Bruce Baum

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Political Culture, Society and Ideology

Research Interests

critical social theory
feminist theory
critical hermeneutics
issues of cross-cultural interpretation
American political thought and cultural politics
political theories of Mill and Marx
philosophy of political inquiry
liberal and democratic theory

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology

interpretative and critical social science; historical methods


Doctoral students
Any time / year round

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Moral conflict, tragedy and political action in Isaiah Berlin's Political Thought (2013)

A persistent question in political theory concerns how we ought to make sense of moral conflict. How we conceptualize moral conflict affects not only how we view and respond to opposition, dissent and disagreement, but also how we navigate and confront the moral dilemmas with which political life confronts us – be it how to balance the potentially conflicting claims of rights and utility, or how to distribute scarce resources. A prominent, if contested, account of the moral dimension of political life is the theory of value pluralism developed by Isaiah Berlin, which posits that the sources of value are fragmented, generating values and moral principles that are often both incompatible and incommensurable. Through a careful engagement with the political thought of Berlin, this dissertation examines what value pluralism entails for how we conceptualize moral conflict and what it means for how we think about political action and judgment. It develops an interpretation of Berlin’s account of moral conflict and tragedy, his critique of monist, relativist and subjectivist accounts of value, as well as an account of his political ethic.This dissertation argues that value pluralism gives us a more compelling account of moral conflict than rival theories. It avoids the reductionism of monist accounts of value and avoids the conceptual (and moral) problems that plague relativist and subjectivist accounts of moral conflict. More importantly, value pluralism, it argues, helps us develop an approach to politics and political action – a political ethic, in short – that is better able to navigate moral dilemmas in a way that is consistent with our moral experience. It avoids introducing the kind of problematic incentives for political action and judgment that plague rival accounts of value. Conceiving moral conflict in tragic terms, as Berlin insists, gives us reason to confront normative questions from a more grounded, context-sensitive, perspective. It also helps us think more productively about political disagreement and compromise.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Resisting the deliberative ideal : towards a pluralistic theory of oppositional democracy (2023)

Deliberation and resistance have long been theorized as crucial to democracy. Yet, political theorists have frequently described these two practices as being in tension, if not in outright conflict. “Activist” critiques of deliberative democracy have prompted an ongoing debate about the extent to which acts of protest and resistance can be integrated with theories of public deliberation. This thesis makes two contributions to this debate. First, I argue that deliberative democracy has attempted to reconcile resistance with deliberation by subordinating the former to the normative priority of the latter in ways that elide or categorically exclude crucial power-contesting practices. Second, I develop a provisional framework for thinking about the democratic value of resistance in more pluralistic terms so as to avoid construing resistance strictly in terms of its illocutionary force and deliberative consequences.

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On deparochializing democracy: China, the West, and "democracy to come" (2022)

With the spread of democratic struggles from Europe and America to other parts of the globe in the past several centuries, some scholars have set out to transcend the Western-centrism of political theory as a discipline and of democratic theory as a subfield. The term “deparochializing” is sometimes used to characterize this effort. Relevant and ongoing debates turn on two salient questions: What does the practice of deparochializing political theory entail? How do insights from comparative political theory inform our approach to democracy? I explore these questions in the context of contemporary democratic struggles in China and through scrutinizing cross-cultural interactions between “Western” and “Chinese” political traditions of thought and practice past and present. I argue that the practice of theorizing “democracy” must focus on understanding, criticizing and re-interpreting the idioms and practices in Chinese politics to prepare the way for democrats to come, as opposed to a focus on institutional arrangements as criteria of evaluation. Second, democratic theory must transcend its prevailing Western-centric and empiricist-scientific conception for it to be relevant and valuable to differently situated and practical democratic problems.

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The hegemony of the white gaze in America and black resistance as counter-hegemony (2020)

My primary aim in this thesis is to analyse and identify points of black resistance within the ‘white gaze’. Seeking to maintain specificity, I will use historical and anecdotal evidence that examines the experience of Black bodies in the United States. I begin by arguing that the Black lived experience has been under the microscopic focus of the dominant white gaze which is undergirded by white supremacy and the domination of the black body. The second part of the essay will be centered towards ironing out ways or methods in which black resistance has been found and needs to be explored further, not only in order just to bring more understanding but ultimately to advance equality within the United States. Most notably, I explore this topic by amalgamating the phenomenological study of black lives in the United States and literature developed by Critical Racial Theorists.

