Nica Siegel

Postdoctoral Fellow

Resident at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:
October 2021 – July 2022

Research topic at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften:
»A Political Theory of Exhaustion«

Project outline:
My project, A Political Theory of Exhaustion, reconstructs the centrality of the concept, specter, and experience of exhaustion to debates about social transformation in the 20th century. Engaging centrally with the work of Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, and Frantz Fanon, while also drawing on literature from social movements in South Africa, Algeria, and the United States, the project identifies exhaustion as a central feature of the phenomenology of action and its frustrations, and rethinks, from this premise, the role of critique in mediating and comprehending political disappointment. This conceptual legacy draws forward the unthought challenge of exhaustion for the project of critical theory today: To what extent are failures of social rationality in highly plural and unequal societies intelligible not only as failures of justification but failures of endurance for forms of contestation and hope that this requires (or refusals of its current regime of distribution)? What forms of social organization, discourse, and experience might bolster this kind of endurance and is this indeed desirable? How should we think about the relation between this effort and the forms of biopolