My research centers on the conceptual and normative foundations of political voice. As a democratic theorist, I am interested in the languages both scholars and political actors use to frame their normative commitments. As a critical theorist, my research also approaches technology, media, political economy and democracy as an interlocking, or at least partially unified object of study. Moreover, in a contemporary landscape where digital technologies are increasingly significant for both democratic practice and the kinds of power and injustice that citizens experience, these two dimensions of research naturally overlap. My current research develops this overlap through a book project on disenfranchisement as a broad vocabulary for capturing and contesting democratic injustice, through a set of papers related to that project, and through preliminary work on a second project on democracy, technology and capitalism.
My current book project, The Disenfranchisement Complaint, is inspired by the question: Why might citizens complain about being disenfranchised despite having the right (and frequently the effective opportunity) to vote? In this project I explore why the language of disenfranchisement is attractive as a term for describing a distinctively democratic strain of injustice, alongside (but irreducible to) terms like exclusion, oppression and domination. It thus seeks to enrich our normative vocabulary, training theoretical and practical attention on the diversity of ways in which citizens are barred from or marginalized within contexts of potential democratic empowerment.
In a follow-up paper (currently under review) I extend this argument by exploring disenfranchisement in the domain of public attention. Attention has been a marginal topic within political thought, even though “attention grabbing” is a longstanding feature of the democratic repertoire. Yet the very premise of attention-grabbing activism is that the citizens undertaking it—in fact, most citizens—are otherwise systemically disembedded from the processes and practices that distribute public attention more generally. In the paper I distinguish this idea of “attentional disenfranchisement” from other uses of attention as a critical concept—the metaphor of pervasive civic “distraction”; the notion of “the spectacle”; and the more recent idea of the “attention economy”—as well as connect it to broader conversations surrounding digital platforms and their significance within democratic practice
A second working paper engages the “deliberative systems” (DS) approach to deliberative democracy. This approach claims to address two recurrent challenges for the theory: the problem of impure discourse (that seemingly undeliberative speech may be democratically necessary); and the problem of scale (that appropriately deliberative interaction is difficult to achieve in mass contexts). I argue, however, that the DS solution—the idea of a “division of labor” between different kinds and sites of discourse—actually obscures both deliberation’s normative basis and the mechanisms through which it gets normative purchase at scale. In response, I reconstruct a neglected dimension of Jürgen Habermas’s early work by distinguishing two models of discursive enfranchisement offered there: a “coffeehouse model” premised on unmediated interaction and a “newsletter model” mediated through the production and distribution of texts. While the former model has dominated the deliberative imagination, it is the latter, I argue, which provides better normative guidance at scale.
A second larger project, preliminary entitled “The Market and the Factory," explores the relationship between democratic agency and recent transformations in (especially digital) capitalism. A defining feature of contemporary democratic politics is that the tools and platforms which both individual and organized citizens rely on to project democratic voice are privately owned, corporately controlled and optimized for profit. This project aims to investigate the challenges and possibilities that this fact poses for democratic politics. The first piece questions one of the basic “images” political theorists use to model the relationship between capitalism and democracy. Political theorists—especially those invested in the critical framework of “neoliberalism”—have long relied on a dominant image of capital as the market. However, recent critiques of specifically digital, networked capitalism draw from a different idea, that of the “social factory.” Reconstructing the development and reception of the social factory idea—from the Italian Autonomism and global antiwork feminism of the 1970s—I aim develop the factory more generally as an alternative image of capital. I thus hope to offer a novel genealogy of the critique of capitalism and center a distinctive strain of feminist thought as significant for our understanding of the digital economy. Moving forward, the project aims to incorporate other thinkers who similarly imagine capitalism through the factory, rather than the market lens.