My research has two interlocking components. First, I articulate and defend a conception of freedom as practical authority. To be free, I argue, is to enjoy the standing to demand other people’s recognition of and respect for your authority in the choices that belong to you. Second, I investigate the distinctive challenges that we we face in unfree societies. How do we pursue liberation in the context of radical oppression?

The following publications constitute contributions to these research projects.



Sociologists Leslie Houts Picca and Joe Feagin argue that Whites bifurcate the social world into a multi-racial “frontstage” and an all-White “backstage,” and work to isolate racist performances to the backstage. I argue that we can explain these practices by assuming that many Whites – and in particular, Whites who identify as “not racist” – tend to think of racism as shameful. Shame essentially concerns, not what we do, but how we are perceived. Maintaining their identities as “not racist,” then, seems to these Whites primarily to be a matter of “keeping up appearances” by managing people’s perceptions of them – and in particular, by concealing phenomena that stand in tensions with their “non-racist” personae from the non-White gaze. By sustaining the division of the world into multi-racial and all-White spaces, and by isolating much of White discourse about race to all-White spaces, the White construal of racism as shameful denies non-Whites opportunities to participate in the construction of the social norms governing Whites’ interactions with them. This is anti-democratic: Just as racist limitations on voting deprives non-Whites of equal opportunities to participate in the regulation of the law, so the concealment of White racism deprives non-Whites of opportunities to participate as equals in the regulation of informal social norms.

Against the Managerial State: Preventive Policing as Non-Legal Governance

Law and Philosophy, 2020 (View-Only version, No Paywall)

Since at least the 1980s, police departments in the United States have embraced a set of practices that aim, not to enable the prosecution of past criminal activity, but to discourage (or even prevent) people from breaking the law in the first place. It is not clear that these practices effectively lower the crime rate. However, whatever its effect on crime, I argue that preventive policing is essentially distinct from legal governance, and that excessive reliance on preventive policing undermines legal governance. To show this, I emphasize law’s unique aptitude to define legal subjects’ “manifest” status relations – that is, the rights and obligations that live within their local practices. I then argue, first, that preventive policing does not aim to define these relationships; and second, that excessive preventive policing threatens the relationship that law must bear with its subjects if law is to define their manifest relations authoritatively.

Violence and the Boundaries of the Community

In Pacificism, Politics, and Feminism: Intersections and Innovations, ed. Jennifer Kling, 2019 (Google books preview)

One common approach to autonomy begins by drawing boundaries around the agent, dividing her from external forces that limit her options, hostile agents who would harness her to their projects, and rebellious motivations embedded within her own psychology. Relational approaches to autonomy blur these boundaries, demonstrating the ways in which autonomy is possible only in mutually respectful, caring relationships. I develop a particular kind of relational approach, on which autonomy requires others’ recognition that certain choices belong to us. That is because agency involves responsibility for one’s actions. Crucially, the responsibility in question is not simply causal responsibility. Rather, to be an agent is to be the proper object of reactive attitudes like resentment or gratitude for specific actions. Whether one is responsible (in this sense) for any state of affairs depends, not simply on whether one caused that state of affairs to occur, but on whether the choice to bring this state of affairs about belonged to you. Moreover, I argue that that while some tools – specifically, violence – might bolster one’s causal powers, they simultaneously threatening the social contexts that make “choice-ownership” possible. While these tools seem apt to secure our agency, they in fact threaten to destroy it.

Gruesome Freedom: The moral limits of non-constraint

Philosophers’ Imprint, 2018

Many philosophers conceive of freedom as non-interference. Such conceptions unify two core commitments. First, they associate freedom with non-constraint. And second, they take seriously a distinction between the interpersonal and the non-personal. As a result, they focus our attention exclusively on constraints attributable to other people’s choices – that is, on interference. I argue that these commitments manifest two distinct concerns: first, for a wide range of options; and second, for other people’s respect. However, construing freedom as non-interference unifies these concerns in a way that does justice to neither. In particular, it focuses our attention on phenomena that are at best tangential, and at worst hostile, to our interest in respect. If we wish to preserve the distinctive significance of the interpersonal, we would be better served by a conception of freedom that focuses immediately on what I call “the social conditions of respect.”

Agency in social context

Res Philosophica, 2017

Many political philosophers argue that interference threatens a person’s agency. And they cast political freedom in opposition to interpersonal threats to agency, as non-interference. I argue that this approach relies on an inapt model of agency, crucial aspects of which emerge from our relationships with other people. Such relationships involve complex patterns of vulnerability and subjection, essential to our constitution as particular kinds of agents: as owners of property, as members of families, and as participants in a market for labor. We should construct a conception of freedom that targets the structures of our interpersonal relations, and the kinds of agents these relations make us. Such a conception respects the interpersonal foundations of human agency. It also allows us to draw morally significant connections between diverse species of unfreedom – between, for instance, localized domination and structural oppression.