Language, Solidarity, and Challenging Foundational Systems: Research Topics

In brainstorming list of research topics related to activism, it was pretty difficult to narrow it down to just five. But after thinking it through, I chose the following:

  1. The no-borders movement – This movement aims at abolishing borders between countries, states, etc. in order to allow freedom of movement and human liberation. As scholar Nandita Sharma puts it , “the simultaneous process of granting more freedom to capital and less to migrants is far from a contradiction and is in fact a crucial underpinning of global capitalism and the equally global system of national states.” Led by organizations such as No Borders UK, I think it would be intriguing to see how no borders activists seek to legitimize their argument against such a crucial and seemingly intransigent component of nation-states in the eyes of politicians and the common populace.
  2. Anti-capitalist movements – This is actually in some ways related to the above, as many no-borders activists identify as anti-capitalist. Anti-capitalists, although often stigmatized in media and society in general, have found strong backers throughout history. Albert Einstein, for example, was anti-capitalist, arguing instead for democratic socialism. Martin Luther King Jr. too was a democratic socialist, and in fact planned to lead a Poor People’s Movement before he was assassinated in 1968. Anti-capitalists argue that capitalist is an inherently exploitative and unsustainable, and a just society can only be achieved through conversion to another economic system.
  3. The role of racial and class solidarity in social movements throughout history – From Bacon’s Rebellion at the inception of the U.S. to the populist movement after the civil war to MLK’s planned Poor People’s Movement, there has long been attempts to try to unite poor blacks, poor whites, and poor people of all backgrounds in attempts to achieve societal change. I think it would be interesting to analyze how perceptions of the importance and role of racial and class solidarity have evolved over time with regard to civil rights activism.
  4. The importance of language in activist movements – Many activist movements seek to either reclaim/reform language perceived as damaging or forge entirely new language to describe the specific oppression/injustice they are fighting. Kimberle Crenshaw, for example, came up with the concept of intersectionality to describe the experience of people with multiply marginalized identities, especially black women. What emphasis do modern day movements place on language? How are activists seeking to shape the words we use as a method of in turn shaping how we as a society think about issues?
  5. Mass incarceration/prison-industrial complex – This is the topic I’m thinking of doing as of now. In “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander makes a compelling case for the present day system of mass incarceration as the modern incarnation of Jim Crow oppression. The United States, although only five percent of the world’s population, incarcerates twenty-two (!) percent of the world’s prisoners, a staggering number. A disproportionate number of these prisoners are Black, a result of the highly discriminatory nature of the escalation of the War on Drugs by both parties of government. I would like to explore movements aimed at abolishing the prison system as it currently stands, and their suggestions for viable replacements/alternatives.
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