Book Talk | The Beneficiary
NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to join for a book talk on Bruce Robbin’s new book The Beneficiary, featuring the author in conversation with Daniel Aldana Cohen and Rachel Sherman.
From iPhones and clothing to jewelry and food, the products those of us in the developed world consume and enjoy exist only through the labor and suffering of countless others. In his new book Bruce Robbins examines the implications of this dynamic for humanitarianism and social justice. He locates the figure of the “beneficiary” in the history of humanitarian thought, which asks the prosperous to help the poor without requiring them to recognize their causal role in the creation of the abhorrent conditions they seek to remedy. Tracing how the beneficiary has manifested itself in the work of George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Jamaica Kincaid, Naomi Klein, and others, Robbins uncovers a hidden tradition of economic cosmopolitanism. There are no easy answers to the question of how to confront systematic inequality on a global scale. But the first step, Robbins suggests, is to acknowledge that we are, in fact, beneficiaries.
Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University and the author and editor of several books, including Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence, also published by Duke University Press, and Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State. Robbins has written for The Nation, n+1, and other publications.
Daniel Aldana Cohen is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. With Kate Aronoff, he is the co-host of Hot & Bothered, a podcast on climate politics hosted by Dissent magazine. He works on the politics of climate change. More specifically, he investigates the intersections of climate change, inequalities of race and social class, and the political projects of both elites and social movements in urban spaces, with a focus on global cities of the North and South. He is increasingly interested in working collaboratively on quantitative techniques to address these research concerns through comprehensive carbon-footprint analysis, and coordinating that analysis with other approaches to socio-spatial segregation.
Rachel Sherman is associate professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College. Her first book, Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels (University of California Press, 2007), analyzes how workers, guests, and managers in luxury hotels make sense of and negotiate class inequalities that marked their relationships. Her most recent book, Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, examines the consumption choices of wealthy New Yorkers.