About Noëlle McAfee

At Emory University, I am a professor of philosophy and director of the Psychoanalytic Studies Program, as well as affiliated faculty in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.  I am also co-editor, with Nick Felts, of the Kettering Review, a journal of political ideas published by the Kettering Foundation.

My work is at the intersection of subjectivity and public life, the ways in which human well-being depends upon people’s abilities and opportunities to help shape their common world — which I take to be central to democracy.  Accordingly, in my view, to be told that one does not matter, that what one cares about will never be heeded, is to be effectively stripped of the title of citizen.  This is the form that political evil takes.

For my work, I draw widely from various traditions in philosophy  and from experiments in self-government around the world.  My latest book, Democracy and the Political Unconscious (Columbia University Press, 2008), charts a course for democratic practice in a world sorely needing  transformation. It explores the potential of deliberative dialogue and other public testimonies to work through the traumas of oppression, terror, and brutality that keep political communities from developing spaces and practices through which all can help shape their common world.

From 2008-2010 I was based at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. ICAR is one of the most innovative programs in the world in understanding how political communities recover from conflict and brutality and move toward developing more democratic societies. The summer of 2010 I moved to Atlanta to join the faculty of Emory University’s philosophy department, which has a long and distinguished tradition of teaching philosophy in a pluralist manner with serious attention to the history of philosophy.

I have been an editor of the Kettering Review, a journal of political thought published by the Kettering Foundation, since 1990. I am also the principle investigator on a project for the Kettering Foundation on media and democracy. To see some of my publications with the Kettering Foundation, click here

I came to philosophy around 1990, after quitting my job at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, leaving D.C. for the heartland to study philosophy because I worried that no amount of “fighting the good fight” would work if people were not interested in or capable of democratic self-government.  My hope was that approaching these questions philosophically might be fruitful and that I might then  return to Washington to continue democratic work.

In the intervening years my work gave me reason to think that democracy is indeed possible, and so in 2005, a year after being tenured and promoted, I left the University of Massachusetts Lowell to return to the Washington area to continue this work from a philosophic point of view. During my five years back in DC, was on the faculty first at American University and then George Mason University. In Fall 2010 I returned to the tenure track as associate professor of philosophy at Emory University.

In addition to Democracy and the Political Unconscious, I have written the books, Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship (Cornell University Press, 2000) and Julia Kristeva (Routledge, 2004). I co-edited, with James Veninga, Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice (Kettering Foundation Press) and with R. Claire Snyder a special issue of the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory (Fall 2007). My articles have appeared in the journals Philosophy and Social Criticism, Philosophy Today, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Hypatia, and Semiotica. My newest booki is an edited volume with Dere kBarker and David McIvor titled Democratizing Deliberation. Currently I am working on a book manuscript titled “Democracy Otherwise.”

Beginning Fall 2017 I will serve as director of Emory’s Psychoanalytic Studies Program. My past administrative appointments include being deputy director of the Center for Social Media at American University; director of the gender studies program and also  the honors program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell; and  assistant director of the National Issues Convention at the University of Texas. 

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