KPFA - Against the Grain

Progressive Talk

Award-winning program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.


Berkeley, CA


Award-winning program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.




Financialization & Student Anxiety

Various explanations have been offered for what’s been called an anxiety epidemic among university students, but Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou believes a crucial causal factor is financialization, the way the financial sector and its logic has permeated our social, economic, and individual lives. He sees signs of optimism in the proliferation of student mobilizations around the issue of anxiety. (Encore presentation.) Max Haiven and Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou, “An ‘Anxiety Epidemic’ in the...

Sex Trafficking and Sports Events

Some causes make for strange bedfellows, but few like the campaign against sex trafficking, which brings together radical feminists, Christian evangelicals, the US state, and even QAnon. Cultural anthropologist Gregory Mitchell separates myth from fact and examines how allegedly rescuing women and girls from trafficking, included at mega sporting events, leads to increased police violence, including sexual violence, against sex workers. Resources: Gregory Mitchell, Panics without Borders:...


Beyond Condemnation

Throwing away the key is what the criminal punishment system – and, by extension, the U.S. public – does to tens of thousands of people behind bars. Why does the acclaimed public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson attend to and represent those serving extreme sentences? What does Joseph G. Ramsey mean by Stevenson’s “compassionate radicalism”? Ramsey talks about Stevenson’s transformative ideas, and his own. Joseph Ramsey, “Never Throw Away the Key: On the Compassionate Radicalism of Bryan...

The Environmentalism of the Fossil Fuel Industry

Fossil fuels lie at the center of contemporary life — powering, despoiling, and altering everything around us. And that includes environmentalism itself, according to anthropologist David Bond. He discusses how concepts like toxic thresholds and environmental impact assessments are an accommodation to the continued existence of the oil and petro-chemical industries, rather than ways to address their inherent harms. Resources: David Bond, Negative Ecologies: Fossil Fuels and the Discovery of...

Structural & Organizational Violence

Mass shootings and other forms of person-on-person violence dominate the headlines, but what less visible, and perhaps more insidious, kinds of violence exist? Barbara Chasin identifies and describes two types of violence that affect large numbers of people: organizational violence and structural violence. She also connects the dots between violence and economic inequality. Barbara Chasin, Inequality & Violence in the United States: Casualties of Capitalism, 3rd ed., Lexington Books, 2022...


Israel and the Progressives

Why do so many people who see themselves as progressive nonetheless support the state of Israel, considered an apartheid state for its treatment of the native Palestinian population? Scholar Saree Makdisi argues that the answer partially lies in the Israeli state’s cultivation of Western liberal support. He discusses campaigns designed to appeal to progressives — such as large-scale tree planting, creating museums to tolerance, and encouraging gay tourism — blocking from sight the ongoing...

Inequality’s Impact on Health

A number of things are bad for your health. Is economic inequality one of them? According to Stephen Bezruchka, U.S. population health lags behind that of dozens of other countries for two main reasons: extreme economic inequality and a lack of government support directed at early life. Stephen Bezruchka, Inequality Kills Us All: COVID-19’s Health Lessons for the World Routledge, 2022 (Image on main page by AllaSerebrina.) The post Inequality’s Impact on Health appeared first on KPFA.

The Labor Struggles of Essential Workers

Work changed dramatically during the Covid pandemic. Enormous numbers of people lost their jobs, while others were able to work remotely. And then there were so-called essential workers, whose in-person jobs put them at the highest risk. In response, many of them organized, often informally. Sociologist Jamie McCallum argues that the struggles of essential workers during the pandemic fed into a wave of labor organizing since. Resources: Jamie K McCallum, Essential: How the Pandemic...


Critical Therapy

Can individual psychological problems be addressed without an understanding of social conditions and political factors? Silvia Dutchevici talks about critical therapy, an alternative to traditional psychotherapy that fosters discussion of structural forces and oppressive systems in relation to mental health. Silvia Dutchevici, Critical Therapy: Power and Liberation in Psychotherapy The Critical Therapy Institute (Image on main page by Alex Green.) The post Critical Therapy appeared first on...


Climate Responsibility

Who is ultimately responsible for global warming? Most often it’s cast as a problem we’ve all created equally, whether we’re rich or poor. In recent years, some attention has been paid to the top 10% of the population, whose high consumption lifestyles — large houses, large vehicles, and frequent plane flights — generate disproportionately large amounts of carbon emissions. Geographer Matthew Huber counters that while class is central, focusing primarily on consumption lets the key culprits...


