Where did the Great Awokening come from?
New research shows an abrupt post-2010 surge in academia and the media
The birth of the Great Awokening is said to be around 2010-2014. The abrupt surge in prejudice-denouncing terms such as racism, sexism and homophobia in the media preceded the political emergence of Donald Trump and has continued since he left office. Further work confirmed similar dynamics in UK and Spanish news media.
More recently, I have investigated the prevalence of the same terms in the academic literature. What I found is that in contrast to news media content, where the number of references to different prejudice types has been fairly flat since the 1970s and then rises sharply post-2010, in academic literature the prominence of prejudice terms has been steadily rising for several decades.
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The figure below shows how academic focus on ethnic prejudice has been growing for almost a century through four distinct waves. The first wave occurred right after World War II, the second one after 1968, the third during the so-called “politically correct” 1990s and the fourth wave takes place post-2010. Notice also how after each wave, the base level remains elevated, thus establishing a new normal.
In contrast to ethnic prejudice, the concept of gender prejudice was virtually unheard of in the academic literature prior to the 1970s and it then emerges swiftly. The prominence of this topic in scholarly content then remains relatively constant for about 30 years and grows again post-2010.
Academic interest on sexual orientation prejudice rises mostly after 1980, coinciding with the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic. The concepts of gender identity prejudice (i.e. transphobia) and Islamophobia are relatively recent phenomena in academic content and only start to increase in prominence after the turn-of-the-century.
Academic focus on anti-Semitism reveals a completely different dynamic. Mentions of anti-Semitism in scholarly content grew prior to and during World War II. The topic then drops in prominence during the 1950s and it has stayed relatively flat from then on in stark contrast with all the other prejudice types.
The relationship between academic focus on racism and sexism after the civil rights movement of the 1960s is of interest. It is worth noting in the figure below how the sudden rise in the prominence of gender prejudice in the academic literature happens slightly later than the second wave of interest in ethnic prejudice. Words commonly used to denounce ethnic prejudice rise rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In contrast, words often used to denounce gender prejudice rise throughout the 1970s. This trend is consistent with the idea of gender scholars in the 1970s building up the concept of gender prejudice by mimicking previous work on ethnic prejudice
It is also worth directly comparing the relationship between the prominence of different prejudice topics in academia and news media content. The next figure shows how the first wave of attention to ethnic prejudice in academic content after the Second World War was mostly not echoed in news media. The post-civil rights wave however manifested itself in both institutions. The third wave (during the “politically correct” 1990s) was very prominent in scholarly papers but not very noticeable in news media, suggesting a disconnect at the time between academia and mainstream news media on this topic.
These results over the last century suggest that the concept of prejudice has been building gradually in academic content for many decades prior to its post-2010 explosion in news media. Increasing academic focus on prejudice could be a consequence of the growing Left-leaning skew of academics, since concern about prejudice ranks higher among individuals that espouse Left-wing politics.
But the mystery remains as to what triggered the post-2010 explosion in prejudice themes in news media. The answer is likely multifactorial. One plausible contributing factor might have been universities graduating a continuous stream of future producers and consumers of news media content that were increasingly attuned to the concept of prejudice. A confluence of additional factors around 2010, such as the emergence of social media and its incentives to leverage emotional and negative language to maximise virality of news content, likely also played a role. The polarised Trump presidency might have also contributed to consolidate or exacerbate the pre-existing trend.
These results suggest that often, but not always, different prejudice concepts emerge first in academic content before they enter mainstream news media discourse. But mainly, the results provide robust evidence about the increasing frequency with which both institutions, academia and news media, mention terms often used to denounce prejudice. It is unclear what this means for America on a sociological level, but given the ever-growing intensity of the culture war, the explosion in the use of these terms can hardly be taken as an indicator that we are moving onto greener, more peaceful, pastures.
When I arrived in the UK for University in 1998 it was already quite woke regarding race, sex and religion. But, interestingly, in 2000 when Zimbabwe had the farm invasions, my general sense at the University was that people were compassionate towards me about what had happened in my home country.
But by the time I stopped studying in 2007, the sentiment had very much changed from, “shame, that must have been a horrid situation for your family” to “you whites really had it coming to you”.
Identity politics surrounding “white = evil” and “black = victim” (among other simplistic narratives) has been steadily growing for some time.
I’m always surprised to hear so many people place the madness as having started between 2012 and 2015.
I’m pleased in this light that this article tracks the history back to the 1970s.
