Research Overview

I am a political anthropologist, psychoanalyst, and resident physician in the Physician Scientist Training Program at Northwestern University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. I am also Lead Health and Justice Systems Researcher at the Data and Evidence for Justice Reform (DE JURE) program in the Research Group of The World Bank. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have focused on policy-oriented research on the politics of global public health and 'carceral-community epidemiology'––that is, the way in which the health and welfare of incarcerated people is always intertwined with that of broader communities. Most of this work examines the relationships between systemic prejudice in healthcare and legal systems, the uses of confinement and punishment in the US and internationally, and large-scale decarceration policies as essential for public health and safety, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity.

My broader anthropological research traces the constitutive interrelation between modern psychiatric, racial, and aesthetic ideas from their shared origin in 18th-century German anthropology and philosophy to their consequences for everyday practices, laws, incarceration, and policing in the US today. Additional areas of research and teaching include political anthropology of law; global public health; the intersection of psychoanalysis, ethnography, and aesthetic politics; and anthropology of medicine, policing, and logics of apartheid.

Much of my research––both qualitative and quantitative––grows out of a decade of ethnographic work on Chicago's South Side in various contexts: neighborhood writing workshops and associated long-term relationships, psychiatric wards, jail and police facilities, and community mental health and arts centers. Based on these ethnographic investments alongside mixed methods training, my scholarly and applied work proceeds on three interrelated fronts. Each of these attends to questions and action at different scales: the universal, the particular, and the singular.

First, moving between universal and singular modalities of thought, I am completing an historical-ethnographic book project, provisionally titled Subversivity: Racial Overdetermination, Psychiatric Rationality, Aesthetic Suspension. This work is set against a backdrop of the disciplinary formation of urban sociology for which Chicago's racially segregated neighborhoods have been used as laboratory for the production of sociological knowledge for over a century. Such sociological and related anthropological scholarship, alongside the popular media it inspires, has generated the now-pervasive terms by which these racialized neighborhoods and their residents have come to be understood, both through outside representations and through the languages of local institutions and life experiences of residents themselves. These discourses have overwhelmingly focused on racializing tropes of violence, social pathology, poverty, the underclass, criminality, trauma, and various forms of psychic and physiological injury. From this vantage, Subversivity considers the stakes of aesthetic practices, particularly writing, as a strategy of being-in-language and being-with-others that resists and subverts the pathologizing and overdetermining terms of life that have been inherited from these powerful academic-political discourses and their popular diffusion.

Aesthetics, in this frame, pertains not to the study of art objects and recognized artists. Instead, it follows aesthesis as qualities of feeling that are, by definition in the pivotal articulation of aesthetics by Immanuel Kant, beyond representation and cognition while also necessarily shared with others as the basis of aesthetic community–a unique form of relation with others that enables adjacency, accompaniment, and irreducible difference rather than shared identifications. In order to situate aesthesis in its relation to representation, however, an ethnography of aesthetic dynamics for my interlocutors must account for the specific histories of discourse against which aesthetic practices find vital and strategic functions. Subversivity therefore interweaves an ethnography of writing with a deconstructive genealogy of two fundamental discourses that overdetermine the lives of my interlocutors: racial reason and psychiatric rationality. This historical ethnography proceeds from a reexamination of the shared moment of interrelated emergence of racial, psychiatric, and modern aesthetic discourses in eighteenth-century German anthropology and philosophy. These co-constitutive discursive-epistemological structures are then traced forward through American psychiatric theory and practice, the rise of urban sociology, and the development of the governing structures in Chicago today, including the logics of policing and incarceration. Subversivity thereby endeavors to draw out specific psychosocial and material consequences of racial-psychiatric logics while also demonstrating their always-incomplete power over the practices of my interlocutors.

Separately, I am coauthor with Aletha Maybank of a monograph under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press in which we outline a paradigm of 'structural medicine.' This project draws together traditions of social medicine, public health, and abolitional justice to argue for a political praxis of care oriented around three key concepts: apartheid, abolition, and accompaniment. In this vein, I have also written set of related essays on the ethics of proximity and distance in the practice of ethnography, aesthetic politics beyond reason, documentality, the political temporality of pandemicity, and a critique of clinical economy in American medicine.

The second front of my scholarship attends to the particular and is guided by my ethnographic relationships and the life histories of my interlocutors in Chicago, as well as ethnographic research in India and South Africa. These projects make use of quantitative methods and policy-oriented empirical methods that seek to directly address the governing structures that bear down on my interlocutors' life chances and understandings of themselves. Much of this work is conducted in collaboration with law and economics scholar Daniel Chen and The World Bank's DE JURE program, where I draw on my training and teaching in epidemiology, clinical medicine, implementation science, medical and legal anthropology, and critical legal studies. This research attends to structural violence and irrationality in legal systems globally, with particular attention to the U.S. criminal punishment system. Several projects consider the perceived legitimacy of jurisprudence, the health consequences of policing and incarceration policies, and the determinants of systematic biases in sentencing decisions and other arenas of judicial decision-making. Several of these projects are coupled with intervention programs–implemented through The World Bank–that experimentally evaluate the potential of machine learning, public data transparency, and personalized data feedback to address class, gender, caste, and ethno-racial biases in legal processes, public health, and policing. 

The third front of my work–that which attends to the singularity of each one–manifests clinically at the intersection of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, primarily oriented around the work of Freud, Lacan, Klein, Bion, and Laplanche. Making use of my native fluency in American Sign Language, I seek to enhance access to psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic treatment for Deaf patients, who often enter treatment with a distinct cultural history and associated dynamics of subject-formation in a context of prolonged language deprivation in childhood. The bracketing of speech–typically taken within psychoanalysis as the presumed medium of communication and thought–in the clinic of the Deaf opens new questions for psychoanalytic research and treatment. My other areas of clinical interest involve the use of both psychiatric and psychoanalytic frames in the theorization and treatment of the psychoses and the design and implementation of mental health systems–that is, broad biopsychosocial community infrastructure investments–both in the US and internationally.