This is What Democracy Looks Like: Feminist Re-imaginings

In January 2017, when millions of women took the streets to protest the Trump presidency, they chanted “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” But what does democracy look like? And what should it look like?

Today democracy is under attack across the globe. The weakness of traditional political parties has enabled the rise of aggressive and stridently nationalistic strongmen. At the same time, politics increasingly takes the form of positional warfare, making compromise impossible. We will reflect upon democracy’s history and potential futures during the Institute for Research on Women’s twenty-third interdisciplinary seminar, “This is What Democracy Looks Like: Feminist Re-imaginings.” How do we imagine democracy, construct it, critique it, and defend it? How can feminism help us to think through, and reclaim a sense of common purpose, cultivate empathy, and care for the most vulnerable?

While enabled by electoral mechanisms and constitutions, many argue that democracy is much more than that: it is a way of thinking, a set of values, and even a way of being. For the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, the right to act and speak in public in ways that matter  is the essence of democracy. Others focus on ideals of equality, fairness, or justice, or on processes such as deliberation and protest. Feminism has reinvigorated such discussions by enlarging the scope of the political imagination to include women, people of color, as well as the economically vulnerable, engaging many of those who have long been marginalized. But a focus on identities, without a sense of the common good, can also lead to fragmentation and the shrinkage of the “demos.”

What is the role of democratic citizenship in a global world that is now rife with nationalism? How can we acknowledge the role of gender, race, class, sexual, and other differences, while reclaiming a sense of our commonality?


2019-20 Seminar Fellows
2019-20 Seminar Schedule
2020-21 Seminar Call