Professor presents on pragmatism of social movements


Deva Woodly gave a talk “The Promatism of Social Movement” in Homer Babbidge Library on Tuesday Oct 25, 2016. (Yuwei Zhao/The Daily Campus)

Deva Woodly shared her research and ideas about the pragmatism of social movements in the Homer D. Babbidge library on Tuesday afternoon.

Woodly, the Assistant Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research, said that people are less knowledgeable about basic civics today than they ever have been before, yet people are participating in all kinds of social movements.

Woodly stressed that social movements are necessary for a democracy’s survival. She said that they spark imagination and invoke change in our ideas as well as teach us how to be a citizen by actually enacting our citizenship. They allow us to develop our capacity to do something new and experiment with different ways of being, she said.

Social movements are done with a pragmatic, not a utopian, conviction, Woodly said. A utopian way of thinking is purely imaginative, while pragmatism is an imagined world with an action philosophy attached. A utopian social movement would not work, she said.

Woodly stressed the importance of identity work in every pragmatic social movement, which is the effort that movements make to establish an “us.” This means that each movement must employ its own methods for reaching a common identity, internally as a focused source of empowerment, or externally as a focus of education or advocacy, she said. People already have their own identities, but identity work helps participants in a social movement feel that their existing identities are aligned with the movement’s, Woodly explained.

She used the powerful example of Black Lives Matter to further explain identity work. Participants and supporters of the social movement are relating their own personal struggles with the goals and work of Black Lives Matter and posting their stories all over social media, Woodly said.

The movement is “leader full,” meaning there are many leaders of Black Lives Matter all over the country advocating for what they stand for. Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, felt a need for the movement in her life. Cullors said that it pushes her to think creatively. It is the most important call of her life that she has to follow, Woodly said.

Woodly identified Cullors as the perfect example of how one benefits from a pragmatic social movement.

Black Lives Matter has created a new wave of appreciation for black culture and has reminded us of our own political efficacy, according to Woodly.

“Social movements create openings where the doors seem to be closed,” Woodly concluded.

Sarah Maddox is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at

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