I’m a political theorist and PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. My main areas of research and teaching are in contemporary political theory and the history of political thought.
My research addresses contemporary political problems genealogically, by examining their historical trajectories, discursive deployments, and theoretical foundations. The questions I ask emerge from interwoven themes that span traditions, archives, and continents, including the development of global capitalism and empire, the history of racialized labor and the legacies of colonial slavery, the associations between aesthetic theory and economic discourse, and the politics of identity. By drawing on resources from continental and critical theory as well as on methods from intellectual and social history, literary criticism and anthropology, my work explores the shifting social and political resonances of these themes as they transformed and were transformed by ideas and movements in the history of modern political thought across Britain, France, and the Atlantic world, from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.
With the support of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, I am currently finishing my dissertation, “Factories of Modernity: Labor, Aesthetics, and the Racial Politics of Historical Capitalism,” under the direction of Jennifer Pitts and Patchen Markell (Co-Chairs), Sankar Muthu, and Paul Cheney (History). In it I argue that the most disquieting political problems of our postindustrial moment—the immiseration of workers, the enrichment of capital, and the racialization of labor—are best understood as a continuation of, rather than a rupture with, earlier political ideas and social formations that propelled the rise of the factory in Britain and the global Atlantic throughout the long eighteenth century. My study makes visible the ways in which modern ideas about labor, aesthetics, and race—by thinkers such as Locke, Hume, Smith, Burke, and Bentham—evolved with and gestated within the transnational matrix of world capitalism. In doing this, the project advances a critical theory of capitalist modernity that—in engaging with Marx, Foucault, C. L. R. James, and Rancière—reimagines the factory as a historical yet transtemporal form of capitalist domination, one that inheres as much in the ideas of the past as in the problems of the present. Much of my dissertation’s argument is supported by original archival data, which I collected during research trips funded by fellowships and awards from the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and the Nicholson Center for British Studies, among others.
I’m in the process of reworking parts of my first two chapters for publication. My article “A Factory Afield: John Locke and Proto-Industrial Capitalism,” under review at Modern Intellectual History, is based on my second chapter in which I trace the origins of the eighteenth-century workhouse system for the poor to English political ideas of the 1690s. I’m also revising my first chapter into an article titled “The Absent Factory: Rethinking Critical Theories of Postindustrial Capitalism,” which contributes to contemporary critiques of the “new economy” by drawing on empirical data concerning the working conditions inside a Google data center in Silicon Valley, an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, and a digital sweatshop in the Philippines.
Building on my dissertation, my second book project—tentatively titled Badlands of Utopia—intervenes in recent debates on automation and post-work imaginaries by exploring the “past futures of work” in ideas, texts, and spaces from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The project examines how changing notions of idleness, laziness, and waste were part of a conceptual grammar of economic crisis and moral panic upon which a diverse array of modern thinkers, from liberal colonialists to utopian socialists, relied to justify their particular visions of work in an ideal future. Part of my argument on how this history contributes to contemporary debates on the future of work will be published as “Unplay: The Aesthetics of Action and the Politics of Idleness” in the edited collection Mobility in Post Democracy, forthcoming with Duke University Press. A further project, part of which appears in Disability and Political Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2016), contributes to the growing literature on disability and political theory by interpreting how modern political thinkers—from Locke to Nietzsche—deployed disabled identities as what Gilles Deleuze called “conceptual personae”—character tropes representative of problems, ideas, and arguments—that on my account are indispensable for assessing the historical and contemporary political implications of their theories.
In the 2017/2018 academic year, I was the coordinator for the Historical Capitalisms Workshop, which I cofounded with faculty from the Departments of Political Science and History at the University of Chicago. In the 2018/2019 academic year I will serve as the co-coordinator for the newly formed Historical Capitalisms and Social Theory Workshop. In addition to my academic work, I explore many of the themes in my dissertation and recent publications through my research, writing, and curatorial practice on emerging digital art forms, especially as these interact with political questions raised by late capitalism.