Professor Sawyer Explores Political Forces and Radical Politics in Recent Publications

By Alana Aamodt ’18

Assistant Professor of Race, Ethnicity, and Migration Studies Michael Sawyer has been hard at work, recently publishing three articles that span the topics of political theory, philosophy, and literature. The three articles, “Radical Temporality, Fictive Realism, and Revolution as Context: Sonic Implosion of the Modern,” “Undoing the Phaedrus: Melville’s Rereading of Plato,” and “Sacrifice,” all tie back to Sawyer’s greater research goal, which explores “the formation of political subjects through coercive force and further how those subjects construct regimes of knowledge and radical politics to unravel that condition,” according to Sawyer. This interest in subjugated people’s responses to the dominant political regime has been a driving force in Sawyer’s research curiosities.

The first of his works was inspired by his time in Italy, where he gave a series of lectures at University of Bologna’s Department on Global Cultures and Critical Theory last spring. There, Sawyer spoke on his book manuscript, “Black Minded: The Political Philosophy of Malcolm X” (Pluto/University of Chicago Press), due out next fall. Following his lectures, scholars in attendance requested Sawyer expand on the concepts of radical temporality and modernity,” or how modern subjects can exist outside of society’s normal relationship with time. The resulting paper was just published in Italian.

Of perhaps humbler beginnings, Sawyer’s piece “Undoing the Phaedus” was the result of conversations in his own classroom about “Moby Dick” and “the complexity that was revealed working with the students.” This piece compares the relationship between “black vs. white” and “good vs. bad” in Melville’s classic novel, arguing it is a dismantled, flipped version of Plato’s logic in “Phaedus.”

Of his third work, “Sacrifice,” Sawyer says: “‘Sacrifice’ is from a larger project in political theory that engages well-known political theorists and philosophers (of which I am not numbered) to take a term and redefine it from a theoretical perspective. For example, Gayatri Spivak’s concept is ‘development,’ Jaques Ranciere took up the question of ‘occupation,’ and Étienne Balibar wrote on ‘exploitation’ and Susan Buck-Morss on ‘civilization.’”

The interdisciplinary nature of these articles reflect Sawyer’s diverse academic interests, which range from applied science, political science, and international security policy, all the way to comparative literature and political theory. Endless topic combinations and the obvious ability to multitask, balancing writing and teaching, are signs Sawyer will continue on as a prolific author.