Wendy Brown (political scientist)

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Wendy Brown
Region Western philosophy

Wendy L. Brown (born November 28, 1955) is a professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley[1] where she is also affiliated with the Department of Rhetoric, and where she is a core faculty member in the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.[2] She has made major and far-reaching contributions to modern political theory, drawing on the work of Marx and Foucault to elaborate a distinctive theory of modern power and political subject formation. Her work on the divergent rationalities of neo-liberalism and neo-conservativism as well as her analysis of neo-liberalism in relation to the contemporary threats to public education have established her as a significant intellectual.


Brown received her BA in both Economics and Political Science from UC Santa Cruz, and her M.A and Ph.D in political philosophy from Princeton University. Prior to going to Berkeley in 1999 she taught at Williams College and UC Santa Cruz.[3]

She has held visiting appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and the Humanities Research Institute in Irvine. She has also taught at the Critical Theory Summer School at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London. She is the recipient of a distinguished teaching award and numerous fellowships, including awards from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the American Association of University Women. She has served on the editorial boards of Political Theory, Theory and Event, Ethics and Global Politics, and Polity, among others. She served as well as Council Member of the American Political Science Association (2007–09) and as Chair of the UC Humanities Research Institute Board of Governors (2009–11). Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages.

She has established new paradigms in critical legal studies and feminist theory; she is widely taught in courses in political theory, anthropology, sociology, geography, public policy, feminist theory, education, cultural and critical theory. In particular, she has produced a body of work that draws upon Marx's critique of capitalism, Nietzsche's usefulness for thinking about power and the ruses of morality, Max Weber and the modern organization of power, Freudian psychoanalysis and its implications for political identification, the early Frankfurt School, Michel Foucault's work on governmentality, sovereignty, and neo-liberalism, and other contemporary continental philosophers to diagnose modern and contemporary formations of political power, and to discern the threats to democracy entailed by such formations. She has offered a trenchant critique of the discourse of "tolerance", showing how it is differentially used to augment forms of official intolerance.

As a former student of political theorist, Sheldon Wolin, Brown returns time and again in her work to the question of democracy, posing the question within the present state of things of how to make a world together, emphasizing that sharing power for the purposes of making a common world must remain an ideal, however far from realization it remains at this time. Her work has had far-reaching implications of political identity, citizenship, and political subjectivity, and most recently for the view that the value of public education is, or must be, part of the very meaning of democracy.

Brown's most recent books focused on the "waning sovereignty" of states under new global conditions of power, showing how the erosion of nation-states has produced anxious efforts to shore up national identity through the building of walls. In addition, she has published on secularism, emphasizing how the meaning of "critique" in modern liberalism is bound up with the question of managing religious affiliations, so that religion has always served as a presupposition for modern secular statehood. She has also developed a critical theory of neoliberal rationality, extending Foucault's own thinking on the subject by considering its effect on higher education, law, governance and the basic principles of liberal democratic institutions as well as radical democratic imaginaries.


For years, Brown has been active in the effort to stem the privatization of the University of California.[4] In her capacity as co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, she has raised awareness, organized marches, and spoken publicly about the effects of privatization on public education.

“We are marching to draw attention to the plight of public education in California and to implore Californians to re-invest in it. For all its resources, innovation and wealth, California has sunk to nearly the bottom of the nation in per student spending, and our public higher education system, once the envy of the world, is in real peril.”[5]

She has been critical about the University's decision to cut costs by utilizing lecturers rather than hiring tenure and tenure track professors.[6] She has spoken publicly about the perils and pitfalls of the University of California's proposed online education programs.[7] She has also been one of several faculty members to endorse Occupy Wall Street, claiming that “We understand this to be part of what (the movement) stands for. We are delighted by the protests and consider our campaign to be at one with it.”[8]

Personal life[edit]

Brown is a native of California and lives in Berkeley with her partner Judith Butler and son.

Books in English[edit]

  • 2015 Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution
  • 2014 The Power of Tolerance (co-authored with Rainer Forst)
  • 2011: Is Critique Secular?' [co-authored with Asad, Butler and Mahmood]
  • 2010: Walled States, Waning Sovereignty
  • 2006: Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire
  • 2005: Edgework: Critical Essays in Knowledge and Politics
  • 2002: Left Legalism/Left Critique (co-edited with Janet Halley)
  • 2001: Politics Out of History (sample chapter)
  • 1995: States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity
  • 1988: Manhood and Politics: A Feminist Reading in Political Thought


External links[edit]