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KPFA - Against the Grain

Progressive Talk

Award-winning program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.

Award-winning program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.


Berkeley, CA


Award-winning program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.




Democratic Development

Where can one find an outstanding example of decentralized democracy? Richard Franke describes a remarkable initiative launched in the Indian state of Kerala that devolved power to the community level, made local development a bottom-up process, and drew on mass mobilizations to bring to light people’s needs and how best to address them. T.M. Thomas Isaac and Richard W. Franke, People’s Planning: Kerala, Local Democracy and Development LeftWord Books, 2021 The post Democratic Development...

The Gentrification of Atlanta

Atlanta is a pivotal city for reasons cultural, economic, and political. And so the changes that the city and metropolitan area have undergone since the 1990s have been consequential, deepening class and racial inequality. As Dan Immergluck points out, these shifts were not the inevitable product of market forces, but the result of political decisions. He lays out the lessons that can been drawn from the gentrification of Atlanta. Resources: Dan Immergluck, Red Hot City: Housing, Race, and...


The Evolution of Belief

Belief conjures up political fanaticism and blind religiosity. But evolutionary anthropologist Agustín Fuentes argues that belief is also connected to our capacities to imagine, create, and change the world for the better. He reflects on why the ability to commit passionately and wholeheartedly to an idea is a central part of what makes us human. (Encore presentation.) Agustín Fuentes, Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being Yale University Press, 2019 The post The Evolution of...

Nativism, Immigration, and Environmentalism

The Republican Party is gripped by a hatred of immigrants. But geographer Reece Jones argues it has not always been so. Instead, one man, the late John Tanton, was responsible for making nativism appear a central concern of conservatives, by propagating scores of anti-immigrant organizations, some which eventually helped staff the Trump Administration. And, as Jones points out, Tanton’s nativism originated from an unexpected place: the environmental movements of the Sixties. (Encore...

Preparing for Disaster

Bunkering and doomsday prepping, far from being eccentric or fringe activities, are baked into U.S. politics. So argues Emily Ray, who describes how Americans have been encouraged, by both Cold War administrations and today’s political elites, to think of doomsday preparation as an individual rather than collective endeavor, one that involves looking to the market for solutions. (Encore presentation.) The post Preparing for Disaster appeared first on KPFA.

Litigating Torture

Following the attacks of September 11th, the administration of George W. Bush instituted the widespread use of coercive interrogations of detainees, as well as kidnapping, forced disappearance, and sham commission proceedings. Yet for the first several years of the “war on terror” little was known about what the U.S. state was doing to prisoners, until hundreds of lawyers—some from the left, but others even from the military itself—challenged the U.S. government in court. Sociologist Lisa...

Thinking With Thoreau

Species extinction and loss of biodiversity may seem like twenty-first century concerns, but according to Wai Chee Dimock, nineteenth-century thinkers like Thoreau anticipated irreversible changes to the natural world. Thoreau, she asserts, was deeply concerned about the fate of both wildlife and Native American populations. (Encore presentation.) Wiggins, Fornoff, and Kim, eds. Timescales: Thinking across Ecological Temporalities University of Minnesota Press, 2020 Wai Chee Dimock, Weak...

MoMa and Cultural Imperialism in Latin America

Modern art has always been a battleground — and the highly influential Museum of Modern Art has been partisan since its inception. Architectural historian Patricio Del Real discusses two differing political visions of modernism and modern architecture: one rooted in the left, and associated with figures such as Communist muralist Diego Rivera, and the other on the right, represented by the architect and fascist sympathizer Philip Johnson. He weighs in on MoMa’s promotion of a view of...


The Vigilance Committees

According to Jesse Olsavsky, vigilance committees in Philadelphia, Boston, and other northern cities constituted the militant, highly organized urban wing of the Underground Railroad. Olsavsky stresses the importance of the interviews vigilance committee members conducted with runaways, interviews that acted as crucial conduits for information, ideas, and strategies for resistance. Jesse Olsavsky, The Most Absolute Abolition: Runaways, Vigilance Committees, and the Rise of Revolutionary...

The Wines of Empire

The wines of Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand are widely consumed around the world, especially in the UK, the heart of the former British empire. And that’s no coincidence. The British imperial project was central to the cultivation and distribution of wine from its colonies, for reasons both ideological and economic. Historian Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre discusses three centuries of imperial wine production and consumption, once primarily reserved for the elite, then later consumed by...

