My research focuses on contemporary social and political philosophy. This year my book Containing Community: From Ontology to Political Economy in Agamben, Esposito, and Nancy was published by the State University of New York Press.
I wrote this book out of a concern with how community is conceived in philosophy, empirical social science research, and our everyday lives. Community continues to be the most sought-after and privileged form of social relations, yet it is also wantonly underexamined. Community is a tinderbox containing conflicting notions of cultural identities that are animated by the insatiable desire to belong.
When community is forcibly constituted as a closed and exclusive group, the results are devastating. Those who do not fit must be eliminated, or at least, kept from contaminating the purity of the combination. Nazi Germany, Myanmar, Daesh (ISIS), and settler colonialism in Canada are but a few notable examples. The television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is just one of many depictions of this pattern in dystopian film, literature, and television.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, many philosophers wrote off community as an antiquated model of social relations that is ill suited for our globalized world. Countless books appeared with the bold proclamation of discovering an alternative. Most were, in truth, slight reformulations of the traditional model, only rebranded with a new moniker. I am skeptical of these texts. In particular, I am not convinced that community must be entirely abandoned; or, at least, that we are ready to abandon it.
My book examines texts written by Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Jean-Luc Nancy that seek to salvage elements of community while carefully extracting its loaded presuppositions and historical baggage. We must return to the forgotten dimension of sharing, not as a sharing of things that we can contain and own, but as a process that divides us up and shares us out in common. I trace this problematic through a range of issues raised by these and many other social and political philosophers.
The most prominent message in my book is that given our geopolitical and existential circumstances, from global warming to the recent wave of ethno-nationalism, we need to seriously reconsider how we conceive of living together in the world. The world must be reconceived as an inclusive and open sphere, as a place that doesn’t just belong to an exclusive and privileged group or species. Reconsidering how we live together and how the world is shared is one of the most pressing tasks of our time, which is a finite time that is quickly coming to its end.
My current research is based in biopolitical philosophy – an interdisciplinary field of research that examines how life has become a central political issue in our era. This year I co-founded “Technē: Wilfrid Laurier University Biopolitical Research Group.” We organized a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded conference called The Politics of Life. I also serve on the advisory board for an international research network composed of the world’s leading biopolitical thinkers called “Workiteph.” Finally, I am writing and publishing articles and book chapters that examine issues that arise when we treat life as a form of property, ranging from applied papers on immigration and border control measures to more abstract papers on biopolitical philosophy.
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