After Cairo 2050: The Spatial Politics of Regime Security in Umm Al-Dunya

The popular mobilization that brought the resignation of Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, on February 11, 2011, injected new hope among many of that state’s citizens, especially those in its sprawling capital, Cairo. While many believed Mubarak’s removal would result in a transformed city, government and country, this brief article traces the continuity of Mubarak-era urban plans for Cairo. I argue each of the three successive administrations following Mubarak’s fall—those of Mohamed Tantawi (2011-2012), Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013), and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (2013-Present)—adopted strategies outlined in the Cairo 2050 masterplan, first released by Mubarak’s government in 2008.



Tahrir Square Protests, The Guardian Available at:]

This continuity in urban management goals and practice suggests that, despite the revolution and different administrations, Cairo urban planning continues to be guided largely by priorities and logics first articulated during the Mubarak years.

Cairo as Gauntlet and Proposed Solutions

Cairo, home to more than 20 million inhabitants, is characterized by “high population density, traffic congestion, continuous increase of unplanned and unsafe areas [informal settlements], high air pollution rates and other environmental problems” as well as the intense urban sprawl beyond the Nile River Valley that creates and accompanies these conditions (MHUC & UN Habitat, 2012, p.10). The ever-expanding borders of the city have contributed to, and generated, a range of issues, including fast growth in informal housing, overburdened and often inadequate water and sanitation systems, overcrowded transportation infrastructure and the sprawl of “ghost” cities beyond the Nile River Valley, among others.


Googlemaps Screenshot of Nile River Valley and Greater Cairo Region.]


These deeply interwoven issues constituted some of the kindling that eventually led to mass mobilization to oust Mubarak from office.

The General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) office in the Ministry of Housing first released Cairo 2050, a 200-page document outlining a master plan for the city, in 2008.



Cairo 2050, Cairo 2050 Vision, p. 1]




The foundational principles of that vision were “decentralization” and “de-densification.”



Decentralization objectives from Cairo 2050 Vision, p.44]


The Mubarak administration pursued these objectives through “megaprojects;” large-scale “priority developments of regional and national importance (GOPP, 2008, p. 36).” These included relocation of government ministries and public institutions to areas beyond the city’s core (GOPP, 2008, p.36). While the Mubarak administration succeeded in developing the Six of October City and New Cairo megaprojects outside the boundaries of Cairo, the major ministry buildings—many that would-be sites for protest in 2011—were never relocated, perhaps due to the financial crisis of 2008 or the competition of other priorities.

The Mubarak administration employed public-private partnerships to lure Persian Gulf state investment as the fuel to expand the city. Indeed, by early 2012, half of the 26 most valuable real estate developments in Egypt were majority-owned by Gulf-based conglomerates (Deknatel, 2012).

 Post-Revolution Urban Management of Cairo

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) administration shifted the focus of the city’s planners from Cairo’s periphery to its urban core as they sought to manage post-Mubarak Cairo. Mohamed Tantawi’s SCAF erected concrete barriers around the Interior Ministry and police stations throughout the traditional core of the city. The military also actively regulated population flows in and out of centrally located Tahrir Square, particularly in the aftermath of the Mohammed Mahmoud Street standoff between Egyptian police and protesters that resulted in the deaths of 40 people in November 2011.


Barrier near Interior Ministry from NPR: ]




SCAF Barrier Map from Ahram Online:


The June 2012 transition to civilian rule following the election of Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s Presidency, brought new salience to the Cairo 2050 masterplan. The Morsi administration maintained many of the walls erected in downtown areas during the SCAF era and also embraced Mubarak-style megaprojects once more. For Morsi’s government, the showcase piece was the Nahda project, whose architects promised would “redistribute the population density of Egypt’s 80 million to 90 million people” and “get out of the Nile Delta Valley to new regional growth areas (Deknatel, 2012).” The government did not realize these aims as it was removed from office in the Egyptian Armed Forces coup d’état in July 2013.

For its part, the Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi administration announced two megaprojects on a scale that dwarfed Mubarak’s earlier aims: a Suez Canal expansion and a “New Cairo” Capital City. Al-Sisi’s public 2014 announcement of planned construction of an additional lane for the canal led to a series of contracts with European, Persian Gulf and American companies to collaborate with Egypt’s Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces to dredge for the expansion (Kalin, 2014).



Screenshot South of Ismalia, Egypt, Google Maps]



The New Cairo Capital City, announced in early 2015, fostered still more vigorous economic ties with China, Egypt’s largest trade partner, and looks set to contribute to additional sprawl in its planned location, twenty-eight miles outside of the city in the eastern desert (Kirk, 2016). China’s state-owned construction company has pledged $15B, and the China Fortune Land Development Company has pledged $20B to help to underwrite the proposed effort. Egypt must still raise its own share of the funds needed, an additional $10 billion (ibid.). Construction has begun. If completed, this new city will be located beyond the fertile Nile River Valley, prompting questions of whether sufficient water, sanitation and basic infrastructure can be made available to sustain it in systems already operating beyond their design capacity



Screenshot from The Capital Cairo website: ]



The new Capital City and Suez Canal expansion initiatives garnered headlines for the new administration and helped to shore up its legitimacy with Egypt’s residents, even as each effort helped the state expand its financial ties and networks in tough economic times.

The Cairo Capital City project also embraced the Mubarak-era goal to move the state’s principal ministries to the periphery of the city to make it more difficult for residents to mount major protests at them. The al-Sisi administration moved the symbolically contentious Interior Ministry to New Cairo in April 2016. All other major government ministries are slated to follow suit and will eventually be moved to the new Cairo Capital City on its completion between 2020 and 2022.

 Regime Security and Management of Cairo

The continuity in aspiration and content across the otherwise disparate recent Egyptian regimes highlighted here, points to close connections between urban planning and leaders’ perceptions of the security of their rule. While it would be too reductive to suggest that Egypt’s leaders’ self-interest alone has driven Cairo’s planning choices across the four administrations, there is little doubt that this motive appears and strongly, in their selected means to manage the city.

The various regimes’ attempts since Mubarak’s fall to manage Cairo through continued sprawl and internal partitions reveals the intimate relationships between space and power across geographies, institutions and the wider society. Power is always situated in space, and this brief examination of development and development policy in Cairo has sought to foreground the material manifestations of regime power. However, the nation’s mass mobilization during 2011 reminds analysts that the regime’s power is never absolute. Given this reality, it becomes possible to conceive of the projects of the recent successive Egyptian national government administrations less as arbiters of absolute control and power over land use and populations and instead, as evocations of the fear, insecurity and uneasiness within which their rulers have operated. Cairo’s stubbornly persistent urban transformation plans—both imagined and achieved—reveal more about the fears and psychoses of those leaders than about whether any of the efforts conceived might actually better serve the Egyptian citizenry.


 Allam, Hannah (2 Feb 2011). “Wednesday’s Crackdown was Vintage Mubarak,” McClatchy Newspapers. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Bel Trew, Mohamed Abdalla, and Ahmed Feteha, (9 Feb 2012). “Walled in: SCAF’s Concrete Barricades,” Ahram Online. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Cambanis, Thanassis (24 Aug 2010). To Catch Cairo Overflow, 2 Megacities Rise in the Sand,” The New York Times. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Daily News Egypt (19 Jan 2017). “Impact of Egypt’s Mega Projects Revealed at Cityscape Business Breakfast,” Daily News Egypt. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Deknatel, Frederick (31 Dec 2012). “The Revolution Added Two Years: On Cairo,” The Nation. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) (2008). Cairo 2050 Vision.

Kalin, Stephen (18 Oct 2014). “Egypt Signs with Six International Firms to Dredge New Suez Canal,” Reuters. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Kirk, Mimi (13 Oct 2016). “Egypt’s Government Wants Out of its Ancient Capital,” CityLab – The Atlantic. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Kennedy, Merrit (30 Mar 2012). “To Keep Protesters Away, Egypt’s Police Put Up Walls,” NPR. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities (MHUC) & UN Habitat (2012). “Greater Cairo Urban Development Strategy.” United Nations Habitat. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Rios, Lorena (2016). “Egypt’s Capital Mirage,” Roads and Kingdoms. Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

Sims, David (2011). Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control. The American University in Cairo Press. The Capital: Cairo (2015). Available at (Accessed 9/10/2017):

 Rob Flahive is a second-year PhD student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT). His research focuses on tensions in the preservation of international style architecture in North Africa, the Middle East and East Africa. He holds a Master of Arts in Political Studies from the American University in Beirut and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis.

Rob values learning from personal experience as well as from conversations with others possessing different perspectives. He cannot imagine life without espresso, pizza (manoushe) or Fairouz.


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Academic Freedom and Shared Governance: Does one protect the other?

In 2004, Delaware State University President Allen Sessoms suspended and initiated dismissal proceedings against Wendell Gorum, a tenured professor in the Mass Communications Department.  During a routine audit the university registrar had discovered that Gorum, “without the professor-of-record’s permission, had changed withdrawals, incompletes, and failing grades to passing grades for 48 students in the Mass Communications Department,” which he chaired from 1997 to 2004 (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 182).  While Gorum admitted making the changes, he asserted that he had sufficient authority to do so and that such alterations by department chairs were common practice at the University (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009).  After further investigation and multiple hearings, an ad hoc disciplinary committee concluded that “Dr. Gorum’s actions undermine the very tenets of the educational profession and rise to a level deserving condemnation by the academic community” (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 183).  The group proposed that Gorum be severely disciplined, but not fired. President Sessoms, citing Gorum’s “unprofessional” and “highly reprehensible” conduct, nevertheless recommended to the University’s board of trustees that the professor’s employment be terminated, and the board unanimously approved the action and dismissed him (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 183).

Gorum subsequently filed suit in federal district court alleging that his firing “was a retaliatory action to punish him for engaging in speech … protected by the First Amendment” (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 183).  Specifically, Gorum claimed that Sessoms retaliated against him not for the acts investigated, but instead for three unconnected speech-related actions:

  • For his objection to Sessoms’ candidacy and selection to the university’s presidency;
  • For his actions as an advisor to a student athlete facing suspension; and
  • For his withdrawal of an invitation for Sessoms to speak at a fraternity’s prayer breakfast, for which committee he had served as chair (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, pp. 183-184).

When the federal district court granted summary judgment for Sessoms concerning these allegations, Gorum appealed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Even though it considered the professor’s arguments unrelated, “makeweight attempts to counter his dismissal for doctoring student grades,” the appellate court nevertheless examined the professor’s speech-related claims (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 188).  Applying analysis described by the U. S. Supreme Court in the Pickering-Connick-Garcetti (1968, 1983, 2006) line of cases, the appellate court upheld the district court’s judgment, arguing that Gorum had not engaged in speech protected by the First Amendment in the three matters under consideration, since he did not speak “as a citizen” on “a matter of public concern” in any of them (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 185).  Put another way, the Appeals court concluded that Gorum’s speech related to internal university matters, those remarks directly related to his “official duties” as a professor and department chair, and “the First Amendment does not shield the consequences of ‘expression employees make pursuant to their professional duties’” (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 185).  In short, the professor’s claim failed.  Relying particularly on the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Cellabos (2006), the appellate court reasoned that the

official duty test [applies] because Gorum’s actions so clearly were not ‘speech related to scholarship or teaching,’ and because we believe that such a determination here does not ‘imperil First Amendment protection of academic freedom in public colleges and universities’ (Gorum v. Sessoms, 2009, p. 186).

Because of legal decisions such as Gorum, professors at some public colleges and universities in the United States question whether speech expressed in their governance role(s) is protected by academic freedom. That is, scholars within the profession differ concerning whether academic freedom affords protections to professors’ intramural speech undertaken as part of their responsibilities for governance of their institutions. Notably, the Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue, and so the question of whether academic freedom reaches shared governance remains unaddressed.

This essay examines the literature that has investigated the question of whether academic freedom protects intramural speech that arises as a result of a faculty member’s exercise of responsibilities on behalf of institutional governance.  The literature is, at best, mixed concerning this issue. Some analysts have contended that such professional activity is “inextricably linked” to academic freedom (Gerber, 2001, p. 22).  Other authors have refuted that argument, suggesting that expanding the concept of academic freedom to include shared governance goes too far and renders the construct meaningless (Yudof, 1988). At this writing, the issue remains far from settled.

Defining Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

In the United States, academic freedom is almost universally accepted as a valued principle of higher education (Kaplin and Lee, 2007).  However, “there is little consensus regarding the meaning of [the concept] although there is agreement that it is something worth protecting. … It is, at best, a slippery notion, but a notion worthy of analysis” (Kaplan, 1983, p. 6).  Indeed, Fish (2014) recently argued that five “schools of thought” concerning academic freedom exist and each defines the character and scope of the idea differently.

Scholars have determined the meaning and reach of academic freedom by examining norms related to it that have been established through custom and usage and by analyzing the public statements concerning it developed by relevant professional organizations, such as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (Kaplin and Lee, 2007).  For example, the AAUP has sought to describe and ensure academic freedom throughout its long history as an organization representing the academy in the United States (AAUP, 2015).  In its 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, for example, the Association declared that faculty are:

(a) entitled to full freedom in research and in publication of the results, … (b) entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, … and (c) are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution.  When they speak, or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline (AAUP, 2015, p. 14).

