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Drake University Law School




That pragmatism can do-and already is doing-real work to repair and improve constitutional democracy in the United States is a conviction voiced in the academy, in social movements, and in social media. But what does pragmatism mean, as used in these contexts? Sometimes, pragmatism seems to connote simply being practical (rather than idealistic) and focusing on results. But sometimes, commentators are saying more: pragmatism as a distinctive political philosophy has the power to fuel meaningful democratic change. This Article focuses on the creative and productive melding of classical American pragmatism (as exemplified by John Dewey and others) with feminism. In particular, I engage with Deva Woodly's recent book, Reckoning: Black Lives Matter and the Necessity of Democratic Social Movements, in which Woodly argues both that democratic social movements are important institutional structures in U.S. constitutional democracy and that the transformative Movement for Black Lives is based on a unique political philosophy, "radical Black feminist pragmatism." This Article also examines strands of "visionary Black feminist pragmatism" (as elaborated by V. Denise James and Patricia Hill Collins). The Article also looks back to the work that pragmatism was doing, during the "renaissance" of pragmatism in the legal academy in the 1990s, in significant work by feminist legal theorists, including Margaret Radin, Mari Matsuda, and Katherine Bartlett. It offers some comparisons and contrasts in these different engagements with pragmatism, concluding that the "futurity" and "politics of care" characteristic of radical Black feminist pragmatism offer vital commitments and strategies for societal repair and for strengthening constitutional democracy.

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