s starting to– that lifestyle is starting, I think, to reemerge because of AI. That could drive office demands when we actually see rents drop to the level that prices have dropped, where they’re nowhere near– a 60% or 70% correction.

But if they get there, who knows what these startups that are sitting on a lot of cash will do with the space?

Audience member: And as follow up, when you said, like, kids don’t mind working five days, I have a son, just graduated from Cal. He’s in management consulting. And one of the concerns is– and this is to your point, Nicholas, is like, how do young people get the mentoring? On a high level, it makes sense. The 30, 40, 50-year-old guys, they don’t want to come back to the office. They don’t want to commute in from the East Bay into the city. But the young people– like, my son worked at Accenture.

There was nobody in the office for the young people, like, the 20, 25 year olds. And Accenture, their culture is based upon flying to the client. The clients are not in the office. They’re at home. So how do young people being at Stanford or Cal get the mentoring that a lot of us had in our 20s and 30s– you know, you get in an office. How does that– I don’t know if there’s studies around that? Maybe not enough time has passed to figure out that impact.

Nicholas Bloom: No, first of all, I totally agree. I remember talking before that– I had a discussion with my daughter yesterday, who’s 20, on a summer internship, essentially, applying for them. I was like, you really want them in person, at least four days a week in person. So I’m totally aligned. And if anyone that has kids in their early to mid 20s, or my students in my MBAs, you don’t need to be in the office five days a week, but try and be in at least three.

Now, how that works, you’re also correct. I worked at McKinsey years ago. I was there for a couple of years. And yes, you’re often at client site. But you’re at client site with senior partners. And you know, I remember my PMI manager. So I’ve talked to a lot of professional service firms. I remember talking to a bunch of big law firms. They have this real problem. The associates, the entries, want to come in every day, or four days a week. The middle level and particularly senior level partners don’t.

They like to have a nice house– you know, my kids are at home. I don’t want to– it’s cold. I know my clients. And so it’s really, like, the heads of these firms to tell the folks, the partners, part of your job is not just making money from clients. It’s mentoring people below you. And so this is one of the reasons why you need some consistency. And I think for middle and senior managers, they should really be, typically, in the office– we’re seeing three days– so three days in the office, two days at home. That’s a kind of normal thing for new hires.

I could easily see a fourth day a week. Let’s say you always come in Monday and different managers rotate around from different teams. So when I was at McKinsey, Fridays, we had BCR, basic consulting readiness. And different managers came in. But I’m totally aligned. For people in their 20s, my advice is probably be in the office at least three days a week, because you do pick this stuff up. That’s not true. We see a very u-shaped pattern, by the way, in terms of– we were just talking about this earlier.

I was just looking at data from Gusto and distance to the office by age, because they have amazing payroll data. And they know exactly where you live because you have to get your home address right for tax compliance. And it turned out, pre-pandemic, distance to work was basically flat with age. Post-pandemic, there’s an enormous bulge for people in their 30s and early 40s that have moved far away because they have young kids. People in their 20s and kind of mid-fifties onwards haven’t moved nearly as far.

Nancy Wallace: Yeah, and I think to your point– is this still turned on, yeah. If you’re in this business, you know that there is dry capital waiting to come into the markets. There’s actually quite a lot. And firms have already moved. These are major firms. And the other interesting things is the cities are now wanting to be accommodative, even San Francisco. So the Bayfair Mall– San Leandro is bending over backwards to make sure this thing works, and all kinds of willingness to think about how we handle the land, how we handle densities, how we handle alternative structures, how we handle parking– get rid of it.

I mean, really using these sites intensively in a mixed use, live, work kind of environment that are very well designed. And then to the point of all of us talking to our children, you have no idea how excited MUI’s are to build housing that they can afford to live in. There’s been– I mean, we’ve been now working with these site developers and coming up with creative solutions that are energy efficient and affordable, where we can build a capital stack that actually makes some sense, is possible.

It’s even possible today with interest rates as they are, but not unless we have the help from the cities themselves. And I think that’s where we’re seeing the help. We’re seeing it with tax incremental finance from Oakland. We’re seeing it with the willingness from San Leandro and Richmond. And now, we need to see it from San Francisco. And we only need a few of these tax dollars to make that happen, and they’re geared to performance.

So it’s not really a great burden for these cities. But given that there is land available– I mean, that’s been the big problem, of finding the land. And now, we’ve identified the land. It’s in play. Real dollars have been invested. The signature of housing development with Hilltop is within the next 18 months. San Leandro is going to be slower. And Stonestown is going to be even slower. But it’s not going to be five years, nothing close to that.

Audience member: Hi, so I was also curious to ask about the long term. But I also noticed that– it seems that the first speaker was describing that the people who were leaving the city mostly are low income workers, not the tech sectors. And then the second story, from you, was a slightly different. And it seems like it’s probably a complicated picture of different sectors, but part of the story is the fact that within tech, it’s maybe about age and seniority.

But I wonder, like, what you all think about the long term social effects of this kind of– where working from home and proximity to your office space becomes something that is really sector specific, income specific, age specific, and what that will do to the dynamics of the city. And socially speaking, if there’s a bunch of young lower income people living in the cities, but also very low income people living very far away and commuting, or– I mean, the picture is probably complicated.

But yeah, I think just– it seems like there’s multiple different stories happening at the same time. And the picture of who lives in the city might become something that’s really, really shaped by people’s income, age, and other things.

Ted Egan: I can take a stab at that. Just to kind of clear up, I think, some of the uncertainty, at least, that my chart caused, I’m looking at the San Francisco metro area in that chart that shows tech workers aren’t moving out. There is a reallocation of people out of the city to the suburban areas, like the map that Nick showed. It’s also true, though, that most of the people who moved out of San Francisco were not techies– and again, from the city, more than half the food service workers were not food service workers in San Francisco in ’22, for example, compared with a 7% loss for the tech occupations.

You’re raising, I think, the most important question for the future of San Francisco, which is– if the value people attributed to San Francisco housing because it was near a high paying job, if that goes away, what takes the place? What is the new reason to come to San Francisco? And you could ask that question about housing. You could ask that about offices. And it’s happening at the same time. So that’s a long way of saying I don’t know, but it will be an interesting thing to watch.

Amir Kermani: So actually, can I do a follow up on this– so because I think that’s the most important question. Like, I mean Nick ended his slides with saying that the solution going forward is to make cities as a place for consumption. But a lot of people who are providing to them, to the leisure service, are slightly lower paid jobs, which means that unless we can have affordable housing nearby the cities, or we can increase the supply of affordable housing nearby the cities, we cannot make cities the place of consumption.

So it looks like a big part of the answer to all of these questions is that, how can we make, like, Richmond or like all of these locations that are accessible to the downtown of the city by BART– but just increase the housing supply nearby those locations. Make those large enough sites that, basically, it’s not going to crowd out the existing schools, or existing, like, infrastructure in these cities.

Ted Egan: I mean, there are things you can do to add housing that don’t cost you money. And those are probably– this is probably the right time to look at those plans again. And yes, you may have to build more schools. And you may have to do actual, comprehensive planning. That’s not the end of the world. I do think– I mean, just looking at San Francisco, it’s not going to be a great climate for development because of the trends that we’re talking about for the foreseeable future. I mean, until these markets adjust, it’s hard to talk about housing.

It’s hard to talk about office development like people were before.

Paul Pierson: So my question is a little bit of a follow up on that, actually. But first, I just want to say, what a fantastic panel. I mean, just so, so much information and analysis that’s really helpful for understanding where we’re at. I just wanted to take Nancy’s little invitation to ask you about homelessness, and both as a cause of some of the donut– and the acuteness of the donut effect in San Francisco. Like, to what extent does it create both a push and also a limitation on pulling people back in?

It certainly– as somebody observing it on a human, individual level, it seems like it’s a big, big deal. And then the other, maybe more upbeat aspect of it is, will the declining costs of housing that you’re seeing in the Bay Area in San Francisco, in the long run, will that have any effect in helping to address homelessness? I’d imagine that there’d be quite a lag, but I’m interested in both– how much it’s affecting the dynamics you already see, and whether changes in home prices are likely to have any healthy effect in the long run?

Nancy Wallace: So building requirements of all new properties are 30%, at least, of all the units have to be affordable, so even very high end looking properties in the city have a 30% affordability requirement. And it’s at the local level, so we’re looking at below the median income level quite substantially. And all of the plans going forward in these sites include elements of affordability.

But they’re not– and Berkeley’s issues, too, our own university, with People’s Park, and the facilities that we’ve been asked to build along with it– mental health facilities, health services facilities, most of the cities are also thinking of those kinds of services, although I think this is probably more a state level problem, especially with the drug problems and the mental health lack of services. And I’m not sure the cities can solve it.

But right now, we’re using the hospitals, which is a ridiculous use of hospitals. We simply don’t have the services for it. And we haven’t built the housing, and it’s because the permits were not available. I mean, we have a sort of a view of housing, and protecting our land, and keeping everything the way it was. And I think these shocks are going to change that. They already have. And the hope is, none of this– we’re not planning, you know, palaces for the tech workers. That is not the plan.

And a lot of it, we need entry level housing as well. We need student housing. We need all kinds of mixed house uses. And we just simply don’t have it. And the way we solved the tech housing problem was we forced people that had good paying jobs, but they were living eight to an apartment. And they didn’t like that very much. And we’re trying to come up with ways that we can finance to build more reasonable structures. And I think there’s some optimism about actually achieving it.

Amir Kermani: So on the homelessness section, I think it’s very interesting, because I was– I was, that was also the number one issue that came to my mind when I was thinking about this. It’s very interesting that California has one third of all homeless people in the US, but 60% of homeless without shelter. Unfortunately, like, we have been always very bad on that dimension. The thing that I didn’t know was that the number of homeless people didn’t increase that much compared to before COVID, at least in San Francisco. In some of the suburbs, it actually increased.

But in San Francisco, it didn’t change that much, which– I think it has two sides. One is that maybe we don’t need to wait until we solve that problem before, like, the cities start growing again. On the other hand, it’s crazy that we haven’t solved that problem, even at the time that the city was growing a lot. And I think we can be much more innovative in solving that, because, like, perhaps for people from Berkeley, you all received that email yesterday. There was a robbery on Berkeley Ave.

And it was about, I mean, basically grabbing two bananas, two orange juices, and, like, one water bottle, something like that. That’s something that– I mean, if we had like, I don’t know, like, food banks close by, perhaps it would have been avoided. So it seems that– I mean, there are some obvious things that we are not doing. And there are– I mean, and perhaps that’s a place that we should think much more about it.

Ted Egan: I mean, I think the main thing I would say about homelessness in the context of our talk– and I get this question a lot of, but there’s a lot of homeless. There’s a lot of drug use. There’s a Whole Foods at 8th and Market that closed. Surely, you’re in a doom loop– is that this is a long standing problem in San Francisco. And it hasn’t, in the past, affected people’s commuting to downtown office buildings where from 75% of the city’s GDP is generated. And I don’t think it is now.

So yeah, it’s a great conversation to have. It’s just not a great explanation for San Francisco’s economic problems. As for the attractiveness of downtown housing, it’s probably an issue. But it’s got a pale in the context of, you mean, I don’t have to go to the office five days a week? So why should I pay $1,500 a square foot for a condo? I mean, I think that that’s the real change that’s unleashed the sort of donut effect.

Amir Kermani: Sorry, Julia, how many questions do we have on zoom? Do you mind if we first ask, like, the question–

Julia Sizek: OK, so one of our questions from Les Guliacy is about the dynamics within the bay. So San Francisco has lost many of its historically big businesses and employers, notably Chevron several years ago to San Ramon, and more recently, PG&E to Oakland. The developer which bought PG&E’s properties on the square block of Market, Deal, Mission, and Sphere has announced plans to build what they claim to be a premier office park and residential space.

Given the risks that you enumerated, is this developer’s plans fanciful? And how realistic is this kind of development?

Amir Kermani: Do you do that–

Ted Egan: No, no, I insist. I’m not in the business of giving developers advice on how to–

Nancy Wallace: The capital is going to be deployed. These are risky ventures, and we’re at the trough– we’re headed to the trough in the business cycle. And this is where the big returns are made. So this is a pattern that we’ve been through multiple times in the city. And as buildings come out of the hands of certain players, they’re going to go into the hands of others. And whether or not we’re at the bottom is the real question, and nobody knows the answer to that.

Amir Kermani: OK, and there’s one more or–

Julia Sizek: Yeah, you can give one more, which is sort of– which is from an urban planner, McDodd Burewala– is financing really the issue when it comes to housing availability? From my understanding as an urban planner, it seems like there’s a lot more land use resistance to promoting dense buildings and moving away from single family housing. So how is work being done to persuade and work with older, generally wealthy, long term residents of the city to embrace an influx of more affordable housing when it can be argued that it doesn’t necessarily bring a lot of benefit to those same residents?

Ted Egan: I mean, I think if we consider some of the economic and geographic trends that– post-pandemic– that we talked about before, I really think that the– and we’re seeing this now in the San Francisco development story. The appetite for infill is just not what it was. And it’s a remote work, so this is a structural shift. To kind of close the loop about your homelessness point, sure, cheaper housing in San Francisco is good for homelessness in the long term.

But massively growing housing prices in the Central Valley is bad for homelessness in the long term. And they’re in the same state as San Francisco, so maybe the housing conversation needs to have a reset, too, about what kind of housing, where, for what reason. Just a thought.

Amir Kermani: But isn’t that question also the reason for why we should not think about just building a few more, like, I mean, of these, like, multi-unit family housing, but, like, having very large sites, as Nancy was saying, and having– like, doing a planning– something that houses school of itself, something that has the infrastructure, so it’s not crowding out the existing–

Ted Egan: That’s great. We have a bunch of those in the pipeline in San Francisco. And they are kind of in the same situation that most of the rest of the sites are, which is there’s no demand, and so they’re not moving forward.

Amir Kermani: There’s no demand?

Ted Egan: Well, I mean, if you look at the price trends, I mean, it’s not the not the best–

Nancy Wallace: To get the rents. It’s hard to get the rents right now.

Nicholas Bloom: I mean, one thing on housing, to come back to the question earlier, how you align Ted and my data– Ted’s data is by where you work, mine is by where you live. So that’s why there’s a difference between– and the reason I raise it now is a lot of techies used to live in the city and work in the city. A lot of people in food service used to live outside the city and commute in to work every day. So that’s why the jobs have gone. The people haven’t really shifted there.

So the reason this affects housing is, well, you previously had a lot of people living around the city, commuting every day to work on minimum wage, or not much above minimum wage jobs and go back. It was a pretty bad existence. Many of those jobs they’re working have moved out to the suburbs. So these office workers that are no longer eating at, you know, Panera Bread or Pret a Manger in the city center are getting their food in the suburbs.

In fact, I spoke to the board of Panera Bread and they said they’re roughly flattish on sales. They’ve plummeted in city centers. They’ve boomed in the suburbs. That helps the housing crisis, because of course, if it’s cheaper to have housing out in Central Valley– and more people are buying sandwiches in Central Valley because they’re not going in every day. So one of the odd things in work from home is by taking retail spending out of the city center, you see, that’s what explained Ted’s chart, which is on by where you work.

But those jobs have moved. They’ve not disappeared. They’ve moved out to the suburbs. And the people that work in them can more easily live there. So if you can build housing out in Central Valley, where the land is a lot cheaper, you solve a lot of the housing. There’s no need to build it all in the center of the city because a lot of the jobs have moved out. So it’s probably like a fifth the price to build housing out in Central Valley, on basically vacant– I mean, if you fly over it, it’s agricultural land.

Some of it isn’t even irrigated because the water is now– it’s so expensive, it’s just totally vacant. So I think that’s a better solution, rather than converting expensive office buildings, is to build some new housing, because there are jobs out there now that there weren’t, because these office workers are not going in.

Nancy Wallace: Plus, it’s not economic to transfer office buildings. And I–

Nicholas Bloom: I agree. I think the future of office, eventually, within – Ted and I were at an event which the city held with JLL. And they had this prediction– eventually, office vacancy rates will return back. They said they predicted it would happen by X. And I was, like, is standard X was 2033– like, 10 years. And eventually, it will. But basically, no one’s going to– this is the nuclear winter for office construction.

Like, there are some things that are being built that started pre-pandemic, but nothing’s being started now. Eventually, if you don’t start any office building for 5 to 10 years, at the fringes, some is converted, some is torn down. Eventually, the stock slowly shrinks. Office vacancy rates will go up, but not because people are moving back in. It’s just the offices are just closing. But yeah, you’re right. Conversion of big floor plan, 1970 buildings is not happening.

Audience member: If the forecast is 2033 or recovery, or 2035, then, to Ted, if you’re a local– like, we’ve been talking at a macro level. Let’s talk at a micro level. If you’re a small business in the financial district of downtown San Francisco, you’re on a percentage rent deal, which means it’s not a fixed. But the demand is so low– you’ve got to cover labor and your material costs, and it’s not a good return on investment, what do you tell the small restaurant or grocery or retailer in downtown– or financial– San Francisco, with a 10 to 15 year potential correction?

How do they survive? What do they do?

Ted Egan: They are changing the costs that are variable. The cost– I mean, all costs in the long run are variable, right, so you need some reasonableness on your lease. You will only open for lunch. You will– you just economize. You don’t– I mean, downtown businesses already only make money five days a week. There’s no downtown San Francisco weekend business. So now it’s a three day week or a four day week. They just adjust to that.

And yeah, we have a 20% reduction in businesses downtown for that reason. And we don’t see people flooding in at the moment. But I mean, I think that’s the future. It’s the future for transit, frankly. I mean, when you think about transit, I’ve heard two different rhetoric. And I won’t name– I’ll name the second agency. The first agency said, fewer people are using our service, so we must raise prices. That’s bad. The other one is saying– BART’s saying, not as many people riding our trains, we’re going to make the trains six cars– excellent.

Excellent, you’re not entitled to your own car on Bart. But it’s better to have a short car every six minutes than a long car every 20 minutes, right? So that’s smart. And those are the kinds of adjustments that I think we’ll have to see.

Nicholas Bloom: The value of offices is down 70%. The value of, probably, retail at the foot of those offices is also maybe down 70%. So rents need to go down. I mean, this is like market clearing econ. The rents have to keep dropping until businesses can make money. And if you’re paying rent and you can’t make money, and you tell your land– yeah, you may need to drop. It needs to drop to a point in which businesses can make money in that space, basically, yeah.

Amir Kermani: OK, so I think the time is up. So thanks, everyone, for coming. I think I personally learned a lot, so thank you so much.

Authors Meet Critics

Massimo Mazzotti, “Reactionary Mathematics: A Genealogy of Purity”

Recorded on October 17, 2023, this video features an “Authors Meet Critics” panel on the book Reactionary Mathematics: A Genealogy of Purity, by Massimo Mazzotti, Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of History and the Thomas M. Siebel Presidential Chair in the History of Science.

Professor Mazzotti was joined in conversation by Matthew L. Jones, the Smith Family Professor of History at Princeton University, and David Bates, Professor of Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. Thomas Laqueur, the Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, moderated.

This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, & Society and the UC Berkeley Department of History. The Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” book series features lively discussions about recently published books authored by social scientists at UC Berkeley. For each event, the author discusses the key arguments of their book with fellow scholars.

About the Book

A forgotten episode of mathematical resistance reveals the rise of modern mathematics and its cornerstone, mathematical purity, as political phenomena. The nineteenth century opened with a major shift in European mathematics, and in the Kingdom of Naples, this occurred earlier than elsewhere. Between 1790 and 1830 its leading scientific institutions rejected as untrustworthy the “very modern mathematics” of French analysis and in its place consolidated, legitimated, and put to work a different mathematical culture. The Neapolitan mathematical resistance was a complete reorientation of mathematical practice. Over the unrestricted manipulation and application of algebraic algorithms, Neapolitan mathematicians called for a return to Greek-style geometry and the preeminence of pure mathematics.

For all their apparent backwardness, Massimo Mazzotti explains, they were arguing for what would become crucial features of modern mathematics: its voluntary restriction through a new kind of rigor and discipline, and the complete disconnection of mathematical truth from the empirical world—in other words, its purity. The Neapolitans, Mazzotti argues, were reacting to the widespread use of mathematical analysis in social and political arguments: theirs was a reactionary mathematics that aimed to technically refute the revolutionary mathematics of the Jacobins. During the Restoration, the expert groups in the service of the modern administrative state reaffirmed the role of pure mathematics as the foundation of a newly rigorous mathematics, which was now conceived as a neutral tool for modernization. What Mazzotti’s penetrating history shows us in vivid detail is that producing mathematical knowledge was equally about producing certain forms of social, political, and economic order.

Listen to the panel as a podcast below.



Julia Sizek: Hello, everyone. Welcome. My name is Julia Sizek. And I am a postdoctoral scholar here at Social Science Matrix. Today, as you all know, we are here as part of our Author Meets Critics series in which we discuss exciting new works by faculty in the Social Sciences Division.

Our book today is Reactionary Mathematics– A Genealogy of Purity by Massimo Mazzotti. As promised by the title, the book is a look into the history of mathematics and more specifically the late 18th and early 19th century in the Neapolitan resistance to French styles of mathematical practice. This revolution in mathematics, Mazzotti argues, should be examined alongside the political movements at the time.

