Get to Know: Augustus Wood, Podcast Host
Augustus Wood is the host of "Off the Shelf," a new podcast through HRI featuring in-depth conversations with Black scholars on the University of Illinois campus. Each episode explores books and scholars that they think are worth taking “off the shelf” to help us understand the current moment.
The first episode spotlights Professor Lou Turner (Urban and Regional Planning) on the work of Hal Baron. (Note: Turner also presented his research team's work on the Hal Baron Project in an HRI event, now viewable on MediaSpace).
Wood recently answered five questions to help listeners get to know his research and interests, and his goals for the podcast.
"The truth of the matter is that the one element missing from today's problem solving in crisis time is intellectual rigor and theoretical critique. Bringing intellectualism back to the forefront of solving social crises will undoubtedly move our society out of this New Nadir and closer to a new vision where we, the people, will determine how our society will operate." -Augustus Wood
You are a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Labor and Employer Relations. Can you talk a little bit about your research?
I specialize in political economy and gentrification, social movements, and working-class labor in late 20th and early 21st century African American urban history. I currently examine how Black working-class people in metropolitan spaces like Atlanta respond to pro-growth leadership policies, formulated by public officials and private business interests that regress the Black working class majority's material and social conditions; this includes seizing their resources, like housing, livable wage labor, etc., curtailing their freedom of movement via police surveillance, and displacing them out of the city and into rural, suburban areas surrounding the central city. I'm analyzing how African American workers reconstitute their struggle for basic resources (build social movements, protest activity, etc.) in these hypersegregated areas where the abundance of jobs include minimum wage retail, service sector labor and little else. Thus, my research is a critique of the political economy of Black America and the intraracial class struggle at the heart of this "New Nadir" formation of racial oppression. I seek to diagnose the problems and formulate a framework for solutions to these social crises.
You have a radio show on WEFT 90.1 FM: "Radio Free Labor." How long have you been doing the show, and what does it cover?
"Radio Free Labor" is the latest incarnation of the show "World Labor Hour," which originated in 1994 by Peter Miller and Bill Gorrell. I joined the show seven years ago and only recently took over as the main host (and brought my colleague in Labor Education Stephanie Fortado in as my co-host) and renamed it "Radio Free Labor" as an homage to Black revolutionary legend Robert F. Williams' "Radio Free Dixie" show he broadcasted from Cuba while in exile to educate African Americans of their oppressed position. "Radio Free Labor" functions as a political education show that analyzes all current and historical topics that affect working class people, including labor organizing, ideology vs. practice, local, state, and federal politics, and culture. Our major purpose is to offer an alternative, leftist perspective, based on qualitative and quantitative data, that corporate-sponsored media does not address. We are not aligned with any political party or corporate sponsor. We are volunteer-based, community supported.
Are you a regular podcast listener? What are some favorites?
Podcasts can be an effective alternative media source for people seeking political education outside of corporate-sponsored media. It takes a deep search to find the best quality, but it is there. However, much of my podcast listening often deals with working class history and culture. "Double Toasted" is a Black-owned podcast that specializes in pop culture and political talk through humor. It is truly my favorite podcast right now. "Something to Wrestle with Bruce Pritchard" is my favorite historical podcast. It is a fun insider look into professional wrestling with Pritchard, who has been in the business for decades. Professional wrestling is historically working class, so it is fascinating to correlate what occurs in that profession with labor struggles both in the U.S. and in Canada and Mexico, two major wrestling nations. It is as much about labor struggles as it is about wrestling as a working class "business."
What’s something new that you’ve learned through an interview for "Off the Shelf"?
So far, Harold Baron's deep scholarship in racial formation theory has truly informed my understanding of the dialectic between racial oppression and global capital. Baron's development of a periodization of capital accumulation in relation to Black resistance to forms of exploitation (slavery, factory work, etc.) provides a much more genuine depiction of the intersections of race, class, and gender in the political economy of the world. Black Studies scholar Sundiata Cha-Jua's Black racial formation and transformation theory updates and strengthens this model for this historical moment and helps us diagnose social problems today.
What do you hope that listeners of "Off the Shelf" will come away with?
We hope listeners end each episode with either a new book or article to read, a scholar or organizer to research, or multiple theories and concepts to dive deeper into and discuss with others. If this occurs, we will be able to construct a groundswell of people thinking critically and alternatively about our society and how best to intervene for a more equitable future. "Off the Shelf" serves as a resource to facilitate a diagnosis of the problem and possible options for treatments and solutions. The truth of the matter is that the one element missing from today's problem solving in crisis time is intellectual rigor and theoretical critique. Bringing intellectualism back to the forefront of solving social crises will undoubtedly move our society out of this New Nadir and closer to a new vision where we, the people, will determine how our society will operate. People may know that something is wrong today, but we are nowhere near a framework that provides the following: exactly what is wrong, how we developed the problem, and the plan to rectify the problem. I see "Off the Shelf" being one of the initial steps in developing that framework and influencing other intellectual projects and organizing work to do the same.