My research focuses on the political legacy of historical violence, the intersection between politics and emotion, and the politics of place and space. I mostly work in political theory, but I also work on empirical projects about political attitudes, race and politics, and teaching and learning in the political science classroom. Click here to download my research statement.
Dissertation: “Toward a Political Aesthetic of Commemoration“
My monograph-style dissertation focuses on how political societies remember historical violence through their physical environments. I analyze case studies of aesthetic representations of mass violence: representations of the Rwandan genocide in Rwanda, of slavery in the United States, and of colonial violence against Indigenous peoples in Australia. Analyzing the successes and failures in each of these cases, I examine possibilities for an aesthetic of commemoration that emphasizes bodily vulnerability, resistance and fugitivity, and/or political solidarity. I take a comparative political theory approach and engage in a number of literatures, including memory studies, material culture, architecture and planning theory, Black political thought, and postcolonial theory. A few of the thinkers I engage with are: Judith Butler, Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt, and Harriet Jacobs.
I plan to defend the dissertation in January 2021. Every chapter is written. An article adapted from the chapter about Rwandan genocide memorials is under a revise-and-resubmit at Contemporary Political Theory.
“Share Your Trauma: A Critical Feminist Theory of Trauma Culture,” with Wilson Hammett. Working paper.
With increasingly open cultural attitudes toward talking about mental illness and therapy, especially among the young and privileged, some stigmas surrounding mental illness have decreased among younger generations in the Global North in the 21st century. Concurrently, the rise of the interdisciplinary field of “memory studies” has seen a proliferation of scholarly and popular discourses around mass violence. Trauma culture, in which trauma is used as a social concept and in everyday parlance outside the frameworks of medicine and memory studies, poses interesting dilemmas and difficulties for feminism. On the one hand, it has been feminist theorists and activists who legitimated affect and emotion. On the other hand, the use of trauma discourse as currency for social capital poses dangers for feminism. In this paper, we outline the contours of a critical feminist theory of trauma, arguing that feminisms should explore how cultural ideas of trauma might bolster their political claims. However, feminisms should remain wary of the possibilities for trauma to become a tool of gender oppression, for trauma to become a kind of social currency in which traumatic stories are exchanged for cultural capital, and for trauma’s meaning to become diluted and therefore less useful to medicine, mental health, and memory studies. Target for submission: April 2021.
Race, Emotion, and Politics
“Meanings and Impacts of Confederate Monuments in the U.S. South,” with Emily Wager and Tyler Steelman. Du Bois Review, 2020
How do citizens interpret contentious symbols that pervade our environment? And what downstream effects does state protection of these symbols have on how citizens of different backgrounds feel they belong in that environment? We approach these questions through the lens of race and Confederate monuments in the American South. Data from two original surveys illustrate the symbolic meanings Americans attach to these monuments and how state protection of them impact residents’ feelings of belonging. We find perceptions of Confederate monuments vary by race: Whites are drastically less likely to perceive them as symbolic of racial injustice than are African Americans. Further, state protection of Confederate monuments leads to a diminished sense of belonging among African Americans, while generally leaving Whites unaffected. This research moves beyond the literature that examines simple support or opposition toward contentious symbols, and instead develops a deeper understanding of what meaning symbols can hold for citizens and how they can have tangible consequences for how citizens engage in the public and political sphere. This paper is recently published at the Du Bois Review.
“The New White Visibility: Racial Solidarity in the Post-2016 Era,” with Leah Christiani. Working paper.
Calls to cross-racial solidarity in contemporary politics often claim that whiteness needs to first be made visible before racial healing can begin. But what does this mean in 2016, when whiteness has already been made visible – in two divergent ways? On the right, white identity politics centers around claims of white oppression in the face of threatening minorities, while on the left, white progressives in the Black Lives Matter era focus on making white privilege visible. We run a survey experiment to better understand the impacts of these two divergent frames of whiteness (against a control) on policy positions, racial attitudes, and cross-racial solidarity. Target for submission: February 2021.
“Memory and Constructed Emotions: A New Measure for Emotional Reactions to Political Figures,” with Pamela Conover and Tyler Steelman. Working paper.
Despite the importance of emotions in understanding political candidates, elections, and elected officials, for forty years political scientists have been using a measure of emotional reactions to politicians that does not align with current theoretical understandings of how emotions work. The American National Election Study (ANES) asks respondents to recall how often they have felt a certain emotion toward an individual political figure, but research on the fallibility of memory and the constructed nature of emotions shows that this approach is misguided. We propose a new measure that uses real-time news alerts to measure emotional reactions as they are formed, not months or years later. Results from pilot surveys show that this measure is able to tap emotional reactions as they unfold. Target for submission: December 2020.
Teaching and Learning
“Reasons and Power: A Holistic U.S. Political Institutions Simulation,” with Ryan Williams. Working paper.
In U.S. government courses, simulations have been shown to increase students’ engagement with course material and knowledge retention. We introduce procedures for and data on the effectiveness of an original simulation on civil liberties and U.S. federal institutions. Students play members of Congress, lobbyists for a pro- or anti-natural gas pipeline group, or Supreme Court justices. The simulation is unique in its combination of reflection on the strength and type of various normative arguments for and against a policy with the procedures of government as the policy makes its way through federal institutions. Target for submission: November 2020.