I study and teach comparative politics, which I take to mean paying close attention to how power is organized and resisted across time and space.
I write about how violence becomes acceptable in societies that claim to value nonviolence. For my book every twelve seconds, I worked for nearly six months in an industrialized cattle slaughterhouse in Nebraska and used that experience to think about power and violence in modernity. In 2020, every twelve seconds was selected as one of eleven "best scholarly books of the decade" by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and in 2021 it inspired an extended engagement from political theorists in the American Political Science Review. To me, this recognition supports the idea that close attention to "non-political" spaces like a slaughterhouse and "non-political" actors like nonhuman animals have much to teach us about politics and power.
I also write about the relationships between power and practices of research. I am especially interested in a research method known as ethnography, sometimes also called participant-observation. I like ethnography because it immerses me in the world(s) I am trying to understand. I also like the unsettling questions ethnography raises about all of the methods we use to make knowledge in the social sciences. My writing on these topics can be found in among wolves, a play featuring a one-eyed wolfdog who can see the future, and in essays like "ethnography: fifth-stanza method," "the tyranny of light;" "dispatches from the kill floor;" "the ethnographer's potion;" and "we call it a grain of sand." In 2019, among wolves was awarded an Honorable Mention for the Charles Taylor Book Award from the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Conference Group of the American Political Science Association.
At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I enjoy teaching, in a non-boring way, a large undergraduate General Education lecture course boringly titled "Introduction to Comparative Politics" (POLISCI 111). I lead graduate seminars on ethnography, research methodology, and other topics. I work with individual students on their research interests. I have chaired Ph.D. theses, many award-winning, on topics like the Red Shirt Movement in Thailand; how sound functions as a modality of political power in Palestine, Israel, Algeria, France, and Morocco; experiences of displacement and identity formation among Syrian asylum-seekers in the United States; the politics of water infrastructure in Mumbai; and a bicycle-powered, trash-collecting worker's cooperative in Northampton, Massachusetts.
In 2020-21, I was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, an experience that nurtured several ongoing writing projects, including on the tricky relationships between violence and transparency and the political history of glass as an architectural material.
I try, every day, to be a better writer. I often fail. One of my favorite books on writing is Verlyn Klinkenborg's, Several Short Sentences About Writing.
Area of Study:
- Comparative politics
- Political Science