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David Suell

Political Theory & African Studies

Dissertation Title: “Temporalities of Struggle: Beginning and Belonging in the African Socialist Tradition”

Committee: Lisa Disch (chair), David Temin, Anne Pitcher, Omolade Adunbi

Summary: I am a political theorist focused on African Political Thought and the relationship between time and democracy. In particular, I am interested in how members of political communities understand their spatial and temporal boundaries. Spatially, how do bonds of identity and responsibility change from the sub-national to the global scale, or across vast distances where markets and legacies of domination bind them together, but institutions separate them? Temporally, how do groups’ memories and practices reproduce domination or reveal possibilities for democratic participation and emancipation? Provoking dialogue among non-Western, canonical, and critical theory, I broaden the scope of the history of political thought and explore what it means to build just communities in response to colonialism and racial capitalism. I accomplish this by using interdisciplinary sources and research methods. My sources range from those more familiar to political theory, like speeches and written arguments, to forms of artistic expression, rituals, cultural practices, and oral tradition. I evaluate these by combining close reading of texts, ethnographic fieldwork, and archival research in English and Swahili. I have published peer-reviewed articles in dialogue with critical debates in political science, geography, and Africana Studies in Political Theory and Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. My dissertation, which I will develop as my first book project, shows how leaders and thinkers in the African socialist tradition (broadly understood) distinguished their strategies through their interpretations of time—the accessibility or usefulness of the past, the potentials for the future, the “rupture” of colonialism or revolution, etc—and how their uses of time inspire forceful reinterpretations of concepts like capitalist violence, universality, culture, and founding. In my teaching, I approach canonical sources in global conversation and offer specialized courses in Africana political thought, comparative experiences of race & colonialism, and the politics of time. I get excited about helping students understand the world around them, the concepts that can help them make sense of it, and the systems that connect them to the past and to others. Whether in introductory surveys or advanced seminars, my students learn to confidently approach complex texts, clearly communicate their ideas in writing and discussion, engage one another graciously, and approach political problems systematically and empathetically.

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