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Stephen Duncombe

Stephen Duncombe

Associate Professor
B.A. Sociology, SUNY Purchase, 1988
M.Phil. Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center, 1993
Ph.D. Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center, 1996

Stephen Duncombe’s interests lie in media and cultural studies. He teaches and writes on the history of mass and alternative media and the intersection of culture and politics. He is the author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy and Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Underground Culture,  co-author of The Bobbed Haired Bandit: Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York, editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader, co-editor of White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race,  and writes on the intersection of culture and politics for a range of scholarly and popular publications. Duncombe is also the creator of Open Utopia , an open-access, open-source, web-based edition of Thomas More’s Utopia. In 1998, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching by the State University of New York, where he taught before coming to New York University, and in 2012 was awarded the Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching at Gallatin. Duncombe, a life-long political activist, co-founded the School for Creative Activism in 2011, and is presently co-director of the Center for Artistic Activism. He is currently working on a book on the art of propaganda during the New Deal.


Professor Duncombe won a 2015 National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend to work on his book project Democratic Persuasion: Art, Culture and Communications of the New Deal. He was also awarded a 2015 project grant from the Health Media Initiative, Open Society Foundations, for the School for Creative Activism/Europe and Africa. With Steve Lambert, Professor Duncombe had the chapter "The Art of Activism," published in Truth is Concrete: A Handbook for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics (Sternberg Press, 2014).

He was an invited respondent to the 2014 Brecht Forum launch for “Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power,” in Brooklyn, NY. He participated in the panel discussion “Designing Free Speech,” for the Cities and Citizenship conference held at NYU in March 2014. Professor Duncombe delivered his talk “Punk Aesthetics and DIY Design,” at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in April 2014. He delivered "Fear of Art's Activism," at the conference Fear of Art, the 32nd Social Research, New School, New York, on February 12, 2015. He delivered "The Art of Policy," at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2015. He delivered "A New Approach to an Old Book: Open Utopia," at Digital U: The University in the Digital Age, held at William Patterson University, New Jersey, on October 29, 2014. Along with Brett Davidson and Steve Lambert, he delivered "Making the Impossible Possible," at the 2014 Communication Matters, Communications Network Conference, in Philadelphia, PA, on October 9, 2014. He served as a panelist for "Arts and Activism: A History of the Future," held at the Palitz Gallery, Syracuse University's Lubin House, New York, January 14, 2015.

He served as a visiting professor in the Department of Society and Globalization of Roskilde University, in Denmark, Spring-Summer 2014. He led the January 2014 weekend workshop for Portland State University’s MFA students in Art and Social Practice in Portland, OR. He taught "Art, Culture and Social Movements" as part of the Saturday Academy at the New York Historical Society, New York, New York, on November 22, 2014. Through the Center for Artistic Activism, Professor Duncombe worked with Russian activist artists in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 2-6, 2014. He also, through the Center for Artistic Activism, worked with Access to Medicine activists from around the globe in Barcelona, Spain, December 15-18, 2014. Professor Duncombe, through the Center for Artistic Activism, worked with Sex Work Decriminalization activists from Southern Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, May 30-April 2, 2015.

 He was a panelist for the November 2013 panel “What Does it Mean To Be Political Today? Street Tactics and Activist Strategies,” at The Base in Brooklyn, NY. Along with Steve Lambert, he delivered “Caledonian Dreaming: Radical Possibilities in the Age of Uncertainty,” at the Glasgow School of Art in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2013. He was a panelist for the October 2013 discussion “Performing Change,” at the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology in New York. With Steve Lambert, he ran the “Changin’ Scotland” workshop through the Centre for Artistic Activism (CAA) in Newbattle Abbey College in Scotland in November 2013. He gave the talk “Documentation and Legacy: The Civil Rights Movement,” in June 2013 at the Wanderlust School of Transgressive Placemaking in Brooklyn, NY. With Steve Lambert, he led “Imagining Utopia,” a November 2013 workshop that gathered artists and educators from Pakistan, and which was organized through the “Art for Social Change” program of the American Embassy in Islamabad. The “Art Action Academy” short course was held at iSchool NYC public high school, October 2013. With Steve Lambert, he ran a School for Creative Activism long course held in Warwick, New York, May 31-June 2, 2013; Chicago, IL, July 29-31, 2013; San Antonio, TX, September 13-15, 2013; Glasgow, Scotland, November 1-3, 2013; Skopje, Macedonia, March 18-23, 2014. They also ran a School for Creative Activism short course “United for a Fair Economy,” Boston MA, June 5, 2013; Chicago, IL, March 25, 2014. The two ran “Art Action Academy,” along course held at Portland State University, Social Practice Arts Program, January 17-19, 2013.

Professor Duncombe contributed “The Art of Activism,” an essay that he co-wrote with Steve Lambert, to Truth is Concrete: A Handbook for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics (Sternberg Press, 2014). He wrote “It Happened and Somebody Noticed,” catalog essay published by the Museum of Urban Reclaimed Space, New York, in December 2013. With Sam Gould, he co-wrote “On Pedagogy, Countercultures, and the Theory of Utopia,” which was published by The Third Rail, #1, in the fall 2013. With Steve Lambert, he co-wrote “Activist Art: Does it Work?” for Open: Platform for Art, Culture and the Public Domain which was published online in the fall 2013. His essay “Protest Scenography,” was published in the Summer 2013 issue of Performance Research.

Professor Duncombe was awarded a 2013 NYU Curricular Development Challenge Fund grant for Art and Activism and Cross-School Curricular Concentration. Duncombe’s School for Creative Activism was also awarded a 2013 project grant from the Open Society Foundations.  


Contact Information

Stephen Duncombe

Associate Professor
1 Wash Pl, Room 602
(212) 998-7327
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Office Hours
Tuesday (3-5 by appt)
Wednesday (4:30-5:30 by appt)
Thursday (3-5 by appt)

Research and Teaching Interests

media and cultural studies; history of mass media; activist media and alternative culture; arts and politics

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New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
1 Washington Place
New York, NY 10003
(212) 998-7370