Research Overview

I am a political anthropologist, psychoanalyst, and resident physician, and a Principal Investigator at the Data and Evidence for Justice Reform (DE JURE) program in the Research Group of The World Bank.

My published work has appeared in medical and legal journals – including The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Health Affairs, and Journal of Legal Studies – and in popular media venues, such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, TIMESlate, The Nation, Boston Review, Jacobin, and USA TODAY. My areas of research and teaching include anthropology of law, inequality, and public health; psychoanalysis, ethnography, and aesthetic politics; and medicine, policing, and logics of apartheid.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have focused on policy-oriented research to address 'carceral-community epidemiology' – that is, how the health and welfare of incarcerated people are always intertwined with that of broader communities. This work examines systemic prejudice in healthcare and legal systems, the uses of confinement and punishment in the US and internationally, and large-scale decarceration policies in relation to public health and safety, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity.

Putting research into practice, I collaborate with public agencies on the design and implementation of non-police public safety systems, with a focus on building community health worker and reentry programs to support individuals following release from jails and prisons. I welcome new invitations to collaborate on decarceral public health and safety, violence prevention, and guaranteed basic income projects – both as an individual and by utilizing the data analytic resources in the World Bank's DE JURE program.

Research Agenda

All of my research is motivated by my clinical experiences as well as a decade of sustained ethnographic work on Chicago's South Side and shorter periods of research in India, South Africa, and North Africa and with migrant communities in southern Europe. Based on this ethnographic research alongside multidisciplinary 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 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, law, incarceration, and policing in the US today.

Subversivity 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. I argue that such sociological and related anthropological scholarship, alongside the popular media it inspires, has supplied 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 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, I consider the stakes of aesthetic practices, particularly writing, as a strategy of being-in-language and being-with-others that resists and subverts the pathologizing 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. These qualities of feeling are 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 their subversive uses. 

To this end, Subversivity 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. In sum, Subversivity endeavors to draw out specific psychosocial and material consequences of racial-psychiatric logics while also demonstrating their always-incomplete power over the aesthetic practices of my interlocutors.

Separately, I have another monograph (under contract) in which I 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, medical ideology, the political temporality of pandemicity, and the critique of clinical economy in American medicine.

The second front of my scholarship attends to the particular and makes use of quantitative methods and policy-oriented empirical methods that seek to directly address the governing structures that bear down on marginalized individual's 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 inequalities in legal systems globally, with particular attention to criminal punishment systems, judicial systems, and political economy. Our projects consider the perceived legitimacy of jurisprudence, the health consequences of policing and incarceration, 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 that experimentally evaluate the potential of changes to criminal law, guaranteed income programs, 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 dimension of my work – which attends to the singularity of each individual – manifests clinically at the intersection of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, primarily oriented around the work of Freud, Lacan, Fanon, Klein, Bion, and Laplanche. My clinical focus is on working with individuals who have experienced incarceration, war, or displacement; chronic disease and disability; and who are engaged in the work of art.

Making use of my native fluency in American Sign Language, I work with Deaf individuals, who often enter treatment with a distinct cultural history and complex social experiences in a context of prolonged language deprivation in childhood. The bracketing of speech – conventionally taken within psychoanalysis as the presumed medium of communication and thought – in the clinic of the Deaf requires new questions and techniques in psychoanalytic treatment, and I maintain an active research agenda in this area.

My additional areas of clinical interest involve the use of both psychiatric and psychoanalytic frames in the theorization and treatment of the psychoses, and, relatedly, the design and implementation of community care systems – especially those built on the accompaniment model with community health workers – both in the US and internationally.