Critical Theory Can Illuminate Vital Intersectionality

I imagine that grappling with how best to approach pedagogy characterizes a great amount of discussion on university campuses. Conversations about what themes to emphasize and what vocabulary to underscore seemingly must occur, even if the conversation is maintained by a singular interlocutor, silently mulling whether or not to highlight Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War on a given PowerPoint slide. I sometimes wonder how these conversations unfold: surely a professor’s academic specialty colors the material they present, but to what extent? How much of a given curriculum is structured according to widely regarded norms on the state of an academic subject, and how much is subject to the informed whims and academic interests of the lecturer? Most often when I feel dissatisfied with a lecture, it is due to a yearning for more context — often political and historical context to better understand why conditions are as they are presently, and why conditions were as they were in the past. This context is valuable; it better illustrates the economic, social and political forces acting around the world to maintain what we consider normal and to catalyze what we consider revolutionary. By addressing international politics in gender studies, and gender studies in international politics, valuable con- text about how gendered people experience and participate within political systems can inform larger themes of patriarchy and sexual politics. Transgressing disciplinary boundaries to draw upon theory found in other fields has the effect of widening the analytical scope of a lecture by allowing for the consideration of multiple axes of identity and the differential political, economic and social experiences therein.

Cross-disciplinary examinations also contribute to political and economic accountability. A discussion of the Amazon rainforest fires in an ecology lecture may bring about mentions of the Brazilian government’s weak regulatory capacities. The onus of the tragic environmental destruction could be placed squarely on Brazil’s inability to manage and protect its resources (even going so far as to promote deforestation to increase business in lumber). However, a deeper exploration of politics in the western hemisphere could explore the United States’ role in over- throwing Brazilian President João Goulart in a 1964 coup d’état and the effects of unregulated global free trade in economically straining states in the global south. A deeper knowledge of the political and economic factors that contributed to the turmoil facing Brazil would provide useful insight for understanding the preconditions resulting in Brazil’s poor resource management and offer context for similar ecological crises. By expanding the purview of a discussion of rainforest fires from a purely ecological perspective to a broader socio-political scale, the fires become a manifestation of global economic and trade issues and their effect of political stability in the global south, rather than purely a symbol of Brazilian governmental ineptitude.

A cross-disciplinary praxis for addressing the economic and political forces which shape our world may provide a helpful critical lens for understanding forms of oppression in American and global politics as well. As Wake Forest strives to properly acknowledge its connection to slavery while simultaneously grappling with contemporary racial issues on campus, discussions about required classes in “diversity” and ethnic studies frequently seem incomplete. Rather, a more holistic incorporation of critical theory across all disciplines would provide a more contextualized and academically rigorous investigation. Furthermore, applying critical studies — that is, addressing race, gender, sexuality and the ideological and hegemonic structures which interpolate these classifications — within the majors we choose for ourselves will contextualize the investigation such that the resulting conclusions become applicable to the careers we find ourselves in after college.

By contextualizing studies of economics, business, history, politics and environmental issues within broader discussions of ideology, global commerce and neoliberalism, the subjects we study can be elevated from the perceptible vacuum in which they are presented. The fundamental interconnection between the disciplines will allow students to inform our precise academic interests with the necessary social and political contexts to situate our learning within our politicized world.