In short, the AAUP has suggested that faculty capacity to research, publish and teach as they wish, within very broad boundaries, as well as enjoy free speech as citizens constitute core elements of academic freedom (AAUP, 2015). The AAUP’s 1940 Statement did not address the question of intramural speech—i.e., professorial speech linked to a university’s internal affairs or governance.

Universities typically operate two systems of governance simultaneously:  one is legal: it grants authority to trustees and the administration; the other is academic: it rests on the professional authority of the faculty (Birnbaum, 2004).  The term “shared governance” denotes “a tripartite arrangement among three major stakeholders—governing boards, administration, and faculty” (Austin and Jones, 2016, p. 138).  According to Hirsch, “Ideally, shared governance in universities assigns specific rights and responsibilities to its three stakeholders i.e., provides for a separation of powers, and establishes a structure and process for stakeholders to interact in specific undertakings” (2001, p. 147).

As with academic freedom, the AAUP has articulated what it considers to be a compendium of best practices of shared governance in its Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, adopted in 1967 (AAUP, 2015).  The Statement addressed each of the three major stakeholders involved—governing boards, administration and faculty—and suggested, “The variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence” among these stakeholders (AAUP, 2015, p. 118).  Within this arrangement, faculty maintain primary responsibility for core academic matters such as curricular quality, rigor and content, teaching methods, faculty personnel matters and student-related issues directly related to the educational process (Dill, 2014).  The governing board and administration are obliged to secure and maintain adequate financial resources and to implement institutional policy and procedures effectively and equitably. Faculty, board members and administrators share responsibility for strategic planning, budgeting, establishing immediate and long-term program goals and participating in the presidential selection process (Dill, 2014).

Yes and No:  Scholars Debate Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

The AAUP’s position on academic freedom and shared governance notwithstanding, scholars have continued to debate whether that principle protects faculty members engaged in shared governance activities.  Some analysts, such as Gerber (2001), Finkin (1988, 1993) and Finkin and Post (2009), have argued that academic freedom necessarily includes professors’ role(s) in institutional governance.  According to these scholars, academic freedom protects faculty members from administrative discipline for their speech concerning internal university concerns.  Other analysts, such as Brest (1988), Fish (2014), Olivas (1993) and Yudof (1988), are not so sure. They have argued that academic freedom shields only the “core” scholarly activities of teaching, research and publication and faculty member rights of public speech as citizens.  Thus construed, the construct falls short of protecting professorial engagement in shared governance and intra-institutional (intramural) speech. I turn next to an examination of these competing perspectives.

Academic Freedom Protects Intramural Speech and Shared Governance

Intramural speech refers to faculty remarks that concern any action, policy or personnel decision of their university (Finkin and Post, 2009).  The term is frequently linked with the idea of shared governance, as Gerber employed it in a widely-read essay: “It is hard to imagine effective governance if faculty do not enjoy the right to speak freely without fear of reprisal on issues related to their own institutions and policies” (2001, p. 23).  For its part, the AAUP in a statement approved by its Committee T on College and University Governance in 1994, asserted that shared governance and academic freedom “are closely connected, arguably inextricably linked” (2015, p. 125).

One argument scholars assert for viewing the faculty role in institutional governance as protected by academic freedom involves whether professors are employees or enjoy another status in relationship to the university (Finkin and Post, 2009).  Since issuing its 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure (AAUP, 2015), the AAUP has contended that faculty members are more than mere employees with limited rights, but also appointees with broad freedoms, including academic freedom and its twin protections, tenure and a role in institutional (shared) governance.  In this view, as appointees and not employees, scholars possess a status independent of the university’s trustees and administration: in a university, “trustees hold an essential and highly honorable place, but … the faculties hold an independent place, with quite equal responsibilities—and in relation to purely scientific and educational questions, the primary responsibility” (AAUP, 2015, pp. 6-7).  Such standing “renders any institutional policy or decision a fair subject for faculty comment or criticism” (Finkin and Post, 2009, p. 124). In short, in this view, the status of faculty as independent appointees ensures their freedom of speech when engaged in university governance.  While not explicit in the 1915 Declaration and the 1940 Statement, the AAUP nevertheless sought to establish this contention through its committees’ investigations and via reports it issued throughout the 20th century (Finkin and Post, 2009, p. 116).

Another argument for including a broad conception of professorial speech under the protection of academic freedom suggests that faculty members may be seen as modern-day professionals analogous to the journeymen artisans of the early American Republic who were highly skilled, independent, professional and self-governing (Finkin, 1993). These early artisans, the argument states, practiced their craft in complete freedom, including the exercise of freedom of speech, intra- or extramurally.  College and university professors began to organize their profession at the turn of the 20th century, forming associations such as the AAUP that sought to codify and assert similar freedoms for the professoriate. Indeed, in 1940 faculty achieved a standing that journeymen artisans enjoyed in the early Republic with publication of the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure (AAUP, 2015) jointly issued by the AAUP and the Association of American Colleges.  Thus, just as “the mechanic of the new Republic asserted simultaneously an independence of craftsmanship that brooked no supervision, a vigorous defense of workplace rights—of artisanal dignity and self-respect—and a robust liberty of political association and expression” (Finkin, 1993, pp. 378-379), faculty now argued for their right to academic freedom: to teach, research and publish, speak as private citizens and engage intramurally as “officers of an educational institution” (AAUP, 2015, p. 14).   Accordingly, “the 1940 Statement resonate[d] against an older ideal” (Finkin, 1993, p. 379).

A third argument concerning affording academic freedom protection to intramural speech and shared governance asserts that American faculty are citizens not only of the nation, but also of the university with which they are affiliated (Finkin, 1988).  Within both realms, residents enjoy certain rights.  Much as a national citizen enjoys freedom of speech, a university faculty member enjoys academic freedom, including in their activities linked to institutional governance. Those pressing this view contend that since that right is a scholarly professional prerogative, professors enjoy protection for their intramural speech, the core claim of which, “concerns … freedom of professional utterance not shared with the citizenry at large” (Finkin, 1988, p. 1323).  As such, these advocates suggest that academic freedom protects faculty speech related to any matter of professorial concern, including, but arguably not limited to, admission standards, administrative leadership, appeals to accrediting agencies, awarding degrees, athletic policy, library policy, salary policies, presidential selection and petitions to the AAUP.

Furthermore, in this view, conceding that academic freedom did not cover intramural speech and “reserving the profession’s claim of freedom of expression only to narrowly defined disciplinary discourse, [i.e., only to teaching or research and publication,] … would produce a profession in a sense ‘half slave and half free’” (Finkin, 1988, p. 1341). Moreover, these analysts contend that the academic freedom of intra-institutional speech also flows from the principle of equality:  faculty are peers with and ought to share the same freedom of speech that trustees and administrators enjoy.  Additionally, limiting faculty speech within the organizations in which they work would inhibit institutional operations, since universities seek not only truth, the focus of research, but also wisdom, the object of governance.  The administration cannot possibly possess all knowledge when developing and implementing its educational policies.  Therefore, faculty engaged in governance-related speech ought to be considered “institutional citizen[s]” and not “officious intermeddler[s]” (Finkin, 1988, p. 1342).

A final argument some commentators have offered states that shared governance serves the needs of civil society and is necessary for two special reasons. First, it enables the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. Second, it provides a liberal education.  Notably, citizens require both such understanding and capabilities to engage actively in democratic civil society (Gerber, 2001). As a result, this perspective suggests that academic freedom and shared governance are “inextricably linked” and faculty members should enjoy the same protection in their workplace speech that they do when engaged in teaching, research and publication and their roles as private citizens.  Furthermore, these analysts argue, effective institutional governance requires that faculty have the freedom to speak “without fear of reprisal on issues relating to their own institutions and policies” (Gerber, 2001, p. 23).  Additionally, in the absence of a shared faculty role in university governance, especially in academic affairs, “liberal education, with its emphasis on the development of critical thinking and humane values, may eventually become an arcane concept” (Gerber, 2001, p. 24).

Academic Freedom Only Includes and Protects Core Scholarly Activities

However, some commentators do not accept these arguments.  They contend instead that faculty speech linked to internal university governance should be seen as separate from academic freedom and beyond the protections that construct affords faculty.  Brest (1988), for example, has suggested that “the claim that the penumbra of intramural speech is inextricably linked to the core of true academic freedom of inquiry needs a stronger argument” (p. 1361).  For Brest, employing a core and penumbra approach used in some legal arguments has been stretched too thin when applied to academic freedom and intramural speech.  Despite the “tendency to travel further and further from the core [scholarly activities]” that academic freedom protects (e.g. teaching, research, and publication), “at some point, most of us get off the train” (Brest, 1988, p. 1361). Analysts, such as Brest, contend that there is a significant difference between criticizing a university president “for her parking policy or the paint color she chooses” and making an unpopular or controversial argument within one’s scholarly discipline (Brest, 1988, p. 1361).  Engaging in the former encroaches on administrative rights and responsibilities, while the latter represents an appropriate focus, well within the realm of the professional activities of a scholar.

Some analysts have contended that extending academic freedom to the faculty governing shields “the scholarly enterprise from outside interference …, but only grants limited protection to professors’ intramural speech … against institutional interests” (Olivas, 1993, p. 1837).  This is so, these scholars argue, because academic freedom applies only to professorial speech that adheres to professional standards and is the product of “training, developed expertise, and scrupulous care” (Olivas, 1993, p. 1835).  That is, for these analysts, academic freedom should apply only to speech related to “scholarly” matters.  Furthermore, when protected, “non-professorial” speech should be shielded for all—scholars and staff alike.  In this view, professors engaged in non-academic speech should not be able to claim any more or less protection for such communication than can any other member of the university community (Olivas, 1993).

Similarly, another group of scholars has suggested that a conceptualization of academic freedom that includes intramural speech separates the idea from its conceptual moorings to the point of rendering it meaningless (Yudof, 1988).  In other words, placing all speech within the university under the shelter of academic freedom corrupts that umbrella concept by making it more about professional autonomy than pursuit of truth. Regarding this conceptual extension of the construct, one commentator has asked, “why [do] academics, with respect to matters not directly related to teaching and scholarship, have a higher order of liberty in the workplace than others?” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1355).  Questions about salary, working conditions, office space, parking and many other concerns are necessary to sustain a university.  But why, this argument continues, should faculty have a right to protected speech on these intramural affairs when others do not?  This question leads to the logical suggestion that any group claiming a professional status should also be accorded the measure of autonomy analogous to faculty academic freedom (Yudof, 1988).  Seen in this way, assertions of academic freedom become just one more way to promote “a progressive view of labor-management relations” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1355). That said, these commentators also caution that professors enjoy “academic” freedom because of their unique professional roles—discovering new knowledge and disseminating analyses of existing understandings—that require freedom that other occupations do not.  Therefore, “the temptation” ought to be resisted, “to bring all talk about conditions that have an impact on professional autonomy, no matter how far removed from teaching and research, under the umbrella of academic freedom” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1356).  To summarize this argument, “Academic freedom is what it is. … If academic freedom is thought to include all that is desirable for academicians, it may come to mean quite little to policy makers and courts” (Yudof, 1988, p. 1357).

Finally, some scholars have argued that the attempt to afford the protections of academic freedom to shared governance represents an assertion of faculty supremacy (Fish, 2014).  According to one such analyst, “professors cling to medieval privileges while demanding modern trade union benefits,” the effect of which creates “a status with the autonomy of a community member, the security of a corporate employee, and the obligations of neither” (Keller, 2004, p. 169). Furthermore, in this view, whether the management of university governance is top-down, shared or bottom-up is immaterial to the production of quality scholarship.  Rather, “teaching and scholarship could flourish or fail” regardless of the nature of the system of university governance (Fish, 2014, p. 41).  That is, for these critics, faculty members rightly have a responsibility for participating in governing the affairs of their profession and the institutions with which they are aligned, but the scope of those activities is limited as they relate to organizational governance.  Administrative decisions related to the greater university environment may affect academic work, but such decisions are secondary to faculty responsibilities and are appropriately the province of the administration (Fish, 2014).  It is enough for professors to engage in the academic work of their profession through teaching, conducting research and publishing (Fish, 2008).


Overall, commentators favoring the separation of intramural speech and shared governance from academic freedom appear to have a stronger case than those arguing that intramural speech and shared governance fall under the protection of academic freedom.  This is so in good measure because the claims for including intramural speech and shared governance under the rubric of academic freedom raise difficult questions. Two examples suffice:  Must all speech protected under academic freedom be academic?  If, as university citizens, intramural statements are protected for faculty, why not protect them for other university citizens, especially students and staff?  Moreover, while it may be laudable for faculty to enjoy freedom of speech as they participate in shared governance, that right can and should stand on its own, apart from academic freedom.  Free speech and participatory democracy are touchstones of American government.  Perhaps these freedoms should also be accorded to faculty (and others) within the university community, but it is not necessary to attach them to the concept of academic freedom to do so.

Given this reality, it would be better to declare that faculty have a general right of free speech, including intramural utterances, or a delimited freedom of speech when fulfilling a specific role in university governance and discharging their governance responsibilities.  By securing these freedoms separately, in addition to, but apart from academic freedom, faculty would avoid muddling important distinctions. Ensuring these rights independently would also provide stronger support for claimants such as Gorum, who argued that the administration retaliated against him for his activities while engaged in intramural speech and university governance.  As Gorum discovered, judges currently decide such cases in accord with existing First Amendment jurisprudence.  Under these precedents, judges are inclined to view faculty members at public colleges and universities as they do other public employees, who neither benefit from academic freedom nor freedom of speech when speaking or acting within the scope of their “official duties,” leaving faculty intramural speech and shared governance unprotected.  Today’s faculty seeking to protect speech offered in their governance role can surely articulate mechanisms that would afford such protection, but stretching the concept of academic freedom to do so should not be among them.


