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

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Doctoral students
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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
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 (2010 - 2018)
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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