Political Theorist | Assistant Professor of Politics, Bard College
My classes connect political theory, social and intellectual history, and political economy by bringing together an array of theoretical texts, historical materials, and works of art. Through my teaching experiences at Bard, Dartmouth, Chicago, and the New School, I have designed an approach to teaching that facilitates learning in a diverse student body.
This seminar explores theories of the historical relationship between ideologies of racial difference and practices of capital accumulation since the rise of the Atlantic slave trade. Students will examine the ways in which a host of thinkers, critics, and historians have formulated and employed the concept of “racial capitalism” to reimagine and confront the entanglement of race and capitalism in two central ways: first, as a theory of capitalism in which the movement, settlement, and economic exploitation of people of color is seen as indissociable from regimes of capital accumulation; and second, as a critique of standard accounts of capitalism that view racism as a cultural deviation from the market’s economic logic. We will begin by engaging contemporary theories of racial capitalism since the 1970s, paying particular attention to the theoretical arguments and historical methods scholars have used to think about racism as an internal and structural feature of capitalist development. We will then turn to key texts and constitutive moments in the histories of Black political thought and global capitalism that will invite us to reflect on “racial capitalism” as a conceptual and historical category for critically understanding the convergence of race and capitalism in a long-range international context. In addition to reading classic texts by Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cedric Robinson, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Barbara Fields, Saidiya Hartman, and others, we will focus on the socioeconomic transformations to which their works responded, including racial slavery, settler colonialism, Jim Crow, the underdevelopment of Africa, neoliberal economic reform, and mass incarceration. Through class discussions, writing assignments, and readings, students will be introduced to a wide range of theoretical and historical approaches to interpreting race and capitalism while also learning about key concepts and debates in critical race theory, Black feminist thought, and the history of political economy.
This class explores key texts, concepts, and themes in modern political theory during the rise and development of capitalism, from the late seventeenth century to the present. Throughout its history, capitalism has been continuously justified, critiqued, and redefined by way of such key political ideas as liberty, equality, property, and progress. Likewise, political theory has been fundamentally shaped by historical transformations in economic life bound up with the development of modern capitalist societies, from agrarian capitalism and the Industrial Revolution to colonial slavery and the high-tech economy. Our approach will be to place primary texts in Western political thought within the socioeconomic contexts in which they were originally written and read, paying particular attention to how political thinkers have responded to pivotal events, innovations, crises, and policies that marked the capitalist societies in which they lived. Each week will focus on a specific moment of convergence between political theory and the history of capitalism. In the first two weeks, we will read classic works on the history of capitalism by social and political theorists in order to gain conceptual clarity on what capitalism is as well as when and how it began. In subsequent weeks we will: read founding works of early-modern political economy against the backdrop of England’s monetary and agrarian crises in the late seventeenth century; explore Enlightenment debates about commercial society through the lens of global commerce and colonial slavery in the eighteenth century; probe the connections between liberal political thought, imperialism, and industrial capitalism in the nineteenth century; and analyze the ways in which neoclassical political economy and critical theory emerged and transformed in response to the rise of neoliberalism and the global high-tech economy since the latter half of the twentieth century. Through readings, in-class discussions, presentations and a research paper, students will acquire an in-depth understanding of central concepts and problems in Western political theory and develop the necessary skills to analyze, discuss, and write about such concepts and problems within a long-range socioeconomic context.
Classics of Social and Political Thought II: The Social Contract Social Sciences Core Curriculum, University of Chicago
“Classics of Social and Political Thought” invites students to participate in a year-long conversation about questions that have puzzled Western thinkers for millennia. Through our readings of classic texts from Plato and Aristotle to Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt, we will consider what it means to live a good, examined, free, and distinctively human life. We will also explore how we might pursue such a life in a political community. What role do our fellow human beings play in this pursuit? How can our social arrangements and political institutions support or hinder this process? In the Winter quarter of the course, we will build on our conversations from the Fall concerning the nature and ends of political life. But we will also focus on questions about the ways in which political communities are organized and ruled. We will begin by reading and discussing the various theories of the state advanced by three modern thinkers associated with “the social contract” tradition: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These theorists have asked some of the most pressing questions about modern politics, including the ways in which people make a consensual agreement with one another to create a political state. Known for their ideas about how, why, and to what ends human beings leave the state of nature to live together in civil society, each one of these authors put forth a particular version of the social contract. With an eye to the continuities and ruptures between these thinkers, we will examine their views on human nature and civil society by paying particular attention to how each theory addresses questions of justice, equality, legitimacy, authority, rights, and freedom. We will end the quarter with Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist critique of political rights and examine the particular ways in which universal claims to human rights and freedom may operate as prerogatives for inclusion and exclusion alike. All of these authors offered ideas of liberty and equality that have become the bedrock of democratic Western societies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—or so we’ve been told.
