Thematic panel: Racism in political science: reinventing the discipline –



Racism in political science: reinventing the discipline

Round table

(Chair) Lester Kenyatta Spence, Johns Hopkins University; (Presenter) Robbie Shilliam, Johns Hopkins University; (Presenter) Desmond King, University of Oxford; (Presenter) Jeanne Morefield, University of Oxford; (Presenter) Chloe Thurston, Northwestern University; (Presenter) Terri E Givens, The Center for Higher Education Leadership; (Presenter) Joseph E. Lowndes, University of Oregon; (Presenter) Debra Thompson, McGill University; (Presenter) Jessica Blatt, Marymount Manhattan College

Description of the session:
Over the past decade, multiple crises have challenged the democratic stability of the United States. White nationalists have joined a right-wing populist resurgence seeking to roll back the institutional foundations of multiracial democracy as the United States becomes increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. The growing visibility of anti-black police violence and racist violence more generally in 2020 has resulted in the largest anti-racism protests and mass protests in a generation. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have intensified these racial fault lines and further fractured the demos.

Political science, the discipline best suited to the analysis and resolution of these phenomena, does not have clear and convincing analytical tools to respond effectively to these events. Some suggest that political science is not suited for this purpose because of the discipline’s problematic racial history. At the time of its founding in the late 19th century, political science provided eugenic justification for the very hierarchies and segregations that are now under scrutiny. After World War II, political scientists rejected eugenics and instead focused on defending democracy against totalitarianism. In doing so, they relegated racism to an ideological/irrational phenomenon and therefore alien to the central concern of the discipline – the exercise of power.

Explicitly understanding our current crises as crises of political power wielded by racism requires nothing less than a paradigm shift. Every indicator we have suggests that we are at the beginning of a new era. This new era demands new citizens, and if not new disciplines, renewed disciplines.

A number of scholars in the four major subfields (Jessica Blatt, Michael Hanchard, Charles Mills, Bob Vitalis) have addressed this issue in book-length monographs. In this roundtable, we want to use these and similar works as a starting point to start a conversation about how to restructure the discipline in substantial ways.

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