Dec 04, 2021  
2021-2022 Catalog 
2021-2022 Catalog

AFR 321 - Special Topics: Black Lives and Black Protests in the Americas and the Caribbean


In all societies, present and historical, people have joined together to press for or against social change. In this course, we are most interested in the struggles of people who imagined and sometimes- even if only briefly- lived in ways other than those imposed violently by the “over-represented (Western bourgeois) ethnoclass human figure of Man.”  We focus on the rebellions of the survivors of the Middle Passage who challenged “the inequality of the races”  to re-define blackness and to “counteract the imperial desires for Africans’ living deaths.”  We pay special attention to these visionary thinkers and doers who made claims on how to organize human (and non-human) life on the planet, thereby re-shaping modernity or rather giving shape to alternative modernities  (and in this case, black modernities). Studying black social movements in various historical and national contexts then allows us to ultimately reflect on more general questions about the nature of political power, conflict, and legitimacy, as well as the relationship between human agency, social structure, historical change, and identity formation and politics in the modern world.

In this course, we begin with the perspective that culture is politics and politics is culture. We depart from the theoretical frameworks that view rebellions as irrational outbursts or as strategic and rational dissent to an approach that views organized and seemingly un-organized movements of people as struggles over meaning and value. This perspective challenges traditional Marxist critiques that so-called “new” social movements are products of postmodern concerns and angsts. As such, we recognize that identity politics are underpinned by demands not only for recognition but also for the redistribution of resources and material goods. Consequently, the control and use of land and water (and air) is fundamental to these claims since we build our homes, grow our food, define our subjectivities and ways of being on land, which is surrounded by the water that nourishes our seeds, replenishes our bodies, and with which we honor our ancestors.

During the semester, we will address the following questions: What constitutes a social movement? Why, where, and when do social movements emerge? What social or individual factors explain their development and decline? Who joins social movements? Who does not? Why? What ideas or ideals animate those who do participate? What is it like to be part of a social movement? How are social movements organized? What sorts of strategies do social movements construct and what are common goals that many movements share? What are the tactical repertoires utilized by social movements today? How do external forces such as the state, media, counter-movements, supranational institutions, and transnational corporations shape movements? What effect do they or have they had on identity, politics, power and efforts at social change? What effect do they or have they had on the organization of human life on this planet?

This course explores the theoretical explanations for movement processes and grounds them in specific ethnographic examples of Black Atlantic social movements but also in other materials such as speeches, position papers, blogs, etc. While it attempts to transnationalize and historicize our conceptualizations of Black Atlantic rebellions, this course is nevertheless limited to works produced by Anglophone and English-speaking authors. As such, throughout the semester, I invite you to share readings with the class (as will I) by different thinkers and doers speaking or writing in the different languages and registers of the African Diaspora.


Satisfies a requirement for the Africana Studies major
Satisfies the Social-Scientific Thought requirement
Satisfies the Justice, Equality, and Community requirement