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Austin, I., and Jones, G. A. (2016). Governance of higher education: Global perspectives, theories, and practices.  New York: Routledge.

Birnbaum, R. (2004). The end of shared governance: Looking ahead or looking back. In W. G. Tierney and V. M. Lechuga (Eds.), Restructuring Shared Governance in Higher Education (pp. 5–22). doi:10.1002/he.152

Brest, P. (1988). Protecting academic freedom through the First Amendment: Raising the unanswered questions. Texas Law Review, 66, 1359-1362.

Connick v. Myers, 461 US 138 (1983).

Dill, D. D. (2014). Academic governance in the U.S.: Implications of a ‘commons’ perspective. In M. Shattock (Ed.), International trends in university governance: Autonomy, self-government and the distribution of authority (pp. 165-183). London: Routledge.

Finkin, M. W. (1988). Intramural speech, academic freedom and the First Amendment. Texas Law Review, 66, 1323-1349.

Finkin, M. A. (1993). “A higher order in the workplace”: Academic freedom and tenure in the vortex of employment practices of the law. In W. W. Van Alstyne (Ed.), Freedom and Tenure in the Academy (pp. 357-380). Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

Finkin, M. W. and Post, R. C. (2009). For the common good: Principles of American academic freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Fish, S. E. (2008). Save the world on your own time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

. (2014). Versions of academic freedom: From professionalism to revolution. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006).

Gerber, L. G. (2001). “Inextricably linked”: Shared governance and academic freedom. Academe, 87(3), 22-24.

Gorum v. Sessoms, 561 F. 3d 179 (3rd Cir. 2009).

Hirsch, W. Z. (2001). Initiatives for improving shared governance. In W. Z. Hirsch and L. E. Weber (Eds.), Governance in Higher Education: The University in a State of Flux (pp. 143-154). London: Economica.

Kaplan, C. (1983). Introduction. In C. Kaplan and E. Schrecker (Eds.), Regulating the intellectuals: Perspectives on academic freedom in the 1980s (pp. 1-13). New York: Praeger.

Kaplin, W. A., and Lee, B. A. (2007). The law of higher education, student version. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Keller, G. (2004). A growing quaintness: Traditional governance in the markedly new realm of U.S. higher education. In W. G. Tierney (Ed.), Competing conceptions of academic governance: Negotiating the perfect storm (pp. 158-176). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Olivas, M. A. (1993). Reflections on professional academic freedom: Second thoughts on the third “Essential Freedom,” Stanford Law Review, 45, 1835-1858.

Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968).

Yudof, M. G. (1988). Intramural musings on academic freedom: A reply to Professor Finkin, Texas Law Review, 66, 1351-1357.

Jerald H. Walz completed his PhD in Higher Education at Virginia Tech in May 2017.  His dissertation research focused on academic freedom in colleges & universities.  He has earned a B.A. from Asbury College, a M. A. from the Johns Hopkins University, and two graduate certificates from Virginia Tech.  While serving as the Vice President of Operations at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Jerald taught public policy in Pepperdine University’s Washington, DC program.  With his wife, Anita, he enjoys reading, classical music, light gardening, travel, and activities at The River Anglican Church.

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Ethics Versus Efficiency in Global Healthcare -by Rebecca Powell (MPH)

The recent shifts in the U.S. political climate and the questionable ethics of some in U.S. political leadership have led me, like many others I would imagine, to reflect on my role in politics, as an advocate for change, a representative for how I interpret the concept of justice, and perhaps most importantly, on the professional path I have thus far chosen. I have spent the last thirteen years surrounded by and involved in biomedical research and clinical medicine, experience I hope one day to apply to international development initiatives. Being intimately involved in biomedical research means that I, like my peers in the field, am required to have an in-depth understanding of the ethical responsibilities associated with such inquiry. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires proof of ethics training for funding eligibility, and every facility in which I have worked has had the additional requirement of yearly updates to ensure individual awareness and facility with that guidance. Trainings that fulfill this obligation cover and review everything from the United States Public Health Service Tuskegee Syphilis experiment in which African Americans who contracted that disease between 1932 and 1972 were left untreated, so as to examine its effects, and the wide variety of abhorrent human experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II that led to the Nuremburg Code and the principle of voluntary consent (U.S. Government Printing Office 1949). Updates also address the Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations General Assembly 1948) and the Helsinki Accords (Riis 2003), the Belmont Report (the report of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research released in 1978) with its four key ethical principles for human-related research, and the rights and protections for non-human research animals (National Commission 1978). As violations of the current standards of ethics outlined in the Nuremburg Code, the Belmont Report and elsewhere continue to occur, the vast majority of scientists nonetheless, I believe, daily make every effort to uphold and often surpass those requirements. This essay explores an issue that seems to have escaped today’s medical research ethical safety net and which has been justified on the basis of cost and efficiency.  I offer an Aristotelean argument concerning vertical and horizontal justice as both a rebuke to the global healthcare community for permitting this situation and as a means to rectify it.

During the course of a recent literature review, I came across a curious subset of the human rights literature that highlighted the rather appalling idea of a health care and research ‘double standard.’ This scenario arises from a debate concerning whether a ‘placebo’ group is appropriate when testing a new pharmaceutical, combination of pharmaceuticals, or any other medical treatment not yet approved for general use by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. The currently agreed upon ethical standard, known as clinical equipoise, is that a placebo group is not appropriate if an approved treatment for the same disease or condition exists, and indeed, should a pharmaceutical company attempt to bypass this requirement in a study taking place in the United States, regulatory intervention would be swift and the penalty or cost imposed would be significant. Biomedical researchers are required to provide the existing standard as a baseline of care and determine whether the new treatment constitutes an improvement compared to the old, rather than with respect to nothing at all (a placebo). The ethical principles governing this specific issue are beneficence (efforts to ensure that benefits outweigh risks) and non-maleficence (do no harm). There is no proviso in the Belmont Report or in current regulations for an exception to these principles.

Those who attained majority before the mid-to-late 1990’s may well remember the Pfizer case involving the now withdrawn antibiotic Trovan, a (then) new treatment for meningococcal meningitis. A lawsuit, that was settled out of court for $75 million, asserted Pfizer, in a 1996 meningitis outbreak in Nigeria, gave a reduced dose of the gold standard ceftriaxone to a control group to skew a study concerning the efficacy of Trovan to maximize the likelihood of demonstrating the superior efficacy of the new drug.

Plaintiffs also argued that Pfizer had falsified documents that indicated it had obtained informed consent from patients to participate, as well as general approval from the Nigerian government and their own institutional review board (IRB) for the clinical trial to take place. The study participants were children, and eleven of them died while many others suffered blindness, deafness and paralysis. It remains unclear whether those who acquired chronic conditions did so as a result of their disease (meningitis) or as a result of Trovan’s side effects. The drug was discontinued shortly after its regulatory approval, as evidence emerged of severe liver toxicity associated with its use (Petryna 2006).

When the situation that occasioned the lawsuit came to light, the public outcry was substantial and swift condemnation of Pfizer by the World Bank (WB), World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee followed. Given this history, one can be forgiven for surprise at learning that the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both vigorously defended a series of drug trials in 1994 in sixteen African countries that tested a shorter dosing regimen of an anti-retroviral (ARV) drug designed to reduce vertical (mother-to-child) transmission of HIV-1 by using a placebo group, as opposed to the longer-dosing regimen then considered the gold standard treatment for the virus. The rationale? Both funding organizations asserted that a placebo control was acceptable because the trials took place in ‘resource-poor settings’ and that the current standard of care in those countries did not include ARV therapy (Landes 2005). In another surprising example, Nicholson et al. have demonstrated that the WHO actually officially recommended a placebo in lieu of a gold standard treatment for multiple drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) between 1993-2002, but only for pharmaceutical trials taking place in low-and-middle-income countries (Nicholson 2016). The justifying rationale for this course of action was once again that these nations were ‘resource-poor’ settings and the gold standard of treatment was not, in fact, customary in them.  This was so according to WHO officials because insufficient infrastructure and government systems made it too difficult and costly to implement the standard of care enjoyed in the developed world.

This assertion failed to address the question of how individuals who were not treated adequately for MDR-TB affected the global fight against antibiotic resistance in general and whether their lack of care put the rest of the world’s population at greater risk of contracting these diseases. Sadly, there is no shortage of other examples similar to those I have presented here. While the neo-liberal celebration of unfettered free-market enterprise in which development and business currently operate may explain such instances as the Pfizer fiasco, it by no means offers a rationale for why three global flagship healthcare organizations would forego ensuring the basic ethical premise of medical and pharmaceutical research of beneficence that they had a significant hand in establishing.

The argument can be offered, and likewise rejected, that competing values and donor interests play a greater role in determining what projects and studies are funded and how they are designed than does ethics (Gonzalez-Block 2004). However, regardless of donor interest, government relations, resource availability or literally any other proffered rationale, WHO (and NIH and the CDC) purport to uphold specific ethical baselines in their work and are (or should be), therefore, bound by them.

Ethical principles, particularly with regard to how to treat large groups of vulnerable people in medical and health research, are not a new phenomenon. Indeed, they date at least back to Aristotle, whose work provided a simple, rational test for how to apply such standards as non-maleficence, beneficence, justice and autonomy (per the Belmont Report) (Landes 2005 and Culyer 2015). Aristotle offered a two-point evaluative approach to making ethical judgments: vertical and horizontal equity.

Horizontal equity requires that individuals who are similar in relevant ways (i.e., individuals who have MDR-TB, HIV-1 or meningitis, as in the examples outlined above) must be treated in the same way. Vertical equity, meanwhile, demands that people unlike one another in categorical ways must be treated differently in proportion to their differences. One example of how such can be practiced is the use of a sliding scale for fees at a health clinic in which wealthier individuals pay more for their care to help subsidize the treatment of those who cannot afford to pay, or cannot pay as much. Culyer has argued that this idea is not only Aristotelean, but also appears in the works of Karl Marx (Culyer 2015). I find it notable, too, that this ethical premise is taught in very nearly every major world religion.

Paradoxically, however, in the clinical trial examples sketched above, the WHO, NIH and the CDC, rather than interpreting the vertical equity principle as a directive to provide increased aid to those at greatest risk, instead concluded that need constituted a rationale for decreasing assistance and adhering to lower standards of care for such individuals. Notably, this convention was not adopted during a moment of crisis, as with the recent Ebola virus outbreak, during which officials waived the traditional process of approval for potentially viable vaccine candidates in light of the gravity of the situation underway. Even in such a moment, however, the ethical imperative of beneficence was arguably met in the Ebola crisis in that the course adopted was implemented in the view that those receiving a potentially lifesaving vaccine could possibly yield greater benefit than the risk(s) associated with its use, especially when compared to the risk of contracting (and dying from) the virus.

A straightforward course correction for these three major health organizations and any others that have elected to violate ethical principles in developing nation contexts is, quite simply, to apply the standards of care that they employ in trials and projects conducted in high-income countries. It is important to emphasize that such uniformly applied ethical criteria in ‘resource-poor’ settings may be very expensive indeed. However, this stance is firmly based on the human rights claims (as they pertain to human medical research) of the Helsinki Accords and the Belmont Report principles these organizations (and their major Western state sponsors) claim to uphold. This fact suggests that compliance with this approach is a non-negotiable imperative if WHO and other medical research organizations wish to retain any semblance of moral authority and ethical legitimacy.



Culyer, A.J., 2015. Efficiency, equity and equality in health and health care. Center for Health Economics Research Paper Series 120, University of York, pp.1-20.

Gonzalez-Block, M.A., 2004. Health policy and systems research agendas in developing countries. Health Research Policy and Systems2(1), p.6.

Landes, M., 2005. Can context justify an ethical double standard for clinical research in developing countries? Globalization and Health1(1), p.11.

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biome Beha Resea and Ryan, K.J.P., 1978. The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research-the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. US Government Printing Office.

Nicholson, T., Admay, C., Shakow, A. and Keshavjee, S., 2016. Double Standards in Global Health: Medicine, Human Rights Law and Multidrug-Resistant TB Treatment Policy. Health and human rights18(1), pp.85-102.

Petryna, A., 2006. Globalizing human subjects research. Global pharmaceuticals: Ethics, markets, practices, pp.33-60.

Riis, P., 2003. Thirty years of bioethics: the Helsinki Declaration 1964-2003. New Review of Bioethics1(1), pp.15-25.

UN General Assembly, 1948. Universal declaration of human rights. UN General Assembly.

U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949. Permissible Medical Experiments. Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10: Nuremberg October 1946–April 1949. U.S. Government Printing Office 2(1), pp. 181-182.


Rebecca Powell-Doherty is a second year MPH student from Charlotte, NC. She previously received her B.S. in Biology from NC State University in 2005 and her PhD in Immunology from UNC Charlotte in 2010. After graduation, she spent some years teaching undergraduate science courses and conducting post-doctoral work in the areas of inflammation and hemorrhagic shock. During her time at Virginia Tech, she has developed an interest in combining a scientific understanding of disease with social applications for improving the lot of those disproportionately affected by it.

