Formal Research

My research investigates three fault lines of contemporary politics and culture—race, gender, and ability—through what I call “fracture zones”: the fragile areas that emerge from and surround divisions between people. I think of these unsteady fields as latticework: sets of flexible interstices that respond to and shape material and conceptual struggle over the dominant (and dominating) classifications of human life. I emphasize my pairing of struggle and instability: fracture zones, like abstract structures, are simultaneously both strong and weak. Although they can stay intact for long periods of time, fracture zones are constituted by multiple points of stress and vulnerability. At any moment the ground can collapse—and with it, the fault line, too.

As my geographical analogy here suggests, my research is grounded by land and its transformations by racial capitalism and settler colonialism, the conjoined systems of modern world-making that have shaped global political economy, governance, and social relations since 1492. But the work of analogy, befitting my normative disciplinary location in English and literary studies, is of equal importance to my scholarship, because metaphor is a key form of imagination across human classification. Indeed, the success of literature as an imperial-cum-global project of social relation has turned creative fiction—manufactured truth—into arguably the main intermediary through which people understand one another.

Truth claims are at the heart of my most advanced research project, my monograph in progress, which examines the fracture zone of crime. In Original Gangsters: Violence, Crime, and the Genres of Liberal Democracy, I offer a new theory of genre that elaborates the interconnected role of narrative typology in entertainment products and representative governance. Building on scholarship from Black, Indigenous, postcolonial, and American studies on the constituent influences of racial capitalism and settler colonialism on liberal democracy, I argue that political economic actors benefit from the tendency of subaltern political and cultural expressions to be consumed by dominant forms of representation and obscured into mainstream genres.

My next monograph project, Free Your Mind: Drugs, Security, and the Alien World, takes up the fracture zone of mind-altering substances by analyzing the political and psychic economies of pharmaceuticals across the spectrum of legality, use, and trade. This investigation takes off from Original Gangsters‘ latent focus on the outlaw drug industry and its connections to state and social violence on the one hand and south-south networks, racializations, and labor exchanges on the other. Free Your Mind examines these relations over the longue durée of racial-capitalist/settler-colonial modernity in its global dimensions, homing in on three overarching entanglements: opium, indenture, and what I’ve termed the “(post)colonial pain control” necessitated by sub-human labor; drug addiction and the trauma of structural violence enacted on the everyday scale of communities and personal lives; and the possibilities of emancipation through mind expansion.