Perhaps as one generation after another of Left-wing teachers and lecturers influenced the ones coming after, so it grew stronger and stronger.
I’ve always thought that 9/11 also shocked America to it’s core, taking away it’s confidence in itself, replacing it with national self doubt and guilt. Followed by the retributive war with Iraq, involving NATO, and the ensuing scandals around Guantanomo Bay and torture.
Suddenly the West was not what it was.
That’s an intriguing point re 9/11. I suspect it was being driven that way by various forces before 9/11 but that, as you say, 9/11, was an accelerant that hastened the established cultural building blocks burning down rapidly. I hadn’t contemplated this role explicitly before you mentioned it, thanks for the thought!
EQA. The seeds of the woke ideological contagion lies – in the UK – in cultural mutations from the Equality Act of – hello – 2010. This established the principle of the Nine ‘Victim’ groups which were instantly granted superior or privileged status in law; talk to any employment lawyer about this. But hang on…if there are victims, that presupposes that there must be oppressors. And those ‘oppressors’ were of course the white majority male patriarchy. The structure of society and its historical roots forged by this patriarchy were equally deemed racist and oppressive. What anti wokers have failed to comprehend is that STATE EQUALITY LAW had unwittingly endorsed the demented American racial theory CRT soon to arrive on our shores!! And they keep ignoring the fact that is via the State public sector that the obsession with inequality and prejudice bled out through society. The State has been captured by an ideological dogma coursing through its own legal bloodstream, hence the looney diktats of the NHS. The source of Wokery – its Wuhan Leak – was State Inequality Law. Once released into popular culture and fuelled yes by Social Media, it mutated wildy and quickly captured the ‘horribly white’ State Broadcaster BBC, which since 2010 has become the beating heart and citadel of identitarianism and propagandist stable to its three horsemen – the cults of greviance victimhood and entitlement.
I totally agree with you, I’ve said it in many other comments, alongside hate crime legislation. But people have to be ripe for such beliefs to take hold in the way they have and I think, maybe, the cataclysm of 9/11 set that off. Social media enables and encourages it.
It’s never just one thing on it’s own.
I too hadn’t contemplated 9/11. I do remember a particular anti western sentiment before the attack and wonder whether such a sentiment fostered the Middle East as a massive victim of Western Imperialism etc. and this was exacerbated by sweaty Blair in his speech before the Iraq invasion, before which we had mass demonstration in London, that in turn had no effect except perhaps to show that demos are pointless. What’s required is screaming and emotion and civil disobedience and infiltration of institutions etc. etc
I think this has been far longer in the gestation than we may appreciate. The ‘woke revolution’ is primarily driven by Marxist dogma – fundamentally the dynamic of the oppressed seeking to overthrow the oppressors. All human history and interactions are distilled down to this two-dimensional model. Either you are for us, or against us. The rise of critical theory (a cultural Marxist perspective) that arose in German universities in the 1930s spread chiefly to American academia in the 1930s when its proponents fled the Nazi regime. The dawning of the post-WW2 era in the 1950s saw the first, modest expansion of cultural marxism, thereby commencing the long, relentless march through the institutions. After nearly eight decades of consolidation via one student generation to the next, we are now witnessing the culmination of this force through the concentration of committed graduates who now lead society at every level and in every sector. It has been a hugely successful cultural revolution that is irreversible. A new Dark Era has come of age.
The birth of the Great Awokening is said to be around 2010-2014. The abrupt surge in prejudice-denouncing terms such as racism, sexism and homophobiain the media preceded the political emergence of Donald Trump and has continued since he left office.
I would go further and say that Donald Trump came into power because many Americans were already sick and tired of far-left politics and policies and Trump was the only politician speaking out against it at the time.
Or, alternatively, he was himself a product of identity politics. As I keep saying to my left-leaning woke friends – if you cast white people as an enemy engaged in a zero sum power game, don’t be surprised when a proportion of them take you at your word and play to win.
This brand of left thinker want a racial world, but then simultaneously lament the outcome of the very racialism they push. And, when it starts going wrong, they assume that the answer is more of the same. Like medieval doctors they imagine that the patient died because they were not bled enough. “Add more leeches” they cry!
Thinking like this requires a stunning lack of self awareness bordering on madness.
Re the Trump election, you are absolutely correct. I’ll never forget the day after the 2016 election a news photo of a long-haired hippy looking guy extending the finger of both fists to the camera. It was his “F-U” to the leftie woke crowd that has demonized and increasingly persecuted conservative “deplorables” going on 30 years now.
