Walter Benn Michaels, head of the English department at the University of Illinois, Chicago, will give a talk March 7 at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium about his latest book, The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. Michaels, a literary and social theorist, argues in his book that America's embrace of the discourse of multiculturalism and diversity has obscured the more troubling issue of economic inequality.
According to the New Yorker: "Michaels, a scholar of American literature, suggests that the growth of economic inequality over the past few decades is the result of a deeply ingrained and unchallenged class structure. Scrutinizing current events and religion, he argues that our fixation with the 'phantasm' of race promotes identity over ideology, and he rejects the idea that meritocracy prevails in America's elite universities. A believer in the power of progressive politics, he calls for a debate in which class, rather than identity, would be at the fore."
Lee Bowie, dean of the College, said, "In his characteristically provocative way, Michaels plays fast and, in the view of some commentators, loose; but his arguments are incisive and, I think, worth attention even from those who will end up rejecting them."
Michaels is also the author of The Shape of the Signifier and the essay "Against Theory" (with Steven Knapp), which is included in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. He has contributed to the New York Times Magazine and the Boston Globe.
The event is sponsored by the offices of the Dean of the College and Academic Development and the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts.