Questions that guide my thinking have always been about the relationship between history and politics from a critical theory tradition or perspective. Currently and always, I am thinking about what a feminist/decolonial/antiracist approach, orientation, or attitude demands of practices of philosophers, academics, teachers, and humans.
My current research focuses on what I am calling a living history of political concepts. Immanuel Kant’s philosophical work (starting with publication of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781) was deeply influenced by the economic-moral-political philosophies of Adam Smith, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Noting this influence, the premise of my current research is that Kant successfully assigned the concepts of freedom, justice, and revolution their ultimate place and significance in the ideology of liberalism. I am working on an exposé of sorts of these concepts that were formulated as alleged antidotes to oppression and tyranny in the liberal moral-political tradition. Specifically, I am tracking not only how these concepts were defined and re-defined philosophically throughout modernity/coloniality by liberal philosophers, but also how they were taken up and ratified by policy makers between 1492 and 1804 in the Atlantic world in order to build and maintain a global system of racial capitalism.
My 2017 article on Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical philosophy of history sets the stage for my current work. In this article I first show that a Kantian-Hegelian (what I call traditional) philosophy of history is always an attempt to justify the world just as it is. After a detailed account of Adorno and Horkheimer’s narrative of the Enlightenment that seamlessly connects dots between the past and the present, trying to motivate a liberatory political interpretation and praxis out of their provocative narrative of regress masquerading as progress, I argue that, while showing the line of continuity from the slingshot to the atomic bomb is important and necessary for challenging oppressive socio-political conditions, the transformative aim of a critical philosophy of history must be to motivate us to excavate and articulate the contingent openings, stories, and constellations that remain buried under the weight of the past that makes too much sense for the present. These openings to think about politics, especially about concepts of freedom, justice, and revolution, must come from lineages of political thought that are not aligned with maintaining the economic and political interests of white supremacist capitalist structures.
In short, my contention is the following: since white supremacy, as the handmaiden of racial capitalism, has inflected and continues to inflect the use of these political concepts, any attempt at rehabilitating or re-purposing these concepts drawn out of this lineage of liberalism for contemporary politics will be inevitably implicated in white supremacist goals and aims. As I see it, two paths remain open for the critical theorist: A deep and genuine reckoning with these concepts and their histories enmeshed in white supremacy and an urgent study of the political ideas and ideals that originated out of an interest to fight the real oppression and tyranny of racial capitalism, which the 99% of the planet’s population has endured at least since 1453/1492.
At the moment I am working along these two paths, on a number of writing projects that converge around a living history of social and political concepts and what to do with them now: I am completing an article dealing with Kant’s notions of Enlightenment, citizenship, and public sphere and what they mean from the perspective of Feminism for the 99%; I am writing on the role of “race” in social and political revolutions in Turkey (in Turkish, and in conversation with Charles W. Mills’s translated work); and I recently finished an “Introduction” for the updated version of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entry on “Continental Feminism” in which, the collective of authors and I suggest a different lineage of Continental feminist thinkers today, one that is grounded not in Europe but in its critics.
Because I have expertise in Kant scholarship, my research interests often (though not always) refer back to Kant, emphatically arguing for the necessity of both understanding his philosophical legacy better and going beyond it. In my view, Immanuel Kant is incontrovertibly one of the major architects of the modern world as we know it. So, when I turn to Kant’s writings, it is always to show that his ideas matter beyond the immediate context of 18th Century Prussia, Germany, or Europe. Because of the overwhelming presence of Kantian concepts in our lives still, my work aims to highlight the continuity and complicity between many of his ideas and arguments and our current socio-political concerns and sensibilities. My work on Kant therefore attends to the undercurrents of Kantian ideals, together with their still-unfolding history in the present, from the scientific concept of race, to the Eurocentric idea of a world history and cultural productivity, and to the conditional hospitality of commercial rationality reigning in the Global North. This conviction played out in my previous publications as follows:
In my 2016 article, “Kant’s Political Zweckmässigkeit,” (in Kantian Review) I present an early version and slice of the main arguments of my first book: that part of Kant’s contemporary legacy for political thought is the very fact that he grasped and grappled with the fundamental relevance of history for political theorizing vis-à-vis his methodology of teleology, or what I name in the article his “political Zweckmässigkeit [purposiveness].” My first book, Kant’s Nonideal Theory of Politics (Northwestern University Press, 2019), argues that a fuller account of the contemporary relevance of Kant’s political thought must include his writings on philosophy of history, cultural anthropology, and geography, under the umbrella of what I name as his “nonideal theory of politics.” I show that Kant in these writings attempts work out under what narrative of a world history political progress is possible, what cultural activities are productive of civil society, and what natural-geographical factors affect political life on earth. These teleological views of history, culture, and geography, in turn, significantly inform and inflect his major political ideals – his political thought is not and never purported to be ahistorical: that means that it comes with a historical baggage and its ideals cannot be appropriated without confronting this baggage – the living history of Kantian concepts – honestly.
Both in the Conclusion of my book Kant’s Nonideal Theory of Politics and in my 2018 article “For What can the Kantian Feminist Hope? Constructive Complicity in Appropriations of the Canon”, I invite us philosophers to go beyond the Kantian ideals that they find useful and instead reckon with the entirety of Kant’s claims: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I argue that feminist appropriations of Kant’s philosophy cannot simply pick and choose parts of his works. Rather, in order to actively and more effectively combat all forms of oppression, we need more than just these idealized tools; we need to recognize and make explicit the complicity between Kantian ideas – yes, even and especially the ugly ones – and our present socio-political sensibilities. Similarly, in my 2019 article, “Re-reading Kantian Hospitality for the Present,” I frame Kant’s idea of cosmopolitan right of hospitality it in its immediate context of colonial cost-benefit analysis, and then examine the contemporary uses of the term “hospitality” around the Syrian Refugee crisis in Europe to show the deep, historical, and inextricable links between the very idea of hospitality and the commercial interests of the Global North.