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Barbara Ehrenreich

Author of Dancing in the Streets, Nickled and Dimed, and Bait and Switch

Dancing in the Streets: The Human Need to Party

September 7, 2007
Watters Theater, 4:00 PM


Partying is a serious human business. Since prehistoric times, people all over the world have engaged in rituals and festivities involving music, dancing, face-painting, feasting and often drinking. But over the last few centuries, that joyous tradition has been suppressed, leaving us with few opportunities for public celebration. Ehrenreich explores the human need for public celebration – and why we need to fulfill it.

In addition, Barbara will give an informal talk at noon in the Public Service Program Center (PSPC) titled “Why students of cultural studies, literary studies, and other branches of the humanities should be interested in evolution.”


Barbara Ehrenreich is a true intellectual, polymath and free spirit. Born in Butte, Montana to a mining family, she obtained her BA in physics from Reed College and her PhD in cell biology from Rockefeller University, only to decide upon a life of activism rather than science. Her writing emerged from her activism. As a writer, she tackles any and all subjects that interest her with a fearlessness that she attributes in part to her scientific training: “One thing I learned in my dilettantish bopping around from one scientific discipline to another is that I can learn almost anything if I try hard enough.”

Barbara’s many books and essays reflect both her passion for social justice (e.g. Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch) and subjects that grab her intellectual curiosity (e.g., Blood Rites, Dancing in the Streets). Her interest in gender (e.g. For Her Own Good, The Hearts of Men) was aroused by the birth of her first child: “I’d never thought much about my gender, but the prenatal care I received at a hospital clinic showed me that PhD’s were not immune from the vilest forms of sexism.”

Barbara also turns her critical gaze on the university intellectual environment. In Blood Rites she writes: “The social scientists to whom one might naturally turn for some understanding of an institution like war have, in all too many cases, given up on big questions and sweeping theories of any sort and are engaged instead in narrow empirical studies, or, what is safer yet, critiques of studies already done.” In a 1997 Nation article co-authored with Janet McIntosh, Barbara noted that some intellectuals rival religious creationists in their rejection of evolution when it comes to human affairs: “Like their fundamentalist religious counterparts, the most extreme anti-biologists suggest that humans occupy a status utterly different from and clearly ‘above’ that of all other living beings. And, like the religious fundamentalists, the new academic creationists defend their stance as if all of human dignity—and all hope for the future—were at stake.” Barbara remains a social activist in addition to her writing, including her newly created United Professionals for “unemployed, underemployed, and anxiously employed white collar workers.”


  1. The True Mark of the Beast (Chapter 4 from Blood Rites)

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