Affiliation: NYU Abu Dhabi
Education: BA University of Chicago; PhD UCLA
Research Areas: Political Theory
William Stahl is a political theorist. His research interests converge at the intersection between political theory, history, and literature. Using the genre of biography as a lens, he focuses on the relation between personhood and politics. The questions that motivate him are: what is the relationship between identity and political action? How should we conceptualize the relationship between individual actions and historical events? To what extent can we democratize the genre of biography and recognize the equality of all lives?
His book manuscript, Untold Lives: A Democratic Theory of Biography, addresses these questions. In this text, he engages with historians and political theorists to democratize the genre of biography. His aim is to show that the lives of the ordinary and the obscure have an overlooked political value, and that examining these lives reveals forms of political action that would otherwise be invisible. Throughout the manuscript, he draws upon the exemplary lives of workers, peasants, criminals, psychiatric patients, and colonized persons, as well as other individuals at the margins of history. He analyzes the ways in which these individuals engage in political acts and negotiate their identities. He claims that it is how we act that makes us who we are, and furthermore that all action is interaction. Our lives unfold, and our identities take shape, as we undertake actions in the company of others. Thus, our personhood, far from being our own private possession, is in actuality a public thing. To democratize the genre of biography is to reveal all individuals as actors in this public spectacle.
To date he has published two peer-reviewed articles from his research on the politics of biography. The first, "To Err Is Human: Biography vs. Biopolitics in Michel Foucault," was published in 2018 in Contemporary Political Theory. His second article, "The Exception and the Paradigm: Giorgio Agamben on Law and Life," was published in 2019 in Contemporary Political Theory.