Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities
2013—2014 Forum on Violence
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Agents of Violence and Vulnerable Subjectivities: Contemporary Police and Combat Soldiers
This anthropological project examines the subjectivity of persons authorized to deploy coercion in the name of the state, the people, the law, and democracy itself. It aims to address broad questions about how violence configures everyday life, and how it is legitimated in dialogue with concepts of social order, justice, and status/identity. Specifically, I explore the experiences of disenfranchisement and vulnerability of police officers and combat soldiers who, by virtue of their powers to use discretionary violence in specific (and often overlapping) contexts, are ironically disempowered and sacrificed, because the polities that rely on them also firmly restrict their rights and capabilities, in an attempt to control their violence, in the double sense of directing and restraining it. I draw out the paradoxes of these security agents' positions, and the implications of these paradoxes, in two ongoing, inter-related research projects, which began six and four years ago, respectively.
The first project, a branch off of my dissertation research, is an ethnohistorical analysis of police citizenship through a comparative study of police unionization movements and uprisings across time and space, some of which have been extraordinarily violent, especially in my primary field site of northern India. The second project examines the transformation of the cultural figure of the US combat veteran over the past forty years, from the victimized anti-heroes and ultimately re-ennobled Vietnam war veterans of yesteryear, to the soldiers returning today from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of whom work against visible and invisible "wounds" manifesting in PTSD, soldier suicide, and difficulty finding and maintaining civilian employment, among other problems.