Oily Business

Palm oil can be found in a staggering variety of food items and other products we consume every day. Max Haiven traces the history of this ubiquitous commodity’s production and use to reveal capitalism’s logics and imperial states’ depredations. (Encore presentation.) Max Haiven, Palm Oil: The Grease of Empire Pluto Press, 2022 Pluto Press’s Vagabonds series (Image on main page by Lian Pin Koh.) The post Oily Business appeared first on KPFA.


Remembering Mike Davis

Mike Davis was an exceptional thinker and writer: a deeply committed socialist who dazzlingly illuminated the unfolding ecological and social contradictions of late capitalism. Whether writing about his native Southern California, or contemplating the fate of billions in the world’s mega-slums, Davis gave us new ways of seeing — always with a post-capitalist world in his sights. Geographer Richard Walker discusses the many contributions of his fellow urbanist and radical. The post...

Automated Warfare

Many U.S. military establishment bigwigs are pushing the development of automated and autonomous weapons systems. Roberto González questions whether this robo-fanaticism, as he calls it, is justified. He also describes efforts to address human warfighters’ distrust of machines. (Encore presentation.) Roberto J. González, War Virtually: The Quest to Automate Conflict, Militarize Data, and Predict the Future University of California Press, 2022 The post Automated Warfare appeared first on KPFA.

The Politics of Noel Ignatiev

The complicity of white workers in maintaining the capitalist status quo has been much argued on the U.S. left. One of the key combatants and contributors to the debate was the influential radical thinker Noel Ignatiev, who died in 2019. Economist Geert Dhondt reflects on the key ideas of Ignatiev on race and the notion of dual power in moments of revolutionary upheaval. Resources: Noel Ignatiev, Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity (Edited by Geert Dhondt, Zhandarka Kurti, and Jarrod...

Migrant Workers in China

The movement of Chinese people – around 300 million of them – from rural areas to China’s cities has been called the largest mass migration in human history. Have the working-class migrants who’ve built China’s megacities been rewarded for their efforts? Eli Friedman describes the obstacles and injustices they’ve encountered, particularly when trying to get schooling for their children. Eli Friedman, The Urbanization of People: The Politics of Development, Labor Markets, and Schooling in the...

The Radical International

It’s been described at the most turbulent period of global class struggle in history — the turn of the 20th century when revolutionaries around the world found common cause against capital and empire. Christina Heatherton discusses the revolutionary internationalism swirling around the Mexican Revolution and the remarkable intersection of radicals at that time. Resources: Christina Heatherton, Arise! Global Radicalism in the Era of the Mexican Revolution UC Press, 2022 The post The Radical...

Toward Ecocentrism

In arguing for the urgency of moving from anthropocentrism toward ecocentrism, Aaron S. Allen distinguishes between environmental crises and ecological change; argues against the “balance of nature” paradigm; differentiates between strong and weak forms of sustainability; and describes the role that expressive culture and the environmental liberal arts can play in driving awareness and activism. (Encore presentation.) McDowell, Borland, Dirksen, and Tuohy, eds., Performing Environmentalisms:...

The Unmitigated Power of Big Tech

They are among the biggest companies in the world: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon have an outsized impact on the global economy and on our daily lives. Rob Larson examines the companies that have become synonymous with the glories and ills of contemporary capitalism. He makes the case for online socialism. (Encore presentation.) Resources: Rob Larson, Bit Tyrants: The Political Economy of Silicon Valley Haymarket Books, 2020 The post The Unmitigated Power of Big Tech appeared...

Pioneering Trotskyist

Trotskyism played a key role in the development of the U.S. revolutionary left. Among American Trotskyists, James Cannon stood out. Bryan D. Palmer talks about Cannon’s beliefs, his engagement with radical left formations in the U.S., and his involvement in militant labor struggles in the early twentieth century. (Encore presentation.) Bryan Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1928-38 Brill, 2021 Bryan Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the...

Constructing Gender

How did term gender take on the meaning that it has today? How was it developed as a social pairing to the purportedly fixed notion of sex? Surprisingly, historian Sandra Eder traces its origins to a Pediatric Endocrinology Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in the 1940s. She discusses the significance of the introduction of the idea of a culturally-constructed gender, in the Cold War context of mid-20th century America, and the inherited baggage of the term today. Resources: Sandra Eder,...