A pure mathematics, he suggests, is a project of a certain kind of political, social, and economic order. This wide-ranging book is of interest to many of you here. And perhaps you arrived thanks to the efforts of our co-sponsors for this event, the Center for Science, Technology, , Medicine, and Society and the History Department. So thanks to them.

Before we begin, I’m just going to discuss a couple of our upcoming events that we have coming at Matrix. So on October 31, Halloween, very spooky, we have the California Spotlight From Boom to Doom in San Francisco about the so-called doom loop, which I assure you is a very terrifying topic. On November 14, Dylan Penningroth will be presenting his book Before the Movement– The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights.

On November 28, Sharad Chari will be presenting his short book Gramsci at Sea. And then finally, for the purposes of this, we will be having a event featuring the work of graduate students called New Directions in Gender and Sexuality toward the end of the semester. So to register for all of these events, you just go to our website, which is

And so just so you know, the way that this event will proceed is first, we will have our moderator introduce everyone. And then we will proceed to have some discussion up here. And then we’ll open it up to Q&A around the room.

So I will be introducing our lovely moderator Tom Laqueur. Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett distinguished professor emeritus– wow, that’s a mouthful– at the University of California Berkeley. His work has been focused on the history of popular religion and literacy on the history of the body, alive and dead, and on the history of death and memory.

He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and The Threepenny Review among other journals and is a founding editor of Representations. Laqueur is a member of both the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book is The Work of the Dead– A Cultural History of Mortal Remains. And he’s currently working on a book called The Dog’s Gaze in Western Art to be published very soon. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Tom.

Thomas Laqueur: Thank you. So we have a remarkable panel today to discuss this book, remarkable in the sense of the distinction of the panelists, but also that they actually know something about this subject, which is not always the case. So just to the left is David Bates, Professor of Rhetoric at Berkeley, but for many years very active in the Center for New Media and now in the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society.

He’s an enlightenment scholar. Has a book called Enlightenment Aberrations– Error and Revolution in France and States of War– Enlightenment Origins of Politics. He’s now working on a book on artificial history of natural intelligence.

And one further left is our visitor from afar, Matthew Jones. He’s the Smith Family Professor of History at Princeton. He focuses on the history of information technologies and artificial intelligence as well as the history of science and technology in early modern Europe. But actually, now, he’s not working in early modern Europe. He’s working on postmodern America, a history of surveillance. since 9/11.

But relevant to what we’re talking about today is how data happened, a history from the age of reason to the age of algorithms. And before that, a book on the history of science or generally The Good Life from the Scientific Revolution– Descartes, Pascal, Leibnitz, and the Cultivation of Virtue. And other books and works, but in any case also in this general field.

Massimo Mazzotti, our colleague and the main event, I want to introduce him actually by reading from the review of Nature. It’s a good place for– a rare place for a historian to have a– so here’s what Nature says. “There are some books that hook you– that hook you straight from the title. Reactionary Mathematics by Massimo Mazzotti is one of them. What’s the title even mean? It feels as a bizarre juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated terms like literary biology or electrical jurisprudence.”

So then it goes on to say that, “Many people have perceived mathematics as separate words the most independent of these disciplines from the social science but not Mazzotti. Mazzotti’s first merit is to break this pattern and take us to a different sphere where mathematics, science, culture, art and society, and history converge, revealing new interpretive possibilities.”

“Indeed,” the review concludes, “the complex relationship between tradition and modernization is the pulsing heart of this engaging book besides a valuable historical analysis. Reactionary Mathematics offers an interesting and useful synthesis,” I had to correct his grammar, “useful synthetic vision,” he’s Italian, so you know. “to help us understand in these times of rapid and convulsive transformations, the mathematics of the present, and most importantly, the reason for the mathematics to come.

So what else can I say, except that Massimo is the Thomas Siebel Chair in the History of Science in our department. And his earlier book is also in some sense about the cultural history of mathematics, The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God. So Massimo will speak. We’ll have both respondents. Matthew will respond. And then I’ll call on everyone for questions.

Massimo Mazzotti: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Tom. [INAUDIBLE] Thank you, Tom. So yeah, I think it’s probably useful if I don’t speak too much. And we have a conversation. So maybe I just give you some coordinates just to give a sense of where we are. Because one problem here is that it’s a fairly obscure story in the history of mathematics. So it’s pretty– I mean, darkness when it comes to my colleagues mostly when I talk to them about this.

So at the center of the book, there is a short chapter in which I talk about the mathematical controversy, which was not very relevant. I mean, actually, quite marginal to the overall history of mathematics in Europe in the 18th, 19th century. And that is actually the core of the story. But somehow, I didn’t know exactly what to put it. Because I really want to tell about things that have to do with that controversy.

So the book is mostly about the meaning of that controversy. And then at the center of the book– then I decided, OK, I put it at the center. It’s really at the center of the story. I’ll put it physically at the center as well.

So the story is relatively simple. It’s like, the controversy is about two groups at the margins of enlightened Europe, the Kingdom of Naples, which is well known but is well known for the Vesuvius, for some of the natural [INAUDIBLE]. So artistic natural historical remains. Not really a powerhouse in mathematics. That’s Paris. Those are some other places in Europe that are really– that kind of place.

But there is this controversy that goes on from roughly the 1790s to the 1830s, age of Revolution. And this has to do with what is the best way to solve one version of it. A simple version of it is what is the best way to solve a geometrical problem. Should we be using all kinds of algebraic techniques, even though they don’t really reflect the initial geometrical problem?

But it’s like, we turn the geometrical problem into analytical Cartesian geometry. But even more than that, you can actually use calculus and other things so that you really move distant from the original geometrical problem. You operate on those algebraic formulas. You get numbers. Those numbers, you interpret them as giving you the answer to the geometrical problem.

So you go back. And, OK, you solve the problem. Or should we stick with the geometrical– with geometry? And should we actually only reason in geometrical terms– which means like Euclidean geometry.

Obviously, we’re talking about fairly sophisticated versions of it. But still, should we actually be in the world of seeing geometrical figures either physically or without imagination or in the world of what they would call blind calculations? Because you don’t really see anything when you’re crunching numbers. You’re just crunching numbers.

So at the core is this kind of debate. And what is– I mean, this is just one of the many versions of algebra versus geometry, which is a long-lasting story in the history of mathematics. But at that moment, at that juncture of European history, it seems to me that it takes a particular significance. Also, because there is an unusual emotional investment into this debate, that it doesn’t immediately– it’s not immediately justified by the actual content.

And you find the supporters of the geometrical approach, the synthetic approach, synthetic geometry, meaning, essentially, Euclidean geometry, arguing that if you actually use the algebraic methods, you are perverting the mind of your students. Your mind is perverted. The results are going to be catastrophic for mathematics, which will be degraded, and for society at large.

Because you’re introducing a false certainty. You’re introducing false mathematical reasonings that then are used by people who, for example, are doing political economy or other things with your mathematical tools. And they trust you because as a mathematician, you have endorsed them. You have legitimated them.

So there is a question of what is the legitimated set of tools that one should be using. And this is invested immediately in epistemological moral terms and terms that often evoke a social crisis. This is guiding us into some kind of absolutely wrong direction.

So the trajectory of the controversy is really a kind of– as many controversies, it just disappears into insignificance at some point. It’s not relevant then in the ’30s. But between the ’90s and the ’20s, really, mathematical and scientific life– because this invest everyone who is using mathematics. So from the engineers to cartographers, anyone who’s actually a scientist at that point of natural philosopher in Naples is really one of the most heated and apparently significant controversies.

So what they do in the other chapters is to give you a sense– I zoom into the controversy from the point of view of the analytics, let’s call it that way, those who are arguing for the value of algebraic reasoning and the power of algebraic reasoning so that we see the story from their side. The story from their side is a story of the trust in universal analytic reason, let’s call it that way, that is essentially reflects the deep structure of nature. And it also expresses the deep structure of our own mind. The two things are isomorphic.

And you might think of French mathematics in the late 18th century, the likes of Condorcet and others are really thinking along those lines. I mean, this is not just a mathematical technique like others. This is what they call analysis, which is now what we call analysis today is a set of techniques that have to do with algebra, calculus. But it’s not coherent theory by any means.

But what do you do when you’re using those techniques, you’re actually using something that is deeply ingrained in the human mind and in nature. And so the legitimation of those techniques is the world somehow. It doesn’t need to be grounded into something else. I mean, that’s not a problem that they are thinking about.

Historically, the way in which I see this coming together into the controversy is that there is a phase in which these kind of arguments are used by reformists in late 18th century, Naples to argue for essentially criticizing established institutions, social institutions, and often suggesting some transformation. So it’s a kind of a reformist push based on mathematical arguments.

So there are better ways of, for example, organizing a certain productive process. The rules of algebra are telling us– are telling us what these ways are. So they’re guiding us. They can guide us rationally. Things get a bit more extreme in the ’90s when, essentially, after the Bastille and the 1789, the government, the king and the court turn actually dramatically on a kind of anti-French and conservative side.

And at that point, any argument that might sound like universal reason applied to the transformation of society is not really very welcome anymore. And, in fact, people who have been marginal in the scientific world up to that point, an interesting group of mystically inclined mathematicians who were defending some essentially invented tradition of Euclidean geometry become central to scientific life in the Kingdom of Naples. They become professors at universities.

I mean, really they occupy all the possible spaces in that world. So in the term of three years, you see a completely different scientific world in which now, the essentially scientific life is controlled by those who believe that Euclidean geometry should be the only basis of any mathematical procedure.

So just to cut it short in the relevance of this in terms of why do they care so much, well, if you argue that there is an unrestricted possibility of applying algebra and calculus to reform the economy, political life, creating an electoral system the way that Condorcet does, for example, trade, the landscape– so civil engineering. Civil engineers are legitimated by their own use of analysis in reshaping, for example, designing new roads; unifying the system, standardizing weights and measures. So that is what is being legitimated by the kind of universal rationality. Let’s say that the idea of a analytic reason that goes beyond any contingent expression of technical and mathematical knowledge.

On the other hand, the move to Euclidean geometry as the only legitimate foundation is a way of restricting the use of mathematics in a particular way so that you– mathematics is still core in the university curriculum the way that it was. It was a significant discipline. But now, it’s the movement of techniques from mathematics to other fields that is much more complicated and not legitimated. Because geometry– I mean, as Galileo realized, you can do only so much in terms of quantifying reality and transforming reality through quantification with Euclidean geometry.

So this was the– the Neapolitan story is the story of essentially restricting the possibility of using certain algebraic techniques. Because these algebraic techniques had been used by the Jacobins, who, essentially, in 1799 are able to seize power just for five months and set up a Jacobin Republic. And if you look at how they organize the republic, is kind of an analytic republic.

So they have a way of thinking that is pretty much the way of thinking of the analytical mathematician. And, in fact, it’s interesting that the president of the republic and one of his main assistants, first thing they do, they publish a textbook of mathematics. Because they say, well, it is this the way we need to think about the world.

Because if you want to transform the world, you need to analyze it, which essentially means to break it down to its elementary components– this is one of the old meanings of analysis is this– and then combining these components– so the combinatorial element of analysis– in order to construct something new based on those components. And how do you construct something new? Following the universal rules of algebra, which somehow is giving us– is guiding us.

So once the Jacobins have essentially built up their own discourse around– I mean, egalitarianism, anticlericalism, redistribution of wealth analysis, I mean, that’s what you find in Jacobin texts. At that point, analysis– I mean, it’s like, you cannot go back to analysis without being associated with the Jacobin– with Jacobin politics.

And so the reactionary mathematics of the title is literally the reaction to that moment. It’s literally a moving mathematics away from a conscious self-reflective way of using mathematics as a transformative tool for redistributing agency, essentially, across society, because that is at the bottom. That’s what they were doing– redistributing political agency across society in a way that would empower subaltern groups that had never been empowered.

The reaction is to make that a logical impossibility, a mathematical impossibility. And you make that by saying that that mathematics is not reliable. Obviously, we’re not just talking about Euclidean geometry. And the example I can give is that this is actually a much bigger story than Naples.

And if after having– the Neapolitan story is instructive because it’s so extreme, that you see everything is in your face. The political value of mathematics is there. They talk about it. They write about it. Whereas if you look at Paris, for example, the main place at the time where Augustin Cauchy is revolutionizing mathematics, as many historians have said at this point.

And what is he doing? It’s not going back to geometry. That’s a bit of a bizarre idea that could only happen in a marginal place is restructuring algebraic and essentially calculus, algebraic techniques and calculus. The term is rigorization, the rigorization of calculus. You may have heard that. This is something that happens in the first half of the 19th century.

And essentially, the outcome is pretty much modern mathematics, as we know it. And this rigorization of calculus is a way of restricting the use of calculus. It’s a way of saying, well, you need to be really precise enough of this voluntaristic, enthusiastic 18th century d’Alembert-like use of mathematics.

Tell me exactly what you’re doing. And tell me exactly what are the limits. There are many new things that comes up around this time, which are all designed to specify under which conditions certain formulas can be used and for which quantities of the values that are part of the formula. Because you cannot just give for granted that you can use any formulas, apply to any field, and without restrictions.

So if you read that after having come across the Neapolitan story, you see that what he’s doing is the same thing that this bizarre Neapolitan mystic mathematicians were doing in a more bizarre way, I would say. But it’s the same thing. It’s restricting the applicability of mathematics, particularly to issues that have to do with politics and theology and metaphysics. He’s arguing that there are many kinds of truths, that not everything is reducible at the same level of– at the same epistemological level, and that the mathematicians, they talk about the world of pure mathematics.

That’s the purity of the title. Pure mathematics at this point is becoming the foundation of mathematics. And why do we need the foundation of mathematics? Well, because if mathematics is not embedded in the world anymore or in our own reason, then we really need something like a foundation for this body of knowledge.

And the foundational crisis– and we have a few of them in the history of mathematics, but this is one. And the anxiety that it provokes, the fact that people like the Neapolitans or Cauchy are really anxious about the scandal of the lack of foundation of mathematics is, in fact, the scandal of the unrestricted application of mathematics. And the fact that we need to ground it, it needs to be understood as a self-included body of knowledge that is really not the essential structure of reality, something else.

So then you have all these considerations about how come the mathematics is effective, for example, if it’s– because if you start to think of it as something completely different, detached, and somehow endowed of a purity– purity meaning is not polluted by empirical considerations, which is a very modern way of thinking about mathematics. Because if you go back in time, most people think about mixed mathematics.

Mathematics is always something in between. It’s like astronomy or music, whereas this is like a distinctively modern way of thinking of mathematics as something that is really its own world. So then it takes a lot of work to make it function. And you need to justify any use of those techniques into the real world.

So I think that’s probably more than enough. But just to give you a sense. That’s what essentially the story is about with a lot of detail.


Thomas Laqueur: So do we have an order– do we– David?

David Bates: I think I was next, I guess. It’s hard to go after the star of the show. I’ll keep this kind of short. I have lots of notes. But just picking up on your last point, I think it’s more than just that story and some details. The book is actually much more unruly than Massimo gives it credit for.

And I mean that in a positive way. But I’ll start by saying a brief anecdote. When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, my first semester, I took a course from the cultural historian Carl Weintraub. I don’t know if anyone reads him anymore.

And for some reason, I got tagged as the postmodern kind of Yahoo of the class, constructivist, relativist, and basically willing to undermine all these kinds of values. But there was one point in the class when I guess I’d read Kuhn and Feyerabend when I was an undergraduate. So these things just came kind of naturally.

But at one point, he said, but what about mathematics? And he kind of stopped me in my tracks because I couldn’t really– I didn’t have anything to say about that. How do you historicize something as pure as mathematics? So that’s sort of stuck with me as I read more in history of science and history of mathematics.

But I never really read something as good as your book, to be honest, that really took that seriously to demonstrate how the most pure, logical step has to be understood, contextualized in a very rich and detailed way. So I’ll just admire and suggest that you read the introduction, which really gives a really good overview of some of the ways that mathematicians approach history, both for better or for worse.

But I think what’s really brilliant about the argument here, as Massimo’s kind of demonstrated already, is that at its heart is an idea that the very idea of the logical purity or the neutrality of mathematics has a history and that we have to do this kind of very close work to understand what’s going on in that longer history of mathematics.

So in the introduction, we get this really interesting view, which is that we don’t have mathematics so much as a mathematical culture. And that culture includes a really important– what he calls an image of reason, a kind of practice, as well as theory of reason. And this image of reason is predicated on concepts of order. And then we can slide nicely into the repercussions, which is essentially that any mathematical culture is going to have some implication on the social and political plane because concepts of order and concepts of rationality infuse what we really mean by social and political action.

So the introduction takes on that job of showing exactly what a history of– I even want to say it’s maybe not a history of mathematics, so much as a history of reason with a mathematical core. But you really do have a larger scope in the whole book. It’s not just about the specifics of the mathematicians but the image of reason and the image of order that goes along with that.

So now, I have armature for that. If I could go back in time, I’d have armature for how to demonstrate– you have this lovely line that what counts as a step in logical deduction always had to be constrained by this mathematical culture that every step in a logical deduction has to be understood in terms of its context. OK. So the book, as you described, is like an X. It has this core, which is probably the most mathematical part of the book.

It’s kind of like a textbook. It really teaches you what the difference between analytic and geometrical forms are. But it also raises these bigger questions. Basically, the synthetics are arguing, as Massimo says, that the art of inventing is not algorithmic and can never be algorithmic, whereas the algebraists were arguing that analysis could be understood as a universal form of reasoning. Those are Massimo’s phrases.

But analysis is the kind of catching point of the whole book. Because it can be celebrated as well as denigrated as mechanical and automatic. I think that’s one of the interesting threads of the book, the fact that analysis has, in some ways, an agreement on both sides that it’s mechanical character is really essential to understanding it.

So the book is an X with this sort of central core. The first part of the book follows the algebraic world, and the second part of the book is the synthetic world that I really do want to say that I think that you’re underselling the book by giving it this narrative of mathematics. Because what really happens is, like I said, it’s kind of kaleidoscopic and at times unruly. It delves into all sorts of different topics. I just realized the Library of Congress also undersells your book. It says it’s the topics are mathematics, study and teaching, Italy, Naples. Mathematics, political aspects.


When you read it, the first four chapters are actually– if Naples was a marginal space in this period, it was a pretty entertaining one. So what you have is really a political history wrapped up in a history of science, wrapped up in a history of mathematics, wrapped up in a history of administration. It’s really rich territory.

And it flows between different kinds of characters and different zones. But the intricacies of the French incursion and the reaction and then the French decade, as it’s called, is really interesting stuff. And it really follows, I would say, these mathematical cultures and even larger cultures of reason as they battle out in a number of different spheres.

So just for example, chapter 4 on The Shape of the Kingdom, it’s really like many of these great books that you’re citing that study the Enlightenment and 19th century that gets into the conceptual world behind everything from infrastructure, reform landscape and cartography, and excursus in the history of statistics in Italy and its use in political economy, the attempted transformation of the weights and measures system.

These are all well beyond just the mathematical debate that you take as the core of the book. And it’s really interesting stuff that pays off in a beautiful way with an analysis of landscape painting as well. So this is the kind of book. You could show some of those pictures in there after if you wanted to.

The last part of the book, I’ll just say, they’re not quite the heroes. But these sort of weird mystic synthetics are treated really generously, is the word I think, by Massimo. It takes seriously their concerns and I think makes the argument that I’ve also made a similar argument with respect to conservative thinking, that there’s no such thing as a going back, that these conservatives are really reactionary, and that they’re forging new models of politics, of science or reason. And you take that seriously.

So I really appreciated the last four chapters. Again, quite kaleidoscopic. We have discussions of Neo-Catholicism, of Demeestere and Bonald on questions concerning history and sovereignty. We have a number of fascinating mathematical tales all kind of interwoven.

And I think it really plays out beautifully the last half of the book. So again, I recommend this book for anyone interested in thinking about the role of science in policy, politics, but more, I would say, at the heart, this concept of a kind of culture of reason, a culture of order, how social political questions just are endemic to that space. You show that over and over again really, really brilliantly. So I’ll end with just a couple of questions.

In the last part of the book, the last chapter, you repeat this claim, which is to say that mathematics and especially the question of mathematical purity kind of occupies this essentially political space. And one thing that struck me just thinking about the book having read it, is to what degree this was an opportune moment to show, is this just the case of the always political aspect of mathematical practice or is this a special moment in the history of mathematics, and science, and politics that opened up a particularly rich opportunity to bring together Jacobin politics, or reactionary politics, or Catholic politics reform movements and so on?

To what degree do you take that any mathematical kind of culture is inherently political? And I ask that partly because one of the implications to me in the book, and again it’s because you’re so generous with the critics of algorithmic, algebraic mathematics, is to what extent the origin of our own algorithmic culture can be found in this particular period, the victory, let’s say, of algebraic analysis.

To what extent is the book? And you sort of– you hesitate to talk about this. And maybe I’m pushing you too far. But to what extent are you preparing the ground for a call for a new reactionary mathematics? Which would not look at all like the Neapolitan one but might have some kind of interesting resonance with contemporary ideas that go outside of this idea of calculation and prediction. So I’ll end there. But thanks again for the opportunity to read. It was really, really fun.

