February 11, 2011

PETER WOOD WRITES ABOUT THE BECK-PIVEN CONTROVERSY in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and I was glad to see this right up front:

The strikes and riots in Greece ended up destroying a great deal of property and costing lives. In one instance, protesters threw a Molotov cocktail through the front window of Marfin Bank in central Athens. Three people inside died from asphyxiation and four others were badly injured. There were other atrocities.

A lot of Piven’s defenders in the academy have been trying to distract from this. He continues:

The consistent theme of Piven’s work has been the desire to set Americans against one another in the hope that out of the resulting conflict will come a more organized and energized movement of the poor and disenfranchised. Thus Piven’s recent invocation of riots in Greece and protests in England is nothing especially novel. . . .

For the record, I have been unable to locate any instance in which Beck called for Piven’s death or incited violence against her. As many others have pointed out, however, Piven herself has long extolled the value of civil unrest up to and including riots, which would seem to put her own academic discourse in a place other than “responsible criticism and debate.” Her belief in the salutary character of some kinds of violence is, of course, not an isolated case in academe. Frantz Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth, long a staple in American college reading lists, luxuriates in the idea of the liberating quality of killing the oppressor. The academy has its share of men and women who theorize on the utility of revolutionary violence—and a few who have actually practiced it. On that scale, Piven is something of a moderate. She is attracted to the idea of violent social disruption but doesn’t apotheosize killing for its own sake.

Read the whole thing. Wood’s quite hard on the American Sociological Association, and rightly so. And Ann Althouse has related thoughts.

UPDATE: Reader Jeff Johnson emails: “The comments and defense by sociologists of Piven really knocks down their position of saying that there are hardly any conservatives in the social sciences since they aren’t as intelligent as liberals. If this type of thinking is their idea of intelligent, then that word doesn’t mean what they think it means.”

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