Guest Speaker Michele Moody-Adams (Columbia)
By Department of Philosophy
The Department of Philosophy, as part of our weekly Speaker Series, is pleased to welcome Dr. Michele M. Moody-Adams (Columbia)
Talk title: Controlling the Narrative: Meaning, Value, and Power in Public Life
Abstract: Human beings seek to make sense of the world through varied modes of meaning-conferral and communication. We describe experiences, relate facts, probe causes and consequences of events, and construct arguments to justify conclusions and actions. But narrative is the most important means that we have of giving meaning to diverse perceptions, observations and experiences and asserting the value that they have for us. There is thus a powerful insight in the saying that “those who tell the stories rule the world.” Indeed, we can remedy injustice only if we can replace socially and politically influential narratives (“ideologies”) that help to sustain injustice and to disempower the people harmed by injustice. This requires comprehending and articulating those narratives and exposing their stigmatizing and disempowering effects. Yet it also requires constructing and disseminating alternative narratives that more accurately reveal the faces and facts of injustice and that serve, as Chimamanda Adichie urges, to “repair the broken dignity” of those who have been stigmatized and dispossessed. Social movements have rightly played a central role in the narrative activism most likely to generate such narratives. Of course, Alasdair MacIntyre once argued that we are never more than “co-authors” of the various narratives that confer meaning and value on the institutions and practices shaping our lives. Yet the only narratives that can empower a people and affirm their dignity are narratives they have themselves helped to tell.
Michele Moody-Adams is Joseph Straus Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University, where she also served as Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education. She has published widely on equality and social justice, moral psychology and the virtues, and the philosophical implications of gender and race. Her current work includes articles on academic freedom, equal educational opportunity, democratic disagreement, and the nature of human flourishing. She is the author of two books: Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture and Philosophy (1997), and Making Space for Justice: Social Movements, Collective Imagination and Political Hope (2022).
Moody-Adams has a B.A. from Wellesley College, a second B.A. from Oxford University, and earned the M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University. She was the recipient of a British Marshall Scholarship and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. She a lifetime Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.