Thomas Laqueur: Great. Thank you. Yeah. Matthew? Do you want to respond? No? No. Matthew. Right.

Matthew L. Jones: OK. Well, thank you, Massimo, for the wonderful book. And David frames this beautifully. And indeed, I think much of what I’m going to say is thinking through how the unruly dense contextualization that Massimo provides gives the book so much of its place as a lever in thinking through major questions, I think, of both historical practice, science studies, and indeed the kind of social theory, which I take to often happen here in the matrix, that it’s very much a book about STS, Science and Technology Studies, and history and tandem, and in tension, and tugging on both, particularly by the case of mathematics.

So David mentioned mathematics being the hard case. And some of you will know that David Bloor, one of the founders of the sociology of scientific knowledge in a book called knowledge and social imagery, at first, articulated the symmetry principle. And in the symmetry principle, you treat that, which we hold to be true and that which we hold to be false symmetrically for explanation.

And he said, the hard case is, of course, mathematics, and I’m going to do that. And remarkably, not very many people followed him in doing this a few, including Donald Mackenzie, and Massimo, and several other of us have been profoundly fascinated. But there’s something about mathematics being challenging that sets it to be a challenging target for social theory.

But also, I think provides it with the power to thus serve in the kind of critical ways that I think that I intimate, that I think Massimo you’re getting at. And most of my comments are going to be about what I take to be, maybe I’m reading too much, many of the implications of what this local study helps us see, how it dislodges, how it helps us see particularly, precisely a reactionary mathematics, which are the nature article.

That weirdness makes it– allows it to serve as a lever for further analysis rather than a substitute for a deplored rationalistic present. It’s a way of looking at the past, where nostalgia is the subject of the analysis rather than something we fall into. So reactionary math is a powerful tool. And many of you may have encountered the way that say Edmund Burke is often lionized in odd ways today for his organicism, his anti-imperialism, and his anti– and it’s a peculiar move that leads to a kind of nostalgia.

And you quote Mark Lilla, who says that the reaction to the French Revolution has placed a cloud over European thinking. And it seems to me much of this book uses reactionary mathematics to help us think differently through this, reactionary mathematics from the periphery. So the question I really have is about, how does your book help us see the historization of different kinds of mathematics?

Mathematics in the plural. Try to get Microsoft Word to let you write logics in the plural. It tells you it’s not something you can do. Mathematics is in the plural, so it lets you do that. And that– so it’s like literally hard wired into ours. But how is different, looking at multiple mathematics, a lever against facile narratives and teleology, say of rigor but also nostalgia of a pre-quantified society, a pre-mathematical– how do we use that without falling into them?

So I’ve already spoken too much, but I’m briefly going to talk about nostalgia and the romance of the non-quantified and nostalgia and the romance of the localized past. So what I mean by the romance of the non-quantified, it’s enormously common across a whole wide variety of historical thought, social theorizing, and I don’t know, folks epistemologies of the dangers into which we’ve been thrust by quantification, much of which I share.

But your book, by reminding us of the non-uniformity of mathematics, pushes against too facile a narrative of what it means to become mathematical or quantified, by distinguishing between the analytic and the synthetic, and then in part way through, the morphing of the analytic into the technical, the statistical, the cost accounting. It asks for us to recognize that plurality.

And then to ask what are the plurality of purifications to be explained, we haven’t really talked about this so much. But one of the things that Massimo shows beautifully is a kind of purification that happens in synthetic geometry in which metaphysics and theological truths are outside of the domain of mathematics on the one hand. And another one, in analysis in which that hubristic ambition to transform everything along egalitarian lines is tamed, and it becomes a merely technical discipline.

So your work asks us to specify what those purifications are. And both in content and in cause. And to think, therefore, differently about very big stories that we often think about in the history of science, questions of how is it that we become disinterested or bracketed from, say metaphysical concerns or political concerns? And you do have two very different stories of that.

Mathematics is independent of and beneath metaphysics, not the Kantian story but this counterrevolutionary one. And then a neutrality of a counterrevolutionary statistics. The transformation of Jacobin math into a liberal sorts of things. A transformation of it into a technical, analytical quantification as a potential master discipline.

Now, I take it here. I’m reading into the text. But you are thus have a local history that speaks to our very current concerns about quantification and its claims to mastery. And your reactionary critics is often were right about seeing– they were right that the reformation was a big part of the problem because it had the wrong vision of the social organization of who was allowed to know.

So Descartes was accused of being an enthusiast. Because like the Protestants, he thought everyone ought to be able to opine. But here’s a question I was wondering for you. In your account of analytic mathematics, you talk about it being limited into a technical– in a way. But it’s not quite the story of Koshi.

Because it’s not that it can’t be applied to all domains of society. It is the case that it’s not applied towards illegality egalitarian means. And so I feel like your story is often very symmetrical. But you do treat in more fulsome detail the counter revolutionary mathematics far more than the analytical ones.

And so is it not the case that the purified analytic mathematics is just as hubristic and revolutionary as the Jacobin one. But it’s anything but egalitarian. It is hubristic, all expansive. But the shift is less than the structures– it doesn’t ask for a shift in the structures of society so much as a limitation of egalitarian hubris. OK.

So all of this is to say that the book pushes against a romance of a non-quantified society by showing the plurality of possible quantified societies. And the second kind of nostalgia I want to talk about is the romance of the localized path. So you begin the book by reminding us of symmetries and symmetric explanation, and again to return to the original progenitors of the sociology of scientific knowledge, a kind of synchronic symmetry.

But it seems to me, and maybe I’m wrong about this. But one of the most interesting undercurrents of your book is a kind of diachronic symmetry. And you’ve show so clearly how the reactionary account is a nostalgic vision of the past, not something we ought to return to but something that is quite constituted. David underscored this as well.

And I wonder to what extent you are there for pushing against certain kinds of history, histories of technology, histories of labor, certain kinds of social history that for all of their analytical fortitude of the dangers of certain technologies often resolve into a nostalgia of a world we have lost. And that can be analytically powerful as in the Jacobin coolest book Men and Measures, which pushes us against the teleological history of the metric system.

But it can also be limiting by immersing us in a nostalgia, which is a construction of reaction. How do we do dense local history of controversy but resist the pull of those modern alternatives? So my question is that one of the goals of the book to navigate thinking of that. And then finally, just one sort of question.

Your book is everywhere thinking from the periphery. And once or twice, you mentioned texts like provincializing Europe or provincializing the Enlightenment. But I wonder if you might be a little more explicit about how thinking from the periphery enables at once– as it were, a non-nostalgic history of other pasts and other sorts of presents.

And above all, how is it that thinking through multiple mathematics helps us push against the romanticization of the past we have lost and then think differently about debates I know you’ve thought a lot about, about the current nature of quantification and dangers of rationalization, often, which gets subsumed into some sort of an analytical amorphous mass of alienation from ourselves because of the mathematical? If mathematical is plural, then that obviously can’t be uniform. So thank you very much for your book.

Tom Laqueur: Thank you. Massimo, would you like to respond briefly?

Massimo Mazzotti: Yeah, briefly. I’ll try to get some of the things. Yes. I mean– OK, let me start from this. There are these two ideal types that I use, the analytic reason and the reactionary reason. Because in a way, as it has been said, this is a book about reason and the history of reason.

I mean, mathematics is the rationalizing practices that we often use to map reason, what kind of reason is in action here. And you see that through mathematical practices. That’s at least a good place to explore, to understand what kind of reason are these people giving for granted, what the idea of reason.

So obviously, these are two ideal types. And I mean, the story is about something that happens in between. There is always like– it’s a spectrum of different position. And in fact, I think what is interesting is often what is happening in between, which goes back also to the point of the liberal and the neutrality.

Because somehow, I often talk about the extreme version of the Jacobian analytic reason and the revolutionary emancipatory use of mathematics that they make. Then there is the reactionary, extreme version that I describe as having its own mathematics and its own set of cultural formations.

But at some point, in what we call the age of restoration, what we see is that really what becomes mainstream is neither of those. The reactionary option politically is dead by the 20s. I mean, no one really thinks that there is going to be any kind of return to the pre-revolutionary world.

And the Revolutionary option is kind of survives, underground, and in many different ways, but it’s definitely not on the table. So what’s on the table is using the case of Naples, but also elsewhere, is this kind of the liberal option. And the liberal option is one that interestingly takes on some of the elements of the analytic tradition but detached it from their own revolutionary potential.

And so the creation of the technical, as a space that now is the space of the engineer, the statistician, the cartographer is essentially– Benjamin Constant is talking about the emergence of this new space in very interesting political terms. But it is also a technical transformation.

Because now, there is this space that is the space for the technical elites that work for the government, in the continental context at least, that are using this new kind of is still analysis. So on the surface, there is a lot of continuity. It’s not that– and that’s a tricky thing about mathematics, right.

A lot of the techniques are the same. But now, the meaning of those techniques and the scope of those techniques is different. So to me, that’s one of the most interesting– it was one of the most interesting things that I came up with. To see that that’s also where the genealogy of our own world can be traced.

Because the rest seems really quite distant in many ways and eccentric. But if you look at that moment of the creation of this space, the technical space as a neutral space. Because that’s also– that’s a new thing. Jacobins would never think that the analytic tools they use are neutral.

They know they’re not. And that’s why they value them. They are programmatically impure mathematical tools. On the opposite, we have the kind of reactionary take. And what you have in this middle ground is a neutral technocratic often takes this kind of technocratic aspect is the courts of the civil engineers.

On the French example, you have this kind of courts all over continental Europe. The knowledge that they use is highly considered– is a powerful kind of knowledge, is a neutral knowledge, is powerful because it’s neutral because it doesn’t side with anyone politically. That’s why the engineers are powerful.

Because what they say is that’s the voice of science. That is the result of a neutral calculation. The fact that we need to build a road this way rather than that way, that’s what engineers are saying. So one of the ways in which I can see connections with the reflection that we often make about the present moment is in a way is it is a story of the giving for granted, the neutrality of certain technical tools.

And that is just something that emerges at a very specific moment. Because neither the revolutionaries nor the conservatives think that their mathematical tools are neutral. The conservative– the reactionaries are very aware that the way they do mathematics has an impact on the rest of society.

So they willingly restrict themselves to a certain kind of use of mathematical tools. So at that moment, let’s say the ’90s, in the midst of revolutionary action, I mean, no one is arguing the math is actually neutral. But that’s the outcome if you want to pin it down of the Napoleonic normalization.

I mean, that’s something that can older why it shows very well with the techno Jacobins that become the new elite of the engineers. So in a way, I was following this from the mathematical side. So that’s one way and part of the story. I’m thinking about something else that David was saying.

Any math culture is political. I mean, is this something that I would say? I would say this is an interesting moment because the imagination of these people is overwhelmingly political. I mean, this is a moment of unprecedented crisis, or at least they think it is unprecedented crisis. And so all they think is social order.

I mean, either for restoring it or for transforming it. So the fact– so the mathematical imagination is not detached from this overwhelming set of concerns. So by that standard, I wouldn’t say that necessarily at any time, when we consider mathematical cultures, there might be different.

A concern for social order is necessarily the first thing that you would immediately notice. But it’s definitely the case at this point. And also, more generally, something that I think is actually always the case is that when we construct structures, like logical mathematical structures like all this one, we create new techniques, new mathematical techniques.

What we are doing is we are creating new possibilities, new possibilities of thinking about the world in different ways, organizing the world in different ways, ordering the world and reordering it. So the more techniques we have, the more we can think that we can reorganize what we know in different ways that are legitimated by mathematical logical structures.

So if you think about this, then reducing mathematical– the possibility of certain mathematical options means reducing– restricting our political imagination. We cannot imagine at that point, or at least it seems illogical to think that the world can be very much different from the way it is because we have restricted the possibility of imagining structures that are completely different.

So this is one way of reading what I was saying before about the restriction of the legitimate mathematical techniques that you can deploy in, say thinking about political order. So this, I think, is a constant. The fact that depending on what mathematics you have, you will tend to think about different possibilities in ordering and reordering the world.

The fact that this is necessarily the first, most obvious, and overwhelming social dimension that is expressed by mathematical techniques, that is more contingent, I think. There might be other priorities and other things. And– sorry.

Tom Laqueur: No, go ahead. We should open the floor, but we can also– you guys can come back–

Massimo Mazzotti: On the thing, yes. I was really– that was really something I really care about. And I think that’s an important point. And I hope, yeah, my sense was to– in a way, the idea of mathematical cultures as an antidote to that sort of modern, pre-modern quantification, post quantification. That’s not a real divide.

Laqueur: So the floor is open.


Matrix On Point

Matrix on Point: The Future of College

The pandemic has rocked higher education. From Zoom classrooms to students leaving higher education, colleges have needed to change modalities to adapt to public health risks and the emergence of new technologies. Enrollment patterns are also shifting in a changing economy: while selective flagship public institutions and not-for-profit private institutions are receiving more applications, enrollments have declined, especially among lower-income students. What are the implications of these changes for economic mobility and racial equality?

On October 5, 2023, Social Science Matrix hosted a panel discussion featuring a group of scholars discussing the current state of higher education — and what lies ahead.  Presented by UC Berkeley’s Social Science Matrix as part of the Matrix on Point event series, and co-sponsored by the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE), the panel included Jonathan Glater, Professor of Law and Associate Dean, J.D. Curriculum and Teaching at Berkeley Law; Michal Kurlaender, Chancellor’s Leadership Professor at the UC Davis School of Education; and Mitchell Stevens, Professor of Education at Stanford University. The panel was moderated by Lisa García Bedolla , UC Berkeley’s Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division, and a Professor in the School of Education.

Watch the panel above or on YouTube.

Listen to this event as a podcast below (or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts). A transcript of the event is available below.


[MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everybody. Welcome to this panel. My name is Marion Fourcade. I’m the director of Social Science Matrix. And as someone who has been witnessing the transformation of college firsthand, the topic of today’s panel is very dear to my heart– the pandemic, new technologies, recent Supreme Court decisions and a changing economy have rocked higher education.

The burden of student debt has become unsustainable. And affirmative action has been struck down. The diffusion of new, more decentralized modes of learning and knowledge production poses real challenges to the college model as does the arrival of computer programs that can write decent college essays.

Meanwhile, a cultural shift is brewing. The world is burning. And young people seem to crave for something different. So we thought now was a good time to ask experts, what lies ahead for higher education? And what are the implications of these changes for economic mobility and the pursuit of social justice? So we have a phenomenal group of scholars to help us discuss these questions.

Today’s event is co-sponsored by the Center for Studies in Higher Education. It is part of our matrix on point series where we address contemporary issues. So our next event in this series, which you may see soon on the next slide, it will be on October 31, where we will discuss San Francisco’s so-called doom loop, sorry, not the boom loop but the doom loop and the future of commercial real estate.

We also have several Authors Meet Critics events scheduled on Tuesday, October 17. We will discuss Massimo Mazzotti’s new book, Reactionary Mathematics. On November 14, we’ll discuss Dylan Penningroth book Before the Movement about civil rights, activism before the civil rights movement. So I know we do have an online, a quite substantial online audience. So you know drill. You just put your questions in the Q&A and not in the chat. So just make sure you do that. We’ll collect your questions. And we will ask them at the end.

Let me now turn back to today’s panel and introduce our moderator. So Lisa García Bedolla is Berkeley’s vice provost for graduate studies, and dean of the graduate division, and a professor in the School of Education. She uses the tools of social science to reveal the causes of educational and political inequalities in the United States, considering differences across the lines of ethnorace, gender, class, geography, and more.

She believes an intersectional and interdisciplinary approach is critical to recognizing the complexity of the contemporary United States. She has used a variety of social science methods to shed light on this question. And while doing all of this, she’s a proud mom of three young adults. One of whom is in high school. Professor García Bedolla earned her PhD in political science from Yale University and her BA in Latin American studies and comparative literature from UC Berkeley. So without further ado, I can turn over to Lisa.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] Thank you so much. I’m just going to stay here and just say, in addition to everything that’s been said, as a parent of a brand new college freshman, and having gone through the college application process now twice in the last four years, and just seeing it from that side, it’s an important time to really think about that process and what exactly is happening in higher education. And I’m happy to have such a distinguished panel to help us tease out those questions.

So what I’m going to do is I’m going to introduce the three panelists and then have them so we don’t interrupt the flow of the talks. And then go ahead and start with Professor Stevens. So Mitchell Stevens, who’s to my left, he’s a professor of education at Stanford. He’s an organizational sociologist with long standing interests in educational sequences, lifelong learning, alternative educational forms, and the formal organization of knowledge.

His most recent book entitled Seeing the World– How US Universities Make Knowledge in a Global Era was co-authored with Cynthia Miller-Idriss, and Seteney Shami, with John Mitchell. He co-directs the Stanford pathways lab.

Michal Kurlaender is a chancellor’s leadership professor at UC Davis School of Education. Her research investigates students’ educational pathways, particularly K-12 and post-secondary alignment and access to and success in higher education. She has expertise on alternative pathways to college and college readiness at both community colleges, and four-year colleges, and universities across the country, and in all three of California’s public higher education sectors.

Kurlaender’s work focuses on the causes and consequences of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender inequalities through the educational life course and the impact of institutional policies and practices aimed at attenuating educational inequality. She also studies the impact of racial and ethnic diversity on student outcomes, including mandatory and voluntary K-12 school desegregation efforts, persistent inequalities and segregated schools, and diversity in post-secondary settings.

And last but not least, our lawyer is batting cleanup, Jonathan Glater, joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 2021. His research has focused on the ways that law promotes and limits access to education, especially higher education and the impact that education debt has on educational opportunities.

His recent publications include Qualified Sovereignty, Pandemic Possibilities, Rethinking Measures of Merit, The Civil Rights Case for Student Debt Reform. And he is also co-author with Amy Gajda on a casebook, The Law and Higher Education– Cases and Materials on Colleges in Court.

Professor Glater teaches courses like education law and policy, criminal law, and disability law. He’s also the faculty director of the Center on Consumer Law and Economic Justice here at Berkeley. And with Dalie Jimenez, he is also co-founder and co-director of the Student Loan Law Initiative, an interdisciplinary partnership with student borrower protection center, devoted to the study of the effects of student debt.

In 2023, he was named a member of the California Civil Rights council, a volunteer body tasked with developing regulations that implement California’s civil rights laws. He also serves as co-chair of the New York City Bar Association’s committee on education and the law. And so with that, we will start with Professor Stevens.

[MITCHELL STEVENS] Well, thanks, everyone. Am I good in Zoom land? Can someone affirm that? OK, great. Just delighted to have this opportunity. Special gratitude to those who gave up some of their warm San Francisco summer afternoon to be here. Especially in person, you’re rewarded with a little air conditioning, which I’m enjoying myself.

When I was invited by Marianne to join this conversation, I said yes right away, partly because I was very impressed by the co-panelists, whose work I rely on, partly because Berkeley is a very good place to think with as a student of higher education. And third, because the question posed by the panel is one that I think a lot about.

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decisions on racial affirmative action and student loan forgiveness, a lot of people across the country are asking, what happens now? Many have talked about higher education being at an inflection point for some period of time? And there’s an increased sense of uncertainty, ambiguity, anxiety about how this creature that occupies such a central role in American political, culture, and economic life will move forward.

And so what I’ve been trying to do in my own work is to place current controversies in a longer historical arc. I’m doing that in tandem with my colleague Rick Banks in the law school at Stanford, Emily Levine an historian in the graduate School of Education at Stanford, among others nationally.

So what I want to do in my few minutes today is offer some provocations for thinking about this particular moment in the context of American higher education and political culture since 1945. And I’m going to do a Schoolhouse Rock version of a Schoolhouse Rock version of a complicated history. I’m going to emphasize, basically, four points.

And this comes out of maybe a 20-year effort for me. I’ve been trying to figure out what a university is. It’s a harder question than one might think. I think of higher education, especially in the United States in the way that one of my art history professors described the Italian Peninsula, is that it rewards and exhausts a lifetime of exploration. You’re never quite done.

But we have made some progress, I think, on answering the question of, what is a university? And I’m going to trouble you with a tiny, tiny bit of theory here. I want to suggest that universities or higher education– I’m going to use universities and higher education interchangeably today, which is a problem because most of higher education in the United States is not a university.

But for the purposes of my Schoolhouse Rock Schoolhouse Rock, I think it’s probably going to be reasonable. OK, and they’re very complicated organizations. And it’s a complicated institutional domain. I have argued in large measure because it is simultaneously multiple things.

It partakes of organizational templates, organizational rules, cultural logics, styles of reasoning, emotional commitments that are native to the major sectors of contemporary life. Sometimes they are direct extensions of state to the extent that they’re publicly funded and regulated. Sometimes they have many business-like characteristics. They operate in many ways like business firms.

They are philanthropic organizations as well. They are members of civil society. They are not quote “not for profit” unquote organizations. And they also organize the private sphere in American life to some extent, to a considerable extent. We put the names of our colleges and universities on our children’s clothing, on our automobiles. We think of ourselves as Golden Bears, and Trees, and Cardinals. They get linked to conceptions of clan and family in ways that are really important.

And so I’ve argued that higher education kind of sits at the intersection of those different domains and partakes in all of them. And that makes them really complex empirically. I have increasingly convinced that it requires us to have a distinctive political theory of higher education. They’re like a jackalope, a hybrid creature.

