Who or what can we rely on in the face of catastrophe? What hope is there for democracy in a warming globe? My research explores these questions by examining how the tangible manifestations of climate change, like hurricanes, challenge or re-define how we understand our political and social ties. I am currently writing my dissertation on this topic, examining the politics of tropical cyclones (a.k.a "hurricanes") in both the US and Oman, with the use of interpretive methods--interviews, ethnography, and archival research. I mobilize these findings to make empirically based interventions into debates regarding the relationship between authority and emergency, drawing upon the works of contemporary political and social theorists such as Sheldon Wolin, Hannah Arendt, and Urlich Beck. My research has been funded by multiple grants, including a ten-month Fulbright Fellowship in Oman.
Below is a list of papers and previous projects outside of my dissertation research, followed by a sampling of "data candy" that might provide a taste of the kinds of phenomena that I am documenting and analyzing in my dissertation. All papers are available upon request.
Previous Projects and Working Papers
- “Making and Scheduling Citizens: Sheldon Wolin’s Political Time and the Democratic Potential of Hurricanes,” (under review).
This paper is a supplement to the one-sided diet of spatial concepts, metaphors, and case studies used by scholars to feed our thinking on how everyday people form into collective political agents. Drawing from interviews and ethnographic observations of a post-Hurricane Sandy relief effort, I highlight how people’s sense of time can draw them to political action. To make sense out of this dimension, I excavate from Sheldon Wolin’s work two concepts for thinking about political time and how events like hurricanes can instigate extraordinary acts of political participation. I argue that insofar as a natural disaster is perceived as a crisis, it can break the boundaries of the “time zones” in which we are normally isolated, and the established “rhythms” that schedule and limit citizen participation. Such a process helps spread a sense of common fate, and the need for people to act on its behalf in unscripted ways.
- “Scattered Strangers become ‘the People:’ Making Occupy Sandy through a Shared Sense of Time,” (under review).
In this paper, I argue that shared notions of public time can function like public space, serving as the “between” that allows for the formation of new political actors. For this, I conduct a case study of "Occupy Sandy," a hurricane recovery effort that was organized in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Occupy Sandy was populated by former participants in OWS, as well as previously unaffiliated individuals. I examine how these geographically separate individuals came to see themselves as a collective agent, acting sometimes as “Occupy Sandy,” and sometimes as “the People.” They were able to do so because they saw themselves as enacting a common practice, sometimes called “mutual aid,” “helptivism,” or “a People’s Recovery,” all within a shared moment of urgency. Being part of the group meant doing this politicized recovery work simultaneous to other strangers scattered throughout the scenes of post-hurricane destruction. As such, Occupy Sandy demonstrates how people’s sense of time, like space, can help unite strangers into a political collective, one that makes public claims on behalf of "the People."
- "Writing Our Crisis, Writing Our Tradition: the Temporal Innovations of Hannah Arendt, Fatima Mernissi, and Mohammed 'Abed al-Jabri," (working paper).
Speaking of a past catastrophe may be dangerous. By fixing our gaze on the destructive events of the past and their potential return, a sentiment sometimes expressed as "never again," such talk poses the risk of hiding ongoing catastrophes. This paper compares the work of three twentieth-century thinkers, each of whom theorized an alternative way of understanding catastrophes. Instead of by-gone events, they see catastrophes in the present-tense, as crises. For this, I examine Hannah Arendt's critique of American "mass society," Fatima Mernissi's critique of female veiling practices in Islamic jurisprudence, and Mohammed 'Abed al-Jabri's account of the loss of critical reason in Arab culture and the corresponding Western colonial domination of Arab societies. Each of these figures wrote of an overwhelming loss, a catastrophe in the past that constitutes an ongoing era of crisis that must be answered in the present. Building upon Quinetn Skinner's "recovery of intentions" approach to reading political texts, I read the temporal character of each author's narrative as speech acts. How they use history, discuss the present, and project into the future are political interventions, attempts to excavate and legitimize a "lost tradition" that might guide their readers out of the present crisis. For Ardent, it is a tradition of political action exemplified in the American Revolution and in the days of underground resistance to the Nazis. For both Mernissi and Jabri, it is a tradition of scientific thought, a rational-critical method that could weed out the false ideologies that have cowed Arab society into patriarchy (Mernissi) or conformity, impotence, and religious fundamentalism (Jabri). In these speech acts, each author performs what they consider to be their audiences' relevant history, a tradition, and attempts to recover or re-learn some lost gem which can guide "us" out of the crisis. The crisis thus evokes a shared group of victims in historical time, victims with a history to be explored and authorized for the sake of retrieving collective agency. In each of these cases, then, theorizing the crisis as an arena for collective action requires a narrative of shared identity, one that is rooted in a historical legacy of loss that stretches into the past, and a common fate stretching into the future.
- “(Un)Making Threats out of Race in the War on Terror: Contesting the Dynamics of Exclusion on America’s Domestic Front.”
This paper is a subset of my MA Thesis from the University of Toronto, which examines the co-constitutive relationship between national identity and notions of security. The paper itself is a case-study, examining how Arab and Muslim Americans were racialized in popular discourse in the aftermath of 9/11, and how that racial imagination informed the ways that individuals were variously coded as "friends," "enemies," and "strangers" in the initiatives of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and community policing programs.
- “Religious Aspects of Ecology: Christianity and Daoism.” University of Wisconsin La Crosse Journal of Undergraduate Research IX (2006); republished in Conference Proceedings of the 2006 National Conference of Undergraduate Research Ashville, North Carolina.
I wrote this piece as an undergraduate student, with the help of an Undergraduate Research Grant. It reflects my early interests in exploring the intersection of ideology and political ecology. In the paper, I synthesize the findings of approximately sixty scholarly publications that explore the ecological themes within Christianity and Daoism, and their changing, ambiguous relationship to environmental ethics.
"Data Candy" from my Dissertation
"The help we received came from Ibra, Badia, Ja’lan, Kamil, and Wafi, so the cars were abundant. Some cars were coming from Salalah [Dhofar]. They performed their duties and stood a manly stance, even the old men, they would come in cars and stop and say, “Come, take everything, it’s all for you.” And most people would want to drink water. Thank god, Oman has men, men with honor and blood, ma shallah. We didn’t say this originally, we used to say, “No one loves the other,” but now we say that we are one people, (sh’ab wāḥid), one nation, (‘uma wāḥida)."
----A Omani describing the volunteer relief efforts after Cyclone Gonu, 2007. Quote from the Cyclone Gonu Oral History Project, directed by the Omani Studies Center, Sultan Qaboos University.