Christian Bay Award

The Christian Bay Award recognizes the best paper presented on a critical political science panel at the previous year’s annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

2021 Recipient:
Joanna Wuest, Princeton University
Paper Title: “The Impossibility of Liberation: Queer Political Thought Since the New Left”

2021 Committee:
Gregory Koutnik (chair), John Berg, Lucrecia Garcia-Iommi

Joanna Wuest’s APSA paper, “The Impossibility of Liberation: Queer Political Thought Since the New Left,” begins by observing that the LGBTQ+ community has gained significant recognition of their formal rights within the capitalist system in the United States in recent decades. Yet these gains would have been unthinkable for New Left gay liberationists a few generations ago, who often understood their movement’s goals to be impossible to achieve within the capitalist system. While this might be interpreted as evidence that the gay liberationists misunderstood their situation, Wuest demonstrates that this was not the case. The intellectual foundations of the movement had, for the most part, already displaced workers as major agents of social change by embracing a post-Marxist understanding of politics that emphasized cultural revolution rather than class conflict. It is thus unsurprising, Wuest argues, that the gay liberation movement did not end up going hand in hand with superseding capitalism. Indeed, Wuest concludes that the radical coalition for gay liberation was acting “in the name of an anti-capitalist politics that had wound up being anything but.”

The award committee was especially impressed with the scholarly breadth and rigor of the paper. Wuest explores a range of scholars and activists whose writings influenced the gay liberation movement’s views on gender, sexuality, and class, with special emphasis on Herbert Marcuse’s work on libidinal instincts and their role in both sustaining and overcoming surplus repression. The variety of sources examined, and the nuanced interpretation of them, allows Wuest to avoid the danger of treating gay liberationists as a homogenous group while also helping the reader understand differences within the liberationist movement—the discussion of lesbian feminist ideas is especially interesting in this regard.

Finally, the committee was struck by Wuest’s suggestion that the perennial distinction between radical and reformist activism may be less useful than the distinction between activists who embrace a class-based analysis of politics and those who do not. Wuest concludes that, for those seeking an end to capitalism, “the liberationist disdain for class analysis and working class institutions … has proven itself a dead-end strategy,” and that a radical LGBTQ+ movement can only recapture its revolutionary potential by embracing Marxist class analysis and labor organizing. This provocative conclusion promises to invigorate debates among scholars and activists about the future of the emancipatory left as well as our understanding of past generations of LGBTQ+ activism.

Past Recipients

2020: Gregory Koutnik, University of Pennsylvania
“Ecological Populism: Politics In Defense of Home.”

2019: Mark Major, Independent Scholar
“Why the South Prevailed: Civil Rights, Anticommunism, and the Origins of the ‘Liberal Media.’”

2018: Priscilla Yamin and Alison Gash, University of Oregon
“‘Illegalizing Families’: State Status and Deportability.”

2017: Timothy Weaver, University at Albany, SUNY
“A City of Citizens: Social Justice and Urban Social Citizenship.”

2016: Jocelyn Boryczka, Fairfield University
“An Anatomy of Sexism: The Colonized Vagina.”

Additional Recipients »

 

Deadline for nominations: April 1, 2022

Award Committee

Joanna Wuest, Chair Princeton University jwuest@princeton.edu
Isaac Kamola Trinity College isaac.kamola@trincoll.edu
Edwin Daniel Jacob Arizona State University edwin.jacob@asu.edu