Democracy in Crisis? with Wendy Brown and James Vernon

Fiamma Montezemolo, still from Traces

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Online via Zoom

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Electoral and constitutional democracy, always a promise only half-filled, is facing obvious challenges in the US today: a current president who attacks both, a citizenry largely disgusted by politics, a deeply politicized court, polarized legislative bodies, and corruption by corporate and other wealthy interests running through almost every institution. There are slightly less obvious but no less potent challenges: Are democracies founded in racial subjugation (slavery and colonialism) capable of extirpating the effects of these foundings? Can neoliberalized capitalism and financialization be reconciled with democratic governing and public interests? Can the climate crisis be met through democratic powers? How does a world of migrants and refugees co-exist with democracies bound by nation-states? Have the erosion of public education and commercialized social media platforms overwhelmed the integrity of democratic processes and deliberation? Professors Vernon and Brown, who are part of a teaching team for a fall 2020 undergraduate course on Crises of Democracy, will converse with one another about these topics.

Wendy Brown is Class of 1936 First Chair at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches political theory. Drawing from Nietzschean, Weberian, Marxist, Foucauldian, feminist and postcolonial angles of vision, she writes about the subterranean powers and effects of contemporary EuroAtlantic liberalism and capitalism, with particular attention to the subjectivities and social movements they spawn. The author/co-author of a dozen books in English, she is best known for her interrogation of identity politics and state power in States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (1995); her critical analysis of tolerance in Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (2006); her account of the inter-regnum between nation states and globalization in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010); and her study of neoliberalism’s assault on democratic principles, institutions and citizenship in Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (2015) and In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (2019). She credits her thinking life to the excellent and accessible public universities of her youth and has worked in recent years to prevent their extinction.

James Vernon is the Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is 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 (1993), Hunger. A Modern History (2007), Distant Strangers. How Britain Became Modern (2014), and the last volume of the Cambridge History of Britain, Britain, 1750 to the Present (2017). His work has been supported by the British Academy, the ESRC, the ACLS, the NEH and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is currently writing a book about the racialized and globalized formation of neoliberalism in Britain after empire told though Heathrow Airport.  He is trying to avoid twitter @James11Vernon.

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