Political Theory

Sage Publications, Inc.
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Latest documents

  • Desperate Responsibility: Precarity and Right-Wing Populism

    This essay explores the mutual reinforcements between socioeconomic precarity and right-wing populism, and then envisions a politics that contests Trumpism through workers’ organizations that create alternatives to predominant patterns of subject formation through work. I first revisit my recent critique of precarity, which initiates a new method of critical theory informed by Paulo Freire’s political pedagogy of popular education. Reading migrant day laborers’ commentaries on their work experiences alongside critical accounts of today’s general work culture, this “critical-popular” procedure yields a conception of precarity with two defining characteristics. First, precarity is socially bivalent: it singles out specific groups for especially harsh treatment even as it pervades society. Second, precarity constitutes subjects through contradictory experiences of time in everyday work-life, exacerbated by insoluble dilemmas of moral responsibility. Antonio Vásquez-Arroyo’s conception of “political literacy” and Bridget Anderson’s notion of “migrantizing the citizen,” in turn, help us understand how precaritization blocks workers from developing the critical dispositions toward time needed for democratic citizenship. This analysis then makes it possible to elucidate, in dialogue with Daniel Martinez-HoSang and Joseph Lowndes, how precaritized worker-citizenship facilitates the cross-class and multiracial appeal of Trumpism’s white supremacist discourse of national economic decline and resurgence, while normalizing the temporal affects of shock and violence characteristic of Trumpism, as theorized by Lia Haro and Romand Coles. Day laborers’ worker centers, I argue, refunction precaritized time, regenerate political literacy, and migrantize the citizen. A large-scale alternative to right-wing populism thus could emerge if the worker center network were expanded throughout the economy.

  • Land Grabbing and the Perplexities of Territorial Sovereignty

    The recent phenomenon of land grabbing—that is, the large-scale acquisition of private land rights by foreign investors—is an effect of increasing global demand for farmland, resources, and development opportunities. In 2008–2010 alone, land grabs covered approximately 56 million hectares of land, dispossessing and displacing inhabitants. This article proposes a philosophical framework for evaluating land grabbing as a practice of territorial alienation, whereby the private purchase of land can, under certain conditions, lead to a de facto alienation of territorial sovereignty. If land grabs alienate territorial sovereignty, it follows that inhabitants can claim a violation of the people’s right to “permanent sovereignty over natural resources.” However, because sovereignty is entangled in the historical and contemporary causes of land dispossession, I cast doubt on this strategy. Territorially sovereign regimes often undermine democratic land governance by obstructing participation in activities such as zoning, land use, property regulation, and environmental stewardship. These activities, which I theorize as practices of “world-building,” are key to democracy because they give occupants a say in the shape of their common home. The perplexities of sovereignty in matters of land governance suggest that establishing democratic participation in rule over land requires fracturing sovereignty.

  • Letter from the Coeditors
  • Review Essay: Rethinking the Political During Bad Times: Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State and Noëlle McAfee’s Fear of Breakdown
  • Rousseau, Bodin, and the Medieval Corporatist Origins of Popular Sovereignty

    This essay reconsiders Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s debt to Jean Bodin, on the basis of Daniel Lee’s recent revision of Bodin as a theorist of popular sovereignty. It argues that Rousseau took a key feature of his own theory of democratic sovereignty from Bodin—namely, the dual identity of political members as both citizens and subjects of the state. It further makes the case that this dual identity originates in medieval corporatist law, which Bodin was summarizing. Finally, it demonstrates the lasting impact of corporatist law in eighteenth-century France, highlighting Rousseau’s direct borrowings from the corporatist language and logic of contemporary commercial societies. In this regard, the article revisits and updates Otto von Gierke’s classic argument about the origins of the state in corporatist thought.

  • Infrastructures of Decolonization: Scales of Worldmaking in the Writings of Frantz Fanon

    Political theorists are increasingly drawn to the recovery of anticolonial thinkers as global figures. Frantz Fanon is largely excluded from these discussions because of his presumed commitment to the nation-state and its territorialist assumptions. This essay claims, by contrast, that Fanon’s writings reveal an alternative way of thinking about worldmaking, less as a question of political and economic institution-building spearheaded by leaders than as a multiscalar project that permeates the production of the built environment and the creation of selves. I show how Fanon challenges the dichotomy between the global and the national by seeking to transform not just the national scale in relation to the international, but also the corporeal, urban, rural, and regional scales of an imperially configured world. In order to read Fanon as a scalar thinker and to highlight aspects of his thought that have been relatively neglected, I draw on concepts from geography, and specifically scalar analysis, which, I demonstrate, allows political theorists to develop a richer understanding of the operations of power in colonial contexts and how they can be restructured to inaugurate more liberated ways of being human.