Kingian Nonviolence

What does it mean to be committed to nonviolence, in one’s activism and everyday life? Kazu Haga reveals that Kingian Nonviolence is a principled way of life, one that actively confronts violence and injustice, restores relationships, and helps create what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Beloved Community. (Encore presentation.) Kazu Haga, Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm Parallax, 2020 East Point Peace Academy California Institute of Integral Studies and CIIS...


Sonic Worlds

What is ecomusicology, and what sorts of things do ecomusicologists investigate? Aaron S. Allen defines and traces the contours of this interdisciplinary field of study. Also, we revisit a conversation with Martin Daughtry about the auditory dimension of armed conflict and the violence perpetrated by mechanized sounds of wartime. Aaron Allen’s keynote lecture on global ecomusicologies Allen & Dawe, eds., Current Directions in Ecomusicology: Music, Culture, Nature Routledge, 2016 J. Martin...


The Fall and Rise of Urban Wildlife

One of conservation’s greatest achievements happened mostly by accident and is still hiding in plain sight for most of us. When settlers established cities in the United States, they decimated the existing ecosystems. But in recent decades, as environmental historian Peter Alagona illustrates, there has been a remarkable return of wildlife to urban areas across the country. Resources: Peter S. Alagona, The Accidental Ecosystem: People and Wildlife in American Cities UC Press, 2023 The post...


Contemplating Incarceration

What happens when meditation and yoga are taught behind bars? Are the imprisoned student-practitioners prodded to view their suffering as generated solely by their thoughts and actions, or do the classes foster an awareness of the structural and systemic factors that contributed to their incarceration? Farah Godrej taught yoga and meditation in prison and interviewed both fellow instructors and formerly incarcerated practitioners. (Encore presentation.) Farah Godrej, Freedom Inside? Yoga and...


The War on the Industrial Workers of the World

The Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies, are celebrated on the left for their militant opposition to capitalism, their broad church unionism across race and gender lines, and their ability to organize migrant and other precarious workers. As Ahmed White documents, they were crushed by unprecedented violence and vigilantism, which cast a long shadow over the U.S. labor movement and the left. Resources: Ahmed White, Under the Iron Heel: The Wobblies and the Capitalist War on Radical...


A Look Back

Highlights of some of the best commentary presented on Against the Grain in 2022, featuring Nandita Sharma on nation-states and nationalism; Sarah Clark Miller on moral precarity in neoliberal times; Max Haiven on palm oil and capitalist logics; and Michael Albert on the corporate division of labor. Full-length interviews with Nandita Sharma, Sarah Clark Miller, Max Haiven, and Michael Albert. The post A Look Back appeared first on KPFA.


Dreams of Liberation

A twentieth-anniversary edition of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, by the UCLA-based historian Robin D. G. Kelley, recently came out. Kelley spoke about his book shortly after it was published. Kelley later joined the program to talk about Aimé Césaire, one of the thinkers featured in Freedom Dreams. (Encore presentation.) Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination Beacon, 2022 (Image on main page by Ivan Radic.) The post Dreams of Liberation appeared...


Dispossession and Enclosure

We’re often told that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians rises out of a unique historical situation. But the dispossession of the Palestinians, rather than being exceptional, has strong echoes in other historical dispossessions. Gary Fields discusses the enclosure of the lands of the English peasantry, Native Americans, and the inhabitants of historic Palestine. (Encore presentation.) Resources: Gary Fields, Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror UC...


Third World History

This year saw the publication of a fifteenth-anniversary edition of Vijay Prashad’s award-winning book “The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World,” which examines the origins, the development, and what the author calls the assassination of the Third World project. Today’s program features excerpts of a two-part in-studio interview with Prashad conducted shortly after the book first came out. The post Third World History appeared first on KPFA.


DDT’s Toxic Reach

The fortunes of DDT, the synthetic pesticide which infamously devastated bird populations in the United States, rose and fell during the 20th century, and rose again in the 21st century, driven by a campaign by Big Tobacco to sew uncertainty about what can be known. Historian of medicine Elena Conis discusses the trajectory and afterlife of DDT, used to cast doubt on scientific evidence and undermine the regulation of private corporations and markets. (Encore presentation.) Resources: Elena...