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Bard College - How to Change the World: Theories and Practices

Whether we are campaigning on civil rights, environmental justice, refugee rights, or LGBTQIA and women’s rights, the first prerequisite to success is a theory of social change that guides the methods we employ as activists. The range of potential protest tactics is so plentiful—from direct action in the streets to silent prayerful vigils and self-organized worker cooperatives to electoral ballot initiatives—that every activist, whether consciously or not, relies on a theory of change to decide their actions. If the theory of change underlying our activism is false, then our protests are bound to fail. At the same time, social change is a constant and complex phenomenon, involving factors both within and beyond human control. Often, an unexamined set of assumptions govern—and limit—our attempts to make change. This minicourse intends to refresh and expand our thinking about activism by studying four different theories of change: voluntarism, structuralism, subjectivism, and theurgism. We will track these theories through case studies from the ancient Greek as well as the modern world, considering how each practice of protest, civil disobedience, or resistance understands the interplay between individual and world, natural and supernatural.  

In our final session, students will present campaign proposals that grow out of the course material. These proposals will be integrated into a final presentation for “Civil Disobedience and Citizenship,” the 11th Annual Conference of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, October 11–12, 2018.