And I think this is really important, especially because a lot of social science tries to work from a single premise. So a lot of social scientists say, well, Stanford or Berkeley, they’re really like– they’re really like business firms. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, well, Stanford or Berkeley are like business firms in the same way that a mermaid is a fish.

I mean, if you presume that Stanford or Berkeley are primarily firms, you radically miss a lot of their complexity. So I’ll come back to that. But I want to just suggest that we’re dealing with a very– if we’re thinking about the future of something, we’re thinking about the future of a very peculiar organizational and institutional form.

OK, all right. So four big points after that. One is I want to remind us, this isn’t news, that in the decades immediately following World War II, US elites in government and higher education created a truly novel, like never before in world history, social welfare project. They transformed post-secondary education into a massive vehicle for social economic mobility that had never happened before.

The idea that college would be a vehicle for social mobility, except among a very small number of carefully circumscribed populations in particular empires and nation states had never happened before. And it’s remarkable to me how deeply that’s now taken for granted in the United States. But that really is a post 1945 idea.

And it was a peculiar form of social welfare. And I’ve been actually thrown out of rooms more or less by calling college welfare because, of course, in the United States, we put welfare in a bucket and higher education in another. That’s part of its magic. That’s part of its jackalopeness, I would suggest. But we did that in a very short period of time between 1945 and 1980. And it’s really– I used to think, OK.

I use this quote from Louis Menand a lot. Between 1945 and 1975, we had 500% expansion in undergraduate education, overnight. Yeah, good. I like 10 better than 5. OK, good. But I really appreciate that. And that, again, another massive social fact that’s almost completely naturalized. Oh, yeah. That happened.

And now we live in this new world with the University of California system, as if these things have always been there. They haven’t always been there. They weren’t there the day before yesterday. I think that’s a really, really important. And this thing about elites, this was not a poor people’s movement. This was not a movement at the margins. That massification was an active collaboration, we might call it a collusion, right between business, political, and academic elites.

We got Fred Terman here. We’ve got our friend Clark Kerr. We’ve got another academic statesman in the region, Emil Mrak who was the chancellor of UC Davis between 1959 and 1969. These were mostly, well-educated technocratic white guys, mostly. OK, this was a rich– this was an upper middle class, technocratic, voted for– endorsed by Republican economic development movement, if you will.

Now, not all of the academic statesmen, as I call them, were overeducated white dudes. We’ve got a great academic statesman on the right. That’s Mordecai Johnson, who was the first African-American president of Howard University, served from the 1920s to the 1960s, transformed that institution. So this revolution was not mono racial by any sense, but it was an elite movement. It was propagated by elites and often by political conservatives.

They did that under very specific historical conditions, which are now over. OK, what were those specific historical conditions? Well, there was the conclusion of World War II and massive anxiety among those same white technocratic elites about the perils, the risk of socialism and communism in the United States, and anxiety about the returning of hundreds of thousands of white men to an economy in which there was a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity.

There was a desire to reward those men, and manage their re-absorption into the labor market. Hugely important, not only because it changed how higher education was provided but because it tied higher education. It made it a legitimate reward for an important category of people, white male veterans. It fused the idea of citizen virtue right with higher education, doing that to manage important political anxieties.

And then this thing happened. And this is the Soviet launch, successful launch of Sputnik 1 into space in the 1950s, which created massive, again, almost uniform anxiety among those same technocratic elites and a sense of emergency to dramatically expand the human capital capacity of the nation state.

Soon after that, the Civil Rights movement creates both a challenge for the Johnson administration and an opportunity for Johnson to expand a progressive social vision for social mobility and inclusion, which then gets tied as well to the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

So you’ve got a war conclusion, a Cold War, a civil rights movement, a war on poverty, and unprecedented national prosperity. That’s what gave us the social welfare miracle that is the massification of higher education in the United States. For many people, it was fun while it lasted.

All right, so well– and that’s how you get these organizational miracles that we now inherit. And some of us have the privilege of living in– Stanford, Berkeley, Davis, that rich organizational ecology that now so many people worry is in peril. That’s all a function of this particular political and economic period. It didn’t last long. Well, why didn’t it last? Another complicated story, again, Schoolhouse Rock within Schoolhouse Rock.

But according to historians like the Berkeley-trained Robert Self, for example, the successes of the war on poverty in the middle of the 20th century in distributing public resources to Black and Brown people very quickly created anxiety among white voters about the legitimacy of redistributive projects, including higher education. As Self writes, it’s this part of the Bay Area that got us both the Black Panthers and Proposition 13.

So as that miracle of social provision begins to expand, white anxieties about that expansion very quickly begin to lessen citizen support for the expanded welfare state that the higher education of 1965 really, in fact, represented. Deindustrialization which begins in earnest in the 1970s breaks the Fordist contract with unions such that college becomes less discretionary for well compensated middle class lives.

So back in the day, you sent your two kids to the plant and your one kid to the University of Michigan. And she became an orthodontist in suburban Chicago. And that’s what social mobility was. But as the plants close, the necessity of having some other pathway into middle class prosperity puts pressure on post-secondary education, at the same time that public support for its provision is contracting.

And my colleagues Laura Hamilton at Merced and Kelly Nielsen write about this very nicely in the context of the public provision of higher educational resources in California. So I’m not making this stuff up. There’s plenty of places to go, but we’re still in Schoolhouse Rock. OK, so things change really quickly, very quickly.

Number three, and this is one that took me way too long to figure out, the project of using higher education for social mobility was always truncated and incomplete. And public commitment to it was always equivocal. I compare this to the high school diploma, which achieved the status of right in the United States in the early 20th century. And national consensus, cultural consensus by the end of the 20th century was if you don’t get a high school diploma, you haven’t failed high school. High school has failed you.

But no such social contract was ever accomplished for higher education. It was always a– it’s something you maybe are owed, maybe, but you also need to fund it yourself. And it depends on how virtuous you are, how much we’re going to help you. That’s how we ended up getting this $1.6 trillion in student loan debt with which Jonathan Glater knows so much about, and has shaped so many lives, and he’s now shaping a lot of political culture.

The Berkeley-trained sociologist, Beth Berman writes really nicely that that equivocation was baked into higher education provision as early as the 1970s, when the economist Alice Rivlin reasoned and argued successfully that higher education diploma is a mixed good. Because the society benefits from me getting a four-year degree, but so do I.

And so since the college diploma, apparently unlike a high school degree, is both a public and a private good, the compromise for financing was that financing of it would also be shared. So I point that out to say that there’s never been clarity in the United States about who is owed higher education and who’s responsible for paying for it, all the way from the very beginning.

OK, number four, yep, I’m almost done. And this is no surprise to those of us here. Four-year college degrees have come to divide America culturally, economically, politically, and even in terms of life expectancy, as we’ve learned recently from our colleagues in public economics.

There’s absolutely no question that this divide has come to shape American politics and perhaps contributed to political divisions that may or may not be irreparable. And I think we’re still– could take a while to figure out the extent to which the social provision projects of the Cold War created the conditions for the politics that we’re living today. And I have a bunch of easy solutions to this problem for over the next 35 seconds, which I’m going to say right– no.

I’m going to suggest, however, that all of these things are connected. The problems that we’re facing today are products of a long standing, still ongoing conversation about what higher education is, who deserves it, and who should pay for it. And there are a lot of unanswered– there’s a lot of questions that have been unanswered in American political culture to that question for generations.

So these aren’t new questions. It’s the conditions under which we’re being obliged to ask and answer them what have changed. So we could say what happens now. I would actually like to take a more active trying to say, what do we do now as agents and actors of history? Perhaps we are among those technocrats who built the future back in the 1950s and ’60s.

This is not a what happens next story. This is a what informed civic action do we want to mobilize for? Yes, I’m almost done. And then there’s, who is this we? Because last I checked, advocacy for higher education has itself become politicized. It has itself become identified with the left.

So if there is going to be a “we” like mobilization that’s going to include, I’ll say, my political opponents as well as those who agree with me, then some kind of narrative of shared fate and opportunity is going to have to be created if these enormous and increasingly divisive problems are going to be collectively addressed. I’ll stop there.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] And next we’ll hear from Professor Kurlaender.

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] That was great and tough to follow a Schoolhouse Rock presentation. All right, so I’m going to try, in my remarks, also try to make a few big points. But first, I will start with some trends on where most Americans go to college. I’ll get into the value proposition, is college still worth it? And then make three assertions about the future. And there’s some great connections and really appreciate the context of history here. So make some connections to the historical context.

All right, so just first– and I won’t have too many data figures, but just a few to situate our current context. And this is college enrollment rate over the years. If I had shown the 30 years that Mitchell had shown, you’d see just a huge increase in who’s going to college over the last century.

And then importantly, what to pay attention to now is the last 10 years of stagnation. And in particular, this is all 18 and 24-year-olds, but really, a stagnation and even decline since 2010, which is largely a function of declining birth cohorts. So this is the recession of the 2000s. But then also, we’re expecting an even bigger one as a result of declining shrinking birth rates from the Great Recession.

And so that is one of the reasons. Now of course, we’ve seen in the popular press. And I’m going to just put– this is the overall, the 38% roughly today. There’s been some rebound from the pandemic. It’s obviously higher among students who are going straight from high school. So that’s just good to put in context as well.

So again, we’re predicted to grow– to decline as much as 15% in the coming years, when what’s determined as a baby bust. But of course, if you’re following the popular press, it’s beyond just this declining birth rates, that there are other reasons why we might see declining rates of college enrollment. A big one is increasing cost of attendance, financial burden that’s been placed more on individuals than on our state systems. We’ll come back to that.

The pandemic was a particular decline. And that we know was mostly felt by low-income families. And it was felt at particular institutions. I’ll say more about that in a minute. There’s also been a strong labor market, which isn’t predicted to stay this strong for this long. And then finally, there’s this question of value right which we’re seeing. And I’ll speak to that as well.

All right, so I wanted to show this just to remind us because I know we’re going to spend some time on college selectivity. But I just wanted to first just show the distribution of enrollment by selectivity. This is from Nick Hillman’s work. Actually, Mitchell has a lovely one by race in the New York Times opinion piece that you had published with Richard Arum, which I also like as well.

So this just shows you the distribution of enrollment by selectivity. And since we spent a lot of time focused on those selective colleges, including Berkeley, and Harvard, and UNC. And in fact, a very small share of students are enrolled in these selective institutions that are represented here in the purple.

What I like about the Opportunity Insights income data is it allows us to even look at the top 0.1%. And so we can see this elite. And there’s been a lot in the press around– a few great papers that have come out on those elite institutions. But then again, just note that broad access, that yellow if you will, which is where the majority– between the yellow and the moderately selective, where yellow is over 80% of students accepted.

Sometimes the 100% of students accepted is where the majority of US students go to school. And in particular, it’s where low income students are going to school. It’s where I spend most of my time thinking about. And California has a really great system, the community college system where we have seen some of these most dramatic kind of declines and persistence issues in the pandemic.

I wanted to show you– since my lab and work we do connects the California, just to bring it close to home. In California, we have a unique system. In fact, ours– if I showed the US rates, you’d see that about 70% of students are enrolled at four-year institutions. We have a reverse system here because of our big community college system. In fact, 1 in almost 4 community college system students in the country is a California Community college student.

So on the top here, you see all California public high school students. You’ll see about 31%, this is in the year right before– the year right before the pandemic, don’t go on to any college. And 37% go on to a community college. 13% go to a CSU, 8% to UC, and then some private and out of state.

SED means the students who are in K-12 identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged. And so we see more of them don’t go on to college. And about the same rates are across the segments. The other important thing to note here is, also, the lower rates of overall college enrollment among Black and Latinx students and the really high rates of community college enrollment, more generally in the state relative to the country.

Finally, you might note that Asian students have the highest overall in rate enrollments at UC. And that’s by a lot, at 22%. That’s the green bar. So the goal here is just to be able to look at how this opportunity across California is distributed across a variety of groups. So just our own context.

So what do we know about an increasingly complex enrollment profiles? So today’s college student we know is a much more complex student than the era that Mitchell described. Today’s student is more likely to be enrolling part time, to be working while in school, to have attended multiple institutions, that is to pause and maybe restart.

And what we know is that they don’t necessarily stop out. That they start– they might start later, start after working for a period, pause in enrollment. And so the majority of today’s college students look very different than the college students of a half a century ago. And we also know that there are many off-ramps for students in colleges– so too few on-ramps and too many off-ramps.

And that there’s a lack of articulation between the institutions that many students transfer in and out of. All right, so with that, we are not surprised then, perhaps, that the completion outcomes are quite weak in college overall. And again, so here– I’m sorry. I thought you were giving me a time zone. I know I’m talking fast though.

So what’s important is, as we know more students are going to college than ever before, again, save for the declining birth rates. But we also know that completion rates have stayed largely stagnant and have even declined for some minority groups. And so overall, the completion rate is about 68% of students overall. But we also see that there are big differences by gender. Women are more likely to finish than are men.

Students who start immediately after high school are more likely to finish. And we see a similar pattern by race as we did with enrollment. That is Asian students are much more likely to finish. And here I should have said, finish four-year institution means getting a bachelor’s degree, a two-year institution. These are six years later.

These are students who aren’t finishing with even any credential, as long as six years after. And so in fact, about 1 in 3 students who enter community colleges leave– don’t return after a year of even starting. So the completion outcomes, even for associate’s degrees, are quite low in our system, which has also added to the critique of, what’s the value? No, this is national, national data.

All right, so is college still worth it? And lots of press on this. I’m happy to get some pushback on this as we continue to a conversation. But the short answer is, yes, period, full stop, as we see average wage premiums. And in particular, that just means over the course of a lifetime, we know that. And there’s several estimates for this.

But on average, there’s like a 68% increase in your overall life– of your lifetime earnings, comparing college recipients to those who don’t get a college degree. We also know that in the knowledge economy, there’s a huge demand projected to be a huge shortage of college educated workers in the coming decade.

Lots and lots of research on the personal well-being or the connection, the correlation between getting a college degree and other life outcomes. And that includes everything from health indicators– from even happiness metrics. Again, these are all endogenous and correlated items, but even civic participation. I bring you to several organizations that show the ways in which education pays.

There’s also public benefits. And Mitchell referred to those. And that’s everything from the likelihood of not being unemployed, to increased wages, but also for civil society in terms of the likelihood of voting. So great economic and civic benefits to a college degree. And yet we still see critiques.

So what are the caveats? And this has gotten a lot of attention in the recent years, looking at average wealth premiums and other metrics to look at return on investment, if you will. So first, we know that the degree completion matters. And so that premium really comes about from completing a college degree.

We also know that there are important differences by fields of study. And we also know that the debt and the increased cost of college has made that wage premium smaller than it ought to be, that is middle class families who have spent huge amounts of money to get their student into school have now less wealth to presumably transfer on to their children.

All right, so I’m going to make three assertions around the path forward. The first is perhaps an obvious one and will be connected across our three talks, I think, which is to address the affordability. So that is a restrengthening, maybe after Mitchell’s talk, a restrengthening in the public investment.

So we’ve known that, basically, individuals have had to bear the brunt of the increased cost of college as opposed to state systems and federal systems to reduce the debt. And to really– the conversation in California has really been also accounting for the full cost of attendance.

Lots of financial aid reform in California is featured around how to increase the basic needs of students to be able to live in the state while going to school, so housing. And that includes community college students who are also living in the same expensive state despite the lower tuition that they experience relative to the four-year.

And the other one, which I hope we’ll have some more time to talk about is what our institutions– what we can learn from the pandemic. And that is about sustained flexibility. And what do I mean by that? I mean higher education today looks very different than it did than March of 2020. And so we have done what faculty and our institutions never wanted to do in most places, not in all places, and have completely transformed.

Some have transformed back, but most have not. At least at the places that I study like California’s community colleges, they have not. And so they have really leaned in to the flexibility that students are demanding. Learning modalities, enrollment processes, getting rid of a 15-week semester to smaller blocks of units. A whole host of complete transformation that has come about.

As part of that flexibility also means that students, especially students in California have had to carry their pathways on their back, so to speak. What do I mean by that? I mean our systems don’t speak to each other. So students who stop and pause really pay the price and have the onus on them to figure out how to complete college when they’ve paused and stopped. And so we need much better flexibility and articulation between our systems of education.

And then finally, partly because the good that might come out of the public critique is more outcome driven policies, that is student completion, and equity, and completion. And so that is things like performance funding, which we’ll come to be in the California Community Colleges. CSU, while not done this way, has had a grad initiative that has really motivated the system to try to improve completion rates and to improve four-year completion rates in a four-year institution which shouldn’t take six years.

So what I would argue is that the pandemic has allowed us to realize some opportunities in this urgency and in recovery. And I have lots of examples from the community college and the four-year public systems in California about the ways in which they are trying to be flexible, to be a more concierge-style educators, education systems of the kind that for profits were doing before the pandemic, partly because that’s what many of their students demand.

So meeting the needs of today’s college students requires this institutional agility, I argue, and increased public investment, not just to, in terms of money, to reduce the cost to individuals but to support institutions to keep adapting. A lot of money came in recovery. Is that money going to go away to sustain the kind of adaptability that these institutions need to be able to keep responding to student needs? I think I finished in time. OK.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] About two minutes on the table. And as we transition to Professor Glater, I just want to add one more piece. We just did some polling in the Central Valley at least in California. And among those folks who didn’t go to college, the most common answer was affordability.

And I think it really speaks to our lack of communication about the fact that, in fact, these schools are much more affordable than they seem based on the sticker price. And so I think we’ve also not done a very good job in higher education of making clear the types of scholarships and supports that are available to the students on that other end of your graph. They were sobering results. Professor Glater.

[JONATHAN GLATER] OK, thank you. And thank you for coming out and enjoying the air conditioning with us. My name is Jonathan Glater. I teach at the law school here at Berkeley. And it’s really remarkable to speak after the two who have gone before me, who have really presented an incredibly sophisticated and nuanced description of where we are and how we got there.

As the lawyer on the group, my job is to pour cold water over everything. My contribution will be, I hope, both to put the challenges facing higher education in the present moment in the context of law and to provide a way of thinking about those challenges thematically. So I’m going to offer a framework along the lines that Mitchell did or I’m going to try to.

And it has these three elements– money and merit or excellence, if you like, but then you lose the alliteration. So money, and merit, and meaning which could also be institutional mission. And I want to suggest to you that contests over each of these terms are becoming more and more intense, which both means that access to higher education is under greater threat right now. But it also means that the possibility of radical change exists too.

And I’m going to try and convince you that that’s what it means to be at, what Mitchell called, an inflection point right now in higher education. So the cost of higher education over the past 50 to 60 years has increasingly been borne by students and their families for reasons that have already been touched on. Tuition growth has outstripped family earnings. And students and their families have responded by borrowing. This is the money problem.

OK, student debt now burdens tens of millions of students, undermining that promise of social mobility and personal financial security that higher education is supposed to offer. I say this recognizing that higher education is not just about return on investment, but when the price tag gets big enough, it’s very difficult not to focus on the money. That has a remarkable way of concentrating one’s attention.

OK, so I’m not talking about college as a useful tool to make our lives more interesting and the world more comprehensible. That’s dropped out of the discussion because the debt burdens are too great for people to focus on that. So debt is a complicated– and that’s the point of this quote. So I don’t want to lose sight of this idea that there is more to higher education than the finance.

Debt is a complicated policy instrument. It makes higher education accessible, but it also makes that access riskier. And that risk in turn means, for some students, the investment in higher education is a terrible deal. It’s a bad investment. For other students, repayment obligations can affect career plans, life plans, family plans.

We get more research on this almost every day. And the experience of the global pandemic has exacerbated differences along socioeconomic lines, leaving less wealthy people and lower income people more precarious. Of course, there’s a racial dimension to this too because of, who needs to borrow larger amounts? Who has more or less wealth? Who has higher or lower income?

Black people in particular, we tend to borrow more and struggle in repayment more, not least because we tend to earn lower wages. And some advocates of cancelation have characterized student debt cancelation as a racial justice initiative for this reason. During the pandemic, student loan obligations were suspended, a teasing experiment of what broad-based cancelation might look like.

Borrowers now face those obligations. And many of them are worse off financially post-pandemic than they were before. So I’m going to return to cancelation in a moment, because that’s another way that law enters the story. But it’s important to note first that student debt is a creation of law. We talk about student debt– again to Mitchell’s point, we take this thing for granted.

But pre-1958, really, it was just– it was like borrowing using a credit card. It was just debt. The idea of student debt is something that is unusual, that has particular characteristics, that is treated exceptionally by the bankruptcy code, all of that is statutory. That’s all new. We take it for granted, but the government can change the terms on which higher education is offered. States can change the terms on which higher education is offered.

So fulfilling a campaign promise, the Biden administration attempted last year to cancel a huge swath of student indebtedness. This is really a remarkable, political event and something to bear in mind as we’re thinking about what’s possible going forward. This was a fringe idea, as the media characterized it prior to Biden’s move to do it, that moved all the way to the center of political discourse, and then to the federal Supreme Court.

