Cosmopolitan Territories: Land, Jurisdiction, and International Law
Committee Members: Seyla Benhabib (chair), Karuna Mantena, Paulina Ochoa-Espejo (Haverford College), and Andrew March

This dissertation proposes a critical theory of territory, one which decouples territoriality and sovereignty. In it, I draw on varied resources—critical geography, phenomenology, archival research—to revive the pre-Westphalian notion that territories are (and should be) non-exclusive jurisdictions. What I call the ­non-exclusive model of territory challenges the currently dominant paradigm of sovereign territoriality, and suggests a political geography capable of actualizing the promise of democratic cosmopolitanism. To develop this model, I first inspect the phenomenology of place in Hegel, Arendt, and Heidegger and explain how political geography can foster (or foreclose) non-sovereign politics. Next, I unearth new archival evidence from Arendt’s library to reveal her critique of, and radical alternative to, Carl Schmitt’s conception of sovereign territoriality. I then use these foundations to reconstruct what a non-exclusive model requires of territorial institutions today. I suggest that a moral commitment to cosmopolitanism need not entail world government, and in fact, cosmopolitanism will be more democratic if it emerges from the overlapping authorities of territorial legal pluralism.


“Hannah Arendt reads Carl Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth: A dialogue on law and geopolitics from the margins”, European Journal of Political Theory (forthcoming)

Many studies have deduced subterranean dialogues between Hannah Arendt and Carl Schmitt from indirect evidence. This article uses new evidence from marginalia in Arendt’s copy of Nomos of the Earth and finds that she formed, but never published, an incisive critique of Schmitt’s geopolitics. Through an analysis of Arendt’s comments on the topics of soil, conquest, and contract, I show that Arendt deemed Schmitt’s theory to be imperialist and in contradiction with itself. Her reading of Schmitt prompts important new questions regarding the scholarly use of Schmitt’s conception of nomos as a tool of critique against American empire in the post-9/11 era. The marginalia also suggests, against past scholarship, that Arendt thought justice should play a central role in politics. I propose that we look to Arendt’s own conception of nomos, which she developed later, in order to form an alternative geopolitics. Because of her focus on intersubjective world-building, Arendt’s nomos embraces contract and promise-making, and thus provides the foundation for a theory of geopolitics and law that is as necessarily democratic as Schmitt’s is violent.

Also published in translation: “Hannah Arendt liest Carl Schmitts Der Nomos der Erde: Ein Dialog über Gesetz und Geopolitik anhand ihrer Marginalien,” Zeitschrift für politisches Denken, Ausgabe 1, Band 8 (April 2016).

Chapters and Reviews

“Critical International Political Theory,” book chapter with Seyla Benhabib, in preparation for the Oxford Handbook of International Political Theory, eds. Chris Brown and Robyn Eckersley, forthcoming.

“Seyla Benhabib,” entry for Habermas Lexicon, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

Book review for Political Theory: Ayten Gundogdu’s Rightlessness in the Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants.

Works in Progress

“The Global Land Rush and the Contradictions of Sovereign Territoriality,” (working paper).

“Geopolitics and Arendt’s turn to Federalism,” (working paper).

Territory without Sovereignty: A Critical Theory of Land, (book manuscript in progress).