David J. Knight is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at The University of Chicago, where he expects to receive his degree in June 2022.

His research focuses on the politics surrounding mass incarceration, with broad interests in the fields of American politics; race, ethnicity, and politics (REP); Black political thought; criminal justice; critical prison studies; law and society; and social movements. Much of David’s ongoing research engages the lives and experiences of currently incarcerated people, particularly long-term prisoners, to complicate and advance existing theories about the relationship between imprisonment and political attitudes and behaviors. Broadly speaking, David’s research agenda investigates the institutional structures and conditions that threaten Black freedom and the bottom-up movements and coalitional efforts that people engage in to change law, policy, and their general lived conditions. 

David's dissertation, entitled “Mobilizations from Within: Growing Up and Organizing for Freedom in Prison America,” examines the kinds of political formations that emerge particularly among Black people confined in U.S. prisons today. He explores these formations using a variety of data sources, including over 150 interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated adults and detained youth; one year of field observations at a large men’s prison; two large, first-of-their-kind surveys of the incarcerated population; and archival data from legal documents, abolitionist organizations, autobiographies, and oral histories. With these data, David tackles fundamental questions in the discipline about how punitive turns in the exercise of state power affect individuals and social change.

David holds fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education. He has also received several competitive grants, including a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant in Law and Social Sciences and a Russell Sage Foundation Small Grant.

David received a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College, trained as a teacher at Stanford University, and began his research career as a master’s student at Harvard University. Before coming to Chicago, David was a certified public high school teacher in the cities of San Francisco and then Boston.

For more information about David's program of research, please see his website.