If you would ask me three years ago whether student debt would present itself as an issue to the federal Supreme Court, I would have laughed and said that’s absurd. Because both I wouldn’t think cancelation would be a viable political move. And I wouldn’t expect the court to have any interest in taking up the issue as salient to law.

Cancelation would have benefited tens of millions of borrowers, disproportionately borrowers with smaller balances because they would find themselves debt free. Interestingly, the research on student debt is consistently found that those with smaller dollar balances are more likely to struggle in repayment. So this would have had an oversized effect on some of the most vulnerable students.

And I’m happy to say more about this during the Q&A. I don’t want to really engage in an extended policy debate over the wisdom of debt cancelation right now. I don’t have time. But as an initial matter, I note that the idea that we always enforce our debts, that’s a national value, how can I not understand? That’s a rule that’s absolutely followed all the time except for all the times when it’s not.

And so this is a political judgment that we can make. And the real question is, what are the costs and benefits of mitigating this form of debt? So let me get to the– let me get to the law. Oh, no, see. I’m going to skip this because you have already covered.

OK, on a tenuous legal theory of standing, that is of the validity of the claim, so standing– can you go into court and claim that you have been injured or have you not suffered an injury? So you can’t just go to court and seek an advisory opinion. On a tenuous theory of standing, attorneys general from several states challenged the Biden administration’s cancelation effort. And the plaintiffs argued that the language of the legislation that the administration relied on did not mean what it seems to mean.

And so I’ve put the language up there. I joked with my students that the question before the Supreme Court is whether waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision means waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision. Supreme Court says it doesn’t. Supreme Court says it doesn’t mean that they can waive or modify any statutory provision, OK.

If folks want to dig into the legal reasoning, we can. But the insight I want to draw from this foray by the court into student debt is that higher education finance is actually inherently a political question. And in deciding this case against the administration, the justices and the conservative justices in the majority were making moves on multiple chess games at the same time.

One, first one on the list is the contest over the growth of the administrative state. So should the Department of Education have the power that the Biden administration is asserting that it’s having or should the authority of executive agencies be reined in, be limited? So that’s one context that the court is resolving.

The second one is the setting of precedent. What happens as a result of the court deciding that the Secretary of Education does not have the authority to cancel debt on the scale that the administration is proposing? Because if the court says that the administration can do this, what can the administration do next?

OK, inter-branch competition, what we call in law school separation of powers. So this is an executive branch move, not a legislative branch move. And the court, the third co-equal branch is saying the executive is overstepping. If the legislature wants to authorize the executive to take this step, that’s OK, but the legislature has not clearly done so because waive or modify doesn’t mean waive or modify. Therefore, the executive cannot take this step. So this is a contest over who has power.

Institutional credibility, meaning the credibility of the court, which has been trending downward pretty dramatically over the past couple of years. So is there a cost to the court of making a decision that looks, to my third point, like an act of partisan advantage? Because this is conservative justices undermining a signature initiative of a Democratic president.

OK, but for our purposes, so those are the different board games. And there probably others too on which the Supreme Court is resolving the question of debt cancelation. But out in the real world, the Supreme Court is keeping higher education risky for students who had to borrow because cancelation is now not on the table to the degree or in the manner that it would have been. So the move by the court that means it’s undermining access.

The interesting thing is that the administration has responded with innovative regulatory moves, developing more favorable repayment plans for borrowers, for example, like the SAVE plan. Do I have that? I have that. There we go. The SAVE plan which adjusts the amount that students are required to pay on their monthly obligations.

OK, also canceling the debts of students who attended for-profit schools that engage in fraudulent misconduct, for example. And disproportionately, those schools target Black and Brown students. So these are meaningful policy moves that the administration has undertaken, perhaps, over the longer term, more impactful policy moves than one time cancelation might have been. That can’t be right. We’ll see.


Yes, I get her too. OK, so much for money. Let me move ahead to merit. So the court is– the Supreme Court is also stepped into battles over admissions at selective institutions. The decisions in the cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina squarely raised the question of, what is merit? That is, what criteria should selective colleges and universities– which most students to be clear do not go to, but they’re the institutions that get all the attention.

What criteria do they use when deciding whom to admit? And admissions to these selective institutions has been fought over forever. People of color were consistently and systematically excluded. The practice of taking race into account in order to ensure access to these institutions to applicants who were members of these historically excluded groups, that’s called affirmative action. That’s called affirmative action.

And you can view this as trying to help those who are worse off or you can view this as distorting a racially neutral merit-based system. All depends on what your baseline is for purposes of analysis. The nominal plaintiffs in the suits against Harvard and UNC were Asian-American applicants for admission who charged the consideration of race and admissions caused denial of admission.

There’s a really complicated question to ask about causation that I don’t have time to go into, but maybe we’ll talk about it in the Q&A. And I’m happy to get into the weeds. But the insight is that the conservative justices understand any effort to promote access for one student as harmful to other students. And that’s the quote I pulled from the majority opinion in the case.

So in this way, the court rejected rationales previously endorsed such as the pursuit of a diverse class of students. The conservative justices, in espousing colorblindness, meant that admissions criteria at selective institutions should not be picked with an eye to their racially disparate effects. Instead, if the neutral criteria that the justices endorse produce less racial diversity, that result was not a factor in assessing those criteria.

OK, so this decision finding consideration of race and admissions unconstitutional also was an attack on institutional autonomy because the colleges and university are arguing that they should be able to do this. And the court is saying, no, no, you cannot. The court is rejecting deference to colleges and universities to choose whom to admit. And this relates to my final topic, institutional mission, the meaning question.

This slide is blank because we’re just finding out. We don’t know yet. We’re going to see what happens in the coming years. We’re not seeing policy innovation yet like that in the student loan context. There is language in the opinion that suggests schools may consider experiences of applicants affected by race, which seems at odds with the larger rule espoused in the opinion.

But if the numbers of Black and Latinx students do not fall, I expect to see repeat litigation alleging that colleges and universities are now doing by stealth what they were previously doing openly. Colleges and universities values themselves will be the subjects of that litigation. This is one of the reasons, I think, this inflection point will manifest as intensified contest over these questions– who gets in, where, and how it’s paid for.

OK, so to the question of meaning. There are contests over institutional mission and values out in the open now. And this is just the most recent example. Do you remember the US News and World Report rankings just came out, modified method of ranking the institutions. Vanderbilt fell five spots.

And whereupon the university administration just excoriated US News and World Report saying US News is measuring the wrong things. What they’re measuring is not our indication of either our students merit or our own. So in doing this, Vanderbilt is showing that how we assess institutions, how we assess students reflect choices we’re making.

There’s nothing inevitable. There’s nothing actually that is neutral or obvious about whatever tool we use to say a student has merit or an institution has merit. And in the coming months and years, I anticipate that colleges and universities will, with increasing frequency, have to articulate and justify their institutional views, actions, and practices.

Why do we do what we do? Colleges and universities cannot take as given the anything we do. Think of whom we hire. Think of the food we serve in the cafeteria. Think of the terms on which we employ grad students, everything. Any action can be seen through a politically partisan lens.

We can try to pretend otherwise, we can lay claim to some sort of scholarly neutrality and determination to follow the evidence. But commitment to that kind of research, ideal itself, has to be justified. It’s a political commitment. We will have to embrace our political and politicized role if we want to sustain our mission as an academy of learning.

So what does this all mean? Oh, I did keep the picture. OK, what does this all mean? It means greater readiness to engage in expression of the ideas on which higher education institutions rest. And my example of that here, this picture just always makes me like almost weepy.

So these are young lawyers, recent law school grads who flocked to the airports and were working under these conditions in response to the first anti-Muslim ban by the Trump administration, which to me is laws playing a role in a political battle, not in the way– not in the same way I’ve described up to this point. It is being used in ways people did not anticipate.

OK, we, like these students or like these young lawyers, need to be ready to engage in expression of the ideas on which higher education institutions rest. We have to be committed to support and protection of students as a core value. It means being ready to justify both our commitment to research and our respect for expertise when choosing what to do and how to do it.

And those battles will be taking place in the courts, in the court of public opinion, and in legislatures. We will continue to attend to the role of law in shaping what these institutions we are also invested in do and become in the future. So with that, I’ll stop. How did I– 15 seconds, OK.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] Perfect. Perfect. And if I could invite our speakers back up here for the Q&A and thank them for wonderful talks. Two quick things, just in case people don’t on the US News. And we don’t want to debate that. But folks should know they actually purposely changed their methodology each year in order to create that movement, when we know institutions of higher education don’t actually change that quickly.

And the second thing I wanted to share is that in this polling we’ve been doing in the Central Valley, interestingly while there is some support for debt forgiveness, there’s much more overwhelming support for free college. So this idea that you don’t want to pay people back for a decision they’ve already made, but the free college idea is actually quite popular among all demographics. So just as a framing for our conversation. Any questions or comments? Yeah. And if we could wait for the mic just for both for the people on Zoom and for the accessibility of the room.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I have a couple. So first what happens when the enrollment cliff hits for the many nonselective colleges? How will they remain open? And then the second question is, how can law school tuition continue to rise?

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] I think so. You can hear me, yeah? OK, so I think there’s going to be an existential crisis in some of the nonselective institutions. And I think this is why I argue that being able to be responsive to what students want. And so that is– and that includes some of the tough labor issues. so. I’ll just, again, look at our own state, where the faculty senate of the community college system is very strong. And there are lots of labor considerations, for example, downsizing programs, or courses, or things like that.

And so I think there will be this combination of legal policy organizing around what happens in some of these colleges as the enrollment declines. So again, in the last even two decades, we’ve seen increases in community colleges in the state of California. It’ll be interesting to see in the coming decade what happens to those.

I can imagine, again, we’re in a district system. So you can imagine some campuses that are creative, collapse to create in-person residential type campuses and others that will have more online options, again, to address the different types of needs of students at these open access institutions.

And if I can add one layer because it’s not– people aren’t talking about it as much is many of our Cal State campuses are actually under-enrolled. And so you have UC oversubscribed in the sense of applications increasing. And then you have Cal State campuses they can’t fill their seats. And so the master plan at least in California doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.


[JONATHAN GLATER] I was hoping– I was hoping to dodge that one. Is this on? Can you hear me? Is this on? OK, I can’t tell. Why wouldn’t it?


OK, so that’s the real question. It’s not how much it costs question. It’s a who pays question. So I gave this– I was speaking at your institution a couple of years ago. And a student asked a version, but was much more rude about it than you were. And I said, why do you care how much it costs?

We could spend less on it. We could have worse facilities. We could pay faculty. We could do a number– but that’s not really what you want. What you want is someone else to pay and make it super deluxe. That’s what I would want. The cost has to be born– has to be allocated somewhere. And costs are going up. Cost of everything goes up.

But the policy conundrum, I think, is not the cost going up. The policy conundrum is who’s going to pay that cost so that the students don’t have exactly that very pragmatic problem you’re alluding to, which is what happens after they graduate and they have to pay off these outstanding amounts.

Right now, the last research I’m aware of, [? found ?] law school, financially, is still a good bet in terms of the positive hit on lifetime earnings. But that doesn’t mean, it feels great for my students to graduate with well into the six figures of indebtedness. That’s going to affect what they do. It’s going to affect where they live. It’s going to affect the timing of having a family, getting married.

These are not positive policy benefits. These are the effects of making debt the policy tool of choice to put higher education in reach. And that’s where I would target– to the extent I hear frustration in your question, that’s where I would direct it.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thanks. These are all very interesting. I wanted to ask a question that goes back to the 1930s again and ask about whether a particular item thing that happened then might be relevant to today that wasn’t in the narratives. So in the 1930s, we had this constitutional revolution in the United States where all of these old gilded age cases were thrown out.

One line of cases that survived though– all right, so this was the idea of substantive due process like the Lochner Era. So these were like– but the one line of cases from that era that survived was the cases that said there’s a substantive due process to send your kids to private education. And I’m recalling constitutional law class from a long time ago. So maybe I don’t have that exactly right.

But I was just– I’ve been thinking lately about– and this doesn’t necessarily cover the whole span of– this does not cover the whole span of colleges and universities, but the way that a lot of the elite schools are becoming– have become these luxury items, where you have these super small enrollments, especially at Ivy league schools and stuff where I think that there might be more political science majors at Berkeley than there are students in a class at Harvard for instance.

And so I’m just wondering, is part of the– is it maybe an important part of the narrative that this peculiar decision happened where– because there were serious push backs to limit private education that were going on 100 years ago. And then those got shut off by the Supreme Court. And then also could not be revived in the 1930s. And I’m wondering, is that an important part of the development of higher education? And does that maybe– I don’t really know the answer.

So I’ve just been puzzling over this if you guys have any thoughts on it. Because it strikes me, like if you read someone– what’s the name of this guy? Scott Galloway. So he’s an investor in education technology. But he doesn’t always talk about this when he writes about higher education, and critiques higher education, and says, oh, it’s this hyper luxury good.

I agree with him at least with regard to elite schools. I don’t think that’s true of all schools. But he’s talking up his investments also because he says, oh, these schools should have many more students. They’re bad. And we should bring in all this technology that I’m invested in, basically. It seems to be what he’s saying.

I’m just wondering if maybe going back to 1930s helps us get some traction on decisions that were made because I think the US is an outlier among wealthy democracies for the extent to which private universities are important within our higher education system. So I just want to throw that issue on the table and see if there are any thoughts.

[MITCHELL STEVENS] I’m not the legal scholar. So I’m going to let Jonathan do that. It does seem to me that with higher education, we’re talking– higher education is not provided by right. So there’s a way in which, I mean, the legal environment for post-secondary education may be different than what you’re talking about.

I do think on the rich institution question. And I think this is another magnet on the compass which is a very important, I think, opportunity is the– just as in the rest of the class structure, the wealthiest institutions have never been so much more wealthy than the rest of the sector.

OK, so what Emily Levine and I call the academic social contract that we now live under was really written in the middle of the 20th century when Harvard was rich. But it wasn’t as spectacularly more rich than Berkeley as it is today.

And the selective schools have become so much more exquisitely selective. So the hyper concentration of luxury right is, I think, another kind of secular strain on this process that I think should be scaring the daylights out of presidents and provosts at places like where I work.

And what I’m personally trying to do is figure out a way to guilt them into giving more stuff away because one of the things I would want to emphasize here is that colleges and universities are quasi independent actors. I mean, they don’t have to just comply with stuff. They can give more gifts. They can do different things.

But I do think that’s a big part of it. The four seasons hotelness of the institution that I work for is a political problem. It’s a moral problem. I know that, but it’s also a political problem which we might be able to turn into an opportunity, I hope.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] If I could just provide perspective on that point. I think it was two years ago. It might have been three. The return on the endowment at Yale was $15 billion. I mean, just the amounts of money. That was their gain in one year.

We’ve never been here before, in terms of that kind of wealth.

[JONATHAN GLATER] Maybe we should talk– because I’m not sure which case you’re thinking of. The cases that I’m thinking of– sorry, everybody. The cases that I’m thinking of are in the K-12 context, not in the higher ed context. And their issue was– there was an issue around religious instruction specifically. So I’m not sure it’s quite apposite, but maybe we can talk after because if you’re thinking of something else, then we can explore it, OK.

[JULIA SIZEK] OK, we have a couple of questions from online. So I’m just going to start with two different questions from two different anonymous attendees about student debt. So one of them is about– I guess, I’ll just read it.

Do you think that one or two years of general studies courses required by most universities add to the burden of cost for students and their families and therefore account for low graduation rate and success? In a society that is technology driven, could you speak of the merits of stacking those general studies courses up front and also their implications for student debt.

The other question is about how student debt is related to the general landscape of borrowing. So since cost of living is not often keeping up with wages, are low-income students doomed to being in debt forever given that market forces are not in their favor?

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] I’ll start on the fields of study. And there’s definitely, as I mentioned on the payoff to college, it does vary by fields of study. I think the general education question is a good one in the sense that, I think, we have seen, in places where there’s lower completion rates in particular nonselective and in particular community colleges, a cafeteria style approach around course taking that hasn’t served students well and a real effort to streamline that course taking with the goal of hitting a major and a degree path more quickly.

I think where it’s a real tension is these look very different than the elite places that Mitchell referenced. And so who’s entitled to that broad exploratory? So I worry a lot. So I think it’s a real tension, the desire. Most students who come into college, they want to finish. They want to have a degree path. They want to know where they’re headed. But there’s also a lot of value, as we know, from the origin of higher education for this exploratory that we don’t expect 18-year-olds.

And this is very different than other industrialized countries, where you immediately go into a professional path. And so again, I think in this heightened space, both politicized and the economic forces are going to mean that there may be further division between getting some students in a more CTE vocational focused pathway through community colleges more quickly and more efficiently, while there will be others who will have this very luxe, liberal arts experiences, which I think is not an ideal for the other fractures in our society right now.

[JONATHAN GLATER] OK, it’s a really interesting question. And it highlights the structures for allocation of financial aid because if you can think about the question as related to what’s the subject of study, but you can also think about it as a question of, what kind of aid do you get?

So imagine a world in which Pell grants, instead of starting at a number and gradually increasing were front loaded. So the first two years were fully covered by Pell grants. And the second two years, if you continue, then you have to borrow more to do it. Then this problem goes away. Then this problem goes away. And that’s not my idea. That’s Caroline Hoxby’s idea. We can think about things in different ways once we recognize the different dimensions of the problem.

Can I speak to the second question about student debt in the context of debt more generally? This is exactly the critique that this tool of social– this social engineering tool to make higher education more accessible to serve as an engine of social mobility actually is reproducing pre-existing socioeconomic and racialized hierarchies because of the obligation to repay at the back end. It’s exactly this concern. And I don’t know what to say beyond that. And yes, in response to the question.

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] I just want to add two things to this question. One is that I agree that we are just now accumulating more evidence on when does aid matter. So is it– is it front? There’s a lot more research on academic momentum, why we might want students to enroll in [? more, ?] to fully absorb the college experience to finish more quickly.

And then the other, yeah, so I guess I would just say we do need more evidence on when– at what point do we need additional aid to help students complete. And I think the evidence is still thin on that. I know we’re trying to do it in California, understand the ways in which Cal Grant reform, for example, could support more students.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] And if I can add just a quick personal frame on general education, which I think we in the educational field think it’s your opportunity to explore and learn new things. But for some STEM majors– one of my son, one of his quarters was Python, calculus, and introduction to chemistry. There’s no joy in any of those. The idea that you have to have these tools to get to the interesting part is, I think, also another piece that makes general education harder for students to get through because there’s no intellectual–

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] I will say also we’ve been stuck in this high school– I mean, one of the other ways to completely break the system is to rethink the role of high schools and this to begin with. And there’s a real opportunity now partly because of the enrollment declines to blur that space between high school and college.

And we’re seeing that partly with things like dual enrollment or students taking classes. And so I think we have long wanted to rethink, at least, the 12th grade year if not the 11th and 12th in a way that could also reduce the time and the opportunities for students to get to their fields of study of interest more quickly.

[MARION FOURCADE] Thank you. That was really fabulous. I really appreciate the political lens that you are casting on this question. And so I wanted to ask you a little bit about the Democrat-Republican divide on college achievement. I know the Piketty, the Piketty graph showing the flip between the top 1%, essentially the top 1% most educated flipping from right to left. And the bottom flipping from left to right. But if we dig deeply across different states, types of colleges attended, and so on. What do we learn about this divide between Democrats and Republicans?


I don’t know. You’re the expert. It seems to me– precisely because college is so much a political problem. I think it matters enormously to something about that.

[MITCHELL STEVENS] Have I seen research that passes– have I seen research that parses institutional type? I haven’t seen that. I’ve only seen on the relationship between amount of education and political affiliation. So it’s a really good question in that regard, but I don’t– there is something I wanted to– I mean, I wanted to– I’m increasingly paying attention to. And I want to just maybe insert in the conversation.

There’s another movement– there are two other movements underway that I think are relevant. One is what I’m calling the partial disestablishment of the four-year college degree as the sine qua non employment credential. And that’s a movement that I have cautiously joined for reasons we won’t talk about here.

But it’s driven in part by the Trump election of 2016 scared the daylights out of the education philanthropic establishment. They realized that college for all had gone terribly wrong in some ways. And so there’s been a national search for mechanisms of opportunity creation that don’t look, sound, feel, price like college.

Governor Newsom is one who has investing substantially in this movement, a national movement also to remove four-year college credentials as necessary qualifications in civil employment. That movement is also being turbocharged by a tidal wave of private capital in the educational sector.

And this is not like– this is not your University of Phoenix venture capital backers. This is Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Cisco actively encouraging a rethinking of a credential ecosystem. And that expansion of private capital is almost no social scientists are paying attention to that.

So I mean, I think it’s another magnet on the compass which is a fundamental rethinking in the private sector of what the credential marketplace of five years from now should look like. It’s completely unregulated, almost completely unregulated. There’s not even clarity on which branch of the federal government would be responsible for that new sector. Again, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation as we might say. Yes, exactly.

[JONATHAN GLATER] Micro credentials.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] I think we have time for one or two more questions. I don’t know if we have any online.

[JULIA SIZEK] Yeah, we do have some online questions. So one question that we have from Kenny is about the relationship between selective and nonselective colleges and given the fact that many of these nonselective colleges are experiencing enrollment declines, what would happen if they were to close? And how do we think about the relationship between the nonselective college and the selective colleges when we look at the industry as a whole?