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Evaluating the Meaning of Consent in the Gig-economy

Last week, Gerald Davis, the Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business, and Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, gave a talk in the Virginia Tech Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) Series, on the topic “New Institutions for a New Economic Order.” In his view, the increasing financialization of society has had tremendous impacts not only on the for-profit sector, but also on households and the state.

Nikefication, a term that he used to refer to a branding strategy without actual industrial processes behind it, is a direct implication of such irrepressible capitalist forces. Just imagine several American fashion brands such as Nike, Kate Spade, Michael Kors, and GAP that market their products in the United States, but produce most of what they sell abroad. Moreover, and similarly, many government programs are implemented by contractors today. Davis asserted that the way multi-national corporations now work and the contractorship of various jobs, has resulted in a deepening income inequality in the United States. With the advent of application-based businesses, such as Uber, AirBnb, Lyft, and, investment models have shifted from a corporate-based and heavily industrialized process into peer-to-peer transactions organized by a programmatic application. In this regard, industrial organizations have also turned increasingly to a contractorship organizational model. For example, AirBnB, an online community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book accommodations, provides a platform for residence owners who want to rent their unoccupied rooms to earn extra income by signing up as lodging providers. This model requires zero physical investment on the part of the firm and creates no new full-time employees either. I here seek to analyze the meaning of consent in these sorts of firms by employing Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony and Marcuse’s concept of one-dimensional man.

There’s an App for That!

The Economist published a review entitled, “There’s an app for that,” [1] in January 2015 and it brought widespread attention to the fascinating changes in consumer behavior and expectations associated with the new form of exchange represented by that technology. Despite the lack of a widely-accepted definition for this new form of trade, which has been variously labeled the gig-economy, on-demand economy or sharing-economy (Petropoulos 2017; Burns 2017), it has expanded at an incredible rate and its reach is now global. This said, the fact there is no shared definition for the phenomenon has made it more difficult to determine the precise extent of consumer use of this form of exchange (Burns 2017).  An online organization, ‘The On-Demand Economy,’ consists of members of this emerging industry and now includes a variety of companies, whose foci range from delivery (e.g., Eat24 by Yelp, Postmates, and Ebay Now), to family care (e.g., Heal,, and Urbansitter), to parking reservations (e.g., Parking Panda, Spot Hero, and Luxe). According to officials at On-Demand, the United States alone has at least 682 firms operating in the gig economy, mostly in densely populated metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C.[2] The simplicity of the system makes it seductive for consumers. Because the demand for this type of service has increased exponentially in a short period, it is no surprise that a platform-based company such as Uber is now valued at $62.5 billion. However, despite their unprecedented growth, these firms have faced resistance and criticism for their unregulated character (Schofield 2014; Martin 2015).

Puzzled in Cultural Hegemony

An online poll conducted by Future Work Initiative, Time Magazine, and Burson Marsteller, between November 16-25, 2015, sought to capture the views of a representative sample of 3,000 Americans concerning the on-demand economy.[3],[4]  Because the survey sample was representative of the U.S. population, its developers argued that its results suggested that the equivalent of an estimated 45 million American adults have provisioned goods and/or services through popular on-demand economy models such as ride sharing (Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar), accommodation sharing (Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway), service platforms (,, Taskrabbit), car rental (Car2go, Zipcar, Getaround) or food and goods delivery (Instacart, Postamates, Caviar). Demographically, the survey found that 61% of those who have offered such services (often called offerers) were male, 55% were members of a racial or ethnic minority, 51% were ages 18-34 and 41% were urban residents. Moreover, the majority of the offerers claimed that they were in a better economic situation compared to the year before. Slightly more than 60% of those responding believed that their economic standing would continue to improve in the year ahead. Fully 71 % of survey respondents working in the industry in some capacity indicated they felt positive about doing so, while only 2% indicated the opposite. The remaining 27% of those responding claimed to be neutral concerning their employment experience.

Nonetheless, 58% of those responding also suggested that the industry exploits the fact it is unregulated. As Burns (2017) has contended, the gig economy is not as simple as accepting jobs through an app on the phone. It is, rather, a growing portion of the economy whose workers “… work with no benefits, no job security, and no unions” (2017, 89). Furthermore, by using the rhetoric of attractive self-employment and low barriers to entry, companies such as Uber and Postmaster can easily hire drivers and/or handymen as independent contractors, without investing large sums to provide what a traditional company would offer its employees, namely training or a safety net. In doing so, these firms in effect ask individuals to forego benefits and a measure of security for flexible working hours and the freedom to conduct business relatively autonomously. This fact confirms Davis’s observation that economies of scale are no longer applicable under this scheme. This is because a platform-based company creates its equity in the form of computer programs and applications, which are much less costly to produce than large scale machines or industrial infrastructure. What these companies do is basically (re)create a niche within the existing market by employing infrastructure and/or expertise owned by the “workers” it employs (e.g., Uber drivers use their own cars).

Furthermore, the gig-economy also influences some high-skilled professions by challenging the traditional business model on which they have long rested and by suggesting that those jobs could be accomplished or approached differently. For example, a platform called HEAL is designed to bring a doctor to a patient’s home simply by tapping on a smart phone screen, without the need for cash.[5] The system’s founder, Nick Desai, has argued that the $3 trillion healthcare industry in the U.S. is fundamentally broken. Doctor shortages cause long wait times, which prompt patients to use urgent care, options, which provide fewer treatment options and at higher cost.[6] By shifting to a peer-to-peer transaction model, Desai has suggested, doctors ideally could have more time to care for fewer patients with greater efficiency. Since physicians would see patients in their homes, they could offer more nuanced treatments, since they would have direct knowledge of the environmental conditions and lifestyles of those they are seeking to assist.

This essay was prompted by my sense of puzzlement regarding the reigning ideology that has encouraged the establishment of this sort of demand-economy in the U.S. Today’s pseudo-self-sustaining culture encourages individuals to monetize every dimension of their lives. Such is certainly true of the gig-economy. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian neo-Marxist theorist who lived in the early part of the 20th century, offered a theory of cultural hegemony that sought to explain how those advantaged in capitalist society use cultural institutions to maintain their privilege and power. He defined hegemony as

the ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production (Gramsci 1971,12).

The shared-economy model exhibits two important elements of hegemony as Gramsci defined that condition––it allows both consent and domination to coexist by means of the way offerer/worker-company relationships operate—and thereby legitimates the coercive power of capitalism. Consider Uber, for example. Popular consent for this new form of business activity has been relatively easy to achieve because it requires few background checks, does not demand much by way of qualifications except for two very basic ones, i.e. a driver’s license and an automobile with four doors, and provides the offerers convenience and competitive fares for their (under-employed) resources. Marcuse (1964) argued that the advanced industrial society has created false needs that trap individuals into the one-dimensional role of seeking to fulfill unbounded desires. In his view, one-dimensional thought and behavior wither ones’ ability to think critically and behave appropriately when confronted with capital-induced oppression. Seen through this lens, society has fallen into the following conditions: a relentless cycle of production and consumption mystification exacerbated via mass media; common contractorship of goods and services provisioning; and the emergence of a contemporary mode of thought, which in the on-demand economy, is clearly affirmed as especially practical.

A case study of Tom,[7] a 24-year-old bicycle courier in London who works for an app called Deliveroo that appeared in the Guardian newspaper, demonstrated that he confronted an employment situation with only limited options available to him as a member of the working class. When he signed up to be a part-time cycle courier, the company that employed him assigned him to work for at least three-hour shifts and offered pay of £7 an hour and £1 per delivery, without health insurance, paid time off or sick pay. The firm also expected him to provide and maintain his own bicycle and to ride in heavy traffic and all weather conditions. He told the author of the news article concerning him that he believed his employer wants citizens to perceive that its delivery riders, “are all young, middle class-men who wear trendy clothes, making a little extra cash”[8] which is simply not true, given that most of the workers are doing it full-time and as their primary position. Though he is very critical of the unfair conditions under which he works, Tom remains in his role because he loves cycling and because he believes he does not possess adequate qualifications to obtain other jobs.[9]

As many gig industry firms treat their “workers” in quite similar ways (i.e., no sick leave, no health insurance, flexible hours, etc.), I support Gramsci’s argument that Tom’s tacit consent, and that offered by millions of other workers in similar situations, preserves capitalistic domination.  Furthermore, this also renders repression as economically and socially natural for all workers who choose this form of employment. My judgment is that these values are not natural, but instead are created by people with vested interests in particular social, economic, and political orders. Lastly, the idea of “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” —that one can succeed if one just tries hard enough—is a false aphorism that has achieved the status of received popular wisdom. This claim is untrue because it masks what is, in fact, a system of structural sexism, racialism, and ableism that prevents disenfranchised populations from effectively pulling bettering their conditions. The logical follow-up question further to this realization is, is it possible to attain passage of laws aimed at minimizing the economic costs of such relentless cultural pressure, given the reality that the nation remains under the sway of a dominant neo-liberal public philosophy?







[5] The company is financially supported by 17 investors including the pop-artist, Lionel Richie, and has collected $26.9M Series A venture funding within two years since firstly introduced in October, 2014.



[8] Ibid.

[9] Op. Cit.



Burns, Rebecca. 2017. Bargaining with Silicon Valley. Dissent 64 (1):89-94.

Gramsci, A. 1971. Selections from the prison notebooks (trans. Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith). New York: International Publishers.

Marcuse, H. 1964. One-dimensional man. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Martin, Chris, J. 2015. The sharing economy: a pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of neoliberal capitalism? Ecological Economics 121: 49-159.

Petropoulos, Georgios. 2017. An economic review of the collaborative economy. Policy Contribution 5: 1-17.

Schofield, H., 2014. Short-let apartments spark Paris row as Airbnb thrives (online). BBC News Available: [Accessed February 28, 2017]


Putu Apriliani is a Fulbright scholarship recipient from Indonesia currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include diverse community economies and collectivist democracy and their intersections with race, class and gender.  She is also a certified trainer in microfinance. She earned her B.A. and M.A. in Economics from Udayana University in her native nation. She loves to participate in cultural events, Zumba class and volunteer work in her spare time.











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Is Climate Change real? Greenhouse Gases, Climate Science and the Human Outlook

The question of the immanence and character of climate change received attention in the recent Presidential election campaign in the United States.  In particular, the candidates debated how to view the growing concern among scientists and many in the general public about rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.  CO2, a greenhouse gas, has both natural and anthropogenic sources. Some of its natural causes include respiration, decomposition, volcanic eruptions etc. Anthropogenic sources include deforestation, power generation, agricultural practices and burning fossil fuels, to name a few.

Global CO2 levels have been maintained over time by a delicate process known as “The Carbon Cycle.” This is a biogeochemical succession in which carbon, a common element on Earth, is exchanged and recycled through biological, geological, hydrological and atmospheric processes. The carbon cycle occurs across millions of years, or longer. A very small input or output that strays from this fragile balance unleashes a domino effect that affects many other natural cycles and processes, which in turn influence life itself.

There is a misconception that anthropogenic sources are the lone cause of increasing CO2 levels.  Natural sources have always been a primary factor raising CO2 levels throughout Earth’s history. But, lately, the release of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere by anthropogenic sources has been increasing carbon dioxide levels considerably. Fossil fuel burning emissions, electricity production using fossil fuels and cement production accounted for 91% of human source carbon dioxide emissions in 2014. Deforestation is the second largest human source of CO2 emissions (Van der Werf et al., 2009, 737). While these processes have been emitting increased amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the land and ocean carbon sinks have seen a net decrease in the amount of that element they have been absorbing in recent decades (Le Quéré et al., 2013, 177). The main land sink for carbon dioxide comprises forests and other plant life that take in the gas and release oxygen. With increasing deforestation and land use changes, the amount of oxygen release and carbon absorption is considerably lower now than it was in past decades (Van der Werf et al., 2009, 737).

The ocean sink consists of phytoplanktons and zooplanktons that absorb CO2 from the upper ocean and then carry it down to the depths as they sink, thereby becoming incorporated into oceanic sediments. The carbon dioxide then interacts with chemicals in the sediments to form mineral assemblages that sequester carbon naturally for many years (Raven and Falkowski, 1999). Repeated studies have shown that a substantial increase in atmospheric CO2 emissions accompanied the Industrial Revolution (1760 AD onwards). Assuming a steady state in biological carbon processes, an additional 30% increase in carbon intake by oceanic sinks has occurred since the Industrial Revolution (Raven and Falkowski, 1999).

Methane, CH4, another important greenhouse gas, also plays a role in the rise in global average temperatures that is resulting in climate change. Natural sources of CH4 occur mainly in wetlands, which produce about 78% of the chemical. Such marshlands are highly temperature sensitive (Christensen et al., 2004). Fossil fuel burning and livestock farming are important human sources of methane (Bousquet et al., 2006). One of the earth’s largest methane sinks is its permafrost, a thick layer of frozen soil that circles the globe’s poles. Significant spikes in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and resulting temperature increases are now causing the permafrost to melt, thereby emitting large amounts of CH4 back into the atmosphere (Christensen et al., 2004).

Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations could also eventually warm the oceans, leading to changes in currents that arise from the deep. This would change the microclimates of local regions that depend on those flows for their ways of life. When the deep ocean warms, this could also potentially release the carbon stored in its upper sediments.

Elevated carbon levels change ecosystems substantially, through direct and indirect effects. Certain plants have been able to adapt and increase their photosynthesis levels as CO­2 levels have increased, while others have not been able to do so. Rising carbon dioxide concentrations influence plant flower gestation rates, flowering times, longevity and seed quality. Such conditions are also likely to reduce the number of plant pollinators or change their characteristics (Bazzaz, 1990). Soaring temperatures might also lead to extinction of certain crucial species of plants, thereby changing entire local ecosystems.

Local, state and national governments and international organizations must take responsibility to educate the general public about the crucial and currently observable changes in climate that are already occurring. Existing evidence, samples, records, publications and facts must be assembled and presented in easily communicable ways that intrigue and enlighten audiences at the same time. Governments of all nations must assign science research related to climate change high priority. The recent U.S. President’s proposal to reduce the research budgets of agencies that focus on climate science and related issues is deeply concerning and disheartening. Should budget reductions of the magnitude proposed occur, such action could significantly set back the progress made so far to address climate change world-wide. And, unfortunately, President Donald Trump is not alone in his stance. Climate change doubters and skeptics claim to believe these misguided proposals represent a political “victory” in favor of “sound science.”

The general populace must become aware of the global phenomenon that is climate change and fight to preserve our Mother Earth, not just for us, but also for future generations. As mentioned above, the Earth is able to thrive by balancing delicate interconnected natural cycles and processes. A small imbalance in one cycle can potentially lead to a large counter effect that cascades and changes life and comfort as we know it. The approximately 7 billion people on Earth could make a substantial difference in ameliorating and ultimately reversing climate change if we all unite and take measures to preserve and conserve the bounty that we obtain from our Mother Earth.

I conclude with a quotation from the movie “Interstellar”:

We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.



Bazzaz, F.A., 1990. The response of natural ecosystems to the rising global CO2 levels. Annual review of ecology and systematics21(1), pp.167-196.

Bousquet, P., Ciais, P., Miller, J.B., Dlugokencky, E.J., Hauglustaine, D.A., Prigent, C., Van der Werf, G.R., Peylin, P., Brunke, E.G., Carouge, C. and Langenfelds, R.L., 2006. Contribution of anthropogenic and natural sources to atmospheric methane variability. Nature443(7110), pp.439-443.

Christensen, T.R., Johansson, T., Åkerman, H.J., Mastepanov, M., Malmer, N., Friborg, T., Crill, P. and Svensson, B.H., 2004. Thawing sub-arctic permafrost: Effects on vegetation and methane emissions. Geophysical research letters31(4).

Le Quéré, C., Andres, R.J., Boden, T., Conway, T., Houghton, R.A., House, J.I., Marland, G., Peters, G.P., Van der Werf, G., Ahlström, A. and Andrew, R.M., 2012. The global carbon budget 1959–2011. Earth System Science Data Discussions5(2), pp.1107-1157.

Raven, J.A. and Falkowski, P.G., 1999. Oceanic sinks for atmospheric CO2. Plant, Cell & Environment22(6), pp.741-755.

Van der Werf, G.R., Morton, D.C., DeFries, R.S., Olivier, J.G., Kasibhatla, P.S., Jackson, R.B., Collatz, G.J. and Randerson, J.T., 2009. CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature geoscience2(11), pp.737-738.


Kannikha Kolandaivelu is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Geosciences. She obtained her Master’s degree in Geosciences from the same department. Kannikha earned a B.E. in Civil Engineering at Anna University in India.  Her interest in learning more about the inner workings of our planet Earth brought her to Virginia Tech. She is focusing on Thermal Geophysics for her doctoral research. In addition to science she is interested in short-story writing, mostly fiction; authoring blog posts; reading and pondering the purpose of life and human existence.

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Empires and Barbarians: The EU and Violence at its Margins

The Brexit referendum to leave the European Union (EU) has been applauded by some scholars and politicians as a victory for the sovereign people of Great Britain in response to the undemocratic and technocratic nature of the EU. These analysts consider the United Kingdom’s (UK) decision to withdraw from the Union a win for state institutions and political responsiveness at the state level (Cunliffe & Ramsay 2016). Brexit has been critiqued by other scholars, however, as a cynical and wishful attempt by UK elites and right-wing conservative politicians to resurrect Britain’s former imperial glory by strengthening the UK and its Commonwealth, or the so-called “Anglosphere” (i.e., its former colonies: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the USA), as an alternative to the supranational and globalized EU “invader” (Bell 2016; Morozov 2016). Yet, while proponents on both sides of this argument rightly criticize the EU bureaucracy as removed and even immune from popular and public contestation, neither scholarship critiques the EU’s increasingly illiberal external policies, whether successful or not, which I argue are quite evident if the Union is examined through a “EU-as-empire” conceptual lens.

Political theory and international relations have had difficulty as fields identifying the EU as a “political object.” Theorists and politicians alike have made various attempts to define this sui generis or “unidentified political object” (Delors 1985). In an effort to conceptualize the EU, scholars have theorized the entity as a “normative power (Manners 2002), “post-modern (Diez 1997),” “civilian power (Telo 2006),” or a “communion” (Manners 2013).

In contrast to the above conceptualizations, the “EU-as-Empire” argument, popularized by Jan Zielonka’s 2006 Europe as Empire, claims that the Union can, and perhaps should, be viewed as some form of empire. Former EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso buttressed this argument by labeling the Union a rather paradoxical “non-imperial Empire” (Mahony 2007). An important aspect of considering the EU-as-empire is what Behr has termed “governing from a distance” (Behr and Stivachtis 2015, 11). In essence, political entities that use policies “that are supposed to and organized to govern over vast geographical and territorial dimensions” are inherently violent because these strategies often ignore place-specific and contextual situations in favor of “universal,” and in this case, Western-based frames of reference (Behr 2015, 33-34). As a result, they recreate core-periphery relationships reminiscent of former imperial rule (Behr and Stivachtis, 2015). Thus, although this brief post does not seek to determine whether the EU can truly be considered an empire, it does argue that the “EU-as-empire” scholarship highlights the Union’s increasingly coercive policies in the developing world. This has been particularly evident in the EU’s efforts to prevent the migration of people, specifically sub-Saharan refugees, from moving into the Schengen zone. Even though disagreement between a share of the member states and the EU Commission concerning how to “solve” the so-called “refugee crisis” has seemingly fractured concord among them, the Commission and some of its member states, including Spain, Italy, and Germany, nonetheless continue to employ coercive policies in an attempt to halt the “flood” of refugees (Nail 2016).

While U.S President Donald Trump’s attempted immigration ban and the rising xenophobia in the UK, as well as in several other EU member’s states (e.g., Germany, France, Hungary) has garnered attention in the media, the Commission’s effort to prevent continued outmigration of people from several sub-Saharan African nation-states, including Eritrea, from which large numbers of refugees have emanated, has resulted in a number of EU agreements with several dictatorial regimes. For example, one of the primary refugee routes into the Union leads through Libya. While Muammar Gaddafi was in power, he accepted “aid” from Italy to halt the movement of African refugees through his nation and on into the EU (Macdonald 2017). After the 2011 Arab Spring, the Union’s Commission and its member states proposed not only new initiatives with Libya, but also with Sudan’s president Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (Plaut 2017). Moreover, Plaut has highlighted the fact that the EU has given the one-party government in Eretria, which has never faced elections, 200 million Euros in “development aid” without any strictures concerning how the money could be used (2017) in order to gain that regime’s cooperation in stanching migration.

While the EU Commission, member states and various other institutions continue to promote a liberal and cosmopolitan Union, their simultaneous efforts to “govern from a distance” reflect a political entity that is beset by contradictions. In addition to the policies noted above, the heavily militarized Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, which play an integral role in preventing refugee movements, further evince the coercive nature of the EU’s attempts to “secure” its territory (Peters 2011).

In conclusion, while this essay did not seek to prove that the EU is an empire, it is my hope nevertheless that it reveals some of the contradictions present among the Union’s normative claims and its external policies. That touchstone should allow a more nuanced critique of the EU’s refugee policies.



Behr, Hartmut, and Yannis Stivachtis. 2015. Revisiting the European Union as empire, London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Behr, Hartmut. “‘Empire’, ‘governing from the distance’, and the mitigation of violence.” In Hartmut Behr, and Yannis Stivachtis. 2015. Revisiting the European Union as empire, London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Bell, Duncan. “The Anglosphere: new enthusiasm for an old dream.” Prospect, February 2017. Accessed February 2017. Available at

Cunliffe, Phillip, and Peter Ramsay. “Hard v. Soft: misrepresenting Brexit.” Defend Democracy Press, November 11, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2017. Available at

Delors, Jaques. “Speech by Jaque Delors.” Luxembourg: Office for official publications of the European Communities, September 1985, No 9. Accessed March 19, 2017. Available at

Diez, Thomas. “Postmoderne und europäische Integration: Die Dominanz des Staatsmodells, die

Verantwortung gegenüber dem Anderen und die Konstruktion eines alternativen Horizonts.’” Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen 3 (2), (1997): 255-281.

Macdonald, Alastair. “Libya not accepting Italy migrant deal: EU presidency Malta.” Reuters, January 16, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. Available at

Mahony, Honor. “Barroso says Eu is an empire.” euobserver, July 11, 2007. Accessed March 19, 207. Available at

Manners, Ian. “Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?,” Journal of Common Market Studies, 30, no. 2 (2002): 235-58.

Manners, Ian. “European communion: Political theory of European union.” Journal of European Public Policy, 20, n0. 4 (2013).

 Manners, Ian and Philomean Murray. “The End of a Noble Narrative? European Integration Narratives After the Noble Peace Prize. Journal of Common Market Studies, 54, no. 1 (2016): 185-202.

Nail, Thomas. “We are entering a new epoch: the century of the migrant.” Aeon, December 14, 2016. Accessed January 15, 2017. Available at

Plaut, Martin. “Europe’s African ‘wall’ now almost complete.” MartinPlaut Blog, January 16, 2017. Accessed March 1, 2017. Available at

Peters, Katharina Graca. “Ceuta and Melilla: Europe’s High-Tech Fortress.” Der Spiegel, August 10, 2011. Accessed March 18, 2017. Available at

Rexhepi, Piro. “Europe wrote the book on demonising refugees, long before Trump read it.” The Guardian, February 21, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017. Available at

Telo, Mario. 2006. Europe: A Civilian Power? European Union, Global Governance, World Order, UK: Palgrave Macmillian.

Viatcheslav Morozov. “Brexit Symposium: Brexit, Critique of Colonialism and the Crisis of Democratic Representation.” E-IR, September 10th, 2016. Accessed November 10th, 2016. Available at

Zielonka, Jan. 2006. Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Johannes Grow is a third-year PhD student in the ASPECT (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) program. He received his Master’s degree in Public and International Affairs (MPIA) and a B.A in International Studies from Virginia Tech. His research interests include: Social and Political Theory, Empire, International Relations, Critical European Studies, Postcolonial Theory and Critical Geopolitics. He currently teaches International Relations in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech.



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“Fake News” in Informational Ecology

This essay grapples with the latest weapon in information warfare in the United States: “fake news.”  The introduction of “fake news” into the political discourse by the Donald Trump administration has exposed the fragility of the political reality constructed and disseminated by media outlets. I contend that the effects of this phenomenon within the informational ecology of U.S. politics are not new. Rather, fake news is the latest iteration of informational partisanship within our democratic capitalist society, the (re)production of which has been amplified and accelerated by the rise of social media. As a remedy, I suggest abandoning claims to objective knowledge supported by media sources.

To be exact, fake news as a term dates to the Progressive era in American politics when William Jennings Bryan (one of the first “populists”) used it in his publication, The Commoner to attack anonymous articles unfavorable to his campaign.[1] The term gained contemporary popularity after a bizarre incident in which a North Carolina man, having consumed “fake news” posted to Reddit, drove to Washington D.C. with an assault rifle to “investigate” an alleged child-prostitution ring run by Hillary Clinton in the basement of a pizzeria.[2] His arrest sparked national attention to the political implications of online media and the dissemination of less than reputable information through outlets more interested in serving as advertiser click-bait than watch-dogs of democracy. Since the incident, and ironically, given its provenance, the Trump administration and the American right have shown little restraint in using the term and have weaponized it to attack news outlets such as CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post, or as a label for any story potentially damaging to the image of the White House.[3] Most recently, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted to connect “fake news” to “fake education” in an assault on American universities[4] through a sympathetic media outlet, Fox Broadcasting.[5]

Fake news, as a term, has been used to dismiss information, questions, inquiries and stories threatening to the perceived standing, credibility or legitimacy of the Trump administration. The President, employing Twitter,[6] has claimed that any inquiries into his ties with Russia, and its possible hacking of the November 2016 United States national election,[7] are motivated by fake news propagated by Democrats[8] to damage his administration and draw attention away from their election losses. The effect of the vacuity of “fake news” as a signifier is particularly dizzying considering the recent resignation of Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, following a news account exposing his discussions with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyev,[9] after the Department of Justice had warned the White House that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to manipulation by the Kremlin.[10] Indeed, Flynn had allegedly deceived Vice President Mike Pence concerning the content, frequency and duration of his contacts with Kislyev for several months. Trump and several White House officials have repeatedly denied any ties to the Kremlin and Kellyanne Conway, councilor to Trump, has downplayed what this episode might suggest concerning the President’s judgment or ability to make prudent staff choices.[11] After NBC journalist Matt Lauer dismissed Conway’s comments as nonsensical, Trump used Twitter to condemn the news accounts of Flynn’s conversations, without elaborating on his relationship to Russia.[12]  Members of the press and Congress have repeatedly asked the President to approve an independent investigation of his relationship with Russia  (and that of his recent campaign) since he has maintained such an effort would reveal nothing, but he has steadfastly refused to do so.  Meanwhile, he has assumed a defensive posture and created a carnival-like spectacle as he has flung “fake news” charges against his perceived opponents calling for such an inquiry. Not surprisingly, his relationship to the mainstream media has descended into acrimony.[13] For example, Trump was forced recently by several journalists to clarify a comment concerning the media as the “enemy of the American people” that he repeated at the recent annual Conservative Political Action Conference. He defended his contention by asserting that his comment was directed at “fake news.” The difficulty with his clarification, however, is that he appears to consider any critical or unflattering press coverage as “fake,” so much of the mass media was included in his broad claim.