Classics of Social and Political Thought III: Freedom and Critique Social Sciences Core Curriculum, University of Chicago
In the Spring quarter of “Classics of Social and Political Thought,” we will continue our conversations from the Winter quarter about how political communities are organized and ruled. But in addition to that, we will examine how these societies are experienced by its subjects. In particular, we will pay close attention to the social, political, and economic experiences of people living in these societies. We will study a plurality of discourses, ideas, institutions, and practices through which power, coercion, and domination have been—and continue to be—exercised in modern societies as well as a diverse array of theories for understanding, critiquing, and confronting forms of domination (authoritarianism, economic exploitation, racism, imperialism, sexism). For these reasons, our theme this quarter will be “freedom and critique.” In the next nine weeks, students will read, discuss, and write about texts and ideas by nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers who developed critiques of existing social and political conditions: Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Simone de Beauvoir. These thinkers will invite us to explore how domination appears and operates within liberal democracies and capitalist societies, as well as what must be done to overcome domination in our collective quest for freedom. In so doing, we will examine the meaning of such modern values and ideas as equality, progress, morality, liberty, and truth while also considering how these values and ideas have shaped—and continue to shape—human beings and the societies in which they live. Throughout the quarter we will use the assigned texts as resources for learning about critique as both a practice and a theory of freedom. We will consider how critique can serve society and how we might use the concepts and models of inquiry that we find in our texts to analyze present social and political conditions. As such, this seminar will enhance students’ argumentative skills and provide them with tools for thinking critically about the world they inhabit through complex social and political problems. What cultural forces motivate and maintain these relations of power? How do they condition or undermine efforts to create a more just world? What kind of lives do these conditions allow us to lead? Freedom and critique will help us to begin answering these questions.
Power, Identity, Resistance I: The Social Contract and Its Critics Social Sciences Core Curriculum, University of Chicago
What is the state and how is it formed? Who are its citizens, what are their rights and duties? When can they legitimately rebel against and overthrow their ruler? What are the limits of sovereign power? What is political authority? And, most importantly, how do all of these questions relate to justice? In this class we will probe these questions not to find definitive answers, but to learn how to ask and think about them. We will begin by looking at theories of the state through what has become commonly known as “the social contract.” Thinkers in this tradition will ask one of the more pressing questions about modern politics: how do we make an agreement with others such that a political body, known as the state, is created? In the first half of the course we will read three influential thinkers associated with this tradition: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Known for their theories of how, why, and to what ends human beings leave the state of nature to live together in civil society, each one of these authors puts forth a particular variation of the social contract. In the second half of the class we will look at key critics of the social contract, from Edmund Burke’s conservatism to Mary Wollstonecraft’s republicanism and John Stuart Mill’s liberalism. With an eye to the continuities and ruptures between these thinkers, we will examine their views on human nature and civil society by paying particular attention to how each theory relates to questions of justice, equality, and freedom.
