Research

Research Interests

Critical carceral studies, gender and sexuality, law and society, and feminist and postcolonial theory


Research Agenda

My work traces the flow of colonial institutions that led to racialized, classed, sexualized, and gendered state violence, particularly through police and prison systems in Africa and the Diaspora. My dissertation exhumes the relationship between state, police, and identity in the context of colonization and decolonization. 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. Without understanding the police as a colonial legacy, we remain ill-informed about the purpose and growth of policing over time. This dissertation offers context for understanding how police shape racialized, classed, sexualized, and gendered state control today. I extend my critique of colonial legacies of state control through research agendas on Global Policing and Abolition, African Gender and Sexuality Politics, Feminist and Postcolonial Methodologies, and Labor Organizing and Empire.


Dissertation Research

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

My dissertation reframes contemporary policing as a colonial legacy.  A recent wave of autocratic crackdowns on civil society and marginalized groups has puzzled scholars in many places around the world, although the role of the police is often overlooked or under historicized.  I examine the colonial roots and postcolonial persistence of policing using the case of Tanzania, illustrative of this seemingly global trend, to theorize the relationship between the police, state, and identity.  Using previously classified archival data and an original collection of political violence reports, I trace the development of the police and state in former Tanganyika to present-day Tanzania.  The 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).  The colonial and postcolonial police not only sought to establish a hierarchical order to maintain state control and extraction, but the police created the state itself.  Policing institutions persisted over time because of this inseparable relationship with the state, which extended colonial technologies and practices into the afterlife of empire.  Without understanding the police as a colonial legacy, we remain ill-informed about the purpose and growth of policing over time.  This dissertation offers context for understanding how police shape racialized, classed, sexualized, and gendered state control today.


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.

Hear me talk more about the global politics of policing on the podcast, 1050 Bascom (May 2021).

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 a forthcoming article in African Affairs, “Women’s Rights and Critical Junctures in Constitutional Reform in Africa (1951-2019),” Dr. Aili Tripp and I 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 piloted a data collection project on anti-LGBTQ+ political violence and I am collaborating with Dr. 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 Postcolonial 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.

Labor Organizing and Empire

My fourth research agenda contributes to the emerging field of global labor studies by emphasizing connections between labor organizing and anti-police and anti-colonial resistance.  In the final decades of formal British colonial rule on the African continent, major industries became key sites for suppressing resistance, but also for resisting suppression.  In a working paper for a special issue of Small Wars and Insurgencies entitled, “Police Fire on Rioters, Africans Attack Patrol,” I use previously classified British archival records to compare two strikes staged by dockworker unions in 1950: one in Dar es Salaam, the colonial capital of former Tanganyika, and one in London, the imperial capital of the former British Empire.  In both contexts, strikers were handled as insurgents by the British government because they challenged and undermined “lawful” authority, the state’s economic backbone, and the legitimacy of the British Empire.  Policing was ideologically inspired, tactically reoriented, and technologically retrofitted by what were arguably counterinsurgency campaigns.  Episodes of strikes and confrontations with the police provide a window into understanding the inseparable dynamics of colonialism and anti-colonialism, policing and labor organizing, and empire and capitalist-state building.


Current and Upcoming Work

Peer-Reviewed Publications:

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

In Progress:

“‘Police Fire on Rioters, Africans Attack Patrol'”

“The Colonial Origins of the Police and Policing Sex in Tanzania”

“‘A Challenge to Law and Order’: Contesting Police, Empire, and State in Tanganyika”

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

“The Incomplete Single Story of a Homophobic Africa”

Other Publications:

Degrowth: Less Resource Use for More Wellbeing and ResilienceGeorgetown Journal of International Affairs with Susan Paulson, May 2021.

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

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


Select Awards and Honors

Mellon Wisconsin Fellowship, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Summer 2021

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