In vertigo inducing displays, left[14] and right-wing[15] media outlets have adopted “fake news” as part of their political and epistemic vocabulary. Fake news is not a new phenomenon— think The National Inquirer—but its virulence in our nation’s political ecosystem has been aided by the internet, as its transmission occurs at virtual light speed through social media. In fact, recent research has exposed an elaborate network of social media sites as dissemination points for misinformation, mixed with legitimate news.[16] Algorithms beyond the control of any single actor sort information based on popularity and user viewing habits, leading to an organic system of dissemination to individual viewers. This system is driven foremost by data analytics that are part of a pursuit of profits attached to website advertising fees. That is, “fake news” is, at bottom, propelled by capital interests and transmitted by the social media users’ consumptive choices.

Regardless of its purveyor, or the administration’s use of the term, fake news is a kind of deliberative pollution that preys on information bubbles formed based on internet users’ digital footprints. Sophisticated click-bait advertising entices users into confirmation biases already dangerous to democracy and creates more doubt concerning the veracity of information counter to their existing beliefs. Again, this is no new phenomenon. In his farewell address former President Barack Obama mentioned a “great sorting” of information through media outlets as dangerous to the exercise of democratic citizenship.[17]

Massive media conglomerates, for example, now move daily to capture the attention of viewers and hold their viewership by shaping information so as to ensure it is palatable to that audience.  The subtlety of such media frames prime the deliberative environment toward debates concerning taste rather than reason, as news comes to resemble entertainment, rather than cultivating citizens to serve as “the anxious, jealous guardians of democracy.”[18] To the extent this trend now holds popular sway, citizens are daily being molded into consumers of entertainment rather than true participants in the democratic process. The rise of the 24-hour news outlet and subsequent ratings war between CNN and Fox News have neatly split the polis into two broadly consumptive camps able to access information with the click of a TV remote. In the pursuit of profit, these news channels have created distinct identities that have become their brand signatures in their quest for ratings and advertising dollars.  Capitalism created the need for spin and each of these channels has catered to the subtle and specific tastes of broad swathes of information-consumers. Regardless of the side of the aisle one may personally prefer, this great sorting has continued and new skirmishes[19] between these institutions occur daily as they contest for[20] market preeminence.

President Trump’s distaste for specific media outlets is also nothing new. The Nixon administration’s bald hostility toward the media is well known.[21] However, Nixon stepped into an environment already charged with hostility toward the “mainstream media” and exploited that situation. Human Events, a well-known conservative publication, had already been at work carving out a conservative counter space in the media since 1961.[22] That journal’s greatest contribution to the national discourse was the idea of a “liberal media,” which claimed that major media outlet frames were strong and structurally biased political force in the national dialogue. The idea that the most widely cited and admired mass media outlets were “liberal mouthpieces” accelerated the rise of media partisanship and news consumers began to divide along ideological and party lines.[23] These differences are most conspicuous today when media organizations such as Fox or Breitbart claim to be “fair and balanced” because they will broadcast or print what other major organizations will not. This argument allows these news outlets to frame other journalism as biased as a part of their attempt to tear down the façade of journalistic objectivity. The counternarrative spun by their opponents is that outlets such as Fox serve the Republican party’s interests,[24] or, in the case of Breitbart, cater to white nationalist sympathies.[25]

The branding narratives and counternarratives mirror the challenges that fake news poses for democracy. Taste plays a role in citizen/consumer informational insularity and it appears to be working to undermine the foundational capacity of the demos to act in the public interest. The weightlessness of information transfer, the consumptive practices of viewing publics, the motive force of profit in producing informational bubbles and the clear partisanship of media outlets suggest that information transfer in our democratic capitalist society is inherently biased. Discerning “fake news” from fair and balanced representation rests on a citizen’s ability to parse reality and requires critical reflection. Fake news may represent the latest iteration of information challenge presented to the demos, but its effects, as I have argued, are not new. It is very easy to get turned around in the bewildering environment of online media. In order to see the forest for the trees, I suggest that readers and viewers abandon claims to knowing the absolute truth of any matter reported in the spirit of recognizing the limitations of their consumptive practices.

Recognizing that we are participating in a market when we read our standby publications and that this market will perpetually reinforce frames tailored to our tastes should help us remember that no news is objectively reported and that claims to objectivity fall apart when considering the larger political ecology of information. Rather than a weapon to demonize the opposition, the presence of fake news in our conceptual framework can humble our more rabid moments as it serves as a reminder of the power of the media in constructing our political reality.


[1] LaFrance, Adrienne. “How the Fake News Crisis of 1896 Explains Trump.” The Atlantic. January 19, 2017. Accessed March 02, 2017.

[2] Goldman, Cecilia Kang and Adam. “In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns.” The New York Times. December 05, 2016. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[3] Blake, Aaron. “Analysis | The White House’s big ‘fake news’ cop-out.” The Washington Post. February 26, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[4] “Gingrich: ‘Fake News’ Phenomenon Is ‘Extraordinarily Dangerous'” Fox News. February 27, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[5] Tani, Maxwell. “The timing once again suggests that Trump tweets after watching Fox News segments.” Business Insider. January 26, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[6] Trump, Donald J. “Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!” Twitter. February 26, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[7] Sanger, David E. “Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking.” The New York Times. December 29, 2016. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[8] “Trump blasts Dems for peddling ‘fake news’ Russian narrative.” RT International. February 27, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[9] Phipps, Claire, Alan Yuhas, Julian Borger, and Sabrina Siddiqui. “Michael Flynn resigns: Trump’s national security adviser quits over Russia links – as it happened.” The Guardian. February 14, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[10] Smith, David, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Ben Jacobs. “White House was warned about Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia – sources.” The Guardian. February 13, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[11]Posted By Tim Hains On Date February 14, 2017. “Matt Lauer vs. Kellyanne Conway on Flynn Resignation: “Your Explanation Doesn’t Make Any Sense”.” Video | Real Clear Politics. February 14, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[12] Trump, Donald J. “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N. Korea etc.?” Twitter. February 14, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[13] “Bill O’Reilly says acrimony between Trump and the media has escalated into ‘war’.” The Blaze. February 27, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[14] Ingraham, Christopher. “Why conservatives might be more likely to fall for fake news.” The Washington Post. December 07, 2016. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[15] Lahren, Tomi. “Bathrooms go back to normal and the leftist mainstream media lets the fake news flow.” The Blaze. February 22, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[16] Ingram, Mathew. “What a Map of the Fake-News Ecosystem Says About the Problem.” Fortune. November 28, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2017.

[17] “President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address (Full Speech) | NBC News.” YouTube. January 10, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[18] “President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address (Full Speech) | NBC News.” YouTube. January 10, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[19] Nazarian, Adelle. “Peak ‘Fake News’: Buzz Feed, CNN Target Trump with Admittedly Unverifiable Russia ‘Memos'” Breitbart. January 11, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[20] Nashrulla, Tasneem. “Here Are Some Of The Incendiary Stories Published By Trump’s Chief Strategist.” Buzz Feed. November 14, 2016. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[21] Major, Mark. “Conservative Consciousness and the Press: The Institutional Contribution to the Idea of the ‘Liberal Media’ in Right-Wing Discourse.” Critical Sociology 41, no. 3 (2015): 484. doi:10.1177/0896920514528816.

[22] Ibid, pp 487

[23] Hemmer, Nicole. “The Conservative War on Liberal Media Has a Long History.” The Atlantic. January 17, 2014. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[24] Easley, Jason. “Fair And Balanced Facade Blown To Bits As Trump Endorses Fox News As State TV.” Politicus USA. January 25, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2017.

[25] Borchers, Callum. “‘Can you name one white nationalist article at Breitbart?’ Challenge accepted!” The Washington Post. November 15, 2016. Accessed March 01, 2017.


Alex Stubberfield is a second-year PhD student in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT). He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Philosophy at SUNY Brockport and continued his education at Virginia Tech earning a Master’s  degree in Philosophy, and a Masters of Public and International Affairs with a graduate certificate in Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Organization Management. His research concerns political theory, media, social theory, culture and corporate citizenship. He currently teaches American politics as an instructor in the Political Science department.

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Politics, Prediction and the Rise of Donald Trump Introduction

Many academics and pundits were surprised by the recent presidential victory of Donald Trump. The Americanists within political science provide unique resources for explaining and predicting the political landscape, yet few scholars of political behavior anticipated Trump’s narrow win. For his part, one philosopher was so confident Trump’s political ambitions were doomed that he endorsed the businessman in the primaries in an effort to foment factionalism within the GOP (Leiter, 2015). This disconnect between analysts’ expectations and reality poses a problem. How can we, as scholars, explain the failed predictions of many of our peers?  Any fully adequate account would consider a wide range of plausible rationales. This post considers only a small subset of those reasons. I first consider poor reasoning by engaged citizens and academics alike, then turn to features of political science that may have led in part to the recent erroneous election forecasts concerning Trump.

Psychologists and logicians have developed several explanations for the types of fallacious reasoning that citizens and analysts may commit. For example, these researchers have found that humans tend to be overly optimistic and to favor groups and information that confirm their biases (Nickerson, 1998). That is, like-minded individuals often form de facto echo chambers that reject countervailing evidence while affirming confirming information.  These findings surely explain some of why so few academics and pundits correctly predicted the 2016 American presidential election results. These psychological and logical mistakes were almost certainly in play during this election cycle, as they are in many other arenas. As such, they do not provide a unique answer to the question of why many predictions went awry for this election. Moreover, people who conduct polling are trained to avoid such tendencies. Baumeister and Bushman, for example, found that deliberative processing of information reduces the rate of fallacious reasoning and cognitive bias (2010, 155). Nevertheless, such training did not prevent erroneous predictions in 2016. I turn instead to unique features of political science to explain the relatively poor electoral predictions of many academics in the recent presidential contest.

Political Science and Rationality

Marquis de Condorcet provided a boon to democracy in an essay in 1785, by showing that voting may be conducive to deciding on the best alternative. The Condorcet Jury Theorem holds that if each voter has a greater than 50 percent chance of choosing the better of two alternatives, adding more voters increases the probability of arriving at the best result (McCannon, 2015). For example, if each voter has a 0.6 chance of selecting the superior alternative, it takes only 300 voters for that result to become a statistical certainty (List and Goodin, 2001, 13). This argument has long been understood as a vindication of democracy, insofar as it implies that an informed electorate is more likely than not to make good choices. Moreover, the sheer size of contemporary populations is, in this view, large enough to ensure the selection of the better choice in a voting decision.  Similar work in game and rational choice theory has sought to predict policy outcomes and voter behavior.  These approaches embrace an axiomatic commitment to the view that agents act in their best interests, whether as preference maximizers or satisficers (Simon, 1982). Accordingly, these analysts contend, one can predict outcomes and decisions based on models anticipating the choices of individuals within various scenarios. This is, for example, fundamentally what game theory does. It suggests political decisions become readily predictable when one assumes rational, informed agents acting in their self-interest with transparent and transitive preferences. Unfortunately, these models often fail to predict electoral decisions. Further, this scholarship dismisses as irrational or leaves unexplored whole areas of voting behavior. For example, this view cannot explain, and so dismisses as irrational choice-making, the fact that poor voters often vote for individuals who campaign on promises to reduce the welfare programs on which they depend.

Conventional accounts of rationality, in terms of promoting one’s interest or adopting the most efficient means to an end fail to account for these types of political behavior. Part of why some analysts were surprised by the results of the November election arose from their dependence on these approaches. Of course, turnout and problems with ensuring trustworthy responses to pollsters also explain part of the miscalculation, but my proposal, sketched below, can account for these considerations.  I next briefly provide a sense of the direction that political studies must move, in my view, if it is to develop and sustain a capacity to explain and predict voting choices with routine accuracy.

