Social Transformation Beyond Pragmatism or Utopia Online Seminar: Winter 2019 Session

The Institute for Social Ecology is excited to announce the winter 2019 dates for our online seminar Social Transformation Beyond Pragmatism or Utopia. Taught by ISE faculty Robert Ogman, this five-session seminar explores the challenges and possibilities of linking our utopian vision to practical political engagement.  The course will meet Mondays at 12-1:30 PST/3-4:30 pm ET from January 28 to February 25.

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

The second session brings dialectical thinking to bear on the topic of 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 applies 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 struggles for emancipation, unfulfilled potentialities in the present, and the specific limitations which constrain 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  questions of political strategy and agency.  We 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 explore 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 $80 and is open to everyone, but space is limited. Our classes are typically very international, we encourage global participation and offer scholarships to students from underrepresented areas. To reserve a spot contact us at and pay the enrollment fee here.

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