November 12, 2021

Deva R. Woodly

Harvard Book Store and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University welcome DEVA R. WOODLY—associate professor of politics at the New School and author of The Politics of Common Sense: How Social Movements Use Public Discourse to Change Politics and Win Acceptance—for a discussion of her latest book, Reckoning: Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Necessity of Social Movements.


Barack Obama famously said that the purpose of social movements is to get a seat at the table. However, as Deva Woodly argues in Reckoning—a sweeping account of the meaning and purpose of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)—the value of such movements is something much more profound: they are necessary for the health and survival of democracy.

Drawing from on-the-ground interviews with activists in the movement, Woodly analyzes the emergence of the M4BL, its organizational structure and culture, and its strategies and tactics. She also shows how a unique political philosophy—Radical Black Feminist Pragmatism—served as an intellectual foundation of the movement and documents the role it played in transforming public meanings, public opinion, and policy. Interweaving theoretical and empirical observations throughout, Woodly provides both a unique portrait of the movement and a powerful explanation of the labor social movements do in democracy. A major work that speaks to both scholars and activists, Woodly's account of the rise and spread of M4BL will reshape our understanding of why the movement is so important—and so necessary—for democracy.

About Author(s)

Deva R. Woodly is an Associate Professor of Politics at the New School. She is the author of The Politics of Common Sense: How Social Movements Use Public Discourse to Change Politics and Win Acceptance (Oxford 2015). She has also held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton as well as the Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard. Her research covers a variety of topics, from media & communication, to political understandings of economics, to race & imagination, & social movements.