The Democratic Promise of Academia?

“…and then I realized I was wrong.”

The speaker here is Assistant Professor of Political Science Michelle Smith, delivering a presentation on her past work to a roomful of Alain Locke scholars, American history professors, experts on the Harlem Renaissance, political theorists, and sundry undergraduates (myself among them) – and she’s just admitted she was wrong. I exchange looks of amazement with a fellow-student on my left: did she just say that? How do we even process that? Hearing an academic admit there were problems with her dissertation is shock enough; to see her come before an audience to work them out is a bigger one, and to see progress be made over the course of that discussion is the biggest shock of all. It’s enough to rekindle a faith in, and love for, the academic process in the heart of a jaundiced senior (that’s me again).


Mug with "Caution - Thesis Writing in Progress" written on it, person with head on desk, glasses


Smith studies the complex, contradictory writer, editor, educator, and philosopher Alain Locke, examining the work of the Harlem Renaissance luminary as political theory. This approach comes with a number of difficulties, not least of which is the absence of a major monumental text to draw from. Instead, Locke’s thinking on the African American political condition is dispersed over dozens of books, pamphlets, essays, and articles that chronicle a liberal individualist and committed abstractionist contending with the demands of the black democratic dream: a man who wants blackness to serve art, living and working among those who insist that art must serve blackness.

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KPFA Interview with Amber Hollibaugh & Kenyon Farrow

On June 21, Amber Hollibaugh and Kenyon FarrowScholar & Feminist Online Guest Editors from Queers for Economic Justice, discussed A New Queer Agenda, why sex matters, and asking a different set of questions about gay liberation on 94.1 KPFA “Behind the News” with Doug Henwood.

Audio of the interview is available starting at 26:43 on the June 21st podcast.

The disucssion began with a conversation about the necessity of a “New Queer Agenda,” a re-imagined set of priorities and questions for the LGBTQ community:

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New Sex Testing Policies Significantly Flawed

BCRW Advisory Board member Rebecca Jordan-Young has co-authored a new report on sex testing policies of the International Olympic Committee, “Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyperandrogenism in Elite Female Athletes.”

Legs running with green shoes on pavement

From the abstract:

In May 2011, more than a decade after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) abandoned sex testing, they devised new policies in response to the IAAF’s treatment of Caster Semenya, the South African runner whose sex was challenged because of her spectacular win and powerful physique that fueled an international frenzy questioning her sex and legitimacy to compete as female. […] We find the policies in each of these domains significantly flawed and therefore argue they should be withdrawn.

Jordan-Young and Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis have an article in this week’s New York Times discussing the International Olympic Committee’s problematic new approach – “You Say You’re a Woman? That Should Be Enough.” Read more at

Do you think sports should continue to be segregated by gender or sex? If so, what do you think the criteria should be for determining who qualifies?


Before I was a Patient, I was a Person: On Navigating the Health Care System as a Singleton

This post by Rachel A. R. Bundang, PhD, is part of a series of reflections on the 37th annual Scholar & Feminist conference, held March 3rd, 2012 at Barnard College. This year’s theme was “Vulnerability: the Human and the Humanities.”

Doctor and patient in City Hospital Tuberculosis Division, 1927

Struggling with life-threatening illness and undergoing treatment for it is, undoubtedly, a prime situation of precarity: insecurity as a structural condition of vulnerability. Even under the best circumstances, not only is it necessary to face one’s contingency squarely; there is also the emotional toll that illness takes on relationships, plus the unceasing negotiation that economic entities such as insurers, employers, and landlords demand. After all, life marches on relentlessly, and there are always bills to pay.

The patient’s power is compromised by the illness, then further circumscribed by the other claims being made on her time, attention, and energy. For “singleton” (in the Bridget Jones sense of the word) patients especially, marked by the absence of a typical familial or affective relationship as sociocultural anchor — no significant other, no children, too old for parents to deem dependent — this erosion of autonomy is disempowering. They fall through the cracks of the health care system in its present form, and they are compelled to draw upon informal, ultimately voluntary networks for support. Their sociopolitical vulnerability and economic/existential precarity expose what Martha Fineman calls “the shortcomings of the contract as the standard model for relationship.”

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