Research

Research Overview

I work mainly in two areas: (1) contemporary social and political philosophy, and (2) the history of 19th and 20th century continental philosophy (and related political writing).

My research examines the relationship between two human goods—community and freedom—which are both highly precious but are often in tension with one another. On the one hand, our radical dependence on others can sometimes turn us into a tool in their hands. And on the other, community and its benefits can also be frayed apart if individuals attempt to live completely independently from one another. This tension only becomes starker in modern conditions. What does it mean, for instance, to aim at self-governance when we are completely dependent for our needs on goods produced all the way across the globe? Moreover, the price of entry into community might be that one gives up one’s labor to others, becoming a tool for others to use—through a wage, gender expectations, or national and racial subordination.

My work focuses on arguments that individual and collective self-determination can only be achieved through certain forms of community and solidarity. I draw on the political thought of those who actively engaged in working class, anti-colonial, and gender liberation movements, which are often neglected in academic philosophy (more on my project to teach these here). I also draw on figures like Rousseau, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Fanon.

Papers

Peer-Reviewed Publications

“Kierkegaard on Time and the Limitations of Imaginative Planning”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. XCIV No. 1, January 2017. 144-169. | Download here

Abstract: In Practice in Christianity, Kierkegaard claims that the imaginative planning of projects that require ongoing effort over time always fails to represent them accurately. This paper explores one particular reason Kierkegaard gives for thinking this—that the imagination is incapable of capturing the temporality of such endeavors, and it is this temporality that constitutes their greatest difficulty. This is significant for Kierkegaard because he believes that the tasks involved in self-determination—including the tasks of the moral life and of the religious life—belong to this class of endeavors. But if true, his claim raises questions for all projects that use imaginative planning. This paper explores Kierkegaard’s texts on the matter and argues that his claim centers on the fact that in one’s imagination, one cannot face ongoing resistance that is entirely outside one’s control as one does in the actual world. This contributes to a picture of Kierkegaard’s moral psychology that presents having a powerful imagination alone as quite insufficient for practical striving, and that places practice and willful endurance in whatever task one is attempting as central to learning it. One cannot learn how to do such tasks from another or from one’s imagination, according to Kierkegaard—the only teacher is experience, and, crucially, time.

Papers Under Review/In Progress

“Fanon on Racial Alienation from Oneself and Others” | Under Review | Email me about this paper

Abstract: The underexplored question of how Fanon conceives of alienation has a profound effect on one’s understanding of the aims of Black Skin, White Masks. In this paper, I argue that Fanon’s account of racial alienation is both an account of alienation from oneself and of alienation from others. I argue, in other words, that alienation for Fanon is not merely a psychological notion, as in the dominant tendency of individualist readings. These readings rest on attributing to Fanon a currently widespread but mistaken picture of racist ideology as a kind of free-floating, hate-driven mental contagion. In contrast, to this, Fanon sees racist ideology as a reflection of objectively existing patterns of relationship, in which people disregard and instrumentalize certain others. And, Fanon thinks, this racist ideology functions to reinforce those patterns of relationship by designating certain people as inherently worthy of being treated as mere tools. He names these patterns of relationship, I argue, as alienation, and his account is an innovation on the Marxist concept (which I reconstruct elsewhere). On my reading of Fanon, although it is only as a racially subordinated person that one can face racial alienation from oneself, everyone in a racist society is racially alienated from others.

“Racialization Without Pseudo-biology in Islamophobia and Beyond” | Under Review | Download draft here

Abstract: It is often claimed that ethnically diverse cultural groups like Muslims and Latinos are racialized in many contemporary societies. But this is puzzling if one takes racialization to involve assuming that members of a group share a biological essence. I offer an account of racialization that solves this puzzle. What I call socio-cultural racialization is the social construction of a fictional racial essence that is taken to be rooted in social facts rather than biological ones. It is this “racism without races”—racialization without the biological notion of race—that gets applied both to groups like Muslims and to groups like Black people that have also been biologically racialized. I argue that socio-cultural racialization has a wider justificatory force in our present world in which this biological notion of race is censured (at least officially) in most social and political institutions. I conclude by offering an original hypothesis as to why this form of racialization is less frequently recognized as ideological mystification than biological racialization.

“What is Kierkegaardian ‘Inwardness’? ‘Heartfeltness’ as Positive Freedom” | Email me about this paper

Abstract: Kierkegaard often exhorts his readers to cultivate their “inwardness,” but despite the centrality of this notion to his texts, he avoids directly characterizing it. In this paper I offer an account of inwardness as a type of positive freedom that is not on its own a moral ideal, but a morally-neutral ideal that is nonetheless crucial for morality.  Inwardness, it turns out, is a bad translation of the Danish word Inderlighed, which is better rendered as “heartfeltness.” Kierkegaard’s Inderlighed is complex positive freedom to internalize or “take to heart” particular ideals and transform one’s life in relation to them. Kierkegaard departs from his idealist predecessors in locating his freedom in the psychology of the finite, embodied subject, and I will argue that the psychology of inwardness is well-supported by recent empirical and philosophical work on the will, drawing on work by Michael Bratman and Richard Holton.

Monograph (In Progress)

Made Into Strangers: The Marxist Concept of Social Alienation

I am at work on a monograph on the Marxist concept of alienation, which is a development of material from my dissertation, with some further additions.

The core thesis of the monograph is that the Marxist concept of alienation is fundamentally about social alienation—a normatively deficient mode of relationship between people. In arguing this, I overturn the dominant received understanding of the concept of alienation, both in Marx interpretation and in critical social thought, where alienation is generally seen as fundamentally a matter of an individual’s relationship to their own life. Instead, I argue, the Marxist concept of alienation is fundamentally about people’s relationships to other people.  A relationship of alienation is one in which people systematically regard one another as “strangers” in a particular sense: that is, they regard one another either indifferently or as mere tools, rather than as worthy of caring about for their own sake. It is the absence of the third, I argue, in the trio of French revolutionary values: “liberty, equality, brotherhood” (or more neutrally, community). However, according to the account of social alienation I develop, this deficient mode of relationship is not just bad individual behavior. Rather, it is a social-structural concept. We are made into strangers from one another by certain social forces—this mode is actually baked into our patterns of social interaction by structures that pit us against one another. Overcoming alienation, in turn, requires remaking social structures in a way that would allow individuals to care about their social fellows broadly (i.e., not just their intimate personal relations) for their own sake—fulfilling a socialist and feminist ideal of mutual concern.

Chapters 2-4 focus on interpreting Marx, while Chapters 1, 5, and 6 offer original arguments for aspects of Marx’s view that he himself does not argue for. As a result, I make both historical contributions, and uncover a rich but largely neglected set of philosophical resources for theorizing what the character of relationships in an egalitarian, democratic society should be.

Outline of Chapters:

Chapter 1: “The Drifting Meaning and Status of ‘Alienation‘”
Chapter 2: “The Human Flourishing Approach to Marx on Alienation”
Chapter 3: “‘Communal-being’ and Freedom in the Early Marx”
Chapter 4: “Alienated Labor and Alienation in Other Spheres”
Chapter 5: “Social Alienation as Relational Unfreedom”
Chapter 6: “Solidarity and Overcoming Alienation”

Feel free to email me about the monograph or any of its chapters.

“Come Out!! Join the Sisters and Brothers of the Gay Liberation Front”, photo by Peter Hujar, 1970. (read about it here)

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