Late 2019 Publications from NSSR Faculty

Faculty across all departments at The New School for Social Research published exciting new research this year. Their work takes many forms, most often articles in popular and peer-reviewed journals as well as books. Below, Research Matters highlights three books by NSSR professors published in late 2019. Be sure to check out a full list of books from the past decade on our Social Research Bookshelf!


MARK W. FRAZIER
The Power of Place: Contentious Politics in Twentieth-Century Shanghai and Bombay

While many scholars of China treat it as sui generis, Mark W. Frazier, Professor of Politics, does not. He is among a small but expanding group of China scholars who are study China by way of comparison with other countries. In The Power of Place: Contentious Politics in Twentieth-Century Shanghai and Bombay (Cambridge), Frazier does this through a paired comparison of the politics, history, and urban planning of two cities in China and India with the deepest engagements with global capitalism.

In bringing together the three fields, Frazier attempts to answer a bigger question: How do changes in the urban political geographies of cities over the long term influence conceptions of rights to the city and patterns of popular protest? 

“I’ve always been interested in the ways in which we understand the historical context of politics, and I’ve always done work in cities,” says Frazier. “This is my first work in which I really turned to urban studies and doing work on cities as opposed to in cities.” In researching the book, he immersed himself in the foundational literature of urban studies and planning, and drew on a variety of sources: primary sources related to popular protests, archive materials from municipal agencies, and observations of neighborhood activities with NGOs. He also drew upon numerous contacts from conferences and talks hosted by the India China Institute, where he is now Co-Director and Starr Foundation Professor.

Why Shanghai and Mumbai? The two port cities “were basically shaped by British colonial capitalism as it existed in the nineteenth century,” he says. They share other characteristics as well: both evolved as cities with globally prominent textile industries, and were “at the forefront of revolutionary movements that sought to replace colonial governance and capitalism with a vision of socialist modernity in which urban inequities would be a thing of the past.”

In The Power of Place, Frazier focuses on urban politics and protests that rocked Shanghai and Mumbai over the 20th century. He notes a number of convergences in popular movements over time: anti-imperialist, nationalist sentiment in 1919; dissatisfaction with broken promises of socialist modernization in 1966; and resistance to development by housing dispossession and deindustrialization in the late 1990s. Throughout the book’s seven chapters, he explains these parallels by looking at larger transnational currents and changes in each city’s political economy over those periods.

Today, residents of both cities continue to raise questions surrounding citizenship and urban governance despite their differences in democratic and authoritarian political institutions. Fortunately, The Power of Place can help readers better understand the roots of these current debates.


MARK SETTERFIELD
Heterodox Macroeconomics: Models of Demand, Distribution and Growth

More than a decade has passed since the 2008 Financial Crisis and the start of the Great Recession. As academics, journalists, and other thinkers continue to dissect what went wrong, many heterodox economists believe they may have an idea or two about it, and what others may have missed.

In their new book, Heterodox Macroeconomics: Models of Demand, Distribution, and Growth (Elgar), Mark Setterfield, Professor of Economics, and co-author Robert A. Blecker write:

“…Mainstream macroeconomics lacks (and continues to display little interest in developing) a theory of capitalism as a stratified and contested terrain that is vulnerable to periodic crises.”

Heterodox Macroeconomics doesn’t propose to change mainstream economics, but rather to offer a comprehensive look at heterodox growth theories, especially ones in the classical-Marxian and post-Keynesian traditions. Its three sections detail growth and distribution models, models of distributional conflict and cyclical dynamics, and Kaldorian approaches to export-led growth and the balance-of-payments constraint.

Economists from all schools of thought will find this foundational heterodox text useful, especially the many mainstream economists and policymakers who, Setterfield notes, are finally beginning to pay attention to long-held heterodox ideas. Graduate students and advanced undergraduate students, and the faculty who teach them, will find the text particularly helpful.

“I actually don’t like to teach from textbooks, but here I am producing a textbook!” says Setterfield. “In many ways, this is a compendium of everything [Blecker and I] have been teaching for years. We do try to go over all of the ideas from a first principles position, not assuming a lot of familiarity with concepts.”  