  • Book Review: On Borders: Territories, Legitimacy, and the Rights of Place, by Paulina Ochoa Espejo
  • A Race of Devils: Race-Making, Frankenstein, and The Modern Prometheus

    This essay engages Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus as a salient intervention into modern political theory. I analyze the work as a cipher for the tensions inhabiting Euro-modernity’s stitched together fictions of racial determinism and racial dynamism legible in slavery, assimilationist projects and White fears reverberating throughout. Adapting the mythical ancient Prometheus as one who steals fire from the gods to create humans and civilization, Frankenstein dramatizes the risks and monstrous results of White imperial masculinity as a Euro-colonial Promethean project of subject formation and race-making. Viewed through the prism of the Modern Prometheus, modernity in general and liberal humanism in particular are recast as monster-making projects. The European “discovery” of Indigenous peoples amplified Promethean aspirations to create subjects through civilizational processes of religious conversion, the infusion of Enlightenment rationality, and assimilation into whiteness. Politically, the Promethean capacity to engineer humans and proto-humans using Native peoples as raw material allowed progressives to argue against outright extermination in favor of cultural genocide. Seeking to create a subserviant species, Victor Frankenstein confronts a revolting insurrection of his own making—a Creature who refuses slavery, claims mastery over his creator and demands a female companion. Yet Frankenstein’s fear of creating “a race of devils” betrays a terror of what Whites know, but refuse to acknowledge, about themselves and racial others.

  • Book Review: influx & efflux: writing up with Walt Whitman, by Jane Bennett
  • Agonism, Democracy, and the Moral Equality of Voice

    Agonism emerged three decades ago as an assault on the overemphasis in political theory on justice and consensus. It has now become the norm. But its character and relation to core values of democracy are not as unproblematic today as is often thought, an issue that becomes more pressing as contemporary politics increasingly seem locked into notions of unrelenting conflict between “friends” and “enemies.” This essay traces alternative ontological roots and ethical implications of agonism, distinguishing between “imperializing” and “tempered” modes. The former, exemplified in the popular Schmitt-Mouffe formulation, is shown to be fundamentally flawed in its failure to conceive politics in a fashion that does not allow the dynamic of friend–enemy to imperially trump appeals to democratic norms. In a world of insurgent white nationalism in democratic polities, this is no small fault. “Tempered” agonists, such as William Connolly and Bonnie Honig, offer ontologies where democratic norms can gain traction. Despite the admirable qualities of these alternatives, their formulations are nevertheless not fully persuasive. The difficulty lies in their underarticulated accounts of equality. I suggest an alternative formulation of agonism that embraces a central role for the idea of the moral equality of voice, a value that resides in the seam between notions of difference, resistance, and conflict emphasized by agonists, on the one hand, and the idea of fairness emphasized by notions of democratic justice, on the other.

Featured documents

  • Heinrich Heine’s Critique of the Present: Poetry, Revolution, and the “Rights of Life”

    Although the poet, journalist, and critic Heinrich Heine has not received much attention among recent political theorists, his revolutionary poetry and criticism were foundational for many German thinkers who have become canonical and comprise a powerful theoretical and historical project in their...

  • Labor Republicanism and the Transformation of Work

    In the nineteenth century a group of “labor republicans” argued that the system of wage-labor should be replaced by a system of cooperative production. This system of cooperative production would realize republican liberty in economic, not just political, life. Today, neo-republicans argue that the ...

  • Labor Republicanism: Symposium on Alex Gourevitch’s From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, 2014
  • Bringing in the Work of Nature

    Ecological concern has recently prompted efforts to assess the economic value of ecological functions: the “work of nature” must no longer be taken for granted as a free amenity, but priced and accounted for as “natural capital.” Critiques of this approach tend to defend nature’s intrinsic value...

  • Dignity, Difference, and the Representation of Nature

    In the past few decades, political theorists have attempted to articulate a nontheological basis for a special human place in the moral universe. These attempts, I argue, generally fall into two groups, one centered around the concept of “dignity” and the other around ideas of “difference.” Both of ...

  • Socialism and Empire: Labor Mobility, Racial Capitalism, and the Political Theory of Migration

    This essay brings together political theories of empire and racial capitalism to clarify the entanglements between socialist and imperial discourse at the turn of the twentieth century. I show that white labor activists and intellectuals in the United States and the British settler colonies...

  • What Is Liberalism?

    Liberalism is a term employed in a dizzying variety of ways in political thought and social science. This essay challenges how the liberal tradition is typically understood. I start by delineating different types of response—prescriptive, comprehensive, explanatory—that are frequently conflated in...

  • Environmental Domination

    In their vulnerability to arbitrary, exploitative uses of human power, many of Earth’s nonhuman parts are subject to environmental domination. People too are subject to environmental domination in ways that include but also extend beyond the special environmental burdens borne by those who are poor ...

  • Good Readers and Good Liberals

    This article offers an interpretation of Vladimir Nabokov’s unique contribution to political theory as seen primarily through the lens of his novel Invitation to a Beheading. Although most frequently interpreted as an indictment of totalitarianism, the novel depicts a form of cruelty practiced not...

  • Fred Moten’s Refusals and Consents: The Politics of Fugitivity

    This essay analyzes Fred Moten’s “antipolitical” romance with the “fugitive black sociality” that he radically opposes to “politics,” defined as inescapably tied to antiblack modernity. By comparing Moten’s argument to other voices in the black radical tradition, and by triangulating Moten with...

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