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] Yeah, I mean, again, I think I would argue that most students, they start at community college often for any number of reasons– financial, regional. We still have four-year college deserts in California. And they most will tell you they want a bachelor’s degree, whether or not they should get that is another question and in what field.

But the point is, I think that I would argue that part of where the master plan failed was to really allow for better intersegmental relationships. And this is a problem in other states, but not necessarily the magnitude of that problem isn’t as big in other states. I think we have made it– we have put all the onus on students instead of on institutions and instead of systems to solve this.

Again, so I think in under declining enrollment, as I’ve said, I think there will be some really tough times ahead for some of our colleges, including potentially the CSU. Though again, it’s the far residential remote CSUs that have struggled. We still could put more four-year CSUs in the LA county region and not satisfy the need for transfer students– the transfer students have.

So it really requires our state to work together and figure it out. UC has pushed back on things like guaranteed dual admissions, that is high school students applying straight into UC knowing their first two years and partly because there’s space constraint.

And so let’s test them. Let’s test these students out first at community colleges, see if they can pass muster. So I think it just behooves us to rethink the structure as is implied in the question, which I appreciate. And so we’ll see. I think that the urgency of the declining enrollments will force us to some creative solutions.

And closures.

And potentially closures.

We’re starting to see closures.

You guys are really efficient.

[JULIA SIZEK] OK, well, so this is very fitting considering that we had many participants here on Zoom, including many people who are still here. So one question that someone had was about the future potential of higher education being delivered online or remotely and what you prognosticate for that.

[MITCHELL STEVENS] Well, I guess one thing I would say is– one thing that’s not going to go down is lifelong demand for educational credentials. That’s not going anywhere but up– nationally, globally. So I think– if I’m optimistic, I’ll see public investment in lifelong learning for, say, Californians going like this.

But the amount of private capital that’s going into that sector is going like this because I don’t think we’re going to see any diminution in demand. I do think that one of the things that we need to talk about is, what then is a college education? If I’m getting it in my living room with my pajamas on, is it the same thing as a civic project certainly. Is it substantively the same thing as the public sphere that is instantiated by the College of San Mateo?

I mean, there’s one thing I know the College of San Mateo is. It’s part of the California Public sphere. I can walk onto it whenever I want. I’m a partial owner of it. I will encounter other Californians whom I might not otherwise have met. Maybe I can get something online, but it’s not that. And so I think something for us to think about is, yeah, of course, digitization is going to keep going like this. Is that college? or what things is it not that may be of civic value to the people of California?

[MICHAL KURLAENDER] And the challenges College of San Mateo needs to offer about 60% to 80% of its courses online now to meet its enrollment demand. I mean, this is the tension. I agree with everything you just said. And the problem that college has is to keep its doors open. It’s going to have to increasingly.

And so think that genie is not going back in the bottle, at least not– Berkeley can require its students to come in-person. And similarly, we know we’ve just– we’re in a different space in digital learning. We’re all like recording our classes because that’s just good for students to do. So I think it remains to be seen is really the–

That’s right.


[MITCHELL STEVENS] That’s right. And we’re grateful to everyone in Zoom land who’s here, participating in this civil discourse.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] Well, if I can just add speaking of the cost of higher education and who pays for it, the two biggest costs are the physical plant and the people. And we’re already paying for the people. And if you want to have access, you may have to move to online in order to actually have more capacity, to serve more students with the same physical plant.

So there are other financial reasons that could be pushing more– our chancellor likes to talk about elasticity of place, not necessarily online degrees but opportunities to spend semesters or other time away so that the physical campus can manage more students.

[MITCHELL STEVENS] Elasticity of place. I’m taking that across the bay with me. I like that.

[LISA GARCÍA BEDOLLA] And the students are asking for it, but it’s complicated. And it has fiscal implications as well I wanted to say. So please join me in thanking our amazing panel for an incredibly informative and provocative session. Thanks to all of our folks online. And thanks to the Matrix for organizing yet another great conversation.


DEEPFAKE: A Rhetorical and Economic Alternative to Address the So-Called “Post-Truth Era”

Since Greek antiquity, there have been two fundamentally different conceptualizations of the search for truth. On the one hand, platonic politics proposed to control the city by subjecting political expression to the philosophical concept. On the other hand, the rhetorical tradition opposed the logocratic and universal claim of philosophy, in the name of the diversity of subjectivities and forms of life that composed the demos, and justified democratic deliberation as a form and process of agreement and democratic agency.

On May 10, 2023, Social Science Matrix hosted a symposium that aimed to develop a critique of the current debates about Post-Truth and fakeness, and specifically of Big Tech’s effort to frame the political expression of the demos as it solidifies its control over the digital economy. Going beyond calls for the prohibition of deepfakes, this conversation aimed to evaluate and exploit the rhetorical potential of deepfakes for democracy. Do deepfakes, through the circulation and reappropriation of symbolic images, have democratic value? How can we promote an alternative rhetorical paradigm to the alienating alliance of surveillance capitalism, computational capitalism, computational sciences, and data sciences?

Read the Argument

Organizer: Igor Galligo, Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley Department of Rhetoric; Founder,

Funding and Scientific Partners: 

Scientific Partners at UC Berkeley:

Other Scientific Partner:

Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art


Opening Remarks: Igor Galligo, UC Berkeley, UPL, NEST, Founder of

First Session: Rhetoric, Democracy and “Post-Truth”: How are rhetoric and fakeness consubstantial with democracy? To what conception of truth does the notion of “post-truth” correspond? And why is Post-Truth a problematic notion for the rhetorical tradition?

James Porter (UC Berkeley, Rhetoric Department)
Linda Kinstler (UC Berkeley, Rhetoric Department)
Chiara Cappelletto (State University of Milan, CSTMS)
– Collective discussion with the audience

Second Session: Subjectivity, Digital Computationalism and Artificial Intelligence: How does the theorization of contemporary computing, which gave birth to the Internet and artificial intelligence, and which is based on computationalism, constitute a problematic conception of subjectivity? How is this conception opposed to the rhetorical and hermeneutic tradition? What conceptions of truth are discarded by computationalism?

David Bates (UC Berkeley, Rhetoric Department)
Warren Neidich (Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art)
Morgan Ames (UC Berkeley, School of Information, CSTMS)
– Collective discussion with the audience

Third Session: Critical Digital Rhetoric. What renewals can be made within the rhetorical tradition to adapt it to the digital political and Artificial Intelligence contexts? What critical political powers can digital rhetoric retain in the face of computational digital media, fed by data sciences in the new social spaces that are the Internet and social networks?

Nina Begus (UC Berkeley, CSTMS)
Justin Hodgson (Indiana University, Department of English)
Nathan Atkinson (UC Berkeley, Rhetoric Department)
– Collective discussion with the audience

Fourth Session: Computational Capitalism and Surveillance Capitalism in light of the Deepfake. What conceptions and productions of truth do computational capitalism and surveillance capitalism promote? And against what conceptions or practices of producing truth do they discriminate? To which social groups, does this discrimination pose problems of expression and individuation today?

Marion Fourcade (UC Berkeley, Social Sciences Matrix, N2PE)
Igor Galligo (UC Berkeley, UPL, NEST, Founder of
Konrad Posch (UC Berkeley, Political Science, N2PE)
– Collective discussion with the audience

Fifth Session: For a New Digital Political Economy of Deepfake: How to extend the digital political economy to the symbolic and iconic economy? What new rhetorical and hermeneutic economy of truth can political economy invent? What circuits of collective truth production can political economy develop to grant the deepfake political meaning and value?

Martin Kenney (UC Davis, Department of Human Ecology, BRIE)
Mark Nitzberg (UC Berkeley, BRIE, BCHC, BAIR)
John Zysman (UC Berkeley, BRIE, CITRIS)
– Collective discussion with the audience


Jews and Other Groups Who Resisted the Nazis: Means, Motivations, and Limitations

Recorded on April 28, 2023, this video features a series of talks and panels from an interdisciplinary, comparative symposium exploring what remains an under-examined topic in the history of World War II and the Holocaust: the multivarious paths through which ordinary men and women resisted the Nazis. While scholarship on the choices, backgrounds, and motivations of perpetrators and collaborators has become quite robust, it is only in recent years that resistance has received growing scholarly scrutiny.

At the one-day symposium, historians and sociologists focused on a variety of locales from Eastern Europe, to France to North Africa to the Netherlands, explored a range of subjects that illuminate distinctive paths of resistance, among both Jews and non-Jews. Through their case studies, they illuminated how factors that include religious community and theology, proximate danger, pre-war political engagement, and social geography could become decisive in the choice and circumstances of resistance.

Co-sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Center for Jewish Studies, Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, and the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, the symposium was coordinated by Dr. Ethan Katz, Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies and 2022-2023 Matrix Faculty Fellow.

Welcome & Introduction (starts at 0:12)

  • Ethan Katz (UC Berkeley History & Center for Jewish Studies)

Panel: Religion and Resistance (starts at 12:31)

  • Robert Braun (UC Berkeley, Sociology & Center for Jewish Studies), “Religion and the Protection of Jews During the Holocaust: Evidence from the Netherlands”
  • Johanna Lehr (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), “Biblical resistance and the Reinvention of French Judaism Under the Occupation”
  • Moderator: Deena Aranoff (Graduate Theological Union, Jewish Studies)

Second Panel: Structures of Resistance (starts at 1:49:55)

  • Rachel Einwohner (Purdue University, Sociology), “Certain-Risk Activism: Risk, Threat, and Participation in Jewish Resistance in Warsaw and Vilna”
  • Ethan Katz (UC Berkeley, History & Jewish Studies), “Paths of Resistance in Algiers: Family and Community as Decisive Factors”
  • Sarah Farmer (UC-Irvine, History), “Resistance and Rescue: Hidden Jews in Rural France”
  • Moderator: Alma Heckman (UC Santa Cruz, History & Jewish Studies)

Concluding Roundtable (starts at 3:44:16)


Roundtable with Orlando Patterson: The Nature and Invention of Freedom




Recorded on May 2, 2023, this video features a roundtable conversation with Orlando Patterson, John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, focused on The Paradox of Freedom, an interview with Patterson by David Scott, originally published in Small Axe in 2013. In their long interview, Scott and Patterson discussed the sociologist and novelist’s childhood, education, public service, and books. The conversation reflected on Patterson’s intellectual biography and his groundbreaking analysis of the political entanglement between slavery and freedom.

Joining Patterson in conversation for this Social Science Matrix Roundtable were Ricarda Hammer, incoming Assistant Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, and Daniela Cammack, Assistant Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley. The discussion was moderated by Caitlin Rosenthal, Associate Professor of History.

Listen to the presentation as a podcast below or on Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.

About the Paradox of Freedom

The Paradox of Freedom is an exploration of the life and work of Orlando Patterson, probing the relationship between the circumstances of his life from their beginnings in rural Jamaica to the present and the complex development of his intellectual work. A novelist and historical sociologist with an orientation toward public engagement, Patterson exemplifies one way of being a Jamaican and Black Atlantic intellectual.

At the generative center of Patterson’s work has been a fundamental inquiry into the internal dynamics of slavery as a mode of social and existential domination. What is most provocatively significant in his work on slavery is the way it yields a paradoxical insight into the problem of freedom – namely, that freedom was born existentially and historically from the degradation and parasitic inhumanity of slavery and was as much the creation of the enslaved as of their enslavers.

The Paradox of Freedom elucidates the pathways by which Patterson has both uncovered the relationship between domination and freedom and engaged intellectually and publicly with the struggles for equality and decolonization among descendants of the enslaved. It will be of great interest to students and scholars throughout the humanities and social sciences and to anyone interested in the work of one of the most important public intellectuals of our time.


“The Nature and Invention of Freedom”: Roundtable with Orlando Patterson


[MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everyone. Welcome, welcome, welcome. So for those of you who were here last night or who watched the lecture online, it was a phenomenal lecture and a wonderful exchange. Lots of energy came out of the room, I think. And we are eager to repeat this today.

So I’m just going to introduce our moderator, Caitlin. And she will introduce our speakers. So Caitlin Rosenthal is a historian of 18th and 19th century US history. Her research focuses on the development of management practices, especially those based on data analysis. She works at the intersection of qualitative and quantitative methods to understand business history, economic history, and labor history.

Her first book, titled, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, which came out with Harvard University Press in 2018, won the Simkins Award of the Southern Historical Association, as well as the first book prize of the Economic History Society. So thank you, Caitlin, for moderating this panel, and I am so excited about the discussion that is to come.

[CAITLIN ROSENTHAL] Thank you. Thank you for that lovely introduction, and especially for this introduction to be part of such a wonderful and interdisciplinary panel. When I was preparing my introductions, Marion said that I could have a little bit of liberty to personalize, which I thought I would take advantage of the fact that we had already had one introduction so far.

I will say, briefly, that Professor Orlando Patterson, who’s, I’m sure, already known to many of you, is the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard. He is the author of six major academic books, of three novels, and of countless articles, and a long, long list of prizes.

The two things where I wanted to personalize– the first, I guess, is not so much personal to me, as it’s coming out of the reading that we did to prepare for today’s session, in which Professor Patterson reflects on what it means to be a public intellectual. And reading that description of what his work aspires to do, I couldn’t find a better description of what it has done.

His work, as he writes, and I will paraphrase slightly to make clear that it has been done, is that “His work enlightens some of the big issues of our time, such as freedom, democracy, and equality. It helps readers come to terms with the great evils of human history, such as genocide, slavery, colonialism, racism, classism, and colorism. And it helps people to be honest about how the past works in accounting for present outcomes.”

And I thought, in particular, that use of that word accounting, which is what I study myself, is figuring out how to account for the past and how to change based on it. And the little bit of personal inspiration I’ll take is that I quote Professor Patterson very, very often. It’s a phrase from a 1979 article in the New Left Review, where he describes the period of slavery that I study, which, of course, is not all slavery in all places, as “Merely capitalism with its clothes off.”

And that’s a phrase that has not only been mobile in my own work, helping me to think in new ways, but has helped me turn around the way I ask questions about slavery and capitalism. Turning this around to think not just about what capitalism and slavery can tell us together, but what slavery and the history of slavery more broadly can reveal about capitalism, and its flexibility, and the power relations that it covers up in most broad terms. So thank you for that phrase and also for the inspiration.

We’re going to start not with Professor Patterson, but with two prepared comments. And then we’ll turn the floor over to him to respond and then to all of you for comments. First, Daniela Cammack is an assistant professor of political science here at UC Berkeley. Her work focuses on democracy and its history in ancient Greek. And her book manuscript, Demos: How the People Ruled Athens, argues that the meanings and practices of democracy are marked by relations of domination.

Professor Cammack will be followed by Ricarda Hammer, an incoming assistant professor, joining us this summer in the Department of Sociology. Her work is at the intersection of global historical and postcolonial sociology. She received her PhD from Brown University in 2021.

And her book manuscript is titled, Citizenship and Colonial Difference: The Racial Politics of Rights and Rule Across the Black Atlantic. The book aims to build a new genealogy of rights formation by examining it through colonial struggle from the perspective of the enslaved and colonized in the colonial Caribbean.

So I will begin by turning it over to Daniela for her prepared remarks.

[DANIELA CAMMACK] Thank you so much. Oh, wow, it’s very loud. Great, I think everyone must be able to hear me. Is that correct? Good. Thank you so much, Caitlin. It is a huge honor and pleasure to be here, to have been asked to take part in this roundtable discussion.

I think it’s about 20 years since I first read some of Professor Patterson’s books, when I started my graduate studies at Harvard. And going back to them in the last few days has been even more exciting, and actually enlightening and pleasurable than the first time around. They really– they’re so rich. And I’m so full of respect and admiration for the work that you’ve done. Thank you so much.

So there are so many things that I wanted to flag as points that I find so compelling in the writing that Professor Patterson has shared with us today. So, for example, freedom conceived as power– I find that very persuasive.

The lack of any kind of platonic form of freedom as a concept, that also the thought that it doesn’t exist universally in the hearts of men, but rather is something constructed. I was thinking about Elaine Scarry’s distinction between the made up and the made real, and thinking that freedom is something that has been made up, and has subsequently been made real in the forms of discourses and the institutions that it’s worked to congeal, kind of coalesced around it.

Yeah, and not found everywhere on the globe but is a distinctive value within the Western tradition. I take that very seriously. I fully agree. And I also was– I was so pleased to discover something that I hadn’t fully realized before, was that so many of your intellectual heroes, I’ve also– I really look up to and admire. So we were just talking about Moses Finley. I’m half British. In the British tradition– EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm, these are people that I also really revere. And the early Marx of course, is a huge touchstone.

I wanted to ask– there are so many things, actually, that come up in my teaching. And I was thinking, wow, I could really take advantage of my few moments here to ask your opinion on some of the things that I tell my students and what do you make of this? I selected two. I have two general issues that come up in my writing and in my teaching that really touch on a lot of the arguments that you make.

So one has to do with power and the kind of power that the ancient Greek demos had and that maybe ordinary people would need to have in other contexts in order to be free, or when free. And another interest of mine is also going to be what to make of passages when the demos is itself represented as being a slave, how to think about those. So those will be the two main issues I want to think about.

So in terms of the different– the power that the demos has, or had, when being free, being eleftheros, Professor Patterson, very sensibly, distinguishes between the positive understanding of freedom, the power to– positive power to do things with respect to oneself, others, society. Also associated with the idea of being empowered or autonomous, as distinct from her negative power, power to resist compulsion, and a third kind, which he glosses as public power and associates with participation and equality.

I was very interested and pleased, very delighted to see your use of Emil Benveniste, his work on the concepts of kratos, the term kratos. I also followed him in my work. And I think his– I think his historical account of the kratos as a form of power, that obviously is really important for us, is the kind of power that is found in the term demokratia– demos and kratos. People often talk about that as people power or people ruling, rule by the people. There are different ways of glossing it.

And I just– I wanted to probe a little bit your take on kratos as a form of domination. You mention this in the extract from the forthcoming book, The Short History of Freedom. And I take that very seriously. I’ve also written about kratos as a form of domination. I read it as really a kind of prevailing power.

It’s the power to prevail over others is how I understand it. And I wondered if in your mind, when you think of the demos having kratos, are you thinking of the demos having power over others– others being doulos, being slaves in the first instance, possibly allies in an empire?

And what do you make of the claim that I would want to put to you, which is that possibly the most important form of kratos that you see in demokratia is the domination of the demos over the elite, over the political elite? But that may actually have been for the ancient Greeks the most important group over whom they would need to dominate, the demos, ordinary people, would need to dominate in order to be free. I think we can see that in the history of democracy. And I would really value your impressions of that.

I also wondered about them the relationship between kratos as prevailing power, the power to dominate, and a couple of other Greek terms for power. Because we tend to use that one term, power, in many, many different senses, of course. But the Greeks, I think– the ancient Greeks were much more differentiated in their understandings of different kinds of power. So kratos, the power to prevail, seems very different from being kurios, being authoritative or being an authority.

And that is another kind of power that the demos has within demokratia. It has the power to control– kind of sovereign power. We can think of it as sovereign authority. That’s a slightly different form, but I think also a very important ingredient in their conception of eleftheria, of freedom.

And another kind, again, is [GREEK], which is more like empire, or sway, or really office holding. Usually, in ancient Greek democratic texts you don’t find the demos talked about as having– as [GREEK]. There’s a couple of examples very early in the late 5th century.

But by the time you get to the 4th century, to have [GREEK] is really understood as being the kind of power that an office holder has as an individual, very distinct from the idea of power that the collective has. And the demos is always the collective.

So I just– I wondered if these different conceptualizations of power map on in any way to the ideas you have of power within freedom or if they feel, actually, very different from some of the arguments you’ve been making? So that’s one set of issues and thoughts.

So the second set of issues and thoughts I had was these passages where the demos– we find the demos represented as itself being a doulos– itself being a slave. Actually, often it’s with the use of the verb. So it’s often the demos is [GREEK]. It’s hard to know how to translate that. I’ve struggled with it ever since I first started learning ancient Greek. I wanted to say slaving away is one possible translation. Or you could also just say serving.

So the idea of the demos serving the elite comes up over and over again in the text, actually– again, from the late 5th century onwards, but, for example, in the old oligarch’s text, there’s several mentions of the demos serving the elite or risking having to serve the elite, to [GREEK] again if they didn’t keep the upper hand over the elite.

We also find it in Aristotle’s politics. He says there, flat out, that if the demos does not have the power to elect officeholders and hold them to account, then it is nothing but a doulos, or would be nothing but a doulos, a slave and a [GREEK], a hostile internal enemy.

So these passages always put me to some trouble when I’m teaching, actually. Because the students very naturally want to know what is being said about the demos here. Is the idea that the demos, without its political power– say, before Solon’s reforms, often comes up here, because before Solon’s reforms, the demos are described as a doulos to the [GREEK], so serving the– serving the nobility, serving the nobles.

And they want to know are we being told here that all the members of the demos literally were slaves, they were doulos to the elite? Or are we maybe being told that en masse they were conceived as dominated by the elite to such an extent maybe they’re constantly risking being turned into individual slaves with individual masses among the elite? Or is there some other way of understanding this?