Affective Politics

First, political scientists must place more emphasis on the affective dimensions of voter behavior and policy choice to describe and predict political phenomena.  A sense of pride, and shared purpose within a community seem to be just as viable predictors of voter decisions as self-interested economic behavior, for example.  This insight allows observers to assess puzzles such as the approval rating of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, which consistently is above 80 percent in his nation despite a tanking economy and rapidly devaluing Ruble, not to mention the seizure of Crimea and growing tensions with Europe (Heintz, 2016). Part of the reason for Putin’s popular standing is doubtless the fact that state-controlled media disseminates a pro-Putin message. Silencing journalists via jailing and assassination has also become frighteningly common during the current Russian President’s’rule. Despite these realities, a sense of pride in their nation and leader as powerful and influential seems to compensate for at least a share of the losses in wealth and savings that many Russians have suffered during his tenure. While good data on this question is not available, my hypothesis is that this variable (i.e., Putin as a symbol of national pride) at least partially explains the Russian electorate’s tolerance of continued economic decline under his leadership. Similarly, a sense of pride in being an American and valorization of the demos against contrived “others” are not accounted for by rational choice theory models. Americans have the information available to them that shows that ISIS is not a major direct threat to them. But, as with their Russian counterparts, many US citizens did not act on that information in the recent election, even though they possessed it, adopting a fear-filled stance instead. In light of these facts, I posit the following: analysts should acknowledge that popular consent may also be rooted in non-rational factors, such as a sense of pride.


Rational choice and informed voting models are excellent heuristics. They may provide a helpful basis for describing how an electorate ought to behave. Further, we can systematically study deviations from such posited “rational” behavior, given accurate assumptions about the specific ends voters view as worthy of pursuit. But overall, interested analysts must engage with the reality that the passions, more than reason, dictate the conduct of most people most of the time.  With that acknowledgement as their starting place, those interested in describing voter behavior more accurately will be in a better position to do so. While this essay does not prove that there is a need for a methodological shift in political voter behavior models or that political scientists culpably failed (there is little, for example, they can do about dishonest poll responders, after all), I hope it directs more attention to the affective dimension of politics as analysts develop new approaches to describe and predict citizen voting behavior.



Baumeister, R.F. and B.J. Bushman, 2010. Social psychology and human nature, brief version.     Nelson Education.

Heintz, J., 2016. “Putin’s popularity: the envy of other politicians.” U.S. News & World Report.    Available at:            the-envy-of-other-politicians [Accessed February 16, 2017].

Leiter, B., 2015. “I support Donald Trump for the Republican Presidential Nomination.” Leiter     Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Available at:        presidential-nomination.html [Accessed February 16, 2017].

Nickerson, R.S., 1998. “Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises.” Review of general psychology2(2), p.175.

McCannon, B.C., 2015. “Condorcet Jury Theorems.” Handbook of Social Choice and Voting, pp.140-162.

List, C. and, R. E. Goodin, 2001. “Epistemic Democracy: Generalizing the Condorcet Jury           Theorem.” Journal of Political Philosophy, 9: 277–306. doi:10.1111/1467-9760.00128

Riker, W.H., 1982. Liberalism against populism: A confrontation between the theory of      democracy and the theory of social choice. Waveland Press.

Simon, H.A., 1982. Models of bounded rationality: Empirically grounded economic reason (Vol. 3). MIT press.

Amiel Bernal is a Ph.D. Candidate in the ASPECT (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical and Cultural Thought) program.  His primary area of research is epistemic injustice within analytic philosophy.  He earned his Master’s degree in Philosophy at Virginia Tech and continues to teach as an instructor for that department. Bernal received his Bachelor’s degree in History, Philosophy and Social Studies Education from Colorado State University. His nonacademic interests include Ultimate Frisbee, weight lifting and travel.

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What Machine Kills Fascists? A Critical Reflection on the Political Power of Sound in the Trump Era

Folksinger Woody Guthrie with his famous Gibson Guitar

(Photo by Al Aumuller)1






It is well known that the original writer of the song belted out by a David Bowie like-clad Lady Gaga, “This Land is your Land,2 during her Super Bowl 51performance on February 5, 2017 was the radical American songwriter Woody Guthrie. An iconic photo has preserved him for history holding a guitar with the words “This Machine Kill$ Fascists” in capital letters taped on its body above the strings. Indeed, this image is so well known that the Gibson guitar company has obtained a handsome return by replicating Guthrie’s 1945 Southern Jumbo model instrument complete with sticker3 (consumers may use it or not at their option) for a price of $2,429. The idea that a guitar or a song is a machine with the power to elicit violence, peace or productivity, continues to be a radical notion some seven decades after Guthrie sat for the famous photograph.

While teaching the course Southern Music: Music, Power, Place at Virginia Tech (Spring semester, 2017) the class’s students and I have discussed authenticity and another power of music; its capacity to create places. Conversations about music, specifically sound, as a national signifier have been difficult in our mediated age. Consumable performances and performers are much more highly sought after in recent years than strictly aural experiences in our nation thanks to live feeds, snapchat, instant replay and our cultural attraction to the visual. For instance, without the colorful drones that accompanied her, a knowledge of Guthrie’s politics and live tweeting commentary, many would have had a difficult time connecting only the sound of Lady Gaga’s performance to politics. This represents one example in which politics and the power of the voice have been usurped or made stronger by the visual, leaving listeners to ignore or fail to acknowledge the very powerful independent effects of sound. Another, and much more easily deconstructed example is Beyonce’s powerful Super Bowl 50 performance of “Formation” on February 7, 2016 from her critically acclaimed and extremely popular CD, Lemonade. The musical accomplishment represented by the album is undeniable; however, it was the visuals of the star’s performance at football’s annual great event that many citizens read as political.








Beyonce in Performance: Super Bowl 50, February 7, 2016 (Credit on website: Instagram) 4



A more personal understanding of the potential political power of sound occurred for me on January 22, 2017 when I rose at 2:30 a.m. to travel with a number of women and men from Blacksburg, Virginia to the Women’s March on Washington, DC. My trip was made possible through the generous donations of community members who wanted to be there, but could not participate and kindly made my attendance possible instead. To prepare, those attending made posters and I also purchased a t-shirt on which I wrote the message “Together Forward, Not One Step Back.” I also retrieved my red bandana from its storage place to wear in solidarity with the union miners and mountain top removal activists about whom I often teach. Those travelling together—myself included— did not, however, think about songs or chants we might use during the event. For me personally, this experience mirrored another that occurred just a few months earlier when I stood in solidarity on the steps of Burruss Hall with students concerned about attacks on immigration, acts of hatred being unrecognized and the need for increased resources for minority students at Virginia Tech and other universities. The irony, as we embarked on our sojourn to the March was, as at the previous event at Virginia Tech, we were seeking to be heard and recognized, an inherently sonic aspiration, but we were not at all mindful of that fact. As we began our trip, we imagined that our messages would largely be shared visually.

These two events, in combination with listening, voting, teaching, protesting, watching and analyzing popular performances, have led me to return to projects that first intrigued me during my initial semester at Virginia Tech in 2013. I was interested at that time in the vocalization of the political; that is, the political as expressed in sound. This essay relies heavily on those early research projects.

Indeed, this Reflection explores the voice as a space of resistance in the modern political schema. The questions I originally asked linked to this concern were: How does one account for a shifting, changing or evolving voice? How can voice be expressed in a way to free individuals from imposed identity(ies) and socio-cultural oppression? How do we become aware of what we cannot hear? How can we train our ears to listen? Mbembe has suggested that, “[s]uch research must go beyond institutions, beyond formal positions of power, and beyond written rules, and examine how the implicit and explicit are interwoven. . .” (2005, 69). There is much deeper research to be conducted on each of these concerns as well as actions to be organized to address them. The scope of this effort is admittedly limited and I welcome further conversations.


I use the terms “sonic” or “sonic spaces” to describe an area occupied by sound, which includes, but is not limited to the voice. Allegiances are spoken, nations are called to prayer and individuals also learn to exercise their ability to defend themselves by saying the word “no.”  A multitude of studies have explored the intersections of politics and song and these have often received attention on nightly network news. Those reports have addressed, for example, Pussy Riot, T. Rex, Kendrick Lamar, Bono and U2, the Dixie Chicks, Wagner and recent Nobel Prize recipient Bob Dylan. Songs provide the rhythm and cadences for political movements and eruptions. My interest here is the voice as a political agent, captured by Michel de Certeau’s statement, “More reverential than identifying membership is marked only by what is called a voice, (voix: a voice, a vote) this vestige of speech, one vote per year” (1984, 177).

Robert Jourdain has defined voice, as “…two or more simultaneous, interrelated lines of music. Nearly all music consists of multiple voices, including a bass line, treble line and parts between” (1997, 343). For Jourdain and a number of other music scholars, voice is a means to a collective sound; music. For others, music is a means to engage in discussions, not of harmony and tonality, but instead of language and lexicons.

History of the Voice as Political

            Music allows for communication beyond words and I propose that sound can catalyze changes beyond policy. This stance implies that the voice can serve as a micro and macro agent of change. Within my own area of study, the geographic and diasporic region of Appalachia, music is intrinsically connected to protest, and women, particularly, have often employed it as a tool of subversive activism. The Encyclopedia of Appalachia has described the links between music and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s:

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is the subject of several protest songs associated with Appalachia. Guy Carawan, while working at the Highlander Folk School, then located in Monteagle, Tennessee, in the late 1940s and the 1950s, reworked the old African American sacred songs ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Prize’ for striking textile and tobacco workers. Carawan’s version of ‘We Shall Overcome’ was adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. as the official theme song of the March on Washington, a central event in the 1960s phase of the Civil Rights movement. Carawan’s achievement is indicative of the influential stature and unquestionable dignity of Appalachia’s rich legacy of protest song. (Encyclopedia of Appalachia,

The gendered use of the voice in protest movements was also clear in the example of “Aunt” Molly Jackson, who performed “I Am a Union Woman,” “Kentucky Miner’s Wife” and “Dreadful Memories.” According to the entry treating her life in the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, “in 1931 she met with a delegation sent by the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners and subsequently traveled to New York City, “soon appearing before an audience of twenty-one thousand people” where she discussed living conditions in Eastern Kentucky and shared the songs noted above (“Aunt Molly Jackson,” Encyclopedia of Appalachia, The power of the female voice in leading public protest was also evident in Sarah Gunning’s “Down on the Picketline (1932),” Jean Ritchie’s “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” (1963) and “The Blue Diamond Mines” (1964), Malvina Reynolds’ “Clara Sullivan’s Letter” (1965), and Hazel Dickens’ “Clay County Miner” (1970), “Black Lung” (1970), “The Yablonski Murder” (1970) and “Coal Mining Woman” (c. 1970)5 These songs became anthems for securing better working conditions for the poverty-stricken workers of Appalachia (“Coal Protest,” Encyclopedia of Appalachia, This legacy of the voice in harmony, used to unify and to resist has been on my mind as I observe the current activist activities in the U.S.  Jourdain has argued that the disruption of existing norms that these songs represented constituted, “violations of standard expectations [that] continue to be expressive” (1997, 313). But I wonder about protests today—how are we violating social expectations of expressiveness? How can we subvert standards of oppression, violence, dehumanization, etc. while also working outside the often oppressive norms of the popular culture, but within the realm of translation? How can we hold to a hope in the power of the voice and yet address meaningfully the frequent systemic voids in the collective? That is, how can we listen and identify what is missing in existing public understandings and expectations and norms?

Shifting the Focus from Eye-to-Ear

One must look no further than one’s television computer screen to notice the ways in which the feminine voice currently is subverting power. Between the 2017 Super Bowl half-time show by Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s Oshun inspired 2017 Grammy performance, issues of gender, class, race, systemic oppression, and the feminine have recently been highlighted on otherwise white, masculine, heteronormative, neoliberal stages. While Gaga appears tepid in comparison to Beyonce, and the powerful role of the feminine voice was evident, the privilege of the visual in both performances was striking. While the role of women in disrupting power through sound has continued into the Trump era, the means of message dissemination have changed. In a world which now communicates through screens, would those watching these events be able to hear the strains of activism present in these performances without the visual imagery with which each was presented?

Is it possible that our expressions are problematically visually centered? I believe so. Visuals can be misleading and easily manipulated.  From crowd size to television programs, what one has seen and accepted previously is difficult to dismiss in our current era. Indeed, it may be that it is possible for sound to violate norms more easily than visuals can. That is, words may be more difficult to censor, manipulate and misinterpret. Sounds are less readily blocked out. Thinking of Foucault’s gaze, what if the way out of that theorist’s posited panopticon cannot be seen? (Foucault, 1975). What if it can only be heard and manifest through voice or vocal vibrations? I next briefly provide a few examples of this too often untapped potential of sound and voice.

  • Sound supports. Walking back from the Women’s March to our buses, a man leaned out of an upper story window. He was nodding his head giving us a thumbs-up sign as we walked by. The memory is blurred, but I believe he was wearing a pink beaded necklace in solidarity. Soul-filled music poured out of his window; a female voice from an earlier era. Perhaps it was Nina Simone.
  • Sound disrupts. As we walked back to the buses too, I stopped, and asked my friends, “Do you hear that?” Playing very clearly, hovering above the marchers returning to their homes was country western singer Toby Keith’s retaliation-driven anthem “Courtesy of The Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” I did not hear the performances during the march, but rather was swept up in the drums, songs and chants around me. Keith’s hyper-masculine voice echoing was not the disjuncture I expected, but it nonetheless reminded me of the power of sound. Ambulances. Whistles. Arguments between neighbors on the other side of a wall. These sounds also routinely disrupted us as we walked and marched and we often found ways to tune them out, but, our experience in Washington convinced me that even one’s best efforts are almost always inadequate to that challenge.
  • Sound gathers. At varying points during the March our large group was swept up, moving apart in a sea of pink hats and posters. One marcher held an American flag high in the air—I would search for it and know my group was not far. When the crowd grew too thick to spot the flag, our group began chanting “LET’S GO HOKIES” and found one another by doing so, much to the interest and annoyance of some of our fellow marchers.