Power, Identity, Resistance III: Currents of Critical Thought Social Sciences Core Curriculum, University of Chicago
This seminar is the third part of a three-quarter sequence in the Social Sciences Core titled “Power, Identity, Resistance.” In this class we will study classic texts in the modern tradition of “critical theory,” from Immanuel Kant to Michel Foucault. We will examine the ways in which critical thinkers have interpreted power, as being both constitutive of and constituted by economics, politics, and culture in the modern era, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. We will study different modalities, techniques, and mechanisms through which power is exercised as well as various means of resisting its structures of domination. By looking into the intricate, subtle, pervasive, and violent workings of power, we will investigate how economic, social, and cultural forces interact to shape and, as such, politicize our identities. Through a close engagement with canonical texts, films, and other materials, this seminar will enhance students’ argumentative and interpretive skills by helping them to think critically through complex social problems. The class will push students to develop their capacity for critical reasoning, close reading, and analytic writing. This spring, we will examine forms of social domination—such as racism, imperialism, and sexism—that interact with yet cannot be reduced to the political and economic categories we explored last quarter through Smith and Marx. What cultural forces motivate and maintain these relations of power? How do they shape, or undermine, efforts to create a more just world? These are some of the questions we will explore in this class.
Imagining the Modern City Arts and Sciences Summer Program, University of Chicago
Increased urbanization has been a source of momentous change in the history of the modern world. During the industrial revolution in Europe, thousands of people were forced to leave rural areas for urban spaces. In the last hundred years, urbanization has continued apace: the world’s urban population was 746 million in 1950, and is now 3.9 billion, with much of that growth taking place in Africa and Asia. The rise of the modern city has made possible new political, social, cultural, and economic experiences of life presented in texts, films, music, and art. To better understand what forms of life the modern city makes both imaginable and unimaginable, we will read literary works, view films, and experience artworks alongside, and through the lenses of, political theorists, historians, sociologists, and urban theorists from the nineteenth century to the present—from Karl Marx and Max Weber to Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin, from Georges Seurat and Archibald Motley Jr. to Wong Kar Wai and Spike Lee. Additionally, we will take several field trips to locales and neighborhoods in Chicago that connect to the themes and settings we will study.
From the Country to the City: The Experience of Urbanization in the Modern World Arts and Sciences Summer Program, University of Chicago
This course will examine what happens when the world becomes increasingly urban, and how people understand the changes in their lives when they move from rural areas to cities. In particular, we will study the ways in which new waves of urbanization transform our senses of belonging and pose problems, both architectural and political, from dealing with over-burdened city institutions to the demand for political representation made by people arriving in the city. This course will explore urbanization through a wide variety of disciplinary approaches. We will read classic texts in political economy, geography, and philosophy, such as Georg Simmel’s “The Metropolis and Mental Life” and excerpts from Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume One. We will also delve into the histories of architecture and art, literature and film, from Europe, Asia, and Africa, in order to investigate the stakes of contemporary urbanization. Our materials include the short stories of the Nigerian writer Ben Okri, the films of Abbas Kiarostami and Wong Kar Wai, and photography from Lagos, Paris, and Juba, South Sudan. Students will also have a chance to think about urbanization outside the classroom, through field trips around Chicago, a visit to the Art Institute, and through student-led collaborative research projects on issues related to the historical development of cities.
New Media Art History and Theory Parsons School of Design and School of Media Studies, New School for Social Research
Contemporary theorists and historians tend to identify the novelty of image production as the distinct and constitutive characteristic of new media art. This class explores an alternative historical and conceptual narrative of new media art. By transgressing the conventions of visual language, we will probe the disruptive and transformative aspects of new media art forms, both politically and aesthetically. While acknowledging new media art’s genealogical roots in the historical avant-garde, as well as its intertwining co-evolution with visual art’s numerous bifurcations, the central aim of this course is to uncover the formal, aesthetic, and political elements that set new media art apart from the ocularcentrist imperative of postwar critical theory and art history. By synthesizing some of the most provocative philosophical positions on the current economic, technological, and political fabric of liberal Western societies, this course elucidates a theory of presence, sensation, embodiment, resistance, and action as transformative conceptual possibilities for art—be it in concrete practices or theoretical gestures. Through readings, analyses of seminal artworks, writing assignments, discussions, presentations, and topical lectures, we will work together towards a critical and rigorous understanding of the distinct positions that (old and new) media occupy in contemporary artistic production. Above all, this course will offer students a perspective on new media art’s historical and present-day relevance, as well as its critical potential to articulate political and social modes of inquiry and resistance in the context of an art world profoundly organized by the imperatives of postindustrial capitalism.