Lisa Disch, University of Michigan   

Tuesday 11th November 2014



The idea “winner take all politics” has emerged among US scholar/public intellectuals as a way of understanding aspolitically driven (not market driven) the tremendous upward redistribution of wealth that has occurred in the US over the past fifty years. In their book of that title, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson offer a brilliant account of the ways that features of the US electoral and party system post-1970 have combined to produce systematic discrimination against middle- and lower-middle class interests. Yet they sum up their own account in perhaps the least interesting terms, as evidence of a “declining responsiveness of American politicians to the electoral middle.” This talk is in part a response to Hacker and Pierson’s work and an attempt to specify a way of thinking politically (as opposed to juridically) about discrimination.


Lisa Disch’s interests in political thought extend from the thought of the mid-18th century to that of today. She specializes in contemporary continental political thought, paying particular attention to feminist theory, political ecology, and theories of democracy in both the US and France. Framing this range of interests is a concern with the power of conventions that are regarded as necessary or natural, and a fascination with how they come to be looked upon that way. This concern accounts for her interest in storytelling, which she explored in her first book and in early articles. It provided the impetus for her second book, an analysis of how 20th-century US citizens—after a robust century of third-party participation in US politics—not only came to take it for granted that in this first-past-the-post system a vote for a third party is wasted, but to welcome US electoral duopoly as bulwark of their democracy. Her recent writing on the sex/gender difference is similarly inspired by this more general concern. Her current research includes a project on political representation that seeks to reconcile the insight that acts of representation neither merely reflect constituencies nor originate with them but, rather, mobilize them with the expectation that representative democratic government must be government “by” the people. She is also at work on a project on the reciprocal influences of contemporary French and American political theory.

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