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This year began with hope for vaccines, a new U.S. president, and generally brighter days. But the January 6 attack on the Capitol quickly tarnished our optimism, and nearly a year later we find ourselves facing a holiday wave of soaring COVID-19 infections (again) and Biden’s Build Back Better plan dead in the water. It is really no surprise, then, that the Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal became the ship that launched a thousand memes, the perfect metaphor for lockdown torpor. But the Ever Given saga also shone a light on the colossal shipping industry behind global trade, whose pursuit of profit has long wreaked havoc on laborers and the seas they sail. “If . . . the Ever Given should teach us anything,” Charmaine Chua wrote in May, “perhaps it is that something monstrous has always been at work in the operations of global capitalism.”
Although our essays about coronaskepticism and epistemological crises were among our most read of the year, it wasn’t all doom and gloom: philosophy pieces also proved popular, including essays on persuasion and pleasure. Together the essays below constitute just a small selection from our output, with this year being one of our busiest ever. In addition to our new fellowship, revamped events series, and completely redesigned website, 2021 saw us publish 38 essays on race, 29 science pieces, 37 poems, and 31 contributions to our class and inequality section—not to mention hundreds more essays across our other categories and special projects.
Be sure to check out all of these offerings across the Boston Review site. But before you do, here’s what you loved most:
Studying the social world requires more than deference to data. In some cases, it may even require that we reject findings—no matter the prestige or sophistication of the technical apparatus on which they are built.
Three new books explore the gap between sex that is good and sex that is virtuous, making the complexities of desire central to our conversations about sexual ethics.
Two timely new books unmask the colossal shipping industry behind global trade, whose monstrous pursuit of profit has long wreaked havoc on laborers and the seas they sail through.
For economist Albert O. Hirschman, social planning meant creative experimentation rather than theoretical certainty. We could use more of his improvisatory optimism today.
There is a cost to advancing caste as the preeminent analytic in place of race—we lose the precision that comes with naming our affliction a problem of anti-Blackness. We mistake the map for the territory, the skin for the bones, and the bones for the skin.
The Krugs and Dolezals dominate the headlines, but they are distractions from the fraud that imperils us all: believing oneself to be white.
Arguments that kink has no place in a post-#MeToo Pride may appear reasonable, but celebrating public sexuality is an important step toward a future free of racism and homophobia.
Joseph J. Fischel
The neofascist assault on democracy is a last-ditch effort on the part of neoliberal capitalism to rescue itself from crisis. The only solution is a decisive retreat from globalized finance.
Celebrations of multiculturalism obscure the country’s settler colonial history—and the role that immigrants play in perpetuating it.
At a time of anxiety about fake news and conspiracy theories, philosophy can contribute to our most urgent cultural and political questions about how we come to believe what we think we know.
Michael Patrick Lynch
A sweeping new history of humanity upends the story of civilization, inviting us to imagine how our own societies could be radically different.
Conspiracy theories like QAnon are ultimately a social problem rather than a cognitive one. We should blame politics, not the faulty reasoning of individuals.
Attempts to cast Said as the consummate New York intellectual miss the point that his milieu was one of global, and specifically Palestinian, anticolonial struggle.
Knowing takes radical collaboration: an openness to being persuaded as much as an eagerness to persuade.
Sovereign states have been mythologized as the natural unit of political order. History shows how new they are—and how we can think beyond them.
Defying conventional political labels and capitalizing on widespread distrust, a range of new movements share the conviction that all power is conspiracy.
William Callison & Quinn Slobodian
Colorblind solutions have failed to achieve racial equity in health care. We need both federal reparations and real institutional accountability.
Bram Wispelwey & Michelle Morse
I wrote letters for West’s hire and renewal at Harvard. The school’s administrators completely miss the point of tenure.
Robin D. G. Kelley
Turning a blind eye to the realities of racial injustice, the highly orchestrated right-wing attacks cast a body of scholarship about race in the law as a great threat to American society.
David Theo Goldberg
Concerns about long-term side effects have helped fuel vaccine hesitancy. An immunologist explains why we can be confident in vaccine safety.
Andrew L. Croxford
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But I do miss the hymns, / the small, hard apples with their dimpled skin. I do miss / things.
The vast hinterlands of the Global South’s cities are generating new solidarities and ideas of what counts as a life worth living.
Protests in China are shining a light not only on the country’s draconian population management but restrictions on workers everywhere.