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Los hijos de Cuauhtemoc: Mexican national identity in history textbooks (2019)

This paper analyses how the hegemonic Mexican national identity is constructed in Mexican primary school history textbooks. Specifically, the paper argues that history textbooks portray a narrativized history that traces a teleological development from the Aztec Empire to contemporary Mexico. In other words, history textbooks co-opt Indigenous histories and render them as Mexican vis á vis Indigenous. First, the paper establishes working definitions of “nation,” “state,” and “nationalism,” relying chiefly on Anderson’s (1983) conception of “nations” as “imagined communities” and Billig’s (1993) notion of “banal nationalism.” Putting these conceptions in dialogue begins to clarify not only what “nation,” “state,” and “nationalism” are in the Mexican context, but also some of the ways they are connected. The analysis centers on two aspects. First, it explores how two prominent national interrogation essays, José Vasconcelos’s La Raza Cósmica [The Cosmic Race] and Octavio Paz’s “Los Hijos de la Malinche” [The Sons of la Malinche], portray Mexican national identity. In Mexican literature, the national interrogation essay is a type of essay concerned with discerning what exactly the substance of Mexican-ness is. Second, using the two essays as a foundation, the paper analyzes the current history textbook used for instruction in the 4th grade of Mexican public primaryschools. The analysis pays particular attention to how “Mestizaje ideology” (Sue 2013), race mixture as the basis of national unity, provides Mexico qua nation-state with a claim to appropriate Indigenous histories and cultures. Furthermore, the paper examines how the cartographic techniques of mapping and place-naming establish a direct continuity between Mesoamerican civilizations and the contemporary Mexican nation-state. The paper concludes that the national narrative put forth by the textbook emphasizes mestizaje ideology as an essential part of the Mexican national identity in a similar manner to Vasconcelos. That is, both have a romantic notion of mestizaje, which – on the one hand – glosses over colonial violence and – on the other – is used to appropriate Indigenous histories.

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The subject and its problems: reason and subjectivity in John Dewey's philosophy of communication (2019)

One major theme of John Dewey’s social philosophy that remains salient for critical theorists today is his investments in theorizing a democratic model of reflexive communications. From a contemporary perspective, Dewey’s writings on communications, particularly his efforts in The Public and its Problems, continue to offer present-day thinkers fruitful insights into the logic of democratic citizenship and social action. At the same time, one limitation of Dewey’s work reveals an ongoing challenge for developing a critical theory of communications. While, as Dewey appreciated, we have good reason to link the inclusivity of political discourse to the relative quality of democratic life, I contend that we need to consider some even more basic questions about communications. That is, we need to consider just who is recognized as a proper communicative subject prima facie before theorizing about the content and “quality” of communicative utterances. Therefore, this project examines how the underlying processes of subject formation have historically shaped, regulated, and defined the precise limits of who implicitly is taken to embody certain performative discourses of democratic action in Dewey’s philosophy.

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From 'indian hemp' to the 'new cannabis' in Canada: the racial contract and cannabis criminalization and licensing in a British settler state (2018)

As recreational cannabis drug legalization approaches in Canada with The Cannabis Act, the question of why marijuana cultivation, production, use and trade was criminalized in the first place looms large. Leading up to reform in Canada, observers in Canada and the United States argued racism was central to cannabis drug criminalization in North America. Using critical race theory including Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract, Edward Said’s Orientalism, and passages on ‘White Technicians’ from Jean-Paul Sartre's Black Orpheus; secondary sources by historians, sociologists, criminologists, and other scholars; as well as my own primary historical and contemporary source analysis, including archived Canadian and American media and recent Cannabis Act hearings in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, I argue that racism was fundamental to cannabis criminalization in Canada as it was a European colonial policy which has disproportionately impacted racialized non-white Canadians in recent years. The Cannabis Act disregards Indigenous claims to sovereignty and imposes criminal penalties for unlicensed cannabis market activity. As such, the legislation could perpetuate racism in practice. Arguably, the net effect of the criminalization of unlicensed cannabis use and trade, combined with restrictive licensing practices, has been to co-opt cannabis for settler government and select entities with limited inclusion of Indigenous peoples so far, suggesting the need for further reform.

