Rochelle DuFord, "Solidarity in Conflict: A Democratic Theory" (Stanford UP, 2022)


Of all the concepts that form the constellation of modern political thought, surely “solidarity” is a strong candidate for the most challenging. At once influential and undertheorized, the concept of solidarity appears to function across a startling range of discourses.

– Max Pensky, The Ends of Solidarity (2008)

This book is intended to serve as a contemporary response to the pessimism about contemporary political life that is both overwhelming and demotivating. Far from giving in to that dire picture of our collective lives, it challenges readers to see themselves as potential members of solidarity organizations, to build society when forces attempt to undermine it, and to take the critical but hopeful stance that, though things may not end well, we must continue hoping that they might. Taking this stance seriously requires that we spend much more time focusing on those who actually attempt to realize democratic nonexclusion through conflict, agitation, and the collective project of building and sustaining our world.

– Rochelle Duford, Solidarity in Conflict: A Democratic Theory (2022)

Democracy has become disentangled from our ordinary lives. Mere cooperation or ethical consumption now often stands in for a robust concept of solidarity that structures the entirety of sociality and forms the basis of democratic culture. How did democracy become something that is done only at ballot boxes and what role can solidarity play in reviving it?

In Solidarity in Conflict: A Democratic Theory (Stanford UP, 2022), Rochelle DuFord presents a theory of solidarity fit for developing democratic life and a complementary theory of democracy that emerges from a society typified by solidarity. DuFord argues that solidarity is best understood as a set of relations, one agonistic and one antagonistic: the solidarity groups' internal organization and its interactions with the broader world.

Such a picture of solidarity develops through careful consideration of the conflicts endemic to social relations and solidarity organizations. Examining men's rights groups, labor organizing's role in recognitional protections for LGBTQ members of society, and the debate over trans inclusion in feminist praxis, DuFord explores how conflict, in these contexts, becomes the locus of solidarity's democratic functions and thereby critiques democratic theorizing for having become either overly idealized or overly focused on building and maintaining stability.

Working in the tradition of the Frankfurt School, DuFord makes a provocative case that the conflict generated by solidarity organizations can address a variety of forms of domination, oppression, and exploitation while building a democratic society.

Nathan Rochelle Duford is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Hartford, and is currently working on an essay on political epistemology as well as a book proposal investigating the idea of sex, gender and sexuality in the early Frankfurt School.

Keith Krueger lectures at the SILC Business School in Shanghai University.

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