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KPFA - Against the Grain

Progressive Talk

Acclaimed 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


Acclaimed 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.




Looting Cacti

How does capitalism tap into our desires with the promise of objects to satisfy us? Yet when we possess them, the urge for something new reemerges. Geographer Jared Marguiles attempts to explain that paradox by looking at some of most endangered, and coveted, species in world: cacti. He examines the market for succulents and the collectors who drive it, including the strange illicit trade in legally-available cacti. Resources: Jared D. Margulies, The Cactus Hunters: Desire and Extinction in the Illicit Succulent Trade University of Minnesota Press, 2023 The post Looting Cacti appeared first on KPFA.

Portraying Black Loss

How can people be moved from sympathy to solidarity with an oppressed group? Juliet Hooker considers how the legendary writer and activist Ida B. Wells and Harriet Jacobs, whose slave narrative was the first authored by a woman in the U.S., balanced grief and grievance in an effort to mobilize white people to act to end Black suffering. Juliet Hooker, Black Grief/White Grievance: The Politics of Loss Princeton University Press, 2023 (Image on main page by kkfea.) The post Portraying Black Loss appeared first on KPFA.

Food Aid to the Poor, Aid to Agriculture

It’s the most important program combating food insecurity in the United States – and it originates from aid to the agricultural and food processing industries, not poverty alleviation. Christopher Bosso argues that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — has survived for almost sixty years, against those would would eliminate it, precisely because of this connection to agricultural interests. Resources: Christopher John Bosso, Why SNAP Works: A Political History — and Defense — of the Food Stamp Program UC Press, 2023 The post Food Aid to the Poor, Aid to Agriculture appeared first on KPFA.

The Yellow School Bus

What was the most powerful technology introduced into schools in the past century? You might answer the computer, or something like Zoom, or even the slide projector. But scholar Antero Garcia argues that it was the humble yellow school bus. Buses have been central to the struggle to desegregate education. And school buses are a zone — and mainly an unnoticed one — in which many working class children and children of color spend a significant part of their day. (Encore presentation.) Resources: Antero Garcia, All through the Town: The School Bus as Educational Technology University of Minnesota Press, 2023 The post The Yellow School Bus appeared first on KPFA.


History’s Complicity in Empire

What role have historians, and the discipline of history itself, played in how historical events unfold? Priya Satia contends that historians were key architects of British imperialism, that history enabled empire in fundamental ways. She also contests the notion that history unfolds in a linear and progressive fashion, and discusses the work and impact of the working-class historian E. P. Thompson. (Encore presentation.) Priya Satia, Time’s Monster: How History Makes History Belknap Press, 2023 (paper) The post History’s Complicity in Empire appeared first on KPFA.


(Re)making Revolution

Revolutionaries in one country can inform and inspire rebels in another. Kevin A. Young examines the impact of Vietnamese and Chinese revolutionary strategies on El Salvador’s guerrillas in the tumultuous 1970s and ’80s. Among other things, he describes how conceptions of “prolonged popular war” were adopted and adapted by the FPL, the FMLN’s largest faction. Becker, Power, Wood, and Zumoff, eds., Transnational Communism across the Americas University of Illinois Press, 2023 The post (Re)making Revolution appeared first on KPFA.


Profiting from Care

The pandemic highlighted the vital importance of care work—whether childcare, nursing home care, medical care or schooling – and the struggles many people face to get sufficient care. Would more public investment solve the crisis? Historian Premilla Nadasen argues that the problem lies with contemporary capitalism itself, as care has become an enormous arena for corporate profit, in which the state is often deeply complicit. Resources: Premilla Nadasen, Care: The Highest Stage of Capitalism Haymarket Books, 2023 The post Profiting from Care appeared first on KPFA.

Preempted for Pacifica Radio Archives Fundraiser

Our regularly scheduled programming is preempted from 6am to 9pm (PST) today for a special fundraiser. During this one-day event, we air old and new broadcasts that demonstrate the richness of the Pacifica Radio Archives and how important it is that we ensure their preservation and accessibility. We appreciate your understanding and support in contributing to the success of this important initiative. The post Preempted for Pacifica Radio Archives Fundraiser appeared first on KPFA.

Aged Out?

Why is the aging of populations framed as a crisis? What settler-colonial and capitalist logics are at work, and how are older people viewed and treated as a result? Sandy Grande delineates and critiques mainstream frameworks; she also advances a decolonial perspective that draws on indigenous attitudes toward elders and toward old age-associated conditions like dementia. (Encore presentation.) René Dietrich and Kerstin Knopf, eds., Biopolitics, Geopolitics, Life: Settler States and Indigenous Presence Duke University Press, 2023 Sandy Grande, ed., Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought Rowman & Littlefield (Image on main page by Dwayne Reilander.) The post Aged Out? appeared first on KPFA.

The Politics of American Vitalism

The idea that we and the world around us vibrate with flows of energy has deep roots in North America. Historian Jackson Lears argues that vitalism or animism has played a crucial but contradictory role in U.S. politics and society. On the one hand, it has been fueled by capitalism and the almost magical function of money and credit, along with the vitalist imperial notion of regeneration through violence. And on the other, it has motivated those who see humans as part of a larger animated web of life, in need of protection and defense. Resources: Jackson Lears, Animal Spirits: The American Pursuit of Vitality from Camp Meeting to Wall Street Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023 The post The Politics of American Vitalism appeared first on KPFA.

Arendt on Zionism

Why was the political philosopher Hannah Arendt so critical of mainstream Zionism? What did her criticisms have to do with how she understood nationalism and historical antisemitism? According to Jonathan Graubart, Arendt sought to delink Jewish nationalism from Israel’s state project; she also condemned Herzlian Zionism for subscribing to a view of eternal antisemitism. (Encore presentation.) Jonathan Graubart, Jewish Self-Determination beyond Zionism: Lessons from Hannah Arendt and Other Pariahs Temple University Press, 2023 The post Arendt on Zionism appeared first on KPFA.

Refugee Settlers in Guam and Palestine

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the U.S. transported refugees from Vietnam to its colonial possession Guam. In that period, Israel did something similar, offering citizenship to Vietnamese refugees, in the wake of its expanded occupation of Palestine. Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi looks at the condition of refugee settlers, as well as solidarity between the indigenous inhabitants of settler colonial states. Resources: Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi, Archipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers and Decolonization across Guam and Israel-Palestine UC Press, 2022 The post Refugee Settlers in Guam and Palestine appeared first on KPFA.


Anarchist Firebrand

Perhaps best known for his advocacy of “propaganda by the deed,” Johann Most (1846-1906) was a committed socialist before turning toward anarchism. What spurred that shift? Why did Most advocate violence – and later abandon that position? Tom Goyens is writing a biography of the fiery orator and influential editor who immigrated to the U.S. in 1882. (Encore presentation.) Anna Elena Torres and Kenyon Zimmer, eds., With Freedom in Our Ears: Histories of Jewish Anarchism University of Illinois Press, 2023 Anarchistories: Uncovering the World Anarchists Made Tom Goyens, Beer and Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880-1914 University of Illinois Press, 2014 (paper) The post Anarchist Firebrand appeared first on KPFA.

Beyond Settler-Colonialism

The modern nation-state has been premised on the violent creation of permanent minorities ruled over by ethnic or religious majorities, argues Mahmood Mamdani. The acclaimed scholar of colonialism and anti-colonialism reflects on the United States, Nazi Germany, South Africa, and Israel — settler-colonial societies built on internment and ethnic cleansing. He calls for a decolonialism that transcends nationalism altogether, moving beyond the divisions fostered by colonial rule. Resources: Mahmood Mamdani, Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities Harvard University Press, 2020 The post Beyond Settler-Colonialism appeared first on KPFA.

Microwork’s Impact

Microwork involves the performing of short, discrete tasks on digital platforms, usually at the worker’s home and often after dark. Paul Apostolidis applies his analysis of nocturnal labor under capitalism, and its impact on worker’s lives, to microwork, for which people in many countries are paid miniscule wages. James Muldoon and Paul Apostolidis, “‘Neither work nor leisure’: Motivations of microworkers in the United Kingdom on three digital platforms” New Media & Society (Image on main page by Kulik Stepan.) The post Microwork’s Impact appeared first on KPFA.

Commodifying Water

Over the last forty years, bottled water consumption has exploded. Once a rarefied item, global sales of bottled water dwarf every other beverage — totaling $300 billion a year. Environmental sociologist Daniel Jaffee argues that packaged water doesn’t only imperil our oceans and bodies with plastic waste, but undermines safe public water even more than water privatization. Resources: Daniel Jaffee, Unbottled: The Fight against Plastic Water and for Water Justice UC Press, 2023 The post Commodifying Water appeared first on KPFA.

Responding to Racism

What would it mean to have authentic dialogues around race and racism? How would one engage in a way that promotes transformation, not polarization? Roxy Manning reveals how nonviolent communication principles and practices can be used to interrupt racist conduct in ways that foster the creation of what Dr. King called Beloved Community. Roxy Manning, How to Have Antiracist Conversations: Embracing Our Full Humanity to Challenge White Supremacy Berrett-Koehler, 2023 (Image on main page by RMHare.) The post Responding to Racism appeared first on KPFA.


The Contradictory Politics of Newark School Privatization

Public schools in cities across the U.S., cities like Newark, New Jersey, have been the targets of privatization campaigns over the last two decades. Sociologist John Arena asks why rising star and Mayor Cory Booker was unsuccessful at forcing through corporate school reform in Newark, while his rival and successor Mayor Ras Baraka — the one time leader of a grassroots movement for local control of schools — brought charters in. Resources: John Arena, Expelling Public Schools: How Antiracist Politics Enable School Privatization in Newark University of Minnesota Press, 2023 The post The Contradictory Politics of Newark School Privatization appeared first on KPFA.

Police Militarization & Empire

What accounts for the militarization of the police in the U.S., and how long has it been going on? Julian Go links police militarization with colonial conquest, imperial control, and the racialization of crime and disorder. The domestic effects and implications of the so-called imperial boomerang, Go reveals, have been momentous and longstanding. Julian Go, Policing Empires: Militarization, Race, and the Imperial Boomerang in Britain and the U.S. Oxford University Press, 2023 (Image on main page by Tony Webster.) The post Police Militarization & Empire appeared first on KPFA.


The Technological and Ideological Tools of Occupation

Israel’s military power has been on display following Hamas’s attack and Israel’s continuing assault on Gaza. Israel is one of the world’s most important producers of military hardware and surveillance technology, honed in its occupation of Palestine, and exported around the globe to various brutal regimes. Antony Loewenstein traces the history of Israel’s military tech sector, while Saree Makdisi reflects on the Israeli state’s cultivation of Western liberal support. Resources: Antony Loewenstein, The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World Verso, 2023 Saree Makdisi, Tolerance Is a Wasteland: Palestine and the Culture of Denial UC Press, 2022 The post The Technological and Ideological Tools of Occupation appeared first on KPFA.