Woker Than Thou Syllabus

Completion Date: February 2018


This is a lower-level/community course on activist culture I designed for my class BCULST 587 Performance and Belonging: Citizenship, Culture & Identity in Winter quarter 2018.

Woker (More Socially Conscious) Than Thou : Leftist Activist Identity Formations

Course Description

#BlackLivesMatter. #MeToo. Call-out culture. Cultural appropriation. Wokeness.

This is a ten-week course on critical activist culture for community leaders, political activists, artists and organizers. It provides a space for those engaging in political activism to reflect on practices, beliefs, and ongoing conversations in social justice culture. In particular, we will be investigating how activist identities are formed through self-education, performance, and communication styles. We will also be taking a critical, gracious look at the collateral damage doled out by the antagonism in leftist activist culture. Although this course is not for academic credit, the readings and discussions will be heavily based on theory and cultural research. This is a prerequisite course for taking future courses in the “Rethinking Social Justice” series. We will be meeting in Room 303 at the Central branch of the Seattle Public Library on Saturdays from 1:00 – 3:00 PM. While this course is free to anyone who is interested, all students must commit to attending all of the classes (barring any personal emergencies).

Course Objectives

At the end of this course, students should:

  • Be able to map out the norms, patterns, language, and beliefs prevalent in leftist activist culture and in their own communities
  • Have crafted an understanding of the nuances, strengths, weaknesses and contradictions of their own political activist identities
  • Reflect on the limits of a social justice identity, and its attendant values, and generate additional/alternative goals and frameworks for living a life of activism
  • Optional: Possess a basic grasp of performance studies and how performance broadly shapes identity


All students will setup a private WordPress site and will be writing weekly 500 word reading responses and reflections to the readings/assigned content. Additionally, students are expected to share at least one reading a week on their social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) with their own commentary as a social experiment, and report back on the dialogue it generated.

Guiding questions for weekly reflections:

  • How did you feel when reading? What was your gut reaction? What sensations did you have in your body?
  • Where do you see these ideas reflected in my own organizing, relationships, and/or communities?
  • In what ways do they differ?
  • How can these analyses be useful takeaway tools for you to share with your organizations and groups?
  • Some of these readings are highly theoretical and born out of the academy, where does lived experience come in? Or remain absent?

The final project for this class will be a visual, performed, or written piece that showcases learning in one of the course objectives. Students are encouraged to take liberties with the format and presentation of their final projects. We will query the group and schedule an extra day to meet during Week 7 or 8 to workshop project ideas.


Course Expectations

  • All students are expected to come to class fully rested and having read/watched/listened to all of the assigned content. Some of the readings are of a more academic nature, and while I do not expect all students to be able to understand new theoretical content, I expect students to bring in a list of their questions for clarification.
  • All students are expected to bring all of their political leanings and political projects to this space. However, I ask that students stay open to dissenting or unpopular ideas for the sake of discussion, instead of foreclosing certain topics or ideas by judging them as not worthy of attention. I expect students to be be brave and listen to ideas they might not necessarily agree with, for the sake of sitting with another viewpoint.
  • For students with specific accessibility needs, please let me know early in the quarter so that we can work together to arrange accommodations to ensure your success.


Week 1: Shortfalls of Marxism & Privilege Theory

This week we are investigating some the ideological foundations of social justice activism, Marxism and privilege theory. We want to understand what is so compelling about these methods of framing social oppression as structural, and also what other ways of understandings they might be obscuring.

Gibson-Graham, J. K. “Introduction”. A Postcapitalist Politics . University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Hozumi, Tada. “Whiteness as cultural complex trauma.” Selfish Activist, 9 Jan. 2018, selfishactivist.com/whiteness-as-cultural-complex-trauma/.

Smith, Andrea. “The Problem with “Privilege”.” Andrea smith’s blog, 8 July 2015, andrea366.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/the-problem-with-privilege-by-andrea-smith/.

treeorchid. “Guest Post: Privilege Politics is Reformism.” Black Orchid Collective, 15 Mar. 2012, blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/guest-post-privilege-politics/.

Week 2: Interrogating Call-out Culture

This week we are looking at the more recent (from the last few years) commentary on exclusionary or call-out culture in activist spaces, and examples of other ways to address harm and error.

deBoer, Fredrik. “Elena Ferrante and the Politics of Deference.” The Towner, 7 Nov. 2016, http://www.thetowner.com/elena-ferrante-politics-deference/.

Garza, Alicia. “Our cynicism will not build a movement. Collaboration will.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 26 Jan. 2017, mic.com/articles/166720/blm-co-founder-protesting-isnt-about-who-can-be-the-most-radical-its-a bout-winning#.hHLanqkdi.

