Research

Research Interests

Global critical police and carceral studies, gender and sexuality, law and society, and decolonial and feminist theory


Research Agenda

My research agendas crosscut global critical police and carceral studies, gender and sexuality, law and society, and decolonial and feminist theory. My dissertation exhumes the relationship between state, police, and identity in the context of colonization and decolonization. Colonial institutions, ideas, and practices of law and order imposed during European colonization were central to creating extractive capitalist states but also to challenging them. From examining the politics of policing in former Tanganyika and present-day Tanzania, I find that the colonial police created the modern capitalist state and extended colonial technologies, ideas, and practices into the afterlife of empire.  This calls us to rethink systems of racialized, sexualized, gendered, and classed state control—which the police continually bring into being—as colonial legacies.  I extend my critique of colonial legacies through research agendas on Global Policing and Abolition, African Gender and Sexuality Politics, and Feminist and Decolonial Methodologies.


Dissertation Research

Creating and Contesting Empire: The Colonial Legacy of Policing in Tanzania

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, and one is currently under review.  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, which necessitated high levels of surveillance and order.  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 on their way out and create ways to maintain some control over the police through legislation and training.  The co-constitutive relationship between the police and state helped both persist after the fall of empire.
  3. 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.

Global Policing and Abolition

My first research agenda explores global interconnections between law and order and racial capitalism by putting my dissertation into conversation with the settler colonial context of the United States. This agenda asks how hegemonic power is (re)produced through colonizing technologies, such as institutions of policing and categories of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Further, it questions how decolonization might be expanded through the work of police and prison abolition beyond the United States, as suggested by transnational critiques of carceral regimes. I have a working paper entitled, “Does the Prison Industrial Complex Exist in African Contexts?” that engages my dissertation on policing in East Africa with the settler colonial context of the United States. I compare the operation of policing in these contexts through the framework of the prison industrial complex (PIC) to see how these cases inform each other. In doing so, I shed light on how the marginalization of nonnormative gender and sexuality is deeply embedded in anti-Black, capitalist, colonial state structures. I end by calling upon alternative visions of what BIPOC, queer, trans futures could look like with abolition of the PIC.

African Gender and Sexuality Politics

My second research agenda advances gender and sexuality studies in African politics by generating new data and analyses to explain identity-based repression and resistance. One project seeks to explain the increasing enshrinement of women’s rights in African constitutions. In an article revised and resubmitted for African Affairs with Professor Aili Tripp, “Women’s Rights and Critical Junctures in Constitutional Reform in Africa (1951-2019),” we analyze an original dataset of women’s rights provisions in 129 African constitutions to explain patterns of reform across seventy years. Sometimes interconnected and other times in tension with women’s rights movements, I also contribute to research on African LGBTQ+ movements and experiences. I am piloting a data collection project on anti-LGBTQ+ political violence in ten African countries for the Armed Location and Event Data Project. I am also collaborating with Professor Tripp to interview leading LGBTQ+ rights activists and lawyers across the continent, as part of a broader project on the advancement of rights in authoritarian countries. We will share our findings in an article on what makes LGBTQ+ activism possible in repressive contexts.

Feminist and Decolonial Methodologies

My third research agenda seeks to cultivate and share critical theories and research practices. Developing these methodologies requires understanding my own positionality amid systems of power. I am committed to advancing research, pedagogical, and fieldwork methods that practice accountability for historic and contemporary impact and that critique underlying paradigms that prop up systems of privilege and oppression. I have a working paper that challenges readers to interrogate the inaccuracies and consequences of the narrative that Africa is a ubiquitously homophobic continent. The article exemplifies the guidance I offer students for building self-awareness, navigating complex dynamics in unfamiliar environments, and engaging in cross-cultural learning and community-building. I am writing an adjacent paper geared toward white scholars who do fieldwork in African contexts, especially those who study marginalized groups.


Current and Upcoming Work

“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” (under review)

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

“Does the Prison Industrial Complex Exist in African Contexts?” (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