Michael Harrington Book Award

Michael Harrington Book Award

The Michael Harrington Book Award recognizes an outstanding book that demonstrates how scholarship can be used in the struggle for a better world.

2020 Recipient:
Rebecca Tarlau, Pennsylvania State University

2020 Committee:
Keisha Lindsay (chair), Edwin Daniel Jacob, William Sokoloff

Rebecca Tarlau’s Occupying Schools, Occupy Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education (Oxford University Press 2019) is an excellent example of scholar activism that explores the politics of social change. Tarlau demonstrates how Brazilian education was transformed through a tactical war of position characterized by oppositional consciousness as well as strategic confrontation with the state. Taking Gramsci as a point of departure, Tarlau’s emancipatory study ultimately sheds new and important light on the critical interplay between means and ends. It is thus useful to scholars and activists alike. 

Contrary to the conventional belief that social movements cannot engage the state without becoming co-opted and demobilized, this study shows how movements can advance their struggles by strategically working with, in, through, and outside of state institutions. The success of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) in occupying land, winning land rights, and developing alternative economic enterprises for over a million landless workers has made it an inspiration for progressive organizations globally. The MST’s educational initiatives, which are less well known but equally as important, teach students about participatory democracy, collective work, agroecological farming, and other practices that support its socialist vision. This study details how MST activists have pressured municipalities, states, and the federal government to implement their educational proposal in public schools and universities, affecting hundreds of thousands of students. Based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork, Occupying Schools, Occupying Land documents the potentials, constraints, failures, and contradictions of the MST’s educational struggle. A major lesson is that participating in the contentious co-governance of public education can help movements recruit new activists, diversify their membership, increase practical and technical knowledge, and garner political power. Activists are most effective when combining disruption, persuasion, negotiation, and co-governance into their tactical repertoires. Through expansive leadership development, the MST implemented its educational program in local schools, even under conservative governments. Such gains demonstrate the potential of schools as sites for activists to prefigure, enact, and develop the social and economic practices they hope to use in the future.

See more at: https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780190870324.001.0001/oso-9780190870324

Past Recipients
Keisha Lindsay, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a Classroom of Their Own:  The Intersection of Race and Feminism in All-Black Male Schools. University of Illinois Press, 2018.

2018: Gordon Lafer, University of Oregon & Economic Policy Institute
The One-Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time. ILR Press, 2017.

2017: Peter Dauvergne, University of British Columbia
Environmentalism of the Rich. MIT Press, 2016.

2016: Marie Gottschalk, University of Pennsylvania
Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics. Princeton University Press, 2015.

 Additional Recipients »

Deadline for nominations: April 1, 2021

Nomination Instructions: All nominated books must have a 2020 publication date and cannot be an edited collection. Nominations must be made in writing to the committee chair by the publisher, and all five committee members must receive a copy of the book from the publisher at their mailing addresses listed by April 1st in order to be eligible for consideration.

Award Committee

Joseph Peschek, Chair
Hamline University
Andrew Scerri
Virginia Tech
James Simmons
University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh
Matthew Evans
Northwest Arkansas Community College
Rebecca Tarlau (honorary)
Pennsylvania State University