The 2008 collapse led to an excess of US government intervention which created the Tea Party in opposition. The actions taken resonate even today because ~$17T simply vanished. That still has not be amortized but led to the MAGA movement with Trump as a leader. While he got pushed away, the concept of Tea Party or opposition to government excess has only increased. The US decided to inflate it way out which affects the world economy in the end.
We can fret and worry about prejudice as we wish but it is a distraction possible via an excess of wealth – they can afford such silly notions. Until they can’t which seems to be arriving more quickly spurred by the pandemic and a major conflict affecting the EU.
I believe social media had a major role in this. Between 2009-2012 Facebook users went from 200 mil to 1 billion.
Arab spring and Europe imigrant crisis that followed 2010-2013, they were both fuelled by social media used as a political platform.
Then was cheered as a tool of freedom, now I think we know better.
The level of hate that we begun to feel on different political and social aspects of our lives, was manly because of what kind of information is offered to us as “information” in social media.
I agree with you, this is an interesting article which fully supports that,
The major shift in the Left has been its now total intolerance of competing views. They refuse to debate, deplatform, actively seek to destroy the livelihoods of people who voice opinions they don’t like. Any opinion they don’t like is automatically classified as “hate” and even, absurdly, “violence”.
It is in the universities that this shift originated, and now these institutions are leftist monocultures, in which only leftist ideology is acceptable to speak and teach. Over time dissidents have been culled and replaced with a leftist, or have been scared in to silence.
Of the possible reasons for the explosion in coverage of the “isms” I would put the combination of the intolerant, leftist monoculture universities and the massive increase in people going to university as by far the main driving factor.
The speed at which the acceptance of leftist ideology swept through all our institutions can only be explained by the presence within those institutions of a secret army of ideologically indoctrinated leftists, processed through the universities, who were primed to spread the ideology and to suppress dissent by using the same technique of defining differing opinion as dangerous “hate”.
What makes matters particularly bad, is that leftist ideology is incredibly naïve, foolish, illogical, incredibly socially and economically destructive, and just plain wrong about almost everything.
Silly ideas cooked up by a third rate obscure academics in the rarefied world of academia would normally be quickly discredited once they came in to contact with the real world. But having an army of fully committed ideologues within our institutions, and in particular the MSM, is preventing this natural process from taking place. This is what makes this woke awakening more dangerous and more destructive than any other.
Yes, this is huge. I just woke up to an advert by Amazon this morning on my Facebook feed claiming that the negative reviews of their new billion dollar show The Rings of Power are written by racists. Here’s an article that touches upon it: https://www.theblaze.com/news/amazon-censors-negative-feedback-for-rings-of-power
I haven’t watched the series so can’t comment on it, but the fact that mega-billion corporations are smearing people as racists for not liking a show is truly worrisome. I can’t see this ending well.
I think it is partly the great mammon. But the acquisition of a part of a famous work of literary fiction, with its Western themes etc, and then producing a visual work that retroactively reinterprets its foundational contexts in a particular way, is a glaring example to me of decolonising that literary work.
I think this is done through the mechanism of literary presentism.
From what I’ve read the series represents the views of Corporate America more than it reflects the vision of the author. I don’t believe it’s possible to effectively serialize Tolkien’s Second Age so am reluctant to set up a Prime subscription just to watch it.
The issue with the academics is their vision of a perfect world adopts many socialist notions. Generally once tenured, they become all equals and wish the world were that way as well. They rail at those who innovate, excel and thrive making fortunes in the effort; they imagine they should be the benefactors because of their superior skills, as in The Republic, they ought to be in charge. We can hope that biting the hand that fed them will eventually have effect.
At the heart of Left’s historical and repeated failure, is that in devising its policies that will bring its utopia, it fails to factor in human nature.
Marx and Engels, both academically intelligent and learned men, plotted out Communism and imagined their utopia. If all human beings were morally perfect, selfless individuals dedicated to the common good, their utopia might have stood a chance of coming to fruition.
But human beings are greedy, selfish, envious. spiteful, Some lust for power and dominance. Had Marx and Engels factored this in they might have anticipated that creating an all powerful centralised state would inevitably lead to a corrupt dictatorship and quickly burned their work.
Academic tend not to be practical people. They exist in a world of theories and many come from privileged background. Most have never been out of the world of academia. Notionally intelligent as they might be, their lack of understanding of, or denial of human nature means that they are attempting to prescribe theoretical solutions for the societies of a species whose nature they fundamentally don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge. Predictably they are doomed to fail.
well put – though not understanding human nature means that M and E were not, in fact, learned !