Lee, Frances. “Kin Aesthetics: Excommunicate Me From the Church of Social Justice.” Autostraddle, 13 July 2017, autostraddle.com/kin-aesthetics-excommunicate-me-from-the-church-of-social-justice-386640/.

Week 3: Intersectionality

This week we are digging into the origins of the term intersectionality, how it has been wielded in social justice discourse, and the efficacy of its continued (over)usage.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”. University of Chicago Legal Forum : Volume 1989: Issue 1, Article 8.

Puar, Jasbir. “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’ Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics.” Jasbir Puar: ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’, Jan. 2011, eipcp.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Introduction”. Critical Ethnic Studies. Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2017. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55807861e4b0847ced606181/t/594ad758b11be1154188 e99a/1498077017383/CES+3-1+Late+Identity+Editorial.pdf

Week 4: The False Promises of Empathy

This week we are reading about the over-reliance on empathy as a key element of social change, and developing our own critiques.

Anderson, Patrick. “I Feel For You.” Neoliberalism and Global Theatres: Performance Permutations. Ed. Laura D. Nielsen, Patricia A. Ybarra. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Dernoot Lipsky, Laura van Dernoot. “Beyond the Cliff”. YouTube, 23 Apr. 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOzDGrcvmus.

Ho, Soleil, et al. “Popaganda: You Feel Me?” Bitch Media, http://www.bitchmedia.org/article/popaganda-you-feel-me.

Week 5: Performance, Culture, “Wokeness”

This week we are getting a brief introduction to the fields of Performance Studies and Cultural Studies. We will then use the concepts gleaned from both disciplines to discuss the Black term and concept of “wokeness”.

Schechner, Richard, and Sara Brady. Performance Studies: An Introduction. Routledge, 2013. Hall, Stuart. “The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power“. Formations of Modernity. Polity Press, 2013.

Harriot, Michael. “The 6 Degrees of Wokeness.” The Root, http://Www.theroot.com, 12 Oct. 2017, http://www.theroot.com/the-6-degrees-of-wokeness-1819384614 .

Mohammed, Joy. “White People Ruined “On Fleek” And Now They Took “Woke”.” Wear Your Voice, 6 July 2017, wearyourvoicemag.com/identities/race/white-people-ruined-on-fleek-woke.

Week 6: Shifting Landscapes of Queer/Trans Politics

This week we are looking at the origins of Judith Butler’s gender theory and some prominent conversations about gender identity and desire in queer/trans communities in the US.

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, 1988, p. 519., doi:10.2307/3207893.

Chu, Andrea Long. “On Liking Women.” n+1, 3 Jan. 2018, nplusonemag.com/issue-30/essays/on-liking-women/.

Schulman, Sarah. “Introduction”. Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, And the Duty of Repair. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017.

Week 7: Love and Connection as Tactic

This week we are reading modern scholars, organizers, and thinkers pushing social justice activism towards a practice of connection, kindness, and generosity.

Magee, Rhonda. “Addressing Social Injustice with Compassion.” DailyGood. http://www.dailygood.org/story/1570/addressing-social-injustice-with-compassion-awakin-call-editors/.

brown, adrienne maree. “By any means necessary.” adrienne maree brown, adriennemareebrown.net/2010/05/19/by-any-means-necessary/.

Werning, Kate. “10 Imagination & Critical Connection — adrienne maree brown.” 10 Imagination & Critical Connection, healingjustice.podbean.com/e/10-imagination-critical-connection-adrienne-maree-brown/.

Lewis, John, and Michael Dorso. Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2015.

Week 8: Embracing Uncertain Futures 

This week we are focusing on the future, not only what we want it to be, but our relationship to the imagined soon-to-be world.

Leguin, Ursula K. “Utopiyin, Utopiyang”. No Time to Spare. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Solnit, Rebecca. “Falling Together.” The On Being Project, On Being, onbeing.org/programs/rebecca-solnit-falling-together/.

Shotwell, Alexis. “Introduction and Chapter 1”. Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Week 9: Spiritual Activism and the Inner Self 

This week we are delving into activist-led discussions on spirituality and the spiritual self.

Sales, Ruby. “Where Does It Hurt?”. The On Being Project, On Being, https://onbeing.org/programs/ruby-sales-where-does-it-hurt/.

brown, adrienne maree. “Introduction”. Emergent Strategy. AK Press, 2017.

Tuck, Eve. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 79, no. 3, 2009, pp. 409–428., doi:10.17763/haer.79.3.n0016675661t3n15.

Stevens, Sufjan. “TONYA HARDING, MY STAR.” Asthmatic Kitty Records, asthmatickitty.com/tonya-harding/.

Week 10: Presentations and Group Reflection