Barack Obama condemned it. Black American activists championed it. Meghan Markle brought it to the Royal Family. “Wokeness” has become a shorthand for one side of the culture wars, popularising concepts like “white privilege” and “trigger warnings” – and the idea that “language is violence”.
Journalist Helen Lewis is on a mission to uncover the roots of this social phenomenon. On her way she meets three authors who in 2017 hoaxed a series of academic journals with fake papers on dog rape, fat bodybuilding and feminist astrology. They claimed to have exposed the jargon-loving, post-modern absurdity of politically correct university departments – whose theories drive “woke” online political movements.
But is there really a link between the contemporary language of social justice warriors and the continental philosophy of the 1960s and 70s? And are critics of wokeness just reactionaries, left uneasy by a changing world?