Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

David Harvey

Committee Members

Matthew Gold

Louise Lennihan

Donald Robotham

Miguel Robles-Duran

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Internet, Pedagogy, Political Economy, Community Organizing

Abstract

Through contemporary ethnography, this dissertation explores the self-organization of those at the bottom of the wealth and income scale within the working class in the United States between 1983 and 2018. In the context of neoliberalism and technological revolution, innovations in information technology have accelerated the polarization between wealth and poverty, fundamentally impacted social relations, but also enabled creative strategies for movement building and revolutionary organizing.

Exploring the organizing models as well as political and moral rhetoric of those who have been left out, locked up, and made poor over the past thirty-five years in the United States, it demonstrates that, in the context of the current neoliberal capitalism, meeting the survival needs of the poor puts grassroots organizations and their members on a collision course with private property relationships and the state. The experience of collective struggle for bare survival—or what Marx would call social reproduction—is a basis of unity for the poor. This unity is more salient than the formality or informality of their relationship to wage labor. The dissertation documents innovative thinking on organizational forms outside of labor unions, new tactics and strategies of organizing and movement building, and knowledge production that emerges from below that are rarely presented and analyzed.

A New and Unsettling Force critiques various theories on the agency of the poor and argues that in many cases, scholarly treatments of anti-poverty organizing obscure the political agency of poor people and foreclose the possibility of more radical change. Exploring the impact of the National Union of the Homeless, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union/Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the United Workers Association, and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, it calls forth successes and challenges of the subaltern speaking for themselves, thinking for themselves, organizing for themselves, and leading not just themselves but larger society towards social transformation.

The dissertation explores ways information technology has been creatively leveraged to allow anti-hegemonic discourses to spread. The final chapter is a case study of the Reading Marx’s Capital project with Professor David Harvey whose website and online courses have more than 4.5 million page views to date and are being translated into 44 languages. Many of the millions of users of this project are grassroots organizers across the globe, representing over 200 countries and six continents. The online courses on Capital have been credited with revitalizing the study of Marx and political economy among the current generation of militant organizers. The impetus and many of the lessons used to implement the course were learned from decades of work with the poor organizing the poor and using the Internet to amplify their struggles and collaborate and theorize in revolutionary ways.

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