Assistant professor, Political Science and the Center for Law, Justice, and Culture at Ohio University.
Race, Ethnicity and Politics
Black Political Thought
I study African American political thought and the development of U.S. crime policy in the American South, focusing on its relationship to capitalism, racial politics, and civil rights.
This article investigates an important yet poorly understood aspect of the origins of the U.S. carceral state. Many explanations attribute the rise of mass incarceration to the conservative tide in American politics beginning in the late 1960s: “tough on crime” policies advanced by southern Democrats and Republicans, white backlash against black civil rights, and the law-and-order politics of Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” But in focusing on conservatives, prevailing theories have ignored how the changing economic and political landscape of the post-WWII South shaped how policymakers thought about crime. This article examines how key elements of the carceral state emerged in the rapidly growing, metropolitan, and business-minded Sunbelt South between 1954 and 1970, using North Carolina as a test case. Drawing on a variety of archival sources, it unearths how moderate southern politicians with material links to extra-regional sources of capital, political links to northern liberal elites, and ideological links to postwar liberalism pioneered state-level carceral policy. It argues that the swift development of crime policy in midcentury North Carolina was the product of how the state’s moderate elites chose to govern the emerging Sunbelt economy in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement. The problems of rampant civil disorder, racial extremism, and lawlessness, they argued, threatened the economic progress of North Carolina and required the implementation of strong yet race-neutral crime policy. This study offers an analysis of how the Sunbelt South, in shedding Jim Crow and entering the national political and economic mainstream, came to help spearhead the carceral turn in American politics.
In this article, I ask: What is the use and purpose of American political development in the era of Black Lives Matter? In this article, I clarify APD’s role in analyzing the institutions to which the Movement for Black Lives primarily responds – surveillance, policing, and incarceration. In particular, I speak to what the discipline can offer given the challenges of the current Trump era. The rise of Donald Trump to the presidency and the concurrent popularization of white populist nationalism in mainstream American politics presents unique challenges. I argue that today, as scholars strive to understand how we arrived in an era of overt white supremacist rhetoric, American political development’s focus on historical institutional change offers necessary grounding. In the case of Black Lives Matter, the discipline fills out the picture of how the U.S. carceral state, encompassing surveillance, law enforcement, and incarceration, became a primary governing institution in the United States – and what relation this bears to spectacular displays of white nationalism that are increasingly the norm today.
Authors: Michael McCann, George I. Lovell, and Kirstine Taylor. We develop a political history of Wards Cove v. Atonio (1989) to show how Robert Cover's concepts of jurisgenesis and jurispathy can enrich the legal mobilization framework for understanding law and social change. We illustrate the value of the hybrid theory by recovering the Wards Cove workers’ own understanding of the role of litigation in their struggle for workplace rights. The cannery worker plaintiffs exemplified Cover's dual logic by articulating aspirational narratives of social justice and by critically rebuking the Supreme Court's ruling as the “death throe” for progressive minority workers’ rights advocacy. The cannery workers’ story also highlights the importance of integrating legal mobilization scholars’ focus on extrajudicial political engagement into Cover's judge‐centered analysis. Our aim is to forge a theoretical bridge between Cover's provocative arguments about law and the analytical tradition of social science scholarship on the politics of legal mobilization.
This article combines historical-empirical research with African American political thought. It investigates the role categories of racial transgression (in this case, “white trash” of the rural South) played in political construction of white racial innocence – James Baldwin’s term for Americans’ willful blindness toward the lived reality of race – after the fall of Jim Crow. Once figures of suspect racial ‘purity,’ white trash in the postwar period became a repository of intractable anti-black violence, mobism, and retrogression. Their movement from racial contaminant to ‘guilty’ white, I suggest, brings into sharp relief the class-inflected transformation of racial innocence in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement: the Sunbelt South’s commitment to law-and-order politics and Sunbelt capitalism were together formative of the protection of emergent white middle-class interests in the postwar South and a new kind of racial innocence that has since settled into contemporary national discourses on race.