Research

I am a political theorist and my research follows the late Sheldon Wolin (my teacher’s teacher) by seeking to make the history of political thought relevant to the present. In all of my research I strive to provide a way to understand and to criticize contemporary political life by using the concepts and vocabulary that since antiquity have sustained concern for what Wolin called “the possibilities of collectivity, common action and shared purpose.” This commitment has led me to sustained research into the ancient Athenian democracy as well as contemporary democracies, in particular the latter’s ongoing struggles with inclusion, diversity, and equality. Employing a range of humanistic approaches, I draw on philosophical, historical, and literary sources to open new ways of theorizing contemporary political phenomena such as race, neoliberalism, critique, hope, inquiry, and fantasy.

Herodotus in the Anthropocene

My new book, Herodotus in the Anthropocene, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press. In the book, I develop a vision of earthly flourishing that can inspire and inform action in the twenty-first century. I argue that Herodotus’ Histories offers a cluster of concepts for articulating and understanding the dynamic nature of things in a complex world, how human beings develop cultural practices in responsive interaction with the non-human things that shape existence, and what political organizations might best sustain the communities of things produced through these practices. Earthly flourishing describes living well within an order not entirely of your own making; it suggests the ongoing work of responsive adaptation to circumstances, events, and the fluctuations of fate in an uncertain and often unkind world. A thinker of unparalleled openness and curiosity, Herodotus can inspire creative and collective responses to the urgent problems of the present.

You can read earlier published writings of mine on Herodotus on democracy, political ecology, and political realism as well as numerous book review on Herodotus-related works at the Bryn Mawr College Repository of my work.

What Would Socrates Do?

My first book, What Would Socrates Do? Self-examination, civic engagement, and the politics of philosophy (Cambridge, 2014; on Amazon.com) was released in Fall 2014. In this book, I reconstruct Socrates’s practice of philosophy in democratic Athens to offer a strange and different Socrates for contemporary discussion. The figure of Socrates has long been viewed as antagonistic to his native Athens and thus as destructive critic of the democracy, but I argue that Socrates’s philosophy can empower citizens and non-citizens alike by drawing them into collective practices of dialogue and reflection that in turn help them to become thinking, acting beings more capable of fully realizing the promises of political life. At the same time, however, I show how philosophy's commitment to interrogation keeps it at a distance from the political status quo, creating a dissonance with conventional forms of politics that opens space for new forms of participation and critical contestation of extant ones. In addition to reconstructing Socrates’s philosophy in democratic Athens, What Would Socrates Do? brings this reconstruction into conversation with two movements inspired by Socrates that claim to improve democratic life in the United States today: the Clemente Courses in the Humanities, humanities-based college courses that target the poor; and the Socrates Cafés, philosophical discussion groups that also seek to involve those outside the halls of the academy in collective inquiry. Engaging these present incarnations of Socrates, I show how Socrates’s philosophy can offer an alternative to conventional approaches to self-examination, civic engagement, and the politics of philosophy, modeling what it might mean to assert one’s thoughts publicly and contesting extant political forms through questioning and dialogue.


Writing in The Bryn Mawr Classical Review – the largest review in the world of classical studies and related fields – Paulin Ismard of the Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne called the book “original and inventive, occasionally brilliant” (full review). I expect more reviews in the coming months, but already the book’s publication has led to a roundtable discussion at the Western Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, NV (March 2015) as well as an invitations to speak on democracy at Penn’s Urban Studies Program (November 2015), on ancient political thought at Yeshiva University’s Strays Center for Torah and Western Thought (October 2015), and on Socrates and James Baldwin at SUNY Oneonta (March 2015). The book’s publication has also established me as a scholar consistently asked to review article and book manuscripts. Since its publication (and during my tenure at Bryn Mawr), I have reviewed manuscripts in ancient political thought and related topics for American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Political Theory, Political Research Quarterly, Polis, Contemporary Political Theory, Teachers College Record, and The University of Chicago Press.

Literature of Diminished Democracy

While focusing on ancient political theory and how it can speak to contemporary themes, I have also given a good deal of energy to another project on political theory and literature. Building on my article “Socrates in a Different Key: James Baldwin as Black American Socrates" (available in the Bryn Mawr College Repository) I have continued to pursue research into contemporary American literature and its relationship to democracy. In these essays, I explore how literature not only figures democratic deficits of various kinds – legitimation crises, absences and silences in ethical life, pathologies inherent to the experience of freedom, and so forth – but also how literature responds to these deficits, how it intervenes in the very problems it diagnoses. On my reading, writers like Don DeLillo and Joan Didion not only share an epoch of recent history; they also share a reflexivity about the work of literature (and writing more generally) in this epoch. I see this commonality in their attention to form, compression, and the language codes and keywords of their times; these aspects of their writing suggest modes of political work entailed by their literary practice.

I have drafted and published essays on Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, and Claudia Rankine as part of this project: “The Polis Artist: Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis and the Politics of Literature”  in Theory & Event. "Claudia Rankine's Citizen and the Poetics of American Citizenship" in Law, Culture, & the Humanities"Joan Didion and the American Dream" in Raritan Quarterly in Spring 2018.