Research

Postcolonial Global Justice (Dissertation)

While many colonized peoples attained formal sovereignty in mid-to-late 20th century, deepening globalization has continued to draw charges of neocolonialism. Drawing on the political thought of Third World anticolonial thinkers, my dissertation investigates how structures of colonial injustice continue to manifest in global politics, and what principles of global justice they call for. While there is a longstanding tendency to read anticolonial thinkers as nationalists whose main concern was defending sovereignty for the nation-state, and/or as forerunners of postcolonial critique who eschewed talk of moral ideals, I shift our focus to a second strand of anticolonialism by engaging closely with key writings of Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Amílcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, and Aimé Césaire. I argue that an important set of themes within anticolonial thought can be theorized as a critique of relations of inequality, and decolonization understood as the construction of egalitarian global and domestic relations. This second strand of anticolonialism, which grounds what I call the egalitarian face of decolonization, pushes us to rethink decolonization as a project of global integration on terms of equality, and has radical implications for thinking about global justice today.

These implications for contemporary global justice are the subject of the rest of the dissertation. Based on my egalitarian reconstruction of anticolonialism and engaging more closely with Fanon, I develop a philosophical account of postcolonial global justice as social equality. While contemporary social egalitarians have theorized social equality and inequality within societies, I argue that it is a mistake to neglect social inequalities at the global level. I analyze three kinds of global (racialized) hierarchies—of political authority, esteem/status, and moral standing—and show how they are both objectionable in themselves, as well as objectionable as constraints on citizens’ capacity to realize domestic social equality.

I bring this account to bear on three different aspects of contemporary global politics, and explore the distinctive reforms needed to dismantle global hierarchies. First, I take up the question of economic decolonization by focusing on international investment. International investment treaties have been criticized for undermining states’ sovereignty over their economic policies and resources. Engaging with Nkrumah’s work on neocolonialism, this chapter argues that neocolonialism is best construed as an injustice of exploitation, rather than an affront to national sovereignty. State and non-state actors (such as transnational corporations) that have benefitted from exploitative economic relations have a duty to empower disadvantaged countries, and address the asymmetric economic dependence at the root of neocolonialism.

Second, I turn to the question of cultural decolonization by focusing on the global trade in cultural goods. Engaging with Aimé Césaire and Amílcar Cabral’s critiques of cultural imperialism, I argue that decolonizing cultural globalization can be understood as a project in overcoming a global racial hierarchy inherited from colonial discourses of civilization. This contrasts with a different view of cultural decolonization that emphasizes protecting a particular form of national culture against foreign influence. What matters is that historically oppressed groups are empowered to engage in cultural production so as to reclaim their equal status as value-makers.

Finally, I take up the question of political decolonization by focusing on the structure of the institutions that regulate interactions between (state and non-state) agents at the global level, such as the Bretton Woods institutions and their progeny. Engaging with Nehru’s writings and speeches on global governance, this chapter explores the extent to which global social equality demands democratizing these institutions and the difficult question of what democratization might look like in practice.

“What’s Wrong with the International Investment Regime?” (forthcoming in Politics, Philosophy & Economics)

The international investment regime has come under increasing scrutiny, with several developing countries withdrawing from bilateral investment treaties in recent years. A central worry raised by critics is that investment treaties undermine national self-determination. Proposed reforms to the regime have focused on rebalancing the distribution of power between states and investors to restore “enlarged regulatory space” for the former. Contra this critique from national self-determination, in this paper I argue that infringements on national self- determination cannot alone explain why the investment regime is morally problematic. Instead, on my egalitarian view, the regime is objectionable because it empowers a class of agents, whose interests are reliably opposed to egalitarian economic policy, to constrain national self-determination. In effect, the investment regime contributes to entrenching inequality between and within states, and is unjust for that reason. The moral and practical upshot is that reforms to the regime ought to empower disadvantaged groups to exert disproportionate leverage over the terms and practice of international investment, and to appeal to global institutions to do so. In other words, our moral assessment of a given global institution or practice should not depend on whether it constrains national self-determination, but on who it empowers to do so.

(under review: title redacted)

Critics of liberal cosmopolitanism often say that it is imperialistic. Recent work recovering anticolonial internationalism suggests that a different kind of cosmopolitanism is possible. This work has tended to center the republican value of freedom as non-domination as the primary ideal. In this paper, drawing from a set of African and Asian anticolonial thinkers, I argue that significant aspects of anticolonial thought are best understood as taking relational equality as a central value. I argue that anticolonial thinkers diagnosed colonialism as a social structure constituted by objectionable hierarchies, against which they proposed an egalitarian decolonial politics. In recovering the significance of egalitarianism within the anticolonial tradition, this paper puts forth a fuller account of the values that ought to inform a view of postcolonial global justice. Commitment to relational equality, I contend, forms a compelling basis for a view of global justice that can overcome important objections to liberal cosmopolitanism.

(under review: title redacted)

Why should any group have a right to self-determination? Despite popular invocations of a right to self-determination in political movements across the left-right spectrum today, the age of global interconnectedness ought to prompt a rethink of its moral basis. I argue that a group has a right to self-determination when this remakes the social structure to affirm individuals’ equal moral standing. This social egalitarian account of collective self-determination, as I call it, is sympathetic to cosmopolitan aspirations, but also provides reasons for recognizing a right to collective self-determination for territorially defined political units. First, I illustrate the moral costs of exclusion. To show when these can be overridden, I then examine colonial injustice as a classic case for justifying self-determination. I argue that, contra existing views, what makes colonialism wrong is neither violations of basic justice, personal autonomy and consent, nor alienation, but the fact that colonial institutions and relations inherently fail to embody an ideal of equality between individuals. Next, I analyze the sites and harms of social inequality. A denial of “subjecthood” can be entrenched in the social structure. Yet our subjective belief that we are equals depends on objective arrangements in the world, which can negate or confirm this fact. With this diagnosis, I return to the right to collective self-determination and argue that, in addition to being instrumental in redressing injustice, it is also constitutive of justice in publicly restoring what was unjustly denied.

Citizenship and Statelessness: The Problem of Revocation (in draft)

Ought a democratic state have the right to deprive individuals of citizenship? In this paper, I focus on citizenship revocation as an increasingly popular counter-terrorism measure, and I argue that this form of citizenship revocation cannot be justified. On the one hand, I agree with critics of existing policies of citizenship revocation who point to discrimination between citizens, and the procedural injustice in the arbitrariness of these policies. On the other hand, I contend that these objections are insufficient to show that citizenship revocation should be eliminated; on the contrary, these objections can end up supporting the expansion of citizenship revocation as a criminal justice policy. A complete argument against citizenship revocation, I argue, must make sense of the distinctive wrong in creating statelessness.