In fact, in the book’s introduction, Setterfield and Blecker specifically thank the thousands of students they’ve taught over the past several decades, including NSSR alumni Daniele Tavani and Ramaa Vasudevan, both now faculty at Colorado State University, as well as the many other colleagues who’ve helped them refine their ideas. “The good and the bad thing about heterodox economics is that the community is relatively small. So, the bad thing is there aren’t many of you and there aren’t many resources to do a lot of work. The good thing is you get to know each other pretty quickly!” says Setterfield. 

Going back to the basics has been a new sort of collaborative writing process for the co-authors. “This was just one gigantic process of taking something for granted, getting into writing it down, and thinking, ‘Hm, really? I hadn’t thought about it!’” remembers Setterfield. The process mirrors what he often tells New School students when they remark that they’ve read a text before: “Oh, I’ve been reading this for 25 years and I’m still seeing things!’” Heterodox Macroeconomics will hopefully help readers at all levels have similar aha moments.


ALEX ALEINIKOFF
The Arc of Protection: Reforming the International Refugee Regime

Writing a book can be a messy process. In 2018, Alex Aleinikoff, University Professor and head of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, decided to make part of that process public. 

He and co-author Leah Zamore published an early draft of their new book, The Arc of Protection: Reforming the International Refugee Regime, on Public Seminar, a digital intellectual commons supported by The New School. With an introduction both their work and the current state of refugee affairs, they shared each chapter and invited feedback from readers on their work.

A lot changed between that draft and the book itself, published in 2019. Aleinikoff and Zamore realized their ideal audience included policymakers and refugee advocates as well as academics, so they worked with Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press, to make the text more concise and accessible. They also sharpened their arguments with feedback from Public Seminar readers.

Aleinikoff and Zamore’s arguments remained the same, however: The international refugee regime — the titular arc of protection, designed in the wake of World War II — is fundamentally broken. More than 70 million people are currently displaced by conflict and violence. Routinely denied rights guaranteed to them by international law, they have few prospects for rebuilding their lives, contributing to host communities, or returning to their former homes. 

A former dean at Georgetown University Law Center, Aleinikoff shifted to full-time policymaking in 2010 as the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He held that position for five years, during which time he worked with Zamore, then a Yale Law School student. That academic and professional experience helped inform their perspective and recommendations in The Arc of Protection. “As a legal academic, I previously focused much more on asylum proceedings in the U.S. I ran an asylum clinic, wrote a few journal articles that raised issues useful for adjudicators in the U.S.,” he says. “[At UNHCR], I became much more focused on where the real problems of the refugee system is, which is not movement of asylum seekers to developed states. It’s rather the fact that the vast majority of refugees are unable to move from the initial country they fled to. They’re not able to go home, they’re not able to resettle, and they’re not fully integrated into the communities in those hosting states. It’s that stuckness — what we call the second exile — that’s the essential problem.”

Refugee rights and refugee agency can help change the current situation, and Aleinikoff and Zamore offer strategies for change at the level of structures and institutions. They argue for the creation of a new structure that would incorporate all global actors, from states to the World Bank, that would be able to make decisions and act in ways that the UNHCR can’t. They also advocate for a move away from formal resettlement programs and toward refugees’ right of mobility on the regional level. Ordinary people can get involved as well, helping to elevate refugee voices, especially in amplifying the messages of refugee-led advocacy groups. 

Those looking to learn more about U.S. refugee and asylum policy can listen to Aleinikoff’s Tempest Tossed podcast, which recently featured David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, and which will cover Trump’s immigration policies in the lead-up to the 2020 election.


NSSR Students Mark 100 Years of Radical Education

Photo credit: New School Archives

“The New School opened with ‘eclat’ on February 10, 1919, bursting onto Manhattan’s cultural scene with an exciting program of Preliminary Lectures delivered by leading social scientists of the day.”
—Judith Friedlander, A Light in Dark Times: The New School for Social Research and Its University in Exile (Columbia University Press, 2019)

Those first lectures at The New School, then known as The New School of Social Research were the first act of a new academic institution born in protest. The New School’s founders included James McKeen Cattell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, pacifist professors fired from Columbia University during World War I for refusing to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States. Other Columbia faculty soon resigned in solidarity, and together with other progressive intellectuals, they planned and opened a new school to “meet the needs of intelligent men and women interested in the grave social, political, economic, and educational problems of the day.”

The New School marked the centennial of this revolutionary act with the Festival of New, a weeklong festival in October of innovative performances, talks, workshops, screenings, exhibitions, and more open to all. 

The New School for Social Research began the Spring 2019 semester with a Centennial lecture series that tackled the themes of migration and mobility, democracy and populism, and economic inequality and the future of capitalism.

NSSR students took that line of critical reflection even further in Fall 2019. With funding from the NSSR Dean’s Office and from The New School, they produced conferences and events that explored NSSR’s history and examined the changing definition of what it means to be “new.”

THE NEW SCHOOL, THEN AND NOW

Photo credit: Joel de Lara

The institution envisioned in The New School’s 1919 Preliminary Lectures pamphlet is quite different than the university today. That distance between radical ideal and lived reality catalyzed Philosophy PhD student James Trybendis and candidates Teresa Casas Hernandez and Veronica Padilla to organize a conference around pedagogy, and how those 1919 ideals could be rearticulated today in the classroom experience. 

“It can’t just be the content [of classes] that’s radical,” says Casas Hernandez. “The form can be a bit stiff. We ask, ‘how can you use other disciplines and methods?’” 

The symposium brought together graduate students and faculty from NSSR and Parsons School of Design as well as Pratt Institute. With opening panelists Dr. Robert Kirkbride, P.J. Gorre, and Tara Mastrelli, the symposium began with a discussion of the history, founding philosophies, and possible future of The New School. Attendees then participated in collaborative workshops on belonging, posthuman life, and meaning facilitated by Scherezade Garcia-Vazquez, Eva Perez de Vega, Michele Gorman, and Dora Suarez that aimed at exploring innovative approaches to rethink pedagogy.

 “Philosophy happens in dialogue and in community,” Casas Hernandez says. “You need a community to think.”

Later, over ice cream, attendees discussed the ideas from the opening panel and the workshops and how they could apply what they learned in their own practices and classrooms. While it might be impossible to return to 1919, or to founding ideals that, in reality were never executed as written, the symposium was a chance to imagine what could be in the next 100 years. What’s important, says Casas Hernandez, is “having this space for discussion.”

AESTHETICS, POLITICS, AND THE CREATION OF THE NEW

Photo: Adrian Totten

Aryana Ghazi Hessami, a PhD student in Anthropology, and Adrian Totten, a PhD student in Politics, met in a Modernist Aesthetics class taught by Jay Bernstein, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy. 

It follows, then, that Symposium on Aesthetics, Politics, and the Creation of the New, the Centennial conference they created, was inherently interdisciplinary, a chance for participants from many backgrounds to examine, interrogate, and critique the aesthetic nature of politics and reflect on the foundation of The New School.

Hessami and Totten also had a perfect keynote speaker in mind: Hessami’s MA thesis advisor and NSSR Sociology alumnus Martin Plot, now Research Professor of Political Theory at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council and the Institute of Advanced Social Studies in Argentina.

In his 2014 book The Aesthetico-Political: The Question of Democracy in Merleau-Ponty, Arendt, and Rancière, Plot sought to overcome the binary between normative or analytic approaches to theories of democracy on one side, and Schmittian theories of sovereign decision on the other,  by turning toward the phenomenological tradition, which he argues “could give birth to a conception that fundamentally opposes the theological-political view from the position of an aesthetic–in the original sense of ‘aisthesis’–primacy of the plurality of perceptions and appearances in the understanding of the political.” Plot calls this new conception the aesthetico-political, and he expanded on that research and more in his Symposium keynote address, “Becoming Beginners: The Body of Necessity and the Body of Freedom in Arendt and Butler.” 

Before his address, the Symposium welcomed graduate students from NSSR, Princeton University, CUNY Graduate Center, the University of Chicago, the University of Costa Rica, and Goethe University, Frankfurt for two panels. The first, ‘The Birth of the New’ addressed philosophical and theoretical considerations of the question of the new in politics; Philosophy PhD candidate Veronica Padilla was the discussant. The second, ‘Aesthetics, Action, Politics,’ discussed empirical case studies  on the role of art and aesthetics in politics; Sociology PhD student Zoe Carey was the discussant. Panels were interspersed with mini ‘installations’ featuring presentations of works of art that touched on the Symposium’s theme of the relationship between art and politics.

SOUNDS FROM THE PAST

Covers from recent GFPJ issues

Since 1972, the student-run Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal (GFPJ) has published essays and translations from some of the day’s leading philosophers and thinkers, including Axel Honneth, Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Trân Duc Thao, and Wolfram Hogrebe.

Their archives run deep, and editorial board members and Philosophy PhD students Krishna Boddapati, Cayla Clinkenbeard, and Ceciel Meiborg discovered some audio treasures: recordings of lectures and conference presentations from major philosophers. While many of those transcripts had been published in the GFPJ and other outlets, some hadn’t ever been published, and few had heard the talks themselves after the fact.

“Last year we applied for the Centennial fund because we found these boxes of reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes, mostly recordings from the 70s and 80s, and it was a mix of lectures, conference presentations, seminars,” says Meiborg. Funding from The New School for ‘Philosophy Recorded: Celebrating 100 Years of Radical Thought at The New School’ helped the GFPJ begin to digitize the recordings, necessary to both preserve the recordings themselves and to allow GFPJ to hear them, since there was no reel-to-reel equipment at the university.

At the Night of Philosophy, a dusk-till-dawn celebration of learning held during the Festival of New, the GFPJ editorial board worked with Zed Adams, Associate Professor of Philosophy to hold a special listening session. A mix of 40 New School students and community members attended in the hopes of hearing snippets of lectures directly from Jacques Derrida, Hans Jonas, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Charles Taylor. The in-room audio systems didn’t quite work, remembers Meiborg, and the group improvised by playing the recordings on a smartphone held up a microphone. 

The GFPJ is continuing to digitize recordings and assess ownership rights for publishing audio files; Meiborg says there’s nothing like hearing the recordings themselves, parsing through the cadences of speech and thick accents. Plans are in the works to publish what they can in written form; a transcript of the Jonas lecture on the responsibility of philosophers and artists, and three lectures by past NSSR professor Aron Gurwitsch on philosophy of mathematics, will appear in the forthcoming Fall 2019 (40:2) Centennial issue.

Lucas Perelló, Politics PhD Candidate, Wins Fulbright to Honduras

Free elections contested by parties are central to our conventional notions of democracy. But on what basis does a voter relate to their party: ideology, favors, personal interests, something else? And once party systems are established, how do they evolve? For New School for Social Research Politics PhD candidate Lucas Perelló, these questions provide the framework for his dissertation. And starting in September, he’ll be investigating them as a Fulbright Scholar in a country going through a nearly unprecedented political shift: Honduras.

Born in the U.S. and raised in Chile, Perelló studied politics broadly before focusing on comparative politics, especially in Latin America. After completing an MA in Chile, Perelló completed an MA in Applied Quantitative Research at New York University. But as he approached a career as a political scientist, he felt something was lacking. Looking to expand his conceptual formation, Perelló moved a few blocks north to NSSR.

“The New School overlapped with one of my other interests, which was to expand my methodological knowledge qualitatively. I was drawn to the emphasis given to aspects of development to solve conceptualizing things differently, giving you a different theoretical lenses to study particular political phenomenon.”

Political Party Shift

Immersing himself in empirical case studies and theory, Perelló began to formulate a research plan that married these elements tightly while renewing his passion for comparative approaches. “I study how political parties, and how is it and why is it that party systems change…and how it is that political parties engage with voters,” Perelló says. In this case, ‘political party systems’ refers to how elections are set up, whether voters choose between two parties or multiple parties. The question of party linkages looks at how parties get votes.

“This is a continuous debate within political science and comparative politics, but originally people thought political parties would appeal to voters on either on a programmatic basis, or a clientelist basis, or a charismatic one.” In other words, people vote for a party based on either an ideological agreement, a quid-pro-quo arrangement whereby a vote can be redeemed for favors, or force or personal magnetism of a candidate alone.

Of course, one party can have multiple sorts of such ‘linkages’ with voters, varying according to target demographic, general level of development, or ideology, and changing over time. With this interest party linkages and their evolution, Perelló was drawn to a comparatively understudied region, Central America, specifically Honduras. “Honduras actually presents very interesting insights into the entire discussion of party system change, and the types of party linkages that exist within society,” Perelló says.

Case Study: Honduras

Like many Latin American countries, Honduras transitioned from military dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s. For several decades after — even through a coup in 2009 — the country featured a two-party system that operated on a decisively clientelist model. But in the 2013 elections, a fundamental shift occurred: the two-party system gave way to a multi-party one, including an upstart Anti-Corruption Party led by a popular sportscaster.

“What is interesting about this change is that not only did the party system change quite abruptly, but the types of linkages that the political parties are adopting also shifted suddenly,” Perelló explains. Whereas clientelism and corruption were once the norm, programmatic appeals on the basis of ideology are gaining ground, especially among wealthier constituencies.  

There are several reasons that clientelism can lose its power. Appeals based on loyalty-for-favors become weaker as countries become wealthier. Additionally, clientelism can disenfranchise large parts of a population. “There’s many levels associated with this, but at least in the Honduran context these are very exclusive networks,” says Perelló. “For example, you can have a low-income household that is very dependent on some specific policies. The benefits that you might receive from these policies that are actually aimed at reducing poverty are contingent upon who you vote for. And [the government can] keep the electorate poor because they’re dependent on them if they want to stay in power. It’s been so entrenched that the way that it also molds how individual voters, how citizens actually see democracy.”

Because this shift from clientelism to programmatic appeals in developing countries is so unusual, Honduras is a fascinating case study against which to test existing theories of party systems and linkages. Perelló has visited Honduras several times, but found that pervasive clientelism made it nearly impossible to access the people and spaces relevant to his research. It also made for an interesting situation of mistaken identity. Once, while dressed up for a visit to the National Congress, dozens of older women surrounded him. “They approached me with receipts, with CDs, pictures of their kids, asking me if I could get their sons or their daughters who just graduated a job, if I could help them pay for receipt of electricity,” he says. Only when he opened his mouth to speak — in Chilean Spanish — did the crowd realize he was not a government official and could not help them. Local politicians were similarly reluctant to let Perelló in, stonewalling him or only disclosing details of the opposition’s approach.

Opening New Doors

Returning for 10 months with the prestigious Fulbright scholarship and an office and teaching position at Central American Technological University (UNITEC), Perelló is hopeful that more doors will open to him, especially among the political elite. “I really need to spend more time there — more time to conduct interviews, more archival research,” he says. He applied to several different grants and credits his Fulbright success to the wisdom and guidance of David Plotke, Professor of Politics and his dissertation advisor, as well as Tsuya Yee, Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs. But he’s cautious: “A Fulbright can work in favor or against you in the sense that, perhaps you’re seen as a representative of the U.S. government who’s meddling around internal politics of a country that has been historically intervened by the U.S. But at least to get my foot in the academic world, Fulbright has so far worked in my favor!”

Despite his focus on Honduras, Perelló believes his project can help scholars and the public understand how political systems can move away from clientelism, and how two-party systems can become more open and contested. “My overall objective in understanding these changes is to understand how can you strengthen democracy in countries that have such a strong authoritarian past.”


Lucas Ballestin is a PhD candidate in Philosophy. He specializes in political philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. His dissertation is on psychoanalytic theories of political ideology in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Hubertus Buchstein on the Heuss Professorship and Otto Kirchheimer

Connections between The New School for Social Research and Germany are both long-standing and numerous, ranging from the University in Exile in the 1930s to the Technical University of Dresden exchange program today,

A transformative moment in this transatlantic relationship happened in 1965, when New School President John Everett worked with the Volkswagen Foundation to create the Theodor Heuss Chair of the Social Sciences. Named for the first president of West Germany, this was the first professorship in the United States supported by a German foundation; Volkswagen endowed the chair for five years, after which the German federal government assumed responsibility. According to the most recent history of The New School for Social Research by Judith Friedlander, the chair “evolved out of earlier exchanges of mutual recognition and appreciation” between Heuss and New School leadership; like many University in Exile faculty members, Heuss himself had been dismissed from an academic position by the Nazis in the 1930s.

Early Heuss Professors included sociologists and philosophers who had studied critical theory in postwar Frankfurt School with the original founders of the Institute for Social Research, among them Jürgen Habermas. Today, the Heuss Professorship rotates between NSSR departments.

In 2018-2019, the Politics Department welcomed Hubertus Buchstein, a Full Professor in Political Theory and History of Political Ideas at the University of Greifswald. In addition to teaching a spring seminar on Habermas and the current work of Critical Theorists in Germany, he also completed extensive archival research on political theorist and University in Exile professor Otto Kirchheimer. Read on for more about his year here.

***

RESEARCH MATTERS: So I hear you’ve been to The New School a few times before! Can you tell us about your own academic history and what brought you here?

HUBERTUS BUCHSTEIN: When I was working on my PhD thesis at the Free University of Berlin in the late 1980s, the topic involved some emigrants I knew were at The New School. So when for the first time in my life I came to America in 1990, I went to The New School. I wanted to see the building where Hannah Arendt had been — I simply wanted to be at the building!

I also got in contact with Andrew Arato and his wife Jean Cohen. He was the only one in the huge Frankfurt School camp who wrote critically about Eastern Europe. When I came back as a Humboldt Research Fellow in 1994, I taught a class with Andrew on the political sociology of the Frankfurt School. I came for the next seven years, every year for two months in February and March, and taught a class twice a week.

Since then I’m still in close contact with The New School and I come every year to New York. It was very easy to make friends here, to get to know people. It’s very international and this was totally different than what I knew.

RM: It was that different than Berlin?

HB: Berlin is Germany’s biggest city. But in comparison to New York it was a sleeping city. And in those days my Political Science department in Berlin didn’t have so many international students, in particular from Eastern Europe and from Latin America.

Teaching was also quite different. Here it’s more lecture-style seminars. In Germany we start in our theory classes with a discussion of the text. We have assigned sometimes 20, 30 pages only for class and the students have to read them three times so it’s like 80 pages. Here you assign a book but you can’t always do such a close reading. I really had to adjust to this style of teaching.

Closure, Transformation, and the Law: NSSR Welcomes Political Theorist Sandipto Dasgupta

Within contemporary political language, a constitution is generally considered a neutral document, one that sets forth fundamental ground rules for how persons and organizations should conduct themselves politically but stands outside of the push and pull of quotidian politics itself. It is also understood as a stable, almost timeless framework that exists outside of the many changes of ordinary political life. Think of the mechanisms for amending itself the US constitution sets out, these emphasize an aspiration to enduring currency. Therefore, most people tend to understand a constitution as both an unbiased arbitrational document and as something essential to moving about effectively in the world.

But Sandipto Dasgupta, the new Assistant Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research, has a different perspective. A political theorist, he explores the historical relationship between political institutions, like constitutions, and political transformation, taking a broad look at the variable historical composition of political paradigms, from constitutionalism to postcolonialism. His findings challenge some of the most conventional beliefs we have about the connection between revolutionary upheaval and political institutions. As he demonstrates, constitutions are not always the neutral means of closure and containment, but are sometimes the very tools of genuine political transformation.

A Global Academic Journey

A native of Calcutta, Dasgupta began his career with tentative intention of become a lawyer. He graduated from the National Law School of India University, the country’s first such school, and worked as a clerk at the Supreme Court of India. During his studies, Dasgupta discovered that he was especially curious about the theoretical underpinnings of the law — the historical and philosophical assumptions that were as fundamental to the legal curriculum as they were unexamined. “I wanted to look at the legal language more critically and from a distance,” Dasgupta said.

This interest led him on a global academic journey, first to Columbia University, where he earned a PhD in Political Science in 2014. “New York was very fundamental in shaping me as an intellectual subject,” he says. “I was there in very interesting political times [Occupy Wall Street], all these new journals, people talking to each other. I was a shaped as a scholar by these moments outside the classroom and the library, as much by anything that happened within them. It also helped me, I think, move beyond India, linking my questions up with those that resonated globally.”

Dasgupta also studied at NSSR as part of the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, sitting in on Politics classes with Andrew Arato and Andreas Kalyvas, and a class on Hegel with Jay Bernstein, which he remembers as going late into the night and often continuing at a nearby bar.

Dasgupta then moved on to postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard University and at the British Academy in London. “It says something about the postcolonial world that its best archive is actually in the British Library,” he jokes. He has spent the past three years back home in Delhi, teaching a range of course on political ideology and political economy at Ashoka University.

Excited to return to New York, Dasgupta views the NSSR Politics Department as the perfect fit for a scholar such as himself, one interested in “interrogating the foundations and the assumptions that are built into the discipline,” he says. “The kind of political theory I do is critical and political. It tries to make political theory speak to the political life of the present. I always felt that The New School is the perfect place for that kind of approach.” This summer, he’s busy planning for  “The Political Theory of Decolonialization,” the first course he’ll teach to NSSR graduate students.

The Role of Constitutions

He’s also been busy wrapping up his first book, Legalizing the Revolution (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). In it, Dasgupta returns to the accepted idea that constitutions act like skeletons for polities, providing a rigid structure that firm up the basic functions of administration and jurisprudence alike. He claims that this view narrowly focuses on and generalizes from a specific period of constitutional writing, ignoring other roles constitutions might play, especially in bringing to life the political institutions of a state.

For example, we tend to look to and study the constitutions of the 18th and 19th centuries rather than the ones that were written in the 20th. In those earlier centuries, the story of constitutions “is the story of closure,” Dasgupta says. “There’s upheaval and revolution and it comes to an end with a constitution. Constitutions end revolutions.” In the 20th century, however, constitutions may do exactly the opposite: They transform, they kick off revolutions. For the newly decolonized states of the twentieth century, Dasgupta says that “the revolution was in the future. We have a constitution through which we can do the revolution, transforming the colonial subject into a postcolonial citizen.” In this second kind of constitution, the distinction between the time of revolution and the time of law is undone, and the two meld together. In other words, these post-colonial states challenge our received notions of constitutions as instruments of order and closure, instead exploring their possibilities and limitations as instruments of revolutionary transformation.

Dasgupta has also explored the history of institutionalizing postcolonial visions of freedom. “When you think about it, the 20th century is this great moment of freedom, or at least of an image of liberation,” Dasgupta says, citing the examples of postwar decolonization. “The question that interests me is, what happens right after? How do we move from an image of freedom to institutions that help us to build that world?”

In one of his articles, Dasgupta takes Gandhi as a vehicle for exploring that broad question of transition into independence. “This is the paradox: he is this enormously influential figure both within and outside India’s anti-colonial movement, and yet almost none of his visions of postcolonial India come to fruition.” In this sense, Gandhi embodies a tension that all postcolonial state leaders must deal with: What does independence look like, institutionally, if it isn’t a replica of the European state model?

In Dasgupta’s view, the first three decades after decolonization have witnessed a shift from idealistic potential to a gradual disappointment. This perspective leads him to yet another question: how to construct an account of decolonization that is alive to both its expansive aspirations of emancipation as well as the eventual exhaustion of hope. Gandhi can be seen as case study in what happens when the vision fails to find a way to implement itself, when the anticolonial spirit fails to translate itself into a postcolonial one.

These sorts of issues, along with other recurring questions that newly independent states and leaders grapple with, will be explored in Dasgupta’s Fall 2019 course. “I’m am really looking forward to being at The New School, being back in New York,” he said. “What I look forward to about these graduate seminar is the opportunity to explore interesting questions together with the students. From the conversations I had with my colleagues and some of the students already, I believe that it will be an exciting journey!” he says.


Lucas Ballestin is a PhD candidate in Philosophy. He specializes in political philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. His dissertation is on psychoanalytic theories of political ideology in the 20th and 21st Centuries.