Prof. Cole is the recipient of the 2008 President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her research and teaching interests bridge political theory and American politics/culture. Cole’s work links central questions of political thought—especially formulations of justice, the nature of subjugation, and the possibility of resistance or change—with an examination of concrete political ideologies, rhetoric, and law/policy-making, emphasizing aspects of subject-formation, gender and race/ethnicity. Cole is the author of The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror (Stanford University Press, 2007). Her articles have appeared in Signs, American Studies, Feminist Studies, the Michigan Law Review, and the National Women’s Studies Association Journal. She is on the editorial boards of Women’s Studies Quarterly, and International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory. For the 2009-10 academic year, Cole will be Mellon Resident Fellow at the Humanities Center.
Cole, Alyson. The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror (Stanford Univ. Press, 2006).
Condemnations of “victim politics” are a familiar feature of American public life. Politicians and journalists across the ideological spectrum eagerly denounce “victimism.” Accusations of “playing the victim” have become a convenient way to ridicule or condemn. President George W. Bush even blamed an Islamic “culture of victimization” for 9/11. The Cult of True Victimhood shows how the panic about domestic and foreign victims has transformed American politics, warping the language we use to talk about suffering and collective responsibility.
With forceful and lively prose, Alyson Cole investigates the ideological underpinnings, cultural manifestations, and political consequences of anti-victimism in an array of contexts, including race relations, the feminist movement, conservative punditry, and the U.S. legal system. Being a victim, she contends, is no longer a matter of injuries or injustices endured, but a stigmatizing judgment of individual character. Those who claim victim status are cast as shamefully passive or cynically manipulative. Even the brutalized Central Park jogger came forth to insist that she is not a victim, but a survivor.
Offering a fresh perspective on major themes in American politics, Cole demonstrates how this new use of “victim” to derogate underlies seemingly disparate social and political debates from the welfare state, criminal justice, and abortion to the war on terror.