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Animals without Rights: A Critical Analysis of Recent Approaches in Animal Ethics (2015)

Non-human animals suffer greatly and are exploited in numerous ways by humans. This is a grave injustice that points to an urgent need for an adequate framework from which to protect animals from mistreatment by humans. Although classical theories in the animal rights literature have existed for some time now, in recent years few theorists have engaged in the effort to find more persuasive theories under which the mistreatment of animals by humans should be considered. Two influential attempts to develop such a theory were undertaken by Martha Nussbaum in her article and book chapter "Beyond Compassion and Humanity: Justice for Nonhuman Animals" (2004, 2006), and by Robert Garner in his books Animal Ethics (2005) and A Theory of Justice for Animals: Animal Rights in a Nonideal World (2013). In this paper, I argue that both these approaches have fundamental flaws that prevent them from being adequate theoretical frameworks under which to protect animals. Through careful examination of the theories, I show why they can't fulfill what they claim to, and should be rejected. The only real way to protect animals, I argue, is to assign them universal rights under the theoretical concept of justice. Taking animal rights seriously means that they have these rights by virtue of their selfhood and sentience. An application of this view means an extension of the rights view, widely acknowledged since the human rights revolution, to animals. Such an extension would mean that virtually all human exploitive treatment of animals ought to be abolished. It calls for a new paradigm shift in human-animal relationships. It is now the appropriate historical and political moment for such an extension.

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Care, gender inequality and resistance : a Foucauldian reading of Carol Gilligan's ethic of care (2013)

Through a Foucauldian reading of Carol Gilligan’s ethic of care, this essay answers the following question: How can we explain the persistence of gender inequality in Western ‘post-sexist’ countries where formal equality has been achieved, and what should be done in order to eradicate these inequalities? A Foucauldian reading of Gilligan’s work can enhance our understanding of the mechanisms of power that continue to oppress women in ‘post-sexist’ countries, and the ‘tools’ in later Foucault’s work can be used in order to develop a project of resistance against gender inequalities. In the first part, I join to Gilligan’s work the key concepts of the Foucauldian genealogy of the subject in order to demonstrate how these concepts can help to explain the constitution of the ‘female gendered self’ under capitalist patriarchy and to highlight the mechanisms of power that reproduce gender inequalities. I demonstrate that a key factor that explains these inequalities is the discrepancy between this ‘female gendered self’ and the values that are rewarded by patriarchy. In the second part, I use the tools present in Foucault’s later works about ethic and the care of the self, especially the concepts of ‘techniques of the self’ and ‘practices of freedom’, to explain how these mechanisms of power could be changed so that gender relations would become more equal. I argue that women have to change their current normalizing techniques of the self related to care into practices of freedom, for example through consciousness-raising, in order to develop a political project against gender inequalities.

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Habermas, biopower, and the regulation of genetically modified crops and foods (2013)

In this paper I combine insights from Habermas’s analysis of the democratic public sphere and Foucault’s concept of biopower to delineate barriers to democratic engagement in health and environmental policy processes, with a focus on rational-critical debate in the public sphere. I begin by demonstrating how Habermas’s approach provides a normative basis for critiquing certain power relations based on how they affect the information and opinions circulating in the public sphere and the development of forums for rational-critical debate. I then explain how Foucault’s concept of biopower draws attention to the more specific mechanisms through which those power relations have the effects that they do in health and environmental policy processes, especially over time. Finally, I apply these insights to the regulation of genetically modified crops and foods in Canada and argue that democratic engagement in this policy process will only improve if unequal power relations that hinder rational-critical debate are mitigated.

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The black/white wealth gap : the transgenerational effects of post-reconstruction sharecropping and racial systems on African Americans today (2011)

The purpose of this study was to investigate how sharecropping systems, a form of racialized agriculture, instituted in the Post-Reconstruction era has had a profound impact on the inability of many African Americans to generate and pass down wealth to successive generations lending to the sizable gap in wealth between whites and blacks (as well as between blacks) in America today. Another aim was to find out how systematic anti-black racism, particularly during Jim Crow, aided in denying a substantial number of southern blacks from entering into the labour market and engaging in the white American ideal of property ownership by re-asserting a white hegemonic order reminiscent of the antebellum period. Another objective was to trace the effects of the Great Migration (1910-1970), the northward and westward migration of close to 8 million blacks out of the South, that occurred as a result of this systemic racism.It was found that the late move of black men out of agriculture and into other areas of the labour market, in addition to the persistent racism that upheld sharecropping systems in the South, severely hampered the ability of many African Americans from building and passing down wealth holdings to their children, helping to explain some of the staggering wealth discrepancies that we see today. Furthermore, the results of the study indicated that some blacks, particularly in Durham, North Carolina, benefited by the anti-black racism in the South by creating a black clientele in predominantly black neighbourhoods where whites did not want to set up shop, allowing some blacks entry into the coveted middle class. The effects of the Great Migration did not benefit all, however, in that it also created clusters of blacks in northern urban areas who faced increasing anti-black racism and exclusion from the marketplace, lending to the creation of a lower middle class and an impoverished underclass. The principle conclusion was that in order to understand present day inequalities among African Americans, there must be a historical analysis that is sensitive to the transgenerational effects of sharecropping, Jim Crow and institutionalized racism.

