Biopolitics

Short Official Bio:

Sean M. Kennedy is an analyst of cultural politics and political cultures in the U.S. and Anglophone worlds. A former media professional and advocacy journalist, Dr. Kennedy is now a visiting assistant professor in the English department of Gettysburg College, where he previously served as a Consortium for Faculty Diversity postdoctoral fellow. Trained in Black studies, postcolonial studies, and American studies, Kennedy’s research and teaching expand understandings of global political economy, governance, and social relations; decolonization and abolition; and political, cultural, and media form. In this context, his first monograph (in progress), Original Gangsters: Violence, Crime, and the Genres of Liberal Democracy, demonstrates how and why liberal truth claims are produced and sustained to limit progress in multiracial, representatively governed societies. Kennedy holds a Ph.D. in English from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; an M.F.A. in fiction from Rutgers University–Newark; and a B.A. in English and modern studies via the University of Virginia. His scholarship and public writing have appeared in numerous venues, including Social Text and The Popular Culture Studies Journal. A resident of New York City for 20 years, he’s currently based in the City of Brotherly Love, also known as Philly.

Longer Informal Bio:

Professionally I’m an analyst of cultural politics and political cultures in the U.S. and Anglophone worlds. That means, in the first instance, that I study and assess the political ideas embedded in English-language cultural products like literature, music, TV, film, and art. I think of these forms of expression collectively as media, and I’m interested in what ideas they promote, what the origins of those ideas are, and what their effects are on audiences and other media makers. In the second instance—political cultures—I examine how and why specific groups of people unite around particular political ideas and try to make them a reality, from local grassroots initiatives to national political parties to international and global actors like the International Criminal Court. And I examine these two areas—cultural politics and political cultures—across the multiple time periods and spaces of the British and American empires: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe as well as the many sites around the world where the influence of “Anglos” remains strong. In this regard, I remain committed to African studies and South Asian studies as indispensable elements of my research and teaching program even as I develop competency in East Asian studies and Latin American studies to improve my global acuity.

My first monograph (in progress), Original Gangsters: Violence, Crime, and the Genres of Liberal Democracy, rethinks the gangster genre as a formation of global racial capitalism and settler colonialism, displacing the dominant critical focus on white-ethnic mafias in Italy and the U.S. In this new context, I argue that the gangster genre—in a template followed by other influential entertainment genres—facilitates the reproduction of inequality at various scales by erasing the role institutions play in keeping liberal-democratic society hierarchical and stratified. To counter this status quo, I advocate for the abandonment of genre as an organizing form in favor of an engagement with difference that’s open and undisciplined. Original Gangsters is anchored by case studies set in the British postcolonies of India, South Africa, and the U.S. and builds on recent and lasting scholarship in the component fields of critical race and ethnic studies. I mobilize these ideas in my writing, performance, and other art through a transdisciplinary practice grounded in an ethics of accountability, mutual aid, and care.

As a teacher, I create “studio” space for my collaborators and I to engage in experimental practice in service to solving real-world problems—an endeavor for which I was recognized with the 2014 Diana Colbert Award for Innovative Teaching from the Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in English. Outside the classroom, my activities have concentrated in political organizing, including a five-year stint developing campaigns and public programming as the coordinator of advocacy and education for the CUNY Adjunct Project. I also got my feet wet in formal political participation through various actions within my former union at CUNY and in the Doctoral Students’ Council, where I served as an elected representative for four years. And, in 2014, I organized and convened “Critical Diversities and/in the Academy: Thought and Practice,” a speaker series and colloquium on academic transformation.

In addition to numerous public writings, my scholarship has appeared in the academic journals Social Text and The Popular Culture Studies Journal (in partnership with Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies) and I myself have appeared at myriad scholarly conferences, including those of the Modern Language Association, American Comparative Literature Association, American Studies Association, Cultural Studies Association, Critical Ethnic Studies Association, and Caribbean Studies Association. I’m also a monthly grassroots donor to five organizations that continue to shape my labors in and out of the academy: Critical Resistance, the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, the Audre Lorde Project, Danspace Project, and Performance Space New York.

Raised in the suburbs of New York and Washington, D.C., I now live in Philadelphia—the so-called City of Brotherly Love—after two decades in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Contact & Miscellany:

I welcome inquiries via my Gmail (SMKOG33) and invite you to check out my public notebooks, otherwise known as my Twitter and Instagram accounts, via my various noms de guerre (some discoverable through Google).

Finally, see my earlier websites for archived content, including blog posts: the first, established in 2010 (though some elements tweaked over the years), and the second, on the CUNY Academic Commons, established in 2014. This website established April 2017 and periodically updated.

Thank you for visiting and reading!

Me at the University of the Witwatersrand Historical Papers archive on the last stretch of my six-week research trip to South Africa, July-August 2015.
At the University of the Witwatersrand Historical Papers archive, August 2015.