Prospective Graduate Students

I serve as an adviser for students in both the stand-alone Masters program and the MA/Ph.D. program in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.  Please consult the page for prospective students on the Department website to find out more about these programs. I also work with students from other Columbia departments, but do not serve as their adviser.

At the Ph.D. level , I am interested in working with students whose research concerns lie at the intersection of political theory, STS, histories of capitalism, and environmental history.

I regret that I cannot respond to preliminary inquiries from prospective students.  MESAAS aims to treat every applicant equally, by reviewing all applications through the formal admissions process. Opening up an individual conversation about an application risks being unfair to the majority who do not seek one-on-one exchanges. MESAAS will initiate such conversations once the admissions committee has drawn up a short list of applicants, to discuss how well an applicant fits the program.

To get a better sense of whether MESAAS is an appropriate place for you to apply, please read this and other pages on this site, and the graduate program, faculty, and courses pages of the department website.


I usually offer the following courses at least once every two years:

MDES GR5000 Theory and Methods I  (Open only to MESAAS graduate students)

The course introduces students to questions concerning the study of politics, economy, and society in the three regions that constitute the research focus of the department.

Beside readings from standard Western theory, there are readings by scholars working on non-Western society and history which could be used to raise critical questions about the claims of these ‘general’ theories: what is the meaning of ‘general theory’? Are they truly general?  General in what sense?

The seminar is also concerned with the genealogies of social science. We  examine how society, economy, and politics became objects of science; and how these sciences constituted Europe as the subject of history. We  also consider the how the social sciences then abandoned historical analysis, creating a division between positivist social science and the separate discipline of history. Towards the end of the semester we will examine the emergence of “area studies,” as a failed response to these divisions.

MDES UN3260/4260 Rethinking Middle East Politics (Graduate and undergraduate)

A lecture course usually offered with both undergraduate and graduate sections. For Columbia undergraduates, the course satisfies the Global Core requirement.

How should we understand the political worlds of the Middle East? It is common to see the region’s modern and contemporary history as a succession of failings: the slow pace of reform in the nineteenth century; the failure of modernization and economic development in the twentieth century; and today, the lack of democracy, the inability to achieve peace, the breakdown of military security, and the failure of states.

This course takes a different approach. It asks how we came to approach politics as the measuring of success according to a certain set of goals, such as development, peace, and security. Who defined those goals and how are they measured?  How have others seen the problems of collective life, including intellectuals and political actors from the Middle East itself? Are there alternative ways to understand the present predicaments of peoples of the region and the paths towards a less precarious life?  Can other accounts of the recent past, not framed as the failure of development or the inability to make peace, support alternative futures?

MDES GR6020 Colonialism

The seminar on Colonialism examines questions of political economy and politics through the study of colonial regimes of power and knowledge. It explores the genealogy of modern forms of property, law, finance, debt, administration, and violence. 

The seminar examines what happens if we replace the history of capitalism with the study of “capitalization.” The business corporation constitutes perhaps the most effective and widespread apparatus of political and economic control of the contemporary era. Yet in comparison to the modern state and to institutions of government like the prison, the army, the school, the legal system, and public administration, the corporation is a subject to which critical political theory has paid relatively little attention. And with few exceptions, studies of the corporation as a form of political power have neglected one of its most significant aspects: its power to transform future revenue into present income, through the process of “capitalization.”

INAF U6205 Technopolitics, Democracy, and Development (SIPA course)

Development is a field of expertise that has often been vulnerable to political challenge and intellectual uncertainty. Forms of technical and economic knowledge that claim to master the present and provide a path to the future repeatedly turn out to be speculative, misguided, or damaging. Today, however, the situation seems more serious. The planetary problems of human-induced climate change, depletion of fossil energy reserves, and instability of financial systems have placed in question many of the foundations on which modern development knowledge was based.

In the past, the practice of development was thought by some to constitute a kind of anti-politics. By transforming struggles over resources and livelihoods into technical questions to be solved by the expertise of outsiders, it was argued, development narrowed the possibilities for democratic contestation.

Do the new uncertainties open up new kinds of political possibility? Can conflicts over the techniques and ends of development create new arenas and methods for democratic engagement?