Nina Hagel

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Academic Subfields: 
Political Theory & Philosophy
Personal Statement: 

I completed my PhD in August 2016 and am currently a C3 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Politics at Bates College. My research focuses on questions of identity politics, recognition, social power, and resistance, with a focus on democratic belonging. I have taught classes on theories of freedom and justice, on the history of political thought, and on classical theories of political economy. My work in the classroom has been recognized by Berkeley's Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award.

My dissertation, Appeals to Authenticity, examines how appealing to a “true self” may have social and political value, even if such a self does not exist. Across contemporary life, individuals invoke notions of a true inner self that has been maimed by oppressive norms and practices, or that would be harmed if it assimilated, conformed, or otherwise departed from who it was. From transgender individuals seeking to become the gender they feel they truly are, to indigenous groups seeking exemptions from equality laws, a variety of groups today cast their political claims in terms of authenticity. However, in the past quarter century, such appeals have been criticized by scholars in feminist, queer, and critical race theory, who fault authenticity for stipulating regulatory notions of group identity, stigmatizing those who fall outside its norms, and relying on untenable notions of selfhood and self-knowledge. Some have even called for abandoning the term entirely.

My dissertation responds to these critiques and argues for a renewed appreciation of authenticity in political life. Through an engagement with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and writings from American social movements both past and present, I formulate a framework for appealing to the term that departs from its problematic ontological grounds and is attuned to its political risks. Each chapter responds to a particular challenge facing such appeals, from the status of the “self” they imply, to their claims of genuine self-knowledge, to the risks of exclusion, and to the ways they can blur the public/private line. In addressing these critiques, I show that there are good reasons to reconstitute a notion of authenticity: appeals to the term may enable marginalized groups to counter oppressive representations of themselves, mobilize individuals around normative visions of selfhood and community, facilitate critiques of social norms, and animate practices of resistance.

Graduate Students