I’ve always wondered, are we meant to understand– do you think we’re meant to take those passages literally or maybe more metaphorically, that the demos is being glossed as a slave or framed as a slave, when it doesn’t have full political power? Is that a metaphorical usage of the notion of doulos? Or might it be that it suggests that there was always a very political– what we would call a very political component to the notion of slavery from the very, very earliest texts?

That maybe the paradigm of the individual slave, perhaps in a household, in an oikos, serving one particular master, maybe that’s not the entire foundational paradigm. But maybe there’s a sense in which there’s a collective enslavement, maybe of the class. I’m thinking of Marx, the class of slave to the many– sorry, to the elite. Is that the way we should be thinking about that?

And then the final question I have on that theme would be something like, would you think that there is maybe a collective equivalent to your notion of social death? So as I understand it, that is operationalized at the level of the individual, that the slave within a household experiences this [GREEK] dishonor, before they’re in a household, but also. But is there an equivalent at the collective level? Or would that be slightly to misconceive or misrepresent the relations that you see obtaining between these different groups, that dominated and the dominators?

Thank you so much. I’ve so much enjoyed reading everything, your work, and the new work. It was a privilege to read some of the new work that’s coming out. And I can’t wait to see the full–

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Thank you. Thank you very much.

[RICARDA HAMMER] OK, so thank you, Marion, Julia, and everybody else who was involved in putting together this really extraordinary conversation. I am overjoyed really to be in community with you all, finally. And it is such an honor to have this conversation with thee Orlando Patterson. It is so nice to meet you, if a little surreal. But thank you for sitting down with us and engaging us.

So I wrote my comments to keep myself on time. Now, it is fitting that the starting point for a discussion on Patterson’s writings on freedom is a biographical dialogue. His life experience in the Caribbean is the vantage point that shapes much of Patterson’s opus. For it the site that encompasses so many of the contradictions of the modern world.

Much like C.L.R. James, who positions the Haitian revolutionaries not as particular, but as world historical actors, Patterson shares with many intellectuals in the Caribbean tradition the ability to think from the Caribbean, but too, give us a perspective on the world.

In fact, in this interview with David Scott, Patterson explains that it was the celebration of Empire Day that brought inspiration for his monumental study on freedom. A young boy in colonial Jamaica, he was submerged in the unofficial anthem of the British Empire, “Rule, Britannia,” and its bizarre chorus, called, “Britons never, never, shall be slaves,” which struck him, as he explains diplomatically, strange.

Now this invocation to articulate freedom through its antonym will eventually lead Patterson to theorize the twin dimensions of slavery and freedom in Western culture. Indeed, from the position of the colonies, he is able to see clearly the components of the nature of freedom, one of which is the power to dominate others.

It is no accident, he says, that the American Revolution is fought by a set of slave owners. And indeed British settlers in the West Indies were particularly intent to claim their, quote, “Rights of Englishmen,” precisely because their insistence on their freedom to dominate others.

Now Patterson claims freedom as a sociological topic of study. Meaning that freedom is not an ideational product of the European intellectuals’ mind, but rather it is culturally and historically situated. And it comes out of a particular social constellation. And that is the institution of slavery. Freedom then is not a universal value, but it emerges, and gets institutionalized peculiarly, and in unlikely ways, in Western culture through its emergence out of slavery.

For historical sociologists, Patterson offers a methodology for how to situate concepts not as free-floating, abstract ideals, but as products of particular social institutions. For example, the second component of the triad of freedom emerges in the struggle of the enslaved, perhaps best epitomized in manumission, the release from slavery, which is the struggle for absence of domination.

I’m quoting Patterson– “Freedom began its career as a social value in the desperate yearning of the slave to negate what for him, or her, or for non-slaves was a peculiarly inhuman condition,” end quote. And he then traces the struggle from ancient Greece, Rome, and continuing through its Christian reformulation. Freedom follows from slavery, from death to rebirth, slavery to salvation. In short, I quote, “Out of evil, cometh hope.”

Now Patterson really stands alone in his mastery of these topics in sociology. And this work has opened up the space for us to engage these topics as sociologists. But I’d be really boring if I didn’t at least try to challenge you. So here it goes.

My questions have to do with the distinction between the ancient and the modern world, and whether in the modern world, after 1492, with the onset of the colonial project, freedom is mediated by who gets to be human in the first place. Take the temporalities of slavery and freedom, “Out of evil, cometh hope,” what happens when manumission is not the absence of domination, but the imposition of a new form of domination? In other words, what if abolition is not the antonym of slavery, but the beginning of something else?

Abolition in British Jamaica, for example, invoking the historian Thomas Holt, posed for the British Colonial Office the quote, “Problem of freedom.” For the Colonial Office, abolition required an investigation into the nature of the enslaved, specifically whether people would work without slavery. Indeed, this colonial report concluded that– I’m quoting– “Slaves, if emancipated, would maintain themselves, would be industrious, and disposed to acquire property by labor,” end quote.

So applying a Pattersonian methodology, one that sees freedom as culturally inflected with meanings and socially situated, it becomes clear that freedom after abolition is the freedom to work. Of course, freedom in liberal England is a scam, we’ve known since Marx’s “Satanic Mills.” But my point is that with abolition re-emerge an older question, which is this debate over the anthropological nature of the newly freed.

And this debate was not only centered on work, but also sought to answer more foundational questions over their disposition, their souls, the minds of the newly freed. Missionaries, as Catherine Hall, made clear in Civilising Subjects insisted that the formerly enslaved were reformable, only to then lose this battle with the rise of polygenists’ racist science of the 1850s. By then, the British Colonial Office concluded that the formerly enslaved were, indeed, fundamentally different.

So to understand slavery and freedom in the modern world and in the colonial context, don’t we need a mediating concept, which is that of personhood? What kind of person could be free or who could be a person at all. As you know, John Stuart Mill is outraged at the British colonial state’s violent response after the Morant Bay uprising, and yet, Mill finds absolutely no problem with the imposition of Crown rule in 1865. Because, quoting his One Liberty, “Despotism is a legitimate form of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end is their improvement,” end quote.

Now I think Jamaican intellectuals are leading the conversation of new genealogies of freedom. Alongside Patterson, Sylvia Wynter and Anthony Boggs have also undertaken this work. And for them, colonialism throws a wrench in the story.

Take Wynter, in 1492 she argues, “Ushered in the articulation of those who self-articulated as human, versus those colonial intellectuals designated as outside of the human community, a community under God, versus those without souls, and hence, heathens, a political community of rationality, versus those incapable of it, or we might say, in this case, a community of laboring, responsible subjects, versus those who are not reformable.”

With debates in modern Europe emerged the conception of personhood, designating the colonized as outside it. And thus, foreclosing any discussion of the simultaneous, coetaneous existence of slavery in the plantation colonies. How else do we explain the apparent cognitive dissonance in someone like Benjamin Constant, who was very much thinking about liberty and relationship to ancient slavery.

But in 1819, wrote, as Barnor Hesse pointed out, seemingly without any irony at all, that, quote, “Thanks to commerce, to religion, to the moral and intellectual progress of the human race, there are no longer slaves among European nations,” end quote.

Now finally, Patterson is an intellectual in the world, engaged in politics. So I must mention the third part of Patterson’s triad of freedom, which is freedom as participation and equality. If, as Du Bois remarked, “The slave stood for a moment in the sun in periods, such as Reconstruction, but at the same time Reconstruction saw the realigning of capital and the reshifting of racist ideologies to tighten the borders of the political community,” leading Du Bois to conclude that “This very failure of Reconstruction led to the failure of democracy in America.”

With the limits of abolition and Reconstruction, my question to you then would be if it is not only slavery that needs to be explained, but also the limited ways in which freedom was instituted.

All right, so thank you so much for republishing this book and for rekindling these debates. I look forward to our conversation. Thanks.

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] OK, well, thank you very much for those extremely stimulating comments. Well, in many ways, very provocative and raises issues which I’ve often thought about myself. I keep going back to my work and rethink what I originally thought, often based on not just criticism, but things I’ve read later on and from discussions of this nature. And you’ve certainly raised a lot of very interesting issues of the sort, which leads me to rethink.

For me, ideas are always open, and nothing is ever closed, including the possibility of completely rethinking what was thought before. I always hold that possibility out. So I think the issue you raise about power is very, very important.

I often find real resistance to the idea that power is central to the notion of freedom, for the same reason that liberalism tends to see it as the opposite of freedom, rather than being, in a sense, the defining principle. But that’s just a sort of form of way of hiding.

I tend to see liberalism as a kind of elaborate camouflage of the principle of power, because what is being said is that what’s important, what’s central, of course, is the escape from domination. And that’s why in David Brion Davis’s work– in a sense, I see the essence of his work, is that the centrality of the abolition movement to liberalism was, indeed– it made that point. Quintessentially, freedom is getting rid of slavery and doing that.

But what is it camouflaging? It is camouflaging the idea that there is a form of power which remains central to the idea of freedom right through to today. This has being camouflaged all along. And that is, of course, property.

Marx, in a famous passage, once made the argument that modernity involved the transition from the control of power of property through the control of people directly– that’s what serfdom was about– to a condition in which we control people through a control of property. And that’s what is being camouflaged.

And that terrible truth, one of Marx’s most powerful readings, is what’s being camouflaged with the obsessive emphasis only on the idea of freedom as negation of personal– of the power over another. Because it remains almost– it’s too embarrassing and revealing to see this other dimension.

But, of course, as I pointed out, American history, itself, makes clear the centrality of power, not only in the importance of property, which is being camouflaged, but directly, in the fact that half the nation went to war to defend the principle of freedom as power over [INAUDIBLE]. That’s what the Civil War was about.

So the idea– and the Southerners were quite explicit about this– they were fighting for their freedom. And it befuddled many people, but it shouldn’t, if they knew their history. In fact, the South has the history of Europe on its side.

So I found your comments extremely useful. The idea– the notion that the demos as a slave, I just wondered whether– that expression, and that image, and that thought, an that metaphor is a powerful one which persists right through. So in a sense, the Stoics took it up, the notion of the ultimate freedom was, in fact, surrender and complete– well, enslavement to God– to the power of the universe.

In Roman thought, of course, it is significant that– and this comes out in the famous biography of Augustus, that ultimately a surrender to the emperor– enslavement to the Emperor was the ultimate freedom. And the Romans– the freedmen of Rome– the elite freedmen, the ones who subscribed to the Lares cult, which was the cult of the emperors, saw their freedom as guaranteed and vested in being the slaves of the emperor.

And that idea, of course, was picked up in Christianity and became central to– this is why I think Paul has a solution to much of many of the problems of [INAUDIBLE] and their freedom. People, you should all read Paul. He was a very strange man, but maybe the most brilliant thinker. Certainly, the most influential thinker in the history of the West, whether you’re a Christian or not.

So the two great letters were– the letter to the Galatians was freedom in the simple negation. This is what Christ’s death simply bought you out of enslavement to the sin. The metaphor is– the interjection was direct. Jesus paid for you to be manumitted. Evidently, the people don’t seem to know that the word redemption comes from redemptive, which literally means to buy someone out of slavery. So Jesus bought you out of slavery in the negative sense.

But in Romans– and theologians spend so much time wondering about how you can reconcile Paul’s letter to the Romans with Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I never saw a problem. Because what he then did was to shift the notion of freedom as slavery to God. And of course, says it quite clearly. And he got that straight out of Stoicism, by the way, who got it straight out of the Greeks.

So that extraordinary idea, which became central in Christianity– one of the most difficult and profound passages in the entire New Testament was when Paul describes the experience of– and people have always thought, what is he saying? How could he have moved from Galatians? Which was– literally, goes on about the freedom of women, of Gentiles, and so on. This is what Jesus’ death presented too, an idea, which is very much a more Augustan idea of freedom as surrender to God. But it all goes back to the Greeks.

So that sense of freedom coming from surrender to a powerful force, which is– which can be conceived as the state, if you like, and is how I would see the origin of that idea. And, of course it tracks right through Western history, through Christianity.

And by the way, the reason why then Christianity is so important is that it’s Christianity that carries Western– ancient thought and ideas of freedom. People often see a break in the history of freedom with the collapse of Rome, but it’s nothing of the sort. The point is that these ideas were powerfully encapsulated, although interjected in Christian doctrine of freedom.

And it’s often– especially philosophers tend to see Christianity– oh, that’s religion, so that’s not– this is ridiculous. It was the most important thought there is in Christendom. And as [INAUDIBLE] and others have pointed out, in many ways modern thought was simply the extrusion, if you like, or the opposite of interjection– the extrajection– the turning out of the spiritual back into the secular, in the same way that the secular thought of the Greeks and the Stoics was interjected into Christianity, which then held it for 1,000 years.

And reflected, by the way– and no one reads the simple fact that– perhaps the most prominent student of modern source of freedom is Locke. Locke’s work– and I think the biographers of Locke have now come around this idea– it’s almost accepted– was applied theology. It’s hard to believe.

Now, I don’t know how many of you read Locke’s religious writings, but his commentary of the Gospels, which nobody reads, which– was very revealing. But it’s just part of the process of the extroversion, if you like, or whatever the proper word is– the interjection– of this powerful Christian, if you like, encapsulation of ancient Greek thought through [INAUDIBLE] back into the world.

And the same ideas– the same three ideas came. So the idea of the Galatian idea, the letters, of freedom as escape from sin, the power of slavery as a sin, the idea of freedom as well. But also, the idea of the Corpus Christi as the embodiment of the civic notion of freedom, freedom in identity with the Christian community.

All those ideas, in fact, can be easily secularized. And, in fact, there’s another book I’m writing on the earliest thought of– the early modern thought, which draws heavily on these metaphors. But that, in the broadest terms, is how I [INAUDIBLE].

But I like very much some of the issues you raise. By the way, I love it– I didn’t know this quote from Ellen. I see Ellen every month. And we belong to the same society. That “Made up and made real”–

[DANIELA CAMMACK] It’s a great article.

I love it. The next time I see her, I’ll say, well, how come you hid this from me all this time. Wow, that’s fantastic. But let’s get back to the point you raised earlier of the demos. Because do you know, the very earliest– going through language– the very earliest in the European word were– of freedom, which I can’t pronounce. Maybe you can. You’re a student of language.

But anyway, it means, literally, among the beloved– we who are. And Benveniste explore this at great length. It refers to we, as opposed to them– which is often a slave– who are not. It’s an us versus them idea. So the original idea– and it does include the slaves, but it’s them versus us. And the– and I wonder if Toni Morrison knew this. That the most ancient Indo-European meaning of the word freedom is beloved– we, the beloved.

So, yes, it’s who are they, and how they are to achieve this relationship with the elite, of course, is the essence of the struggle of Greece from the 7th century, when they were virtually reduced to– they were essentially in debt bondage, a massive debt bondage in that early period, until the Solonic reforms, under the threat of revolt.

But in a way, I see dynamically as a struggle, a constant struggle between– to define precisely what demos means, and the ways in which they elite define as opposed to the way in which the mass– it’s a very fluid thing. And the different, subtle ways in which you define it, seems to me, reflects where the struggle is at at any given time.

And I find your exploration of this really intriguing. I’d love to read what you have to read about it, because as I said, I’m always open to rethinking. And so the idea of a demos as a slave, though, is simply then more the idea of– it’s the slave of God, this idea of ultimate freedom, as it was found in this– well, the question is, what is the demos enslaved to? I was just wondering


The elite– was it always the elite?

[DANIELA CAMMACK] Outside demokratia?


Yes. The argument is always– or the representation is always the demos is enslaved to the elite.


Or risks falling back into enslavement by the elite if they don’t maintain their Democratic institutions.

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] I see. That, in a way, is almost an early precursor of the Augustan idea, isn’t it? Because he saw enslavement, to his genius, to his power as the sort of security of the Roman freedom. Of course, he may say there was no real freedom there. But it was that idea.

But I do find this very intriguing. [LAUGHS] I must explore it some more. But as you can see, the important thing to note is that this singular liberal notion of freedom is so sort of naive, when looked at historically.

But, OK, we can get back to–

[CAITLIN ROSENTHAL] I’m going to– can I just– so that we–

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] OK, sorry. I like very much the points you raised about– from the Caribbean point of view, as to what happens after slavery was, quote-unquote, “abolished.” And the notion of personhood– what kind of person could a free person be?

That was the struggle. That was the whole point of the post-colonial period, in a way. One solution is, of course, just to move away entirely from any engagement with the former colonial masters, who are now– and that was the peasantry. And the refusal to be engaged with the plantation, because the plantation meant, indeed, all the problems that you raised.

And so the Jamaicans did escape, in a way, into the present. And did recreate a kind of Afro-Jamaican culture, which was the source of much of the vitality of Jamaican culture. It’s the source– Bob Marley is a peasant before he became– grew up in the most rural part of the peasantry before he went to Trenchtown and so on. Almost everything that’s vital in Jamaican culture emerges from the group which completely removed itself from the plantation.

The plantation, on the other hand, as Edith Clarke and many anthropologists of Jamaica– remained a kind of neo slavery system. And has been traumatic for the experience. And remains so, indeed, right through to the modern times. It’s a source of turmoil, of endless violence, and so on.

And so, yes, you’re absolutely right– the question of– and the peasantry, of course, was the source of the rejection of the missionaries’ attempts to define freedom as becoming Christianized. And accepting marriages– those mass marriages which they arranged for the peasants, who refused to accept it, and threw away their rings, and developed their own form of culture.

So freedom then becomes the capacity to create one’s own culture, independently of– and it goes back to my discussion yesterday of ethnicide and genocide. They recognized slave as a form of genocide. They recognized that. And one form of expression of freedom was the fact that they suddenly started to reproduce right after slavery. But a second form was the fact that they started to recreate their own culture and a vital culture.

And those who are not in it remained, in a sense, entrapped in a kind of semi-slavery. That was the plantation. And so that’s so you’re absolutely right, the kind of person which was created afterwards, was it the ex-slaves who are going to create it or was it going to be the missionaries and the continued plantation owners? And I think there’s part success in the peasantry, in the culture.

But, of course, the other part of Jamaica was the one dominated by the continued ex-planters, and the elite, and the Brown-skinned elite, and so on. And the struggle continues in Jamaica. And you can hear it in the dance halls in the nights. It’s the ragamuffin versus the bourgeoisie. And they call them self– they celebrate their ragamuffin status as the expression of their freedom. So it’s recognized as the expression of their personhood, which drives the middle class crazy.

So the struggle still continues in Jamaica, in a way. Yeah, so you’re absolutely right. But we can talk some more about that. I think I should stop at this point, but thank you.

[CAITLIN ROSENTHAL] That’s a wonderful note to turn it open to the audience for questions.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hi, I’m Dmitri. I’m a second-year history PhD student here. Thank you so much for being here and for sharing this text with us. Reading David Scott’s introduction and part of your interview, I got the sense that the freedom being discussed was primarily understood as an individual freedom, with distinctly Western origins.

And I guess, I’m curious about– I’m curious about whether– about what you– whether you see a distinction between the kind of freedom that you’re describing in your interview with David Scott and forms of collective freedom understood as freedom of a people or a community from various forms of domination? Or freedom of a people or a community to form a state or a political organization?

And I’m wondering if you think of that kind of collective freedom as different in some way? And if so, whether you also trace it to this Western lineage of individual freedom? Or can we trace other genealogies of freedom that don’t necessarily inhere in the individual?

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Yes. It’s a good point. I’m glad you raised it. I do not mean free states in the sense of independent states. Because in that sense, any independent state, even totally barbaric, tyrannical ones, can be said to be free. So no, I do not mean to use the term in that sense at all.

Because I don’t see Russia as a free state or any of the number of– or China as a free state. It’s free in the sense that it’s an independent state, but it’s– or North Korea. North Korea is free in that sense, collectively, as they constantly celebrate. But it’s freedom– I do not mean freedom in that sense.

Although, of course, the struggle for freedom does become tied into this. I prefer to use it on the social aspect of freedom. Because when I speak of freedom in the third sense, as sort of engagement with freedom in the demos, as being an equal part of the demos, there’s a collective social element in that. And it’s a very important one, by the way. And it’s one– well, it’s a source of democracy.

It’s one we’re likely to neglect. But you know something, it explains– its power is explained in what’s happening right now in America and in the populist revolt all over the world. And let me backtrack a little about how I see these three elements.

I see them– I use the metaphor of a chord, a chordal triad. And just see them interacting with each other. And that three require each other. And true freedom– true freedom, real freedom comes only where the three are working together. But the long history of freedom has been a long struggle in which different groups have tried to extract one from the other.

Elites have always emphasized freedom as power. Throughout the Middle Ages– one of my favorite example of this is the English lords in the 9th century referred to the freedom of gallows, by which they mean the freedom to execute anyone within their domain, which is an extreme form of the idea of freedom as power. And, obviously, that suits them.

They were very resistant to the idea of freedom as liberation, independence– freedom from. And, of course, the idea of freedom as a equal– basically, equality in the laws, in the social– whatever the governing social order is, and pride in that.

Now when these become separated, they can become dangerous. And in many ways, what’s happening in America– let’s look at the crazy situation, the fraught situation we’re in in America today. In many ways, the populist rhetoric is very much an appeal to that most, if you like, primeval– Benvenistian idea of the freedom as the we, the collective we, who possess this space, this political and social space, which is America– we, the people.

