Musa al-Gharbi

Part of Our SNF Agora Seminars, Spring 2021 Series
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  • Musa al-Gharbi
  • Sociology, Columbia University
  • “We Have Never Been Woke”


Musa Al-Gharbi headshotMusa al‑Gharbi will be talking about his book, recently acquired by Princeton University Press. An abstract for the talk is below:

The “crisis of expertise,” growing inequality, the rise of Trump, and contemporary tensions around “identity politics” are not independent phenomena but, rather, fronts in a deeper socio-economic and cultural conflict between the “winners” in the knowledge economy and those who feel displaced or marginalized therein. This conflict is fundamentally not about whether science, education, or journalism are good, or whether minorities should enjoy basic civil rights, etc. Knowledge economy professionals like to frame the conflict as being “about” these things because it allows them to position themselves as being “on the side” of truth, reason, the vulnerable, and the disadvantaged, while their opponents are portrayed as being “on the side” of ignorance, fanaticism, oppression, exploitation, and the like. That is, the “losers” in the system are portrayed as being somehow responsible for most social problems, and it is implied that giving still more power or authority to those who currently dominate the system will somehow “solve” those problems. In fact, the Americans who are the primary producers and consumers of content on antiracism, socialism, feminism, etc. also happen to be among the primary beneficiaries of gendered, racialized, and other forms of inequality—and not passive beneficiaries. We are active participants in exploiting and reproducing inequalities. And yet, it is difficult for us to “see how we contribute to the problem—precisely because of our deeply felt commitments to social justice. So we expropriate blame to others… often people who benefit far less from the system than we do, and exert far less influence over it. “We Have Never Been Woke” aims to deflate these self-serving narratives, explaining how, despite their expressed commitments to egalitarianism, knowledge economy professionals have established a social order that is fundamentally premised on exclusion, exploitation, and condescension—leaving readers with a totally different understanding of social inequality, and unnerving questions about what it would take to meaningfully address it.

Read more on the Princeton University Press website. 


Al-Gharbi  is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University. His research explores how knowledge is produced, transmitted and put to use (or not), how thought is shaped by people’s commitments and social contexts, and the extent to which narratives about social phenomena seem to correspond with apparent realities “on the ground.” He applies these lenses to a range of topics including race, inequality, social movements, extremism, policing, national security, foreign policy, and U.S. political elections. Al-Gharbi is also a strong proponent of public sociology, with essays and interviews published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, New Republic, CNN, NPR, and beyond. His first book, “We Have Never Been Woke: Social Justice Discourse, Inequality and the Rise of a New Elite” is under contract with Princeton University Press.