Building Education for the Commons

Prof. David Allen– A Comrade Who’s Changing the Way we Think and Act

Prof. David Allen, Temple University & GCAS

Prof. David Allen, Temple University & GCAS

Philosophy & Politics 

Lecture Notes from Prof. David Allen’s lecture in the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS) Series, “Philosophy and the Political: Perspectives on the Future of Democracy”


David Allen, Educated at NYU, Columbia, University of Toronto, Cambridge University, Cornell, SUNY Stony Brook and UC Berkeley where he received his PH.D. in Sociology in 1995

He studied and worked with Michel Foucault at Toronto and Berkeley

A long time Maoist inspired activist from the days of his political youth in the 1970s

David has taught at :

Stanford University

UC Santa Cruz

UC Berkeley

a large state university in the South

Drexel University

and most recently at Temple University in Philadelphia

where he is currently Associate Professor of Sociology

His current areas of research are on

Social Theory

International Migration

Social Movements  & Communism

He is currently working on a book that combines political biography with philosophy and praxis largely anchored in the experience of Maoism and visions of communism

He is very proud to say that he teaches an ongoing double load because teaching and being a lifetime student is an ongoing vocation or calling

Lecture Notes:

After the GCAS “Badiou On Badiou” seminar this past summer a special shout out to the students of this school

If I have to go to war again these are the people I would want to do that with.  If you said to me tomorrow these are the people trying to build a better world I’d say sign me up

I want to do two different things today before I address questions

Creston has asked me to talk about how my teaching relates to students, democracy and activism

And then some students at GCAS have recently asked me to talk a bit about my own political awakening

First let me deal with the simplest issue here.  Perhaps it’s not at all such a simple issue after all but I’ll treat it briefly in this forum

How does my teaching deal with democracy?

If democracy means ‘representation institutions’, voting and what is commonly referred to here as politics or politics as usual

I try to enlist students into a true philosophical, sociological and political critique of their relations to democracy, especially state democracy

Right now we’re reading a text in my social theory class

They Don’t Represent Us by Sitrin & Azzolini

It’s a really good text

but ultimately these authors want to breathe new life into democracy

while I would like to go beyond democracy

I do not see democracy in our gov’t as genuine

and I don’t see democracy as some kind of higher goal for us or for humanity

I hope I can pose truly big questions with my students

…what’s really worth living for?

Certainly some kind of democracy is necessarily a part of the mix

But it’s more a process than an end

Reducing the issue to democracy would be like being a filmmaker

and saying something like I want to make films

well of course but what kind of films?

Making pornography would not be worthwhile…

So it’s important to say what kinds of films I think are important to make

I think if I were to make films today

I want to make films about subjects that help us to see beyond our selves, our cultures, our lives ..I’d want to see more a world of possibilities than I saw before making the film

I think I’d enjoy making something like a communist film

and I’d want to make it in a new way. I’d want the people working with me to own it and it’s production as much as I do

This is how I approach democracy in my classes

To use Badiou’s phase

I guess I approach it diagonally

I ask democracy for what ? and then I look over the horizon…

because the really big issue is what to be living for

so I’ll place that aside for now

I’ll say a few words about what I teach? How? and perhaps why?

First off I love to work and think amongst students and I put my emphasis upon students unlike many of my colleagues

I am where I am largely because of students not my colleagues

the strong motivations and inspiration that I have on a day in and day out basis come not from professional colleagues but from students

To be honest I plant my feet firmly amongst students

why amongst students?

Because they more than almost any other social group make some kind of effort to study the world they are growing into and beyond

Students & perhaps migrants are by their very nature engaged with a changing world, always embracing new projects, new courses to study even changing their very ways of being in the world

that to me is what makes these two population so vital, so different than the rest

and what it means more than anything else is that I don’t simply teach them…I also learn from them and in ongoing ways

What do I teach?

First of all I teach what I also do the bulk of my research on ….

so I teach courses on social theory, on Inequality, on immigration, on collective behavior and social movements

but because I teach in a large university I also teach required lower-division courses like a General Education course

When I came to Temple they asked me to teach Race & Ethnicity as my Gen Ed course

I told my Chair I have very little background in these subjects to which he responded ‘You’re a sociologist – You know Race & Ethnicity’

So I did that for a semester and actually got more interested in it

but because I protested the original charge my chair then asked me to teach a course on immigrants

It’s the best direction I’ve ever gotten from any chair. I haven’t stopped teaching that course since and like all my courses I never teach it the same

so one of my subjects:

Migration > immigration, but emigration living in multiple cultures simultaneously, refugees

How I teach it?

Through multi-medias



news events – the world of everyday life is a great teacher


Boat sinkings go into example ‘invisibility’

refugee crises

comparative settings

We’re reading now about the transnational public sphere

most students aren’t familiar until college regarding what a public sphere is

Well we’re talking about a transnational public sphere which is much more apt in the world we live in today & likely tmrw

we live in an unequal world where the powerful, the wealthy can move freely around the world while most migrants have to fight for their mobility

Nation states can’t address the flexibility of power and wealthy elites

the only way such power can be addressed is in a transnational arena

I also deal with

inequality > look at inequalities not just economic but other modes of inequality:







we also look in depth at issues facing the people I work with (students)


student debt

neo-liberal privatization

work in the 21st century

Social movements:

the experience of collective life

not just directed political life (or goal oriented)

unions /coupling Simmel, Freud, Canetti

we examine world historic movements: communism, fascism, anarchism Students don’t have the first awareness of these world historic movements & the transformative effects they’ve had on their participants and upon the world


Social Theory

expanded from sociology


special emphasis upon philosophy

a particular philosophy

‘Big questions’ philosophy

Getting outside the cave

examining life at it’s core

Anything better under the sun

the good life


the real nature of communism

“ “ democracy: emphasize the limited nature of democracy

being in the world


role of education

Read texts

open up worlds

first one

Ahmed the Philosopher

The Beast

They don’t represent us

We read new texts primarily that address our contemporary world

I try to limit the authority I exercise over them

expand their participation

encourage open discussion about big ideas

Bringing important people to them

Oscar Martinez

Importance of seeking out important people to study with or under

Michel Foucault & Alain Badiou

purpose of learning



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This entry was posted on January 11, 2015 by .
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