Conference at Williams College Explores Democracy and Freedom

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 3, 2019—The community is invited to attend a conference titled “Democracy and Freedom Between Past and Future” at Williams College, where a distinguished group of scholars will examine the theory and practice of democracy and freedom—two key concepts that have integrally shaped discourses and phenomena from antiquity to our contemporary moment. The conference, which is free and open to the public, will take place on Saturday, April 13, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Griffin Hall, room 3. No advance registration is required.

Neil Roberts, the W. Ford Schumann Faculty Fellow in Democratic Studies and primary conference organizer, “welcomes panelists and audience members to engage together in a day-long inquiry into two central notions at the heart of local, national, and international debates. Our understandings of democracy and freedom shape the very fabric of the body politic and have implications for the domestic realm, civil society, and the public sphere now more than ever.”

Featuring 12 speakers from a dozen leading colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, the conference will explore the definition and meaning of a democracy, the relationship between democracy and freedom, the impact of our interpretations of democracy and freedom, and other critical questions such as: Are democracy and freedom mutually reinforcing or incompatible ideals? Should we link or decouple freedom and slavery? Do conceptions of race, gender, sex, sexuality, class, ability, and nation transform the theoretical frameworks and real-world articulations of the free life and democratic life?

Schedule of Events:

8:50-9 a.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks
Neil Roberts, Williams College

9-10:30 a.m. Enslavement, Dignity, and Genres of Freedom
Nick Bromell, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Power, Dignity, Rights: The Political Philosophy of Frederick Douglass”

Jasmine Syedullah, Vassar College
The Hearts We Beat: Reflections on the Kinds of Freedom She Wanted While Still within the Hold of Slavery” 

10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Disposability, Fugitivity, Resistance: On the Relationship Between Democracy and Freedom
Angélica Bernal, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Democracy, Colonialism, and Indigenous Resistance”

Marisa Fuentes, Rutgers University
Refuse Lives and the Failures of Freedom: The Origins of Black Disposability and the Transatlantic Slave Trade” 

George Shulman, New York University
Fred Moten’s Refusals and Consents: Natality, Commonality, and the Politics of Fugitivity”

1:45-3:15 p.m. Pluralism, Economy, and the Public Sphere
Víctor Muñiz-Fraticelli, McGill University
Democracy and Pluralism”

Emily Nacol, University of Toronto
“Work, Poverty, and Freedom: Early Modern Legacies”

Deva Woodly, The New School for Social Research
“The Practice of Freedom: Developing and Maintaining a Democratic Habitus by Re-politicizing Public Life” 

3:30-5 p.m. Language, Struggle, and Belonging
Lawrie Balfour, University of Virginia
“Toni Morrison’s Word-Work as a Practice of Freedom”

John Drabinski, Amherst College
Vernacular Culture and the Question of Belonging”

Keisha-Khan Perry, Brown University
The Black Feminist Struggle for Social Democracy in Brazil”

The “Democracy and Freedom Between Past and Future” conference is sponsored by the W. Ford Schumann ’50 Program in Democratic Studies.


For building locations on the Williams campus, please consult the map outside the driveway entrance to the Security Office located in Hopkins Hall on Main Street (Rte. 2), next to the Thompson Memorial Chapel, or call the Office of Communications 413-597-4277. The map can also be found on the web at


Published April 3, 2019