CFP: What is Left? Class Analysis and the Present Crisis

Daniel Burnfin's picture
Call for Papers
February 1, 2021
United States
Subject Fields: 
Humanities, Social Sciences, Sociology, Political Science, Philosophy

Call for Proposals: What is Left? Class Analysis and the Present Crisis

An Interdisciplinary Conference Hosted by Doctoral Students at UChicago (May 7-8, 2021)

The economic and public health crises precipitated by COVID-19 as well as popular uprisings in response to police violence, inequality, and climate change have invigorated debates over the strategies and theoretical foundations of the US Left. At present the Left organizes with slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” “Defund the Police,” “Medicare For All,” “Green New Deal,” and concepts like structural racism, reparations, universal social goods, green jobs, and degrowth. Electoral movements like the Bernie Sanders campaign and big-tent organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America have been crucial for building popular support for these commitments and identifying them with variable concepts of “socialism.” However, Marxian class analysis of this ideological field remains at best marginal on the US Left. 

While class analysis rooted in Marxian political economy was once central to leftist strategy and theory in the US, it has been alloyed and significantly displaced by a pluralistic field of non-Marxian theories of oppression along lines of ascriptive identity. This theoretical situation emerged from the last major transformation of the US Left: the defeat of the labor movement and rise of the new social movements throughout the 1970s and 80s. These social movements have been essential to improving equality of access to the market-driven institutions of US capitalism. However, they have done little to challenge the class power of the market itself and have accompanied the narrowing of participation in many leftist circles to a professional-middle-class stratum that administers and benefits from this democratization of the market. 

This conference aims to foster a re-emergent debate over the US Left’s present marginalization of Marxian class analysis and this situation’s relation to the US Left’s class composition. We are interested in research that employs or otherwise critically engages with Marxian class analysis, especially as a method for examining leftist theoretical and strategic commitments. We especially encourage submissions by advanced graduate students and early career academics. This conference aims to contribute to the US Left’s effort to chart a progressive and realistic path through the present crisis. 

Possible contributions include, but are not limited to, the following topics as they relate to class analysis and the US Left at present:

  • Art and aesthetics
  • Activism
  • Childcare
  • Climate change and pandemics
  • Education 
  • Electoral politics
  • Finance, monopolies, and the FIRE sector
  • Globalization, markets, and nations
  • Healthcare
  • Housing
  • Immigration
  • Imperialism and colonialism
  • Incarceration
  • Labor organizing and unions
  • LGBTQ disparities
  • Policing
  • Racism and racial disparities
  • Sexism and gender disparities
  • The university

The conference will be held virtually via Zoom. The deadline for submitting abstracts of proposed papers is 5pm CST on February 1st, 2021. Please send an abstract of 500 words or less in a document named “submission”. The only other information the document should contain is the title of the presentation; only the body of the email should contain names, institutional and disciplinary affiliations. Submissions and any questions should be directed to the organizers, who can be reached at 

Contact Info: 

Conference organizers:

  • Jake Burchard (UC, Sociology)

  • Chris Gortmaker (UC, English)

  • Daniel Burnfin (UC, German and Philosophy)