Online Seminar: Social Transformation Beyond Pragmatism or Utopia

The Institute for Social Ecology is excited to offer an expanded version of our online seminar Social Transformation Beyond Pragmatism or Utopia. Taught by long-time ISE affiliate Robert Ogman, this five-session seminar will explore the challenges and possibilities of linking emancipatory vision to forms of practical political engagement.  The course will meet on Mondays from 3-4:30 pm EST from October 8th to November 5th.

The first session explores dialectical thinking as an alternative to static forms of conventional reason.  We will discuss Hegel, Bookchin, and Ernst Bloch’s ideas on the difference between dialectical thinking and instrumental or utilitarian logic.

The second session brings dialectical thinking to bear on the topic of history and historical change. We will discuss the transformations that occur between historical periods, focusing on how potentialities within one conjuncture are nurtured, develop, and are eventually actualized in the birth of a new social order. This discussion is informed by selected readings by Marx, Bookchin, and Karl Polanyi.

The third session will apply this dialectical analysis of historical development to our contemporary context by considering capitalism as a conflicted and contradictory form of society. This will involve reflecting on the progress of human struggles for emancipation, the unfulfilled potentialities in the present, and the limitations constraining these liberatory developments. We will address Bookchin’s ideas of democracy and statecraft, freedom and unfreedom, universalism and particularism, among other topics. We will also engage with Gramsci’s idea of hegemony to consider how such contradictions are held together, and Poulantzas’ idea of ‘compromise’ to reflect on how one may go beyond current disequilibriums.

The fourth session centers on the questions of political strategy and agency.  It will draw discuss the possibilities and limitations of action via selections from Rosa Luxemburg’s classic essay ‘Reform of Revolution?’ Enriched by Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, we discuss the problems of both ‘determinist’ and ‘voluntarist’ conceptions of agency, and imagine going beyond the utopia/pragmatism binary via Luxemburg’s notion of ‘revolutionary Realpolitik.’

The final session makes this discussion more concrete by considering strategy in the context of urban spaces today, agency in terms of (universal) citizenship, and freedom in terms of expanding democratic popular self-governance. The discussion will interrogate the contemporary activist turn towards ‘municipalism’ through readings of Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism as well as David Harvey’s discussion of the right to the city.

The course format is designed to be a participatory seminar comprised of five sessions. Each will begin with a short introduction of the texts, central issues and questions by the instructor, followed by facilitated discussions among participants.  The aim is to develop new questions about common problems and dilemmas rather than provide simple, closed answers. All texts will be available for download via the course portal.

Registration costs $100; to reserve a spot contact us at and pay the enrollment fee here.

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