OK, and the fear that we, the people, are being invaded by others, who are not among the beloved– the beloved being we, white, Christian. So that’s the definition of what freedom is. It’s a real part of the history of freedom. And it’s the fear that those who are not among the beloved– the Mexicans, the Blacks, the immigrants– are going to come into us, among the beloved and– the spoilers.

That’s not new. That’s a profound and deeply rooted. And then it goes back to the demos and the attitude, if you like, of the hostility towards the freedmen in Athens. It’s remarkable that even though so much of what is great in Greece– the buildings, much of the art, the policemen, who kept order. They were all slaves and ex-slaves, for Christ sake’s, but they were never really accepted.

Even Aristotle was not accepted. That precious entity– both your parents had to be Greeks and so on. And that idea of a special community of the beloved, as well as the core of the, if you like, the social notion of freedom as we– among the beloved, we, who constitute an equal group and so on.

And it becomes dangerous when it’s separated from the other notions of freedom, it seems to me. And it’s there. I see it. And what do they emphasize? Freedom– they’re not– to say that– to say that they don’t know what they’re talking about, they know what they’re talking about. It is one element of freedom, that idea of us belonging to a community, which we share, as we are equal members, the beloved. And it doesn’t belong to them, who are not among us. That has deep, deep roots in the history of freedom.

And that’s what they mean by freedom. They’re not interested in the other two elements. They’re not interested in the liberal notion of freedom and freedom as power, which they also recognize. This is why they’re hostile to the elites and so on.

So I see this, and I scratch my head that people think that– what’s happening, of course, is a fragmentation in America of this triad. If you want to use the musical metaphor. It’s fragmented deeply in America now and in other parts of the West.

In a way, the welfare state– I don’t want to celebrate it, but one definition of the welfare state, when it works, is indeed the integration of these three notes of the chord. And it still works, in part. I don’t want to name any society as my– but when it works, it works very well. And it came very close to working very well in parts of Western Europe.

But it’s been– I see it as fragmented now. And in America, it’s very fragmented. And this is what Trumpism is all about, the appeal to the beloved. OK, so–

Hopefully we’ll get–

Sorry, moved too far.

[CAITLIN ROSENTHAL] Let’s take one more question and maybe another one.

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] I’m going to be very brief from now on. So, please.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Hello, pardon me. Hello, my name is William. I’m a third-year PhD student in geography. As you were talking about freedom, what was coming to my mind is marronage, and particularly the gendered forms of marronage.

So I study West Africa, but also parts of the Caribbean. And what I found very interesting is when you look at gendered marronage, and you look at some of the slave narratives or dialogues, a lot of the female slaves were conceptualizing freedom, or marronage, in terms of being reconnected to family or escaping sexual violence.

Whereas, a lot of the male slaves were conceptualizing freedom of marriage in terms of the absence of chains. So it was more abstract. So you see there’s a gendered note behind marronage. And so I was interested in your thoughts on that, and gendered freedom, and gendered marronage. Particularly, you mentioned yesterday gendercide or femicide.

And the second question to this is, as you were talking, I was thinking about Trouillot’s Silencing the Past, and his comment on the Basals and the Congolese in the Haitian Revolution, and how they conceptualized freedom for them was living on the sides of mountains and having food sovereignty.

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] And having what?

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Food sovereignty– farming themselves. And so I’m thinking about this gender conception of freedom, and then this almost ecological food sovereignty, as it were, and how you conceptualize or move between them in your work.

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Yeah. Well, one of my early works is on marronage, the earliest history of the slave revolts in Jamaica and leading to the– often called the first Maroon wars. And Jamaica, as you know, has made a national hero of Nanny. It was one of the leaders of the Maroons. The problem is we don’t know very much about Nanny, except that she was a great leader.

And as I said earlier, I entirely agree– the peasants– with Jamaican peasants withdrawing to the hills. And developing their own peasant communities was core idea. For them, freedom meant that independence, even if it meant only a half acre of land. But they could produce– and it’s amazing to see what you can produce and how you can feed a family of six on a half acre of land. But that was freedom in every sense of the term to them– economic freedom, and political freedoms, and individual freedom.

I would need to know more. There is no doubt from the history of slavery that one of the central features of slavery everywhere was rape, the rape of women. And Frederick Douglass, in a famous passage, pointed out the worst fate which could befall a slave woman is to be even mildly attractive, because she’d almost certainly–

But rape as an essential part of slavery is now– is, I think, fairly accepted. And so for women, one can see that as critical in defining what their freedom is. And my novel, Die the Long Day, in fact draws– that was central to this theme of the novel. Because her rebellion is based on the fact that she didn’t want her daughter to be raped by the overseer.

But look, it gets more complicated in a way in which– to get back to what I mentioned yesterday– many people don’t like to talk about. Because there were tensions between those views of what freedom is. Because, unfortunately, the slaveholders’ view of freedom as domination carried over into the slave community.

Now, we don’t want to, in writing, a usable past– I don’t like that term, actually. I think it’s very Bourgeois. But you know what it means, right? OK, in writing, a usable past is great if you’re telling the truth about what exactly happened. One of the tragedies is that freedom as domination of others over whom you exercise control is carried over into the slave quarters.

The slave drivers were pretty vicious within the slave system. And men, in their attempts over women– they didn’t quite succeed– also carried over this idea of freedom as domination. I’m free to the degree that I can exercise power over anyone, whether it’s my children, whom I can beat the way I was beaten, or the women whom I can exercise my freedom over by being powerful.

And women, of course, obviously powerfully resisted this and continue to resist it. And would rather be not married, and in fact– than be married or have a relationship in that situation. And this, by the way– single parenting, started from very early, constitutes an expression of female freedom in important respects. Because they know that marriage, a continued relationship with a man, often means a carryover of the idea of freedom as power over, when for her, freedom means– freedom was in this negative sense. And in a sense of power in the sense of directing my life– empowerment.

That’s the other sort of– by the way, there’s a brutal and a benign aspect of the idea of freedom as power. The brutal aspect is just the slave masters’ view– freedom means power over. And it’s also the capitalist view– power over. My ability to buy with a stroke of a pen, dis-employ thousands of people, destroy a whole town, that’s power. And that’s freedom.

[INAUDIBLE] to have that freedom recognized, as opposed to the freedom which is empowerment. And Amartya Sen develops this idea very much. He thought he was being very original, in fact. Well, in a way, I guess he was. But in capability– he goes at great length of the notion of capability. And I keep scratching my head, and saying, OK, that’s very, very original.

But it’s the idea of freedom as power in the sense of capability, self-direction, empowerment, which women all have emphasized in describing it. Which is different from the power of power over. Power over versus power over others, as opposed to power over oneself, and so on, is the critical distinction between male and female views of freedom.

And it runs right through history. And we certainly find it in Jamaica if you talk to women, who have now given up completely on– most working-class women have given up completely on marriage for exactly this reason. And I want the power to direct myself, and I won’t get it in a relationship with a man.

So I don’t want to stray too much in this area because it gets very contentious. And people– it doesn’t gel with the idea of the usable past, which is the Bourgeois idea– if I want to have a past, which I can boast about, and which is part of the great empires, and what have you, and so on– whatever you want to call it. But the real past involves a real struggle. And it has to do with these different dimensions of freedom and what freedom really means.

But you’re right, there is a gendered view of freedom. And several people have written brilliantly on this. And I love the work of Judith Butler on this. Her work on Antigone, which, by the way, uses social death in a way in which, I must say, was more original than anything I could have thought of. I love her stuff. As she keeps saying– carry on, carry on.

This is my favorite example of Sartre’s, in his great book, What is Literature? It’s a great little book. Every person– student of literature should read What is Literature? But the central idea there is that when a writer writes something and puts it out into the world, it’s only half finished. It’s finished by the reader, who then can create with it what they want.

So Judith Butler does great things with social death, which I love. The Afro-pessimists do interesting things when they had their social [INAUDIBLE]. I’m not going to complain. Because I just retreat to the Sartrean view. Well, you’re completing it in that way. It may not be my way, but I have no claims anymore.

[CAITLIN ROSENTHAL] We’re almost to the final moment. So how many questions remain out there? If there’s only one, then we’ll take one last question. Or we could take two. Let’s take two together, and then you’ll get one final word. And then the rest will be finished by the reader.

Right. [LAUGHS]

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] The question I was hearing raised by Will and Dmitri in various ways was what to do with freedom in the non-modern West. And I wanted to return that to the– I thought it was a brilliant exchange between you and Professor Cammack. And especially your elaboration of the ancient, but I thought the way you took it to the reception through late antiquity was especially great.

So we know that by the time we come to the Eastern Mediterranean, later on, Islam, itself, is surrender, and it has a conception of freedom very radically. And equally, in Eastern Christianity, it’s a doulos [NON-ENGLISH], as you say, taking from Paul, but really taking that. There’s even these amazing descriptions depictions of Christ [NON-ENGLISH], the all powerful, the frescoes of God that are common in Eastern Christianity.

So the question is what to do with that? To describe it as freedom or as forms of unfreedom? And here I’m thinking, I feel like if we take your thesis seriously, and as I understood it in from the interview, and also in this exchange, these are all variations on a theme of freedom. Because in part, it is taken from ancient conceptions and elaborated in different ways throughout this history.

I would contrast that with– just because last week, we had the privilege of having Mahmood Mamdani visit. And he offered the opposite, view is– but in a way, it’s the same. That’s why I’m not sure where you stand on it.

He said that freedom and slavery are modern. They emerge together. They emerge with capitalism through modernity, in what we understand through secularization, et cetera, et cetera. And actually, in most of the world for most of the time, ie, the non-modern West, by and large, people were neither free, nor enslaved, but in various ways existing in states of unfreedom.

So for me, these are two contrasting ways of taking seriously the kinds of things we raise in discussions with Professor Cammack and with the other people. I don’t know whether to understand marronage, or Islam, or things like that as variations on freedom or as– or as varying kinds of unfreedom.

If we want to take seriously the idea that it’s in the West that freedom and slavery come together, which it seems at stake there is also your comment, Professor Rosenthal, the idea of capitalism with its clothes off, that its coexistent with modernity, and liberalism, and capitalism. It seems like that might be something we want to save.

But on the other hand, if we go that route, it seems to maintain the primacy of the West as that to which everything else has to be compared. And it seems to neglect the idea of thinking from those other perspectives. So I don’t know. I would like to hear what you have to say.

[FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER] I wanted to ask, in the interview that we read, there a lot of emphasis on thinking about the persistence of freedom and why the term has stuck over such a long period of time, and also thinking about it in a dialectical relationship with slavery or with the construction of the other.

So my question was in the contemporary moment, is it possible for us to shake freedom free of its dialectical connection to slavery, or the other, or the dominated through a contemporary struggle to re-articulate and re imagine the term? And if it’s not, as people who are thinking– political actors in the world today, should we turn to something else, another term, like liberation?

[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Yeah, those are two great questions. And I could spend a week on each one. I know I got to be brief. But they’re really– let me start with the second one– the second question. My answer, simply, is no, we can’t. It is what it is, as Naipaul would say.

Meaning– so I do not see ideas in any platonic sense out there, which can be discovered, or either in the hearts of men and women, or out there in the platonic ether to be found. And if we don’t like that, we go find– we go searching in the ether to find something else. That’s not how ideas– ideas emerge socially, historically.

And I use– and I pointed out something I learned from Aristotle, funnily enough, about how he talks about how ideas, in a way, almost emerge from the real world, from– he didn’t use the term struggle, but I’d say from struggle. And people, in making sense of it, come up with some idea of what it is they are struggling over.

And what happens is that the wise then pick up on these ideas. And among the things they do is to imagine that they are the first to imagine it. But, in fact, it’s not. And then you have a dialect– the history of an idea then, of a thought, is the a history of that dialectic between this real people struggling over the meaning of this thing. The wise is telling them what it is, having derived it from them. And so you have two path continuing and constantly feeding on each other and reinforcing each other.

But the arrogance of the philosophical and intellectual mind is often that we were the ones who discovered it. And we can sit in our armchair, like Isaiah Berlin, and discuss what freedom is. And negative freedom is the only freedom. And no, that’s– well, that’s how philosophers do it. And they can continue to get paid to do it, so they can continue doing it when they want.

But the point is, that’s not how it works. How it works is in this dialectical way between real struggle and thinking. So the most you can do is continue the dialogue as a thinker, or also as an actor, of both. I see myself as both. And try to make sense of it and try to direct it. Otherwise, you go find some other concept which you may want to promote.

So that would be my idea– no, you can’t. We’re stuck with that freedom, with that history. And that is what it is. And we can do all kinds of tricks. We can do what liberalism tried to do, and say, it’s only the negative part and so on. We can say it’s only among the beloved, and so on and so forth. But whatever, you’re going to continue with that. Otherwise, you find– as other people have done.

And so this takes me to your first– no, I don’t– so here’s the funny– I keep getting myself into situations where I’m being confounded with reactionaries because people don’t understand the radicalism of what I’m saying. So it’s a difficult situation.

So one of the criticisms I get for being conservative is that– hey, Patterson, you are just saying that this great idea of freedom existed in the West and it didn’t exist in other– and that’s a chauvinistic way of viewing the world. Freedom existed everywhere and so on. In a way, Amartya, whom I love, and he’s is a great man, partly accused me of this. But he claims that freedom existed in India. And his example of some Muslim person who set free some of his slaves or something.

But look, to the contrary– to the contrary, I think I’m offering a very radical interpretation, not a chauvinist. Yes, it originated in the West. And no, other people have great ideas of their own. OK, whether is Nirvana or whether– whatever. Different cultures emphasize things which are central to their societies.

The irony is that people are saying– other people have freedom too. In a sense, they’ve been so bemused by the West, that they are insisting that an idea which is very Western must have existed elsewhere. No, it was diffused elsewhere.

And the Chinese are right. And by the way, this is very interesting. By the way, they’re resisting translation– someone has translated Freedom into Chinese, and the Chinese are trying to figure out whether they’re going to have it published or not– but anyways. But they have insisted, rightly– there’s a famous conference in Bangkok in 1993, after the big celebration– the idea, after the fall of the Soviet Union– you remember, freedom is triumph. Remember that?

And that’s when this fellow wrote about the last man and whatnot. And everyone thought– and so there was this celebratory conference, which the UN arranged– you’re too young to remember– in Bangkok, in which the whole world was going to come, with the mantle of the world on the [INAUDIBLE] freedom– we’re all free and lordy, lordy.

And the Chinese turned up and said, we’ve got other ideas. And a strange collection of people– the Chinese, the Singaporeans, and I think the Indonesians, and a few others, said, no, this is our idea. Anyway, we have notions of it, like the development, that getting rid of poverty as being critical to that. It was a fascinating conference. Everybody are shocked.

Because the West was so full of itself, that its idea had triumphed over the world, that it just assumed that everybody would sign on to the fact that the world is free, which is not true. And I think I’m on the side of the Chinese here. They’re absolutely right. It’s a Western idea. And to accuse me of being conservative in saying that, this is so– it’s just fascinating.

But it did evolve. And, however, the way in which it evolved is one– so while people may, on the one hand, say– conservatives may say, oh, yeah, we like that idea, that it originated in the ancient West, they don’t like the idea when I explain how it originated. This dialectic– the first– the reason why it emerged was not just the existence of slavery, but something else, which emerged first in the ancient West.

And it’s a distinction with Moses Finley– the great Moses Finley– often made, the distinction between slave society and slave holding societies. Slave holding societies exist everywhere. In China, everywhere, there are some slaves, and so on– in Africa, everywhere.

Slave society, that extraordinary thing, in which a society becomes powerfully dependent, economically, and socially, and politically on slavery is central to its existence, emerged historically– it was a historically unique event. And it emerged among the ancient Greeks for the first time. And the evidence is quite powerful.

Slavery existed long before in the ancient Near East. It existed in China. It existed in Korea. It existed in Japan. But they never became slave societies. The phenomenon of slave society emerged in ancient Greece. And I tried to trace the history there in freedom and making of Western culture.

And then, of course, in Rome it metastasized into the greatest slave society of all time, which the world has never seen– not even modern slavery. Because slavery permeated the entire system, except the army. The economy was run by slaves. You read Cicero, if you don’t believe me.

The bureaucracies were– the teachers– if you want a teacher, you go buy a Greek teacher. And the imperial bureaucracy– and even the advisors to the emperor during the Claudian section. So that system– therefore, the world had never seen anything like that before. And it will never see anything like that again. Even the modern slave societies were nothing like that, in which the system was totally permeated by slavery. That is uniquely Western.

And the important thing to note is that at all the great points in Western history, we find this perverse institution. Over and over, we find it. In ancient Greece, and then it pops up again, 500 years– then in Rome. But you know something, we think of the end of the Rome as the end of slavery. That’s not true.

Michael McCormick’s great work, of course, has abolished the whole notion of the Dark Age. It no longer exists. It’s now lit up. And I belong to an organization of Harvard called “The Science of the Human Past,” in which the use of modern science, both in archaeology, the study of the history of the weather, the history of diseases, have led us to reinterpret the fall of Rome and all the rest.

But anyway, McCormick’s great book shows that, in fact, the whole notion of the fall of Rome, and then things were sunk into quiescence. But it’s all wrong. That slavery was alive and well. In Merovingian, France, that it rose again in the 10th century.

The reason why in all of European languages, the only word– no matter what the European family of language– each has the root slav– in all the languages– is because– you should know this, because I often hear it said that one of the characteristic features of modern slavery is that it became identified with one racial group– Black people.

Hey, that’s not true. it’s happened before, at least once, with a group of people called Slavs. And that’s why whether it’s Swedish, or French, or Spanish, or Hungarian, it has the same root. And they’re a very different family of languages. Slavery, the idea emerged from– well, the Slavs were the first group.

But more importantly, when Europe rose again, and moved away from China, which is the leading– the most advanced country up to about– well, there in now, the Great Transition. But the idea then there is somewhere around 1730 or ’40 is when the West move away from China.

How did they do it? They turned to slavery. And as you know, the slavery and capitalism are twins, are essential. So this civilization is strange from this point of view. It’s the only civilization which at all its high points has emphasized slavery as central to its development.

And if you follow the history and know that, Sam Beckett and others, who are going on about slavery and capitalism, but they kind of get it wrong, in that it happened much earlier. And I wish they’d celebrate Eric Williams a little more. But it started in the West Indies.

So what I’m saying is that this is a unique history– a unique history, like nowhere else. And in a sense, that dialectical relationship between slavery and freedom is how I got to it. I blundered into it. I didn’t– it’s not a hypothesis I had. I don’t work that way.

I didn’t have a hypothesis– hey, freedom emerged from slavery. It was very grounded. It popped up there, and I couldn’t believe it, that this, indeed was the case. And it was reinforced throughout by the continued existence of slavery, or slave-like institutions, such as serfdom.

So that’s– I’ve gone on [INAUDIBLE] because I’ve been so– it’s so irritating to hear people misinterpret what I think is a very radical, critical interpretation of Western culture, as one in which I’m supposed to be sort of defending, a very traditional, conservative view of the West as being the glorifying origins of great ideas. It’s the origin of freedom, but freedom itself is an idea worth probing very deeply.

And you may not think it’s so great if you– I happen to think it is. But I think it’s important to recognize that, yes– and I’m never going to back down from this– that it is Western. It originates in the West. And to the degree that it’s found elsewhere, it’s been defused. And there the history strikes me as being very, very powerful in favor. And I find no evidence of the idea of freedom as value.

Now look, guys, the idea of freedom–

I think this is–

Just one final word. The idea of freedom is a simple one, especially the negative one. Just people must have talked about from some time or the other, but that’s not the point. The idea is that freedom as value, an essential value– that’s the point I’m making here– is unique to the West.

Every other culture– as a matter of fact, there’s one exercise you can do, especially those of you in language, which I got my students from Korea, China, and elsewhere– it’s a nice thing. Especially, you can do this at Berkeley. Get them to look at the etymology.

All languages now have the word for freedom, OK? But did not have it before Western contact. So one interesting exercise you can do is to go and search for the etymology of the word in a particular language. You’re in for a shock.

And my favorite example, of course, is the Japanese notion of freedom, which the original meaning is something like– it’s something distasteful. It means irresponsibility or something like that. In all the languages, if you go back to the etymology, it’s often seen as, eww– something– and then, of course, later on people say, oh, I see.

So I see the typical situation of a missionary having lived for 40 years in the heart of China not converted a single person to Christianity. And decide, OK, before I go back home, I’m going to write a dictionary. So you go to this Chinese peasant, and OK, so tell me what dog means or what are dogs? And what about freedom?

And he says, what do you mean? Well, freedom, it’s written in your heart, you must know what it means, or something to that effect. Well, the person will say, well, I’m not quite sure. We don’t have a word, but tell me what you are getting at. And so the missionary tells the person this wonderful word. Says, what? Oh, that sounds like irresponsibility. [LAUGHS] And one gets this everywhere.

And so the word freedom is everywhere now. But, in fact, the original response to it is really quite startling if you go back to the etymology. So, yes, it’s Western. I’m never going to back down from that. But how? And that’s a different story. Anyway, sorry.

[CAITLIN ROSENTHAL] With that bit of radical etymology, let’s thanks Professor Patterson.