Trained as a continental philosopher, I work across the fields of 20th century and contemporary continental philosophy, political theory, and feminist theory. My research draws broadly from these fields and treats questions of political epistemology, political representation and agency, and how the boundaries of political bodies are drawn. In particular my work asks who can and cannot be seen or understood as a political agent, and how this lack of sight or understanding, or how what I refer to as unintelligibility, structures our understanding of political agency. The particular theoretical lens that I have developed to analyze these questions is the concept of constitutive exclusion.
I. Book Project
My book, Excluded Within: The (Un)Intelligibility of Radical Political Actors, was motivated by the desire to understand how political bodies constitute themselves through defining who is and who is not intelligible as a political agent, and how persons formerly unintelligible as political agents can become intelligible. My analysis relies on the development of the concept of constitutive exclusion. I define constitutive exclusion as a structure and process by which a certain form of difference is excluded and yet remains within and continues to work for the establishment of political bodies. These bodies constitute themselves by excluding some kind of difference that is intolerable to them.
This form of difference is, however, at one and the same time produced and excluded by that body: it is produced precisely as excluded. This exclusion is always ultimately “unsuccessful,” however: the excluded difference remains within that body but goes unrecognized there, paradoxically both establishing and troubling the distinction between inclusion and exclusion, between inside and outside.
The movement of constitutive exclusion can thus be described as twofold: on the one hand, a system or a body constitutes itself through the production of an excluded element that it nevertheless harbors within itself. On the other hand, this internal harboring of the excluded element is ignored, unrecognized, repressed, or disavowed. As a result, constitutive exclusion produces a remainder, a figure that occupies what Derrida calls a “quasi-transcendental” position with regard to the delimited space whose boundary it serves to draw. The constitutively excluded figure is both the condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility of that constituted space, simultaneously grounding and troubling the bodies that rely upon it.
At the level of philosophical systems, constitutive exclusion operates on ontological,
epistemological, and political levels, and in fact tends to draw the distinctions between these levels. On the level of political systems, political bodies and the terms of political agency are drawn through constitutive exclusion. Such a constitution renders constitutively excluded figures politically unintelligible. Though they continue to do the work of drawing and maintaining the boundary of the political body, they remain unintelligible to that body as political agents, and if and when claims are heard from those quarters, they appear to those on the “inside” as wild, strange, threatening, destructive, or mad. Translating the claims of such agents is therefore difficult: rather than simple inclusion on the terms as already established, translation necessitates insurgency and the reconstitution of the political body itself.
II. Current Research
Currently I am investigating the role of constitutive exclusion in gentrification and the racial geographies in United States cities. Here I take as my point of departure the final chapter of Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the Politics of Difference, “City Life and Difference,” and in particular her insistence that the city ought to be the model for democratic politics. In this project, called “How to Read a City,” I investigate the concept of constitutive exclusion in the racial construction of the city, by means of analyzing public housing policy, policing, financial capital, racial capitalism, and the history of urban uprisings. I draw on already completed research on race and the 1992 LA riots, on Jamie Kalven’s journalistic account of the war on drugs and policing in Chicago’s Stateway Gardens housing project, and historical accounts of both FHA policies and urban uprisings. I investigate the limits of the concept of the city as democratic ideal by attending to the ways constitutive exclusion structures, by means of race, gender, and sexuality, our understanding of the city and of political agency on the part of its inhabitants.