Peggy Levitt sociologist, author and professor

Cultural and intellectual inequality

Move Over, Mona Lisa. Move Over, Jane Eyre:
Lessons from Argentina, Lebanon, and South Korea about the Global Cultural World

Cultural inequality is part and parcel of global political and economic inequality. If we don’t do better at one, we won’t do better at the other. This book project examines how artists and writers from what have been the world’s cultural margins get attention on the global cultural stage.  What social, economic, political, and cultural factors explain how the Korean author, Hang Kang, won the Man Booker Prize in 2016 for her novel The Vegetarian, or how the Argentinian artist, Adrian Villa Rojas, got selected to make the installation for New York City’s Metropolitan Museum’s rooftop in the summer of 2017? My analysis examines the cases of Argentina, Lebanon, and South Korea. 


The Global (De)Centre 

The Global (De) Centre (GDC) is a network of humanists and social scientists, creative makers and managers, and activists who want to produce, disseminate, and act upon knowledge in more inclusive ways. Although we talk a lot about globalizing higher education, western scholarship still dominates our conversations.  By training ourselves and our students about ways of asking and answering questions from all parts of the world, developing critical pedagogies, making on-line curricular materials available to all, and partnering with a range of innovative institutions to intervene in provocative and creative ways, the GDC will help bring what have been alternative epistemologies and ways of producing knowledge into the center and create new ones. 

We do not aspire to create a bricks and mortar center. Rather, we envision a virtual community that can agilely and inexpensively respond to opportunities and resources as they arise. We will use them to create a loose but broad tent that includes senior and junior, theorists and practitioners, creators and critics. Our main goals are not only to ask new questions, and use new categories and methods to answer them, but to train the next generation of scholars to take up this mantle and run. We also see ourselves as modeling a “guerilla approach” to research and scholarship by doing a lot with a little. While generous funding is wonderful, not having major grants should not stop us from convening meetings, conducting research, or creating exhibitions in more modest ways. The impact of a series of short-term, collaborative interventions that build  on creative partnerships, adds up.  

We are, by no means, the first group to take up this charge. What makes us different, we believe, is that we are trying to create a truly international network, that does not just consist of scholars from the US and Europe. We strive to be genuinely interdisciplinary in that, in addition to including a range of academics, we will also work with creative producers, managers, and activists.  Most importantly, we pledge to reconstruct as well as deconstruct. From our perspective, too many interventions stop at critique, without charting a constructive way forward. We try hard to leave behind “no, but…” and embrace a “yes, and…” perspective.

Toward that end, I am particularly excited about a new course I will co-teach with Prof. Claudio Pinheiro, “Decentering and Recentering Social Theory: Critical Pedagogies and Southern Social Thinking” that will bring together students from Wellesley College and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Fall 2019. 

More information.


What Is on the Syllabus?: Lessons from In and Outside the West

Around the world, study abroad programs have been designed, branch campuses established, and new universities created to prepare students to live and work in a global world. But how much has what we teach in the US really changed and are the syllabi used at universities outside Europe and the US any less western-centric?  My colleagues Kelly Rutherford, Ezequiel Saferstein, Doyeon Shin, and Rania Jaber take up these questions through the lens of art history and comparative literature. We empirically examine the key art history and world literature texts used in classrooms in the United States, Argentina, Lebanon, and South Korea. Our first article, “Beyond the West: Barriers to Globalizing Art History” will be published online in Art History Pedagogy and Practice in September 2019. 


Scale Shifting: New Insights into Global Literary Circulation

Franco Moretti once compared the success of Cervantes’ Don Quixote with a “classic stone thrown in a pond: it sends out from the Spanish peninsula a series of waves.” This image captures the conventional wisdom about how books circulate. They get published and recognized in the author’s culture of origin and then, through a series of translations, eventually ripple out to the far corners of the world. But, not surprisingly, the story is much more complicated. In a forthcoming special volume of The Journal of World Literature, which I am co-editing with Wiebke Sievers, we introduce the idea of scale shifting to bring into sharper focus the complexities of global literary circulation, especially when viewed from the perspective of global literary peripheries. Our contributors map the political, economic, and cultural factors that affect scale shifting and explore the aesthetic and sociological conditions which enable outsiders to become insiders in the global literary field. 


Cultural Policies in Cities of the Global South:
A Multi-Scalar Approach

(With Jeremie Molho, Anna Triandafyllidou, and Nicholas Dines) 

Building on the literature on global cities and on the worlding of cities, my colleagues and I are editing a special volume that charts how cities outside Europe and North America reinvent and rescale themselves using culture. We look at cases that start from above, through cultural policies implemented by public officials and at cities where such processes are initiated from below, by artists, civil society actors or the private sector. We suggest that a focus on the urban cultural armature, the geopolitics of global cultural policy implementation, and on how policy models travel goes far in helping us explain how urban policies are vernacularized and what their actual impact is.