Charles Derber

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Charles Derber
BornJanuary 1944
Alma materYale University
OccupationProfessor of Sociology and American Political Writer
EmployerBoston College
WebsiteBoston College; Google Site

Charles Derber is an American Professor of Sociology at Boston College.

Early life and education[edit]

Derber was born in Washington DC in January 1944, the son of New Deal economist Milton Derber. Routine evenings in the Derber household featured dinner discussions of politics and economics, imprinting a New Deal ideological framework upon young Derber. Reaching adulthood in the 1960s, Derber buried himself within the works of Karl Marx and Herbert Marcuse while in jail for protesting the Vietnam War.[1] He attended Yale University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1965 and was a member of Manuscript Society. He attended the University of Chicago, and obtained his PhD in political science.[2]


Derber started at Brandeis University in 1979 and switched to Boston College in 1980. He became a professor in 1991 and has been teaching in the graduate program on social economy and social justice ever since.[2]

Derber's work falls into three major categories. One is a critique of individualism and American culture. His 1980 book The Pursuit of Attention focuses on ego-centeredness and "conversational narcissism" in everyday life as structured by class, gender and America’s individualistic culture. In 2000, Oxford University Press[3] printed a 20th year commemorative edition of the book, making it a classic sociological work. The Wilding of America, in its fifth edition, is a widely used text in American sociology. It offers a sharp critique of the American Dream and the crisis of hyper-individualism.[citation needed]

Derber is best known to the general public for his analysis of corporate power and globalization.[citation needed] His book Corporation Nation[4] is an study of how corporations penetrate and control every sector of American life. People Before Profit,[5] a treatment of corporate globalization and its alternatives, has been published in five languages.

His books, Regime Change Begins at Home and Hidden Power, deal with the marriage of political and economic power in America. In 2006, the Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) nominated Hidden Power[6] as one of the three best American books on current events.

Derber's interests evolved to focus on ideology and political morality, as well as the new dynamics of global capitalism and of the movements, such as the Occupy Movement, that challenge it. His 2008 book, Morality Wars[7] (co-authored with Yale Magrass), analyzes hegemonic discourses from the Roman Empire to the present. It also examines religious and "born again" ideologies, from German fascism to contemporary evangelical politics in the United States. Another 2008 book, with Katherine Adam, The New Feminized Majority,[8] examines the gendered character of values and politics in America. It shows that a new electoral majority has embraced progressive values historically associated with women; values now shared by millions of men.

In 2010, Derber published Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking the Economy [9] (Paradigm Publishers, 2010), that shows that climate change is a symptom of a dysfunctional lifestyle that can be solved only through a transformation of American capitalism and neo-liberal globalization. He argues that we are seeing a third wave environmentalism that is inseparable from the broader social and economic justice movements. In 2011, he published Marx's Ghost: Midnight Conversations on Changing the World,[10] also translated also into Korean and Chinese. In an imaginative encounter, Derber engages Marx's ghost in a provocative conversation about today's crises, relying extensively on Marx's own quotations. Turning to a genre of literary social science, based on conversation, Derber lays out alternative visions and political strategies for movements such as the Occupy Movement.

Derber's 2012 book The Surplus American: How the 1% Is Making Us Redundant,[11] co-authored with Yale Magrass, continues Derber's evolution into new genres of political writing. The Surplus American features not only a careful analysis of "surplus people," those without jobs or any meaningful place in society, but a concluding play already performed at Boston College. The book describes a dystopia in 2020, where the majority of Americans have been rendered redundant through outsourcing, technological change and a corporate strategy to abandon the entire US economic infrastructure. While first drafted before the rise of the Occupy Movement the analysis is, prophetically, structured around a confrontation on Wall Street between financial elites and surplus people protesters.

Derber’s 2017 book is Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice.[12] It explores the anti-Trump resistance movement and the anti-systemic universalizing movement needed to transform contemporary militarized capitalism. In conjunction with that book, Derber has brought together leaders of unions and many social justice movement, to analyze where we go from here. With Routledge Publishers, Derber is editing a new Universalizing Resistance Book Series where leading critical public intellectuals and activists analyze and flesh out stories of mass anti-systemic resistance that moves beyond the siloes of our current Left and Progressive movements. Derber is also helping direct a series of films and books about and with Noam Chomsky, funded by the Wallace Action Fund.

Derber is known as a public sociologist who writes for general audiences, offering not only sociological critiques but alternative visions. He appears frequently on talk shows, has written opinion pieces for media including the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsday and Tikkun, and is a regular contributor to Cognoscenti, the opinion page of WBUR, Boston's NPR station.[citation needed] He is one of the most prominent contemporaries of the sociological imagination[according to whom?] as championed by C. Wright Mills, and, like Mills, he believes in the importance of melding critical scholarship with social justice activism.

Personal life[edit]

Derber has long been active in the peace, environmental and labor movements, from his 1960s work to register African-American voters in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and his opposition to the Vietnam War to current movements such as Occupy and the struggle to prevent climate change and transform global corporate capitalism into a robust economic and political democracy.[according to whom?]


Derber’s work focuses on the crises of capitalism, globalization, corporate power, American militarism, the culture of hegemony, the climate crisis, and the new peace and global justice movements. Derber is persuaded that the overwhelming economic and cultural power of global corporations, increasingly melded with the political and military hegemonic power of the American government and the crises of global capitalism and global climate change, are together an integrated crisis that is now the pre-eminent social issue of the 21st century, and that a new vision and political movement is needed. Derber’s research is oriented toward 1) the systemic analysis of the intertwined crises we face and 2) analysis of the transformative potential of social movements arising to create a more democratic and egalitarian order. His works include:

  • Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times. Routledge. 2017. ISBN 978-1138648203.
  • Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society. University Press of Kansas. 2016. ISBN 978-0-7006-2260-3.
  • Capitalism: Should You Buy It?. Routledge. 2014. ISBN 978-1612056890.
  • Sociopathic Society: A People's Sociology of the United States. Paradigm Publishers. 2013. ISBN 978-1-61205-438-4.
  • Surplus American: How the 1% is Making Us Redundant. Taylor & Francis. 17 November 2015 [1st pub. 2012]. ISBN 978-1-317-25112-5. OCLC 948789341. with Yale Magrass.
  • Marx's Ghost: Midnight Conversations on Changing the World. Taylor & Francis. 17 November 2015 [1st pub. 2011]. ISBN 978-1-317-25628-1. OCLC 935247608.
  • Greed to Green: Solving Climate Change and Remaking the Economy. Taylor & Francis. 17 November 2015 [1st pub. 2010]. ISBN 978-1-317-25856-8. OCLC 932063049.
  • "Morality Wars: How Empires, the Born Again, and the Politically Correct Do Evil in the Name of Good,"Paradigm, 2010)
  • The Wilding of America: Money, Mayhem, and the New American Dream (Worth Publishers, 5th edition 2009)
  • Hidden Power: What You Need to Know to Save Our Democracy (Berrett-Koehler, 2005)
  • "Regime Change Begins at Home: Freeing American From Corporate Rule" (Berrett-Koehler, 2004)
  • People Before Profit: The New Globalization in an Age of Terror, Big Money, and Economic Crisis (Picador, 2003)
  • Corporation Nation (St. Martin's Press, 2000)
  • The Pursuit of Attention (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition 2000)
  • The Nuclear Seduction (with William Schwartz, University of California Press)
  • Power in the Highest Degree (with William Schwartz and Yale Magrass, Oxford, 1990).


External links[edit]

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