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  • Faculty

  • Deva Woodly

    Associate Professor of Politics


    Office Location
    D - Albert & Vera List Academic Center - 6 East 16th Street

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    Deva Woodly


    I am interested in how democratic politics actually happens in the contemporary context. I approach this broad interest in a non-traditional way. Most American political science focuses inquiry on institutions, choice, and decision-making. By contrast, I focus my attention on the ways that public meanings define the problems that the polity understands itself to share as well as the range of choices that citizens perceive to be before them. Questions that focus on the way that public meanings shape our politics require a careful engagement with public discourse, like that found in newspapers, shared through social networks online, or spoken in the meeting houses of civic and social movement organizations. These discourses provide an empirical record of what members of the polity acknowledge as politically valuable as well as clues to the logics that people commonly use to associate their beliefs and values with the problems that they recognize in the world as they find it, imbricated as it is with all the structural, institutional, group-based and affective elements of life and politics. This observation of the central practical importance of discourse to democratic politics as we actually experience it as members of the polity, leads me to utilize methodologies, both theoretical and empirical, that reveal political discourse as a practical source of information, including statistical examinations of discursive content and theoretical analyses of the meanings unearthed therein. 

    Degrees Held

    BA 2001, Political and Social Thought, University of Virginia 

    MA 2003, Social Science, University of Chicago 

    PhD 2008, Political Science, University of Chicago

    Recent Publications


    The Politics of Common Sense: How Social Movements Use Public Discourse to Change Politics and Win Acceptance, Oxford University Press (2015)

    Recent Publications

    “Black Feminist Visions and the Politics of Healing in the Movement for Black Lives” In Women Mobilizing Memory, edited by Ayşe Gül Altınay, Maria José Contreras, Marianne Hirsch, Jean Howard, Banu Karaca, Alisa Solomon. New York: Columbia University Press (forthcoming 2019).

    Theorizing Social Movements as Democratic Institutions.” Contemporary Political Theory (2018)    

    “The Importance of Public Meaning to Political Persuasion.” Perspectives on Politics 16, no. 1 (2018): 22-35.  

    “#BlackLivesMatter and the Democratic Necessity of Social Movements: What Active Citizenship Can Look Like and What It Can Accomplish.” In #Charlottesville: Before and Beyond, edited by Christopher Howard-Woods, Colin Laidley, and Maryam Omidi, 181-191. New York: Public Seminar Books (2018). Originally published in Uprising 13/13, Columbia University Center for Contemporary Critical Thought Series Seminar Blog (November 1, 2017). 

    “The Joy of Us: Identity Work and the Movement for Black Lives.” In What Now? On Future Identities, edited by Kristin Chappa and Anne Barlow. London: Black Dog Publishing (August, 2018).

    “Seeing Collectivity: Structural Relation Through the Lens of Youngian Seriality” Contemporary Political Theory (2014) doi: 10.1057/cpt.2014.34

    “New Competencies in Democratic Communication? Blogs, agenda setting and political participation” Public Choice (January 2008)

    “The Political Efficacy of Black Youth,” Black Youth Project, PI: Cathy Cohen, published at (2006)


    Quoted in "Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History" The New York Times (July 3, 2020)

    Quoted in "Why Protest Movements Are ‘Civil’ Only in Retrospect," The New York Times (June 16, 2020)

    "An American Reckoning," Public Seminar (June 4, 2020)

    Awards And Honors

    Fellow in Residence, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Havard University, 2019-2020

    Research Fellowship, Institute for Advanced Study, 2012-2013

    Friends of the Institute Member 2012-2013

    Current Courses

    American Politics Field Sem

    Directed Dissertation Study

    First Year Seminar

    Ind Senior Prject

    Ind Senior Prject (Spring 2021)

    Independent Study

    Independent Study (Spring 2021)

    Independent Study

    Utopia, Dystopia, Heterotopia

    Utopia, Dystopia, Heterotopia (Spring 2021)

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