I remember in the early 1990s my leftie English lecturers going on about ‘dead white males’ and all that malarkey. I suppose it was inevitable that this bile would eventually leak out of academia into the real world.
The data here disproves the idea that “woke” is a passing fad, after which all will return to “normal”. In particular, what we see in the graphs is a kind of ratcheting or pumping effect, where each surge results in a higher background usage of social-justice wording. There is no “return to normal” after the wave passes through. To me, this is the most important conclusion to be drawn.
Yes, it’s like a many-headed hydra. You slay one head and two more grow back.
Wokeness goes hand in hand with virtue signaling, and virtue signaling is all about getting ‘likes’. So IMHO this is all a result of social media.
Look who your first friends are to change their Facebook profile picture whenever there’s a new cause-du-jour and there you’re also likely to find your most woke friends.
Smartphones really hit in that period. Must be a link.
I have well researched opinions, some of which could be denounced as -archy, -ogeny, -phobia or -ist. Why are these verdicts called prejudices? Having sat on two juries I know what prejudice is, pre-judging the accused because of his dialect, class, appearance or background etc. However, after days of compelling prosecution and defence evidence, putting aside all prejudice, I (and 14 others) reached a verdict. We need a new word to describe this verdict. I suggest postjudice, the opposite of prejudice, describing an opinion arrived after due consideration.
That is the most wrong word ever printed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Because one may look at the underclass and if not 100% believing then as solid citizens as any you are prejudice – no pointing out the broken families, poverty, crime, low education, drugs, and so on allowed
But in a world which allowed Postjudice you would be allowed to point those out, as they would be proven to exist by the very fact they do exist.
And Woke is based on Never allowing evidence to ever demonstrate or prove anything.
Occupy Wall Street genuinely shook the 1% so they manipulated the useful idiots to somehow change their focus to race/gender and phew the spotlight passed away from the money men. Not sure exactly how they did it but if you own the media and social networks I’m sure it’s possible.
Perhaps the rapid expansion of ‘academia’ (I.e. re-badged polytechnics) in the UK may have been a factor or, to put it bluntly, too many third-rate ‘academics’ piling into the ‘debate’? I put ‘debate’ in quotes because much of what we read is vulgar abuse rather than reasoned argument.
On the other hand, some parts of the older universities (Cambridge, Durham) seem to have been infected with Wokery.
On the other, other hand, some of this nonsense seems to come from the HR departments rather than the dons.
And guess which “gender” HR employees usually are?
The ‘antisemitism’ chart is interesting.
I suspect that in today’s dumbed down woke academia, being antisemitic (with especial reference to denigrating the only democracy in the Middle East and support for the Jihadis sponsored by Iran and often at least tolerated by EU, USA, UK) is now de rigeur.
Expect a two dozen condemnations of ‘Islamophobia’ for every mild disapproval of ‘antisemitism.’
Cowardice is part of it. All of academia has already wiped the attack on Salman Rushdie from mind. Other than those saying he had it coming to him.
Woke is essentially a response on the part of the traditional gatekeeping professions to the slowly dawning realisation that they’ve become obsolete. After all, why would you burden yourself with a lifetime of debt in order to study under the second-raters at a provincial university when you can go online and learn from the world’s greatest minds? Why would you accept the narrative only of the BBC or the Times or Guardian when you can access a myriad of sources online and make up your own mind?
Sorry, credentialism still exists for most.
This is a very useful analysis and though not wholly original is welcome nonetheless. James Lindsay especially (together with Helen Pluckrose), has done a major analysis of academic literature and derived what he posits as a stream of marxist analyses, aimed not at economics but instead at identity, resulting in such sub ideologies of gender marxism, marxist feminism, q—r marxism etc etc.
Lindsay has traced the roots of this phenomenon back through Marx to Hegel to Rousseau and in particular isolated the various ‘waves’ mentioned above – particularly the ideological turn, around 1989.
I recommend Lindsay’s expositions of this on YouTube.
This might be too tangential to matter but I want to throw it in, anyway:
Back in the 80s, maybe even the 70s, there was a bit of feminist thinking that got around; “the personal is political”. At the time it just meant that one’s boyfriend was a complete ass not because he was a bone-head, but because of the patriarchy’s hostility toward anything female. He wasn’t even capable of embarrassing himself; he was just part of the Evil Patriarchy. (We didn’t use that word; we were known as “male-chauvanists”.)
The personal is political. It had a catchy ring to it.
