I’m Matt Shafer, a political theorist and currently a member of the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study. My work brings together transnational intellectual history and contemporary critical theory to examine how fundamental political ideas are formed and contested over time.

I’m now writing a book on recent debates about how the word violence should be defined in political theory and deployed in political rhetoric. How do we draw the line between violence and nonviolence? Where do terms like “structural violence” come from? Why does so much contemporary activist and academic debate about violence focus on language as a space of power and harm? These are the sorts of questions that my project examines.

Beyond this work on violence, I have broader research interests in the methodological dilemmas of critical theory today. My articles in this area have focused mostly on the contested relationship between the Marxian tradition and other forms of social inquiry, such as feminist & queer theory and science & technology studies.

Previously, I was a postdoctoral fellow of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania (2020-21). I received my PhD in 2020 from the Department of Political Science at Yale University, where I was also affiliated with the interdisciplinary graduate program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.