One lesson I took away from my participation in the Women’s March is that sound must be consciously wielded. A final anecdote illustrates this point. A few months ago, a group of students stood on the steps of Burruss Hall, as I recounted above, and chanted, ‘This is what democracy looks like.” Cameras gathered in front of those students, who were seeking to be heard and recognized. That is, paradoxically, even in the powerful raising of voices together, the protester’s chants privileged the visual, and sought visual recognition. The look of democracy was also emphasized—yet the chants were all the same. Is this what democracy sounds like? What does democracy sound like?


The ability of the feminine to render its needs via collective voice, and the capacity and willingness of a patriarchal system to listen to those claims, translate and hear them, are interwoven in problematic ways. At the March on Washington, participating women were seen through images distribute by friends and family on social media, creating a powerful mirroring of personal politics and judgments. However, and again paradoxically, the intersectional claims raised by those gathered were largely lost in the translation of stories and voices to images “liked,” shared and replicated. I am not arguing that the March was not an igniting agent for a significant movement, but that our medium of sharing is immensely important, as often the media we choose (the visual), requires the literal and metaphorical removal of diverse and marginalized voices.

Even with its flaws, the Women’s March offered those participating and observing alike, a space to “sing.” Returning to Lady Gaga’s decision to bring Woody Guthrie’s song (if not his message), to one of the nation’s biggest stages, I wonder, is it possible that the power of individual and collective voice is too often overlooked today by those organizing public protests of various sorts? What can we learn from previous generations, and how can we best apply their methods of protest in an age of hyper-mediated sharing? How do we find harmony amid our new chaotic understandings of time and space? And most importantly, what labor must we do to attune our ears to the power of voices, especially those of women and of vulnerable populations more generally, to ensure that their interests and concerns receive attention?


Additional Readings

About the sounds of the Women’s March:


1 Al Aumuller/New York World-Telegram and the Sun (uploaded by User: Urban) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c30859. Public Domain,                                                            2 Please note I am only referring to her performance of “This Land is My Land,” not the lyrics of her controversial song “Born This Way.”                                                                                              3                                                                                                                               4 (                                               5 This list of performers is not exhaustive, but does reflect the massive body of relevant work women have produced.


“Aunt Molly Jackson,” Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2013, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 13 Dec 2013, Accessed February 14, 2017.

Butler, Judith, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Who sings the nation-state?: language, politics,

belonging. Seagull Books Pvt Ltd, 2007.

“Coal-Mining and Protest Music,” Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2013, Encyclopedia of

Appalachia. 13 Dec 2013,, Accessed February 13, 2017.

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1984

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1975, esp. pp. 195-228.

Jourdain, Robert. Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures our Imagination. W. Morrow, 1997.

Mbembe, Achille, “The Intimacy of Tyranny,” in Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, Eds. (2nd ed.). The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Oxford: Routledge Publishers, 2006, pp. 66-71.


Jordan Laney is a candidate for the Ph.D. in the Alliance for Social Political Ethical and Cultural Thought (ASPECT), with concentrations in social and cultural thought. Her dissertation research focuses on bluegrass music festivals as sites of identity construction. Jordan has been recognized as a Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence (GrATE) Founding Fellow, Diversity Scholar (2014), is co-editor emeritus of SPECTRA: The ASPECT Journal and served as a Berea College Appalachian Sound Archives Fellow (2015-2016). Jordan’s research, teaching and service are informed by her experiences as a first -generation college student from the Appalachian region. She hopes to continue developing educational programs that critically examine the intersectional and hidden histories of rural areas to prepare communities for more just futures





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Musings on The Human-Ecology Imaginary

Contemplating events at the Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock, South Dakota, many people have found it hard to connect Indigenous values with their own beliefs about their relationships to the land on which they live. I am no sage, nor was I raised in an Indigenous culture. However, in the name of creating community among Reflections readers, and emerging from my concerns arising from the dispute concerning possible use of sacred Sioux Tribal land for an oil pipeline in South Dakota, I am stimulated to share a recent personal epiphany regarding my understanding of the sacredness of land.

I periodically drive south from Virginia into Tennessee and travel Interstate 26 as it winds its way into North Carolina, and I am always intrigued by the many Native American sounding names on the road signs. I find myself wondering what I might discover in the Watauga watershed and what the names Unicoi, Okolona, and Unaka signify in historical terms.  When did Sycamore Shoals State Heritage Park and Winged Deer Park, near Johnson City, Tennessee, come into being and what was there before the land was set aside as public parks?

As I zip by in my car at 70 miles-per-hour, I wonder what stories this land and these waterways could share. And, yet, as intrigued as I am year after year, I never take time to stop and learn more about this area or the specific places that have long captured my attention. I never delve into the history, the stories or the traditions, past and present, of this portion of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. I simply speed by, in my time-pressed existence, to my destination.

However, recently, while in Asheville, North Carolina visiting friends, I read Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache (Basso, 1996) and it occurred to me that these sites I pass every few months and whose names always strike me, are likely attached to the language of my Native American and Appalachian ancestors who lived in these regions. I found myself wondering whether there were, and possibly still are, family stories about these locations. On a recent trip, I mused about why this possibility had not previously crossed my mind; why I had not sought out the wisdom surely contained in these places.

As I continued to reflect, I found myself asking what it would mean to live in a world that actively drew on the knowledge represented by places. Would such a society treat land as a sacred being sought out for companionship? Would residents of such a society rethink elements of their otherwise currently technocentric lives? Would our public policies be different? Would we disavow today’s reigning dictum of profit over place?

Anthropologists, such as Basso who authored the book on the Western Apache, dedicate their professional, and often personal, lives to exploring and sharing the stories and cultural understanding of diverse groups that are otherwise too often not given voice. These analysts may be viewed as agents who help us see our collective assumptions. They do so by acknowledging the complexity of the woven fabric created by the cultural stories told and documented by Indigenous peoples and by recognizing that those narratives are recounted with supreme facility generation after generation to teach, heal and preserve shared beliefs.

But their work also points to something still deeper concerning human beings and their relationship to the land they inhabit.  Indeed, it suggests something so deep that it could penetrate my analytical, pragmatically trained mind and force me to recall the knowing that surely is, under the many layers of modernity, within each of us.  It is about this abiding, deep seated awareness that Basso astutely observed, “Inhabitants of their landscape, the Western Apache are thus inhabited by it as well, and in the timeless depth of that abiding reciprocity, the people and their landscape are virtually as one” (1996, p.102, emphasis in original). That is, the Western Apache belief system highlights the intersubjectivity of human-land reciprocity. Basso’s book offers many more strikingly perceptive and thoughtful statements synthesized from conversations with Western Apache tribe members during a more than 30-year period. Each such observation, like the “arrows” discussed by the tribe members, pulled me deeper into thoughts about the symbiotic, communicative relationship between nature spirits and human beings, or as it might also be regarded, the human-ecology imaginary.

The interviews and stories Basso recounted also prompted me to reflect on how our society considers the constructed relationship between space and time. The Western Apache portray that linkage in healing ceremonies that transcend the concept of time. Their ontology stands in direct opposition to modern life and science. To the broader public, such a perspective is either not in its collective consciousness or is ignored or denied as unorthodox. Perhaps for this reason, few researchers cross the boundary of “appropriate” inquiry to share such views that were born in a time before science came to dominate our individual and collective sensibilities. For this reason, too, individuals, Indigenous or not, often do not share their non-conforming views concerning relationships to land, space and time in public venues.

Nonetheless, I found myself wondering how dominant societal norms might change if ancestral voices, via ancient stories of land and nature, were widely employed to teach morality, identity and resiliency? How could we open individually and collectively to the offers of healing such a possibility would represent? How could individuals with no Indigenous affiliation enter into such relationships? Could this be done without unethical appropriation or cooptation of Native beliefs and customs?

These substantial questions only begin to scratch the surface of the potential insights offered by the Western Apache and other Indigenous peoples. From the Western Apache tradition, I have been pondering the belief that wisdom arises from three antecedent conditions: bíni’ godilkǫǫh (smoothness of mind), bíni’ gontŁ’iz (resilience of mind) and bíni’ gonŁdzil (steadiness of mind) (Basso, 1996, p. 131). Basso revealed that, for the Western Apache, steadiness of mind is achieved by looking inward and eliminating all inner incongruences, whereas, resilience of mind is attained by learning how to cope with and recover from external forces. Once these attributes are attained, a person may develop smoothness of mind, “the primary mental condition required for wisdom” (Basso, 1996, p. 131). I find it deeply intriguing that the Western Apache believe:

none of these conditions is given at birth, each must be cultivated in a conscientious manner by acquiring relevant bodies of knowledge and applying them critically to the workings of one’s mind. Knowledge of places and their cultural significance is crucial in this regard because it illustrates with numerous examples the mental conditions needed for wisdom as well as the practical advantages that wisdom confers on persons who possess it (Basso, 1996, p. 130).


I was struck by this contention because the Western Apache beliefs felt so profoundly relatable to my life. The tribe teaches that the knowledge of place aligns individuals with their highest potential for wisdom. For this reason, I became convinced that I owe it to myself to further explore eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina and seek to learn from the places located there that still retain their Native names. My first steps toward developing a relationship with the area follow. My knowledge to date is paltry and must be supplemented by sustained efforts to come to know this terrain first hand, but it represents a start.

  • ➝ Okolona: A marker along the highway within Johnson City, Tennessee simply states the name without descriptors. However, the term most likely comes from the Chickasaw word Okalaua, meaning peaceful, yellow or blue water. Interesting, it has been proposed that tribal people who were moved with the 1887 Dawes Act were taken from Tennessee and placed into, what was later called Okolona county, Mississippi.
  • ➝ Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area: European settlers proclaimed a town in this area in 1772. The “Transylvania Purchase” of 1775 transferred Cherokee lands to those colonizers, which resulted in a series of attacks on the incomers by the tribe. Tennessee established the park in 1976 on the grounds of Fort Watauga, constructed 200 years before, in 1776, to protect settlers from continuing Cherokee attacks. The Watauga River runs through the area, creating shoals prime with fish and wildlife.
  • ➝ Unaka: The name Unaka is rooted in the Cherokee language symbols ᎤᏁᎦ, and term unega, meaning “white,” and is the historic name of the subrange of the Appalachian Mountains bordering Tennessee and North Carolina. They are said to be comprised partly of white stones/quartz. The Cherokee National Forest and the Pisgah National Forest protect sections of the Unaka Mountains; the Appalachian Trail traverses their crest. Unaka is also the name given to an unincorporated community in Cherokee County, NC, located within the Nantahala National Forest.
  • ➝ Unicoi: The Unicoi Mountains run through the small town of the same name nestled near the Cherokee National Forest. The name Unicoi also comes from the Cherokee root word unega. In this context, it refers to the low-lying clouds and fog that often drape the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the early morning or on humid or moist days. Unicoi is a main resupply point for Appalachian Trail hikers and Nolichucky River enthusiasts. It is also a hub and home to workers of the CSX railroad. The community’s first post office opened in 1851.
  • ➝ Watauga watershed: The name’s meaning is lost to history, as reported by John Preston Arthur in his 1915 classic ethnology of the region (Arthur, 1915). The Tennessee portion includes parts of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties in the northeast part of the state and drains approximately 614 square miles into the Boone Reservoir. The region contains two Designated Natural Areas: Watauga River Bluffs Designated State Natural Area, a 50-acre site, and Hampton Creek Cove Designated State Natural Area, a 693-acre reserve. The watershed contains 123 documented rare plant and animal species.
  • ➝ Established in 1991, Winged Deer Park, near Johnson City, is a 200-acre district park. The Robert Young Cabin, built in the early 1770′s, is the oldest building on the property. The park also commemorated the Massengill Monument to honor Henry Massengill Sr. and Mary Cobb, who in the 1760s were considered the first permanent European settler family to the area.


Arthur, John Preston. (1915). A History of Watauga County, North Carolina: With Sketches of Prominent Families. Richmond, VA: Everett Waddey Co.

Basso, Keith. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. (1996). Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press.

City of Johnson City Tennessee (n.d.) Winged Deer Park. Retrieved January 16, 2017 from

Cooper, A. (2015, June 12). Native American Tribes & the Indian History in Okolona, Mississippi. Retrieved February 2, 2017 from,_Mississippi

n.a. (n.d.) Henry Massengill and Mary Cobb. Retrieved February 2, 2017 from

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Watuaga Watershed. Retrieved January 16, 2017 from

Van West, C. (2009). Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved January 16, 2017 from

Wikipedia sites, accessed February 2, 2017:,_Tennessee,_Tennessee


Rachael Kennedy is a Doctoral Candidate/ABD in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.  She is particularly interested in the concept of community viability as it relates to regions’ ability to develop and sustain community food systems. She is exploring this concern both domestically and internationally by means of a sociological perspective that highlights the catalysts of initiation, community engagement, leadership style and power structure. Kennedy embraces a social justice stance that honors participatory research and community-based programming. She is intrigued by interdisciplinary approaches to major social problems and. was inducted into the Virginia Tech chapter of the Interdisciplinary Research Honor Society in 2013, which she now serves as President. Kennedy won a Fulbright Scholarship to Turkey for 2015-2016 and learned much from the Turkish people during her time in that country.

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