Practice, as distinguished from theory.
As leftist academics, the theory that we engage with is sometimes derided as ineffectual and impractical. In our current historical moment, however, theory has taken on a new significance as the basis for meaningful praxis - a praxis that can instigate a renewed mobilization in the face of terrifying political developments. The theories that we propagate take on a renewed meaning as they become the framework for meaningful political action against the systems of power which structure the society around us. The election of Donald Trump, for instance, has inspired feminist mobilization and sparked global movements for solidarity among workers, women, Muslims and other oppressed groups. Though this mobilization was indeed swift and powerful, it was not spontaneous. It occurred within an explicit milieu, a feminist theory of social relations, which provided protesters with the framework, language and, indeed, the spark to respond the incoming violence of the Trump administration.
To those unfamiliar with the concept, praxis is the implementation and performance of theory in the material world. The biggest obstacle to political mobilization is convincing people that their own individual action is meaningful. This inherently relies upon a ‘romantic mode of conception,’ seeing as it is not entirely rational to believe that a lone individual’s actions can be impactful in a mass movement, yet mass movements rely upon many people acting on just such a belief. Adding a theoretical basis to support these actions can be precisely the factor that precipitates the coalescence of individual actions into a properly defined movement.
A prime example of such praxis came when the Polish Solidarity movement began agitating against the post-totalitarian Polish regime in the late 1970s. After initially struggling with their motivation, the publication of Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” transformed vague dissent into a specific theoretically-defined praxis. As Solidarity activist Zbygniew Bujak related, “not seeing any immediate and tangible results, we began to doubt the purposefulness of what we were doing. Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up, and a year later it became clear that the party apparatus and the factory management were afraid of us. We mattered.” The implementation of theory as praxis can clearly be integral to ensuring that political movements stay cohesive and unified in the face of even the most authoritarian opposition.
Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, the concept of praxis could not have been more relevant. A critical understanding of patriarchy, capitalism, and other oppressive systems of power was materialized in a decisive, subversive strike - asserting the power that working women deserve to have in our society. This global context highlights the imperative of this feature. It includes four pieces examining praxis relevant to the university-aged context, which we hope will prove relatable for our readership. Ideally, they will underline the reality that the key to achieving change is an organized, determined response that has enough conceptual basis to remain steadfast in the face of opposition. These four pieces are: