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Contesting the Nation

Contesting the Nation
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences

Panelists: 2019-20 fellows Kathleen Belew, Jefferson Cowie, and Catherine Ramírez. Moderator: CASBS director Margaret Levi

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Though debates and struggles over freedom, nation, and citizenship long have shaped American social, cultural, and political history, an acute sense of rupture seems to underlie events of recent years. Racially motivated shootings and mass incarceration. Immigration restrictions based on religion. Border walls. Surging deportations. A growing white power movement that perceives dystopian apocalypse. Increasing urban-exurban fragmentation. Entrenched political polarization and gridlock that calcify further by the week. A bitter zero-sum duel of opposed ideals, epistemologies, and worldviews. Toxic exploitation of divisions. The nation, as ever, contested.

The trends provoke questions about the past, present, and especially the future of the American experiment. Who will access the promises of the country’s founding documents? How should we define and circumscribe membership and participation? Who will exclude or be excluded? Will this be a monolithic nation or a heterogeneous republic, indivisible? Will demographic shifts alleviate or exacerbate problems afflicting our social and cultural fabric? How does America move forward while reckoning with the burdens of its history?

This symposium explores the present sense of urgency and crisis. The panelists will examine the deep historical currents of exclusion and violence, enduring fissures, and new developments that expose the limits of belonging in America. In so doing, they will clarify evolving understandings of the very meaning of freedom, nation, and citizenship – and help identify new parameters of possibility – as we enter this century’s third decade.

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