Theme Panel: Racism in Political Science: Reimagining the Discipline

Racism in Political Science: Reimagining the Discipline


(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

Session Description:
Over the past decade, multiple crises have called into question 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 ever more racially and ethnically diverse. The increasing visibility of anti-black police violence and racist violence more generally in 2020, gave rise to the largest anti-racist demonstrations 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 analyzing and problem solving these phenomena – possesses no clear and convincing analytical tools with which to respond effectively to these events. Some suggest Political Science is unfit 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 a eugenicist 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 thus extraneous to the core concern of the discipline – the exercise of power.

Understanding our current crises explicitly as crises of political power exercised through racism requires nothing less than a paradigm shift. Every indicator we have suggests we are at the beginning of a new epoch. This new epoch requires 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 in book length monographs. In this roundtable we wish to use these and similar works as a jumping off point to begin a conversation on how to restructure the discipline in a substantive fashion.

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