But subsequently, it gave permission to the indentity culture we all know and love. It wasn’t “a woman versuses her beer-swilling, meat-eating, potato-headed boyfriend” it was all women against all men who didn’t want Thai food for dinner. Pretty much all of us.
From there everyone started joining in. Except for the Italian-Americans. We just couldn’t be bothered.
When ‘University’ became ‘uni’…
Colleges have become church. Kids aren’t raised with a religion, so they have no sense of direction. What’s the saying, “don’t believe in something, fall for anything.” So when they get to college they’re eager to find a purpose, a meaning in life. It’s easy for professors who teach the humanities to start spewing any old philosophy at them. The arguments sound good, “equality”, “tolerance”, “individual choices”. They eat it up like candy. The problem is, candy is not fulfilling. They’re not getting a well balanced diet. They have no foundation of meat and potatoes to start from. You have a bunch of young adults who want to fit in and be cool and you have a recipe for creating “wokeness”.
If a ‘Church’ then one that sanctifies itself and its members by traducing its own foundation and tradition. The ‘Church’ that worships its own destruction.
as Orwell so correctly foresaw, the prole screen has produced a global brainwashing effect on the vast majority, seeking to identify with some peverse form of subliminal tribal need to ” belong” in place of a religion, and the racism/ LGBT /ecobore trident has been the answer: It has it’s benefits as, in these dull times, it provides subjects and people to laugh at, and take the p*** out of, and the resultant high dudgeon is just icing on the fun cake!
I’m surprised that neither in the article nor in the commentary has anyone made any connection between the rise in the public (as opposed to the academic) focus on ‘prejudice’ in 2010-14 and the coming to power of Obama at the beginning of 2009. The election of an African-American as President of the United States seemed to send liberals throughout the West and particularly the media into raptures. Moreover, his administration was quite focused on ‘identity’ issues from the beginning.
Omgsh you are so right. The left became utterly insufferable after his election. I stopped contributing to NPR that year because it was so blatant.
Basic confusion between feminism womens rights and gender ideology here. They are not the same thing that is the problem.
The Rights and control of females and their reproductive vulnerability and power in society is as old as the hills. It is a sex war men are used to winning.
When Second Wave feminism successfully fought for women’s rights in the seventies, laws were changed. Gendered language was changed to accommodate women, as it had excluded them, Academia and publishing took note, Chairs were established in universities and many books published. And then, barely twenty years later the discourse in academia had changed. Now it was gender studies not womens studies. Men had entered this space. (Sexual orientation was never the issue.)
Now, to put a final cap on it, men can just SAY they are women and to refuse them that right is seen as hate speech.
Extraordinary. You couldn’t do it with race or appropriate any other lesser power.
That is the attempted revolution.
At the cruel end a child, fantasizing they would prefer to be the other sex is accommodated with medicalisation and surgery, and attempts to heal the dysphoria with counseling is labelled ‘conversion therapy’, invoking the horrors of changing males sexual preference by cruel means. (Luckily this is just now being legally fought against in the courts here.)
Gender ideology Is very manipulative and so bizarre it is barely believed by the general populace, as councils pay drag queens, portraying grotesque femininine stereotypes to read to children in libraries in the name of ‘gender inclusivity’. We don’t have a tradition of gross masculinity to counter the trend! Feminists have only ever wanted women to have equal rights with men not to dominate.
In the meantime the necessary separation of the sexes for safety, fairness and protection is under real threat.
It has grabbed the language of kindness and labelled their opponents right wing, making it very difficult to find a space they haven’t captured.
Basically it doesn’t allow women who don’t have penises to say they are women.
Most people and institutions from the police to hospitals to prisons (signed up to the guidelines now operated through Stonewall) are scared of them. We mustn’t be.
Females need for equality, autonomy and protection of their sex with its reproductive vulnerability has always been a hard fought battle. Never more so than now.
The sudden, exponential spike, is no mystery, surely? It matches that of the growth of and importantly adoption of the smart phone and social media participation as a result, Critical social justice activists suddenly had a platform on which to rapidly proliferate their message. These messages were quickly adopted by the ‘socially conscious’ middle classes who continue to mistake the intended but covert neo-Marxian critical theory narrative with what they believe to be a continuation of the liberal civil rights movement.
Where will it lead? The way things are going I cannot help but be fearful for my children and any future grandchildren. The othering of various groups does not end well – history shows time and time again that it leads to oppression and genocide.
Yes I’m frightened as well. I hope that in the end men will remember who they are meant to be.
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