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The meaning of violence: a journey of understanding through the Rift Valley of Kenya (2011)

On the 30th December 2007, following the disputed presidential election fought between Raila Odinga of the ODM Party and Mwai Kibaki of the PNU Party, violence erupted in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Focusing on the Kalenjin and Kikuyu ethnicities this paper takes a hermeneutical approach and argues that explanations of violence will always be incomplete without a prior understanding of what violence means for the different communities involved. It argues that this understanding comes from the dominant traditions of violence that people grow up in, which are constructed and held in narrative form. From this theoretical approach and building on five weeks of fieldwork conducted in the Rift Valley of Kenya in the September and October of 2010, the argument proceeds that in both the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities storylines were constructed by the elites and opinion makers, building on existing narratives and framing events and experiences. These storylines were then reproduced at a local level and constructed violence as legitimate, necessary and directly led to fighting. From this conclusion, the final part of this paper suggests that by comprehending the compelling narratives leading to violence, persuasive counter-narratives can be introduced and strengthened, which might deconstruct violence as legitimate and make communities want peace. Overall, it is suggested that a hermeneutical approach to violence is valuable and must be pursued where the overriding goal is peace and human dignity.

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Fossil fuel, capitalism, and the state: a critical approach to the international climate change discourse (2010)

This paper offers a structural critique of the international climate change discourse and challenges the coherency of the norms and logic that underpin the Kyoto Protocol. The first section outlines how the dominant climate discourse in the international community presents the economic imperatives of the state as compatible with the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The second section argues that in operating to facilitate global economic growth and to sustain the conditions for capital accumulation, the dominant climate discourse in fact precludes states from achieving the emission reductions that are necessary to avert pending and dangerous climactic changes. The argument builds off of the critical treatment of three interconnected facets of the global capitalist system that, it is argued, have caused a metabolic rift to form in the global carbon cycle: (1) the historically specific role of carbon-emitting fossil fuel in the development of capitalism’s constitutive production and circulation processes, what Huber (2009) calls capitalism’s ‘fossil fuel mode of production’; (2) capitalism’s inherent expansionary drive; and (3) the compromised relationship of the state with capital. When combined, these insights suggest that meaningfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires the development of a radically different climate discourse, one that fundamentally transforms the structure of the current capitalist system, including, importantly, the imperatives of the modern capitalist state. The paper concludes by offering a sketch of what a postcapitalist state would look like emphasizing the necessary role that it could play to promote strategies of ecological modernisation that foster the development of an alternative energy mode of production. This state would regulate and even proscribe certain destructive tendencies of capital accumulation in order to create economies that cease to threaten the integrity of the global carbon cycle.

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The biopolitics of normative monogamy: a critical discourse analysis of the polygamy debate and Bountiful, British Columbia (2010)

The issue of polygamy has become a political problem in the last twenty years in Canada, and in British Columbia specifically, because of legal ambiguity regarding the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy law. This problem has been approached by academics primarily through a legal negotiation of women's rights versus religious minority rights. Popular polygamy discourse, however, is largely informed by a debate within the print media over core Canadian values regarding sexuality. This thesis examines the unequal power dynamics that serve as the preconditions for this debate and that are reinforced through the discourse. These dynamics form a complex web between various groups such as GLBTQ communities, social conservatives, secular feminists and those practising polygamy. I rely on a genealogical discourse analysis that traces the development of polygamy discourse in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, and the continuity of this discourse in the contemporary debate in Canada. Drawing on a critical analysis of Canadian print media, I argue that the contemporary polygamy debate reinforces a biopolitics of normalization in which a hetero-normative, monogamous and economically productive family unit is privileged at the expense of marginalized sexual-family structures that are characterized as a threat to the national population. I conclude that feminists concerned with equality within polygamous communities should take into account this exclusionary normalization while working against patriarchal forms of polygamy.

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