Move Over, Mona Lisa. Move Over, Jane Eyre: Making the World’s Universities, Museums, and Libraries More Welcoming to Everyone


Across the world, calls for greater equity in the halls of academia, museum galleries, and libraries are loud and clear. They demand more “diversity” and “inclusion,” or that the university should be “globalized” or “decolonized.” If everyone agrees that business as usual is no longer acceptable, why is progress so slow?

In this presentation, Peggy Levitt argued that the simple answer is that the lack of diversity in intellectual and cultural institutions is the product of a supply chain of exclusions that leave out a broader set of experiences at every turn. These begin when a toddler in the US or Europe is surrounded by art supplies while a toddler living outside these regions is left empty-handed. They continue when books written in a European language get translated and circulated widely––while those written in Arabic or Hindi are read only by people back home. And they extend through the structures of the cultural and academic worlds to the halls of textbook publishing.

This means that changing what happens in the university classroom cannot happen without changing how the knowledge that gets taught there is produced. The story of inequality in the classroom is the story of inequality in the museum and the library. The institutional supply chain that connects them, or what Levitt calls the “inequality pipeline,” places barriers to entry for artists, writers, and thinkers who live outside the traditional centers of cultural and intellectual power at every step of the way. In order to disrupt the pipeline more effectively, we have to understand better how it actually works.

Peggy Levitt is chair of the sociology department and the Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College. She is a co-founder of the Global (De)Centre. Her book Transnational Social Protection: Transforming Social Welfare in a World on the Move (co-authored with Erica Dobbs, Ken Sun, and Ruxandra Paul) will be published by Oxford University Press in February 2023. Artifacts and Allegiances: How Museums Put the Nation and the World on Display was published by the University of California Press in 2015.

Ayse Çağlar, Permanent Fellow at IWM, introduced the speaker and moderated the ensuing Q&A.

A recording of the event is available below.