I am a critical social theorist. What most people misunderstand, even those claiming the same identity, is that critical theory isn't just about being critical. Critical social theory is about asking questions and not taking anything for granted. Why do we do that? To understand the world better...so that we can try to make it better. The world I want to leave to my children is one that is more fair, just, sustainable, and healthier and happier than the one I'm living in today.
Social scientists are generally close-lipped about prescribing solutions, knowing full well that nothing can substitute for talk and collective action. We may study instances of activism or the dynamics of a social movement but as a general practice leave it up to the people themselves to decide what’s best for them. I have also seen this through my own research: the importance of organic, bottom-up social change.
My time in the classroom and on the lecture stage, however, has taught me a somewhat different lesson: an appreciation of the difficulties that come from focusing exclusively on what’s wrong with the world. Perhaps most concerning, from a social change standpoint, is the debilitating effect it can have on the very audience one hopes to galvanize into action. Too much talk about problems without attention to solutions can convey a sense of hopelessness. Yet, the truth is, we have every reason to be hopeful.
With Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa (1999 to 2007) and United States Secretary of Agriculture (2009 to 2017)