The Social Contract in the 21st Century
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Elite opinion in the United States has over the past several decades increasingly been shaped by a preoccupation with “identities.” The identities in question – racial, gender-based, sexual, and more – have proliferated and hardened over time, arguably driving wedges through populations that might be consolidated politically if they communicated in a different idiom, namely that of class. Is solidarity possible if subnational groups are defined chiefly in terms of their differences? This lecture/paper will argue that the emphasis on identity and difference is creating divisions that should be less salient if the aim is to create progressive social change and a more durable social contract for the 21st century.
John Torpey is Presidential Professor of Sociology and History and Director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has written a number of books, including Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics (2005), and many book chapters and articles in such publications as Theory and Society, Noema, The Nation, The
Conversation, openDemocracy, Forbes.com, and elsewhere.