Decolonizing Praxis


In this episode of High Theory, Erin Pineda talks about decolonizing praxis. Black American activists in the 1950s and 1960s used strategies of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action as part of a broader anticolonial movement, and reading their story in an international context can help us rethink the narrative of the US civil rights movement enshrined in American political theory.

In the episode Erin references Jack Halberstam’s concept of “low theory” which derives from the work of Stuart Hall, and appears in the book, The Queer Art of Failure (Duke UP 2011). She also references several mainstream liberal political philosophers who set the terms of the debate about “civil disobedience” in the US academy in the 1970s, John Rawls Theory of Justice (Harvard UP, 1971), Hugo Bedau, “On Civil Disobedience” (Journal of Philosophy 58, no. 21 (1961): 653-665) and Carl Cohen, Civil Disobedience: Conscience, Tactics, and the Law (Columbia University Press, 1971). Pineda writes against this tradition. The American activists she studies developed a different set of theoretical commitments to civil disobedience that are a bit less polite, and have a bit more potential for actual revolution.

Erin Pineda is the Phyllis Cohen Rappaport ’68 New Century Term Professor of Government at Smith College. She teaches courses in the history of political thought, democratic theory, race and politics, social movements and American political thought. Her research interests include the politics of protest and social movements, Black political thought, race and politics, radical democracy and 20th-century American political development. If you want to learn more about the topics she discusses in this episode, read her book! It’s called Seeing Like an Activist: Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford UP, 2021).

The image for this episode is a famous photograph of Black student Elizabeth Eckford being jeered by white student Hazel Bryan as she attempts to enter Little Rock Central High School, taken by Will Counts on 4 September 1957, one of the more famous images of school desegregation from the US Civil Rights Movement. This digital version came from wikimedia commons.

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