Research

My research focuses on memory, race, and commemoration. I work in both political theory (focusing on fugitivity in Black political thought, memorialization, and race and ethnicity) and empirical political science research (focusing on whiteness, race and ethnicity, Confederate memorials, and teaching and learning in the political science classroom). Click here to download my research statement.

Political Theory

Current Book Project

My current book project is about the diverse ways enslaved people in the United States escaped slavery and how these different modes of fugitivity can speak to both fugitive theorizing in Black political thought and contemporary politics of resistance. Drawing on the concrete experiences of fugitives from slavery in the United States and its colonies and territories, this book demonstrates the value of the politics engaged in by Black fugitives and created from Black fugitivity. In particular, it moves beyond the exceptionalism and individualism often perpetuated by mythical retellings of escape on the Underground Railroad to explore how flight within geographies of enslavement can enrich contemporary politics of resistance to systems of violence. In particular, many forms of fugitivity leaned on – and strengthened – entanglements, relationships, and communities of care. This ethos can be generative for contemporary fugitive politics and theory.

“Contentious Vulnerability: The Case of Rwandan Genocide Memorials.” Under review.

The memorials commemorating Rwanda’s 1994 genocide are rare in their use of human remains and depictions of violence. These memorials have been widely criticized by European and North American scholars, who focus on the danger of depicting bodily vulnerability, arguing that it supports the regime’s politics of exclusion. However, by conflating what is exclusionary about the framing of the aesthetic of bodily vulnerability at Rwandan memorials with the aesthetic itself, these critics write off vulnerability altogether, risking a colonialist stance that reduces the Rwandan context to the non-political by fitting its commemorative politics into a false dichotomy of emotion and reason. In conversation with theories of vulnerability and the human by Judith Butler and Achille Mbembe, I argue that the aesthetic of vulnerability, when framed in an inclusive and critical way, can provide hope by supplying a way to see others’ bodies as non-disposable and oppose debasing forms of power.

“Trauma as Cultural Capital: A Critical Feminist Theory of Trauma Discourse,” with Wilson H. Hammett. Under review.
This essay theorizes a dilemma for feminism and the mental health fields posed by a particular form of trauma discourse. Feminists have played an important role in the development of current cultural and clinical conceptions of trauma and its destigmatization, but one result of the destigmatization of trauma has been that the language of trauma has begun to be used as a form of cultural capital. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of capital, distinction, and inequality to understand the circulation of trauma discourse, we critically reflect on the use of trauma as cultural capital by the privileged and powerful to enhance their power, distinguish themselves from those without such cultural capital, and reinforce hierarchies. We put the struggle to understand and treat trauma in the context of feminist interventions in the mental health and medical fields. We then outline, using several examples from contemporary U.S. popular culture, the appropriation of trauma talk to entrench existing inequalities and give cultural capital to those in positions of power and those seeking to evade accountability for abuse. This discussion has important implications not only for those in the mental health professions and trauma survivors, but also for feminist thought and those interested in deconstructing structural injustices and relations of inequality more broadly.

Public Writing: Washington Post “The Monkey Cage” Piece

“Memorial Day was political from the beginning. Here’s how the holiday was shaped by race and the Civil War.” The Monkey Cage – The Washington Post (2021). Link.

Race in American 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. Under review.

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. Under review.

Two working papers on white NIMBYism and racial threat – with Andreas Jozwiak. First paper under review, second paper target for submission fall 2022.

In the wake of the “Great Awokening,” white Democrats have professed increasingly racially progressive attitudes. However, the question remains open whether Democrats’ racial progressivism predicts important decisions that white Americans make “when the rubber hits the road” – like when deciding where to send their children to school or where to live. White people continue to make decisions on an individual level that have created levels of racial residential segregation at levels similar to the 1970s. Using a survey experiment (paper 1) and text analysis of citizen complaints about housing development at city government meetings (paper 2), we observe the effects of nonwhite families moving into white liberals’ neighborhoods on white liberals’ willingness to support racially progressive policies.

Teaching and Learning

“Reasons and Power: A Holistic U.S. Political Institutions Simulation,” with Ryan Williams. PS: Political Science and Politics. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096521001013.

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.

“Medicare-for-All or the Status Quo? Simulating Lobbying, Policy Debate, and the Party Line in Congress.” In Simulations in Political Science: Games Without Frontiers, Ed. Mark Harvey, James Fielder, and Ryan Gibb (Routledge, 2023).

This book chapter lays out the purposes and procedures for an original simulation of the lobbying and policymaking process in U.S. politics. Aimed at illustrating one of the ways that private groups can influence policy outcomes, this simulation divides students into lobbyists or members of Congress and brings the lawmaking process alive through active learning.

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