Research Interests

African politics, law and society, gender and sexuality, coloniality, and critical theory

Research Agenda

I am an interdisciplinary scholar trained broadly in comparative politics and political theory. My substantive expertise crosscuts African politics, law and society, gender and sexuality, coloniality, and critical theory. My research agenda exhumes the relationship between empire, police, and identity with the aim of advancing methods for the continued work of decolonization. Modern capitalist state institutions and values imposed during European colonization, such as the criminal punishment system and heteronormativity, were central to creating empire but also to challenging empire. My dissertation intervenes in global studies of state violence by tracing how the colonial police was developed and contested during colonization in former Tanganyika and after the fall of the British Empire. I argue that the colonial police created the modern capitalist state and extended colonial technologies, ideas, and practices into the afterlife of empire. While across the world, marginalized individuals continue to be disproportionately targeted by the police, these individuals also contest the state vis-à-vis the police. My research calls us to rethink systems of racialized, sexualized, gendered, and classed state control—which the police continually bring into being—as colonial legacies. I uncover these institutional lineages through my dissertation and research agendas on Global Policing and Abolition, African Gender and Sexuality Politics, and Feminist and Decolonial Methodologies.

Dissertation Research

Creating and Contesting Empire: Policing in Tanganyika

This dissertation explores how the police created the modern capitalist state under the British Empire. The police are often absent from scholarship on colonization and decolonization, Global South security studies, and comparative analyses of state building. I synthesize these literatures and build on a critical criminological framework to show how the police and state were mutually co-constitutive institutions created for control and extraction. I argue that this inextricable relationship made the police system a target of anti-colonial resistance, but also enabled the police and state to persist following the end of formal colonial rule. I am preparing two papers for publication that are extensions of the main empirical and theoretical contributions of my dissertation. Upon completion of my dissertation in Spring 2021, I will revise my dissertation into a book manuscript.

I collected original data at archives including the U.K. National Archives, the British Library, and the Herskovits Library of African Studies. This dissertation design is informed by research and Swahili training in Tanzania, as well as consultation with local experts. Former Tanganyika is uniquely positioned to illuminate the relationship between the police and modern capitalist state because of its long history as a global commercial hub on the Swahili Coast and its geopolitical significance to the British Empire. Contemporary Tanzania is a puzzling case of increasingly autocratic crackdowns targeting marginalized groups. Scholars and human rights organizations are currently trying to understand what led to this moment. The police are missing from these analyses, even though they are the main enactors of violent state policies.

My dissertation is structured around three within-case studies of policing in three time periods: 1) the period of formal British colonization in Tanganyika (1919-1961); 2) the decade leading up to Tanganyika’s transition to independence (1951-1961); and 3) recent years in contemporary Tanzania (2010-2020). I trace the development of the colonial police, the modern capitalist state, and the criminalization of identities, as well as how Africans navigated and resisted these institutions. I highlight my conclusions from each substantive chapter’s case study below:

1) Policing gender and sexuality in Tanganyika was instrumental to colonization. The police were a key tool of establishing colonial control, and British values, such as heteronormativity, were institutionalized and instrumental to creating social, political, and economic order. Through this process of attempting to consolidate power and regulate social order, the colonial police produced the modern Tanganyikan state, its extractive capitalist economy, and the power of the British Empire.

2) Resisting the police was central to resisting colonization. Anti-colonial resistance to the state vis-à-vis the police helped end formal British rule, but, paradoxically, also accelerated policing in the transition to independence. Anti-colonial and anti-police resistance led the British to further strengthen and militarize the police forces on their way out, and the British ensured that they would maintain some control over the police after they left through legislation and the constitution. The co-constitutive relationship between the police and state helped both assemblages persist after the fall of empire.

3) Legacies of coloniality, policing, and resistance inform state practices and ideologies today. Despite resistance to the police throughout colonization and reforms after independence, colonial policing institutions have continued to shape racialized, sexualized, gendered, and classed control because these institutions were constitutive of the state. The police system is not only a site where people—especially marginalized and criminalized people—experience state violence around the world. It is also a site of political contestation, resistance, and decolonization. Beyond Tanzania, these findings matter for understanding policing and the state in many contemporary contexts that experienced or continue to experience forms of coloniality.


“Women’s Rights and Critical Junctures in Constitutional Reform in Africa (1951-2019),” with Aili Mari Tripp (R&R, African Affairs)

“The Colonial Origins of the Police and Policing Sex in Tanzania” (in preparation for submission)

“‘A Challenge to Law and Order’: Contesting Police, Empire, and State in Tanganyika” (in preparation for submission)

“The Incomplete Single Story of a Homophobic Africa” (in preparation for submission)

Online Publications

Forthcoming. “Trends in Constitutional Reforms and Women’s Rights in Africa,” with Aili Mari Tripp. Qualitative Data Repository. QDR Main Collection.

How to Count What Counts: TIS the Season for Syllabi Metrics?International Studies Quarterly post with Michael Tierney, March 2016.

How Does Aid Impact Democratic Change in Africa?AidData Blog: The First Tranche, August 2014.

Select Awards and Honors

Institute for Legal Studies Law and Society Graduate Fellowship, Law School, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2020-2021

Summer Initiative Funding Award, Political Science Department, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Summer 2018, 2019, 2020

Student Research Conference Travel Grant, Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Funding in the Graduate School, University of Wisconsin–Madison, April 2019 and August 2019

Scott Kloeck-Jenson International Internship Fellowship, Institute for Regional and International Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Summer 2019

Hyde Dissertation Research Award, Center for Research on Gender and Women, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Summer 2019

Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, Summer 2018

Jordan Prize for year’s best graduate paper on Africa, African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2017-2018

African Studies Summer Fieldwork Award, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Summer 2017

Elections Research Center Fellowship, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2016-2017