I am a professor and a writer. My concerns are modernity and the human sciences, culture and state-formation, agency theory, performance and the subject, and, especially, historical changes in how power and authority work. I study the political cultures of the Atlantic world from the seventeenth century to the present, and have written about the Salem Witch Trials, the Whiskey Rebellion, Bacon’s Rebellion, the French Revolution, and the intellectual history of political and social theory.
At the core of my work is the idea that signification–the use of signs to make sense and significance by human beings–is a source of immense variation in social life. I have written about the “King’s Two Bodies” as one format of signification that has been used to bind people into political communities, and I retain an interest in the life and times of the historian who wrote the most about the King’s Two Bodies, Ernst Kantorowicz. Other thinkers I find useful for pursuing sociology as a human science include Hannah Arendt, Paul Gilroy, Walter Benjamin, Max Weber, Wilhelm Dilthey, Judith Butler, Roland Barthes and Eric Voegelin. I am currently working on a paper about Franz Kafka. Sometimes, people seem surprised that I like to read rational choice theory.
I was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1978, and I attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 1995 and 1996. I graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in Mathematics and Sociology & Anthropology in 2000. I earned my Ph.D. from Yale University in Sociology in 2007.
I currently reside in Charlottesville, VA, with my wife Jennifer. At the University of Virginia, I am the director of the Program in Political and Social Thought, and at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture I convene the Modernity Seminar.
I do my best to answer emails sent by people to email@example.com.