Elizabeth Bernstein and Janet Jakobsen: Student Research in “Theorizing Activisms”

Professors Janet Jakobsen and Elizabeth Bernstein are revamping the “Theorizing Activism” course in WGSS so as to incorporate student research as part of the broader “Gender Justice and Neoliberal Transformations” research project. Gender Justice and Neoliberal Transformations is a transnational working group comprised of members of the WGSS department as well as interdisciplinary scholars from diverse institutional locations and regions. It was organized to bring a critical feminist lens to the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, including the reallocation of various forms of capital, state agendas of incarceration and social reform, the politics of immigration, labor, and housing, and emergent forms of sexual regulation. We hope to situate this crisis in terms of longer-term neoliberal transformations, of which the after-effects of 2008 are only the latest manifestation.

Through the “Theorizing Activisms” course, WGSS students will participate in research conducted with community-based organizations in New York City that are working to address the effects of these neoliberal transformations.  By partnering with organizations like SAKHI for South Asian Women, Queers for Economic Justice and the New York Women’s Foundation, the students in “Theorizing Activisms” will learn how to conduct research that is of use to the initiatives of local activists. In addition to sharing their results with their partner organizations, they will present their research to the New York City working group, made up of scholars who focus on different issues, including homelessness, migration, drug policy and incarceration in the New York City area. Through their research, the students will explore the local impact of economic austerity, while situating these effects in the comparative and synthetic framework of the larger research project.

Although the sites and issues that the overall research project addresses are often approached as separate fields of scholarship and action, we hope to build on analyses of late capitalism or neoliberalism by tracing some of the specific connections among fields, even as we maintain a focus on broader social forces and contexts that are formative for any given issue or intersection.  The goal of this project is thus to build a robust picture of context that includes key points of global comparison, chosen for both the analytic interests of particular scholars and for sites that highlight key aspects of the phenomena called “neoliberalism” or “globalization.” We are equally interested in empirical and theoretical assessments of developing activist responses to new austerity regimes, such as those that have informed the global Occupy and Precariat movements, as well those that have informed local efforts to pursue new forms of social change, whether in New York City, Detroit, Seoul, or Buenos Aires. Through collaborative research and theorizing, the members of this working group aim to analyze the multiple dimensions of global economic and cultural restructuring as they interactively circulate.