research

I completed my PhD in political theory at Yale University in spring 2020. I hold a BA in philosophy and an MA in history from Yale, as well as an MPhil in political thought and intellectual history from the University of Cambridge. Recent work has appeared in Constellations and in the European Journal of Political Theory.

I am at present revising my dissertation (described below) as a book manuscript. Alongside that project, I am working on a set of interrelated articles on materialist and critical-theoretical approaches to the politics of science and technology. While the substantive focus of these essays is interpretive, their implications are methodological; with political theory as a field having only begun to formulate the tools necessary to grasp the dynamics of a moment that is at once “Anthropocene” and “Information Age,” we will need to dramatically re-read our canonical models of social inquiry if we are to bring them to bear on the concerns of the present. The first of these papers, dealing with the relationship between the Dialectics of Nature manuscripts of Frederick Engels and the Dialectic of Enlightenment of Adorno and Horkheimer, is currently under review.

My dissertation, entitled What Violence Was: On the Limits of a Political Concept, presents the first detailed history of contemporary debates about the concept of violence in anglophone political thought. Today it is common to hear both popular commentators and specialized scholars worrying that the category of violence has expanded to include too much and that the concept risks becoming meaningless. Where did this anxiety originate? When did the question that it asks—“What is violence, really?”—become intelligible and significant at all? In my dissertation, I investigate how the definition of the term “violence” became itself an object of political and theoretical contestation, and I trace the development of the vocabularies through which this debate has circulated in order to evaluate the uses and limits of the resulting discourses for emancipatory politics today.

I uncover the origins of the definitional problem in the history of political nonviolence and in early academic attention to civil disobedience. I assess philosophical attempts to construct a general definition of the term “violence,” and I examine the complex development of terminologies such as structural violence, sexual violence, and epistemic violence. On my account, the contemporary confusion over the meaning of the concept is best understood as a symptom of an underlying tension between two competing tasks: the critique of systemic power and the regulation of individual behavior. This contradiction has shaped the conceptual discourse on violence since its beginning, and it reflects, I argue, the deeper dilemmas of political thinking within the social conditions of contemporary capitalism. In the end, I reject the claim that the concept of violence has become meaningless; instead, I suggest that precisely because of how much it has achieved, it may be approaching the end of its usefulness. We will need new theoretical tools to carry on the philosophical and political work that the discourses of violence have begun.

Sample chapters from this project, which I am now revising as a book manuscript, are available upon request.