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Associate Professor Patchen Markell has wide-ranging interests in contemporary political and social theory and the history of political thought. He is especially interested in the disparate theoretical traditions that trace their roots back to Kant, Hegel, and Marx; in the political thought of Greek and Roman antiquity, as reflected in literature as well as philosophy, and its reception by later thinkers; in 19th and 20th century American political thought, especially on the Left; in the history of the intellectual self-understandings of political theorists inside and outside the discipline of political science; and in several areas of 20th-century and contemporary theory and philosophy that cut across the distinction between "continental" and "Anglo-American," including feminist and queer theory, ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of language. As a reader, he is committed to approaching theoretical texts not, or not only, as containers for systematically interconnected sets of propositions, but also as revealing records of an author's usually only partly successful attempt to accomplish something; for this reason, his critical engagements with the work of past and present political theorists are often diagnostic in character, and involve attention to the literary and rhetorical dimensions of theoretical texts.
Thematically, much of Markell's work has been concerned with the nature and conditions of political action and political agency, especially in relation to such other important phenomena as identity, power, and democracy. He is especially interested in the ironic turns through which over-strong visions of agency can become disempowering, as well as in the often-neglected connections between human action and the experiences of exposure, uncertainty, affectedness, and vulnerability. His first book, Bound by Recognition (2003), explored these issues through a critique of the renaissance of the Hegelian concept of "recognition" in political theory; that book was informed by Hannah Arendt's political thought, though it discussed her work only in passing. Markell's second book will be devoted to Arendt's The Human Condition, combining close reading, historical contextualization, and extensive archival research to transform our understanding of the meaning and function the concepts of labor, work, and action in Arendt's text, as well as our sense of Arendt's legacies for 21st-century political theory. That book will set the stage for two further projects: a critical and reconstructive study of the conceptions of agency, power, and rule that inform contemporary democratic theory; and, in the longer term, a project on the past and future of the critique of capitalism.
Markell is a co-director of the Project on Language, History, and Political Theory as well as the Political Theory Workshop.
Bound by Recognition (Princeton University Press, 2003).
"The Potential and the Actual: Mead, Honneth, and the 'I'," in Recognition and Power (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
"The Insufficiency of Non-Domination," Political Theory 36, No. 1 (2008): 9-36.
"Arendt's Work: On the Architecture of The Human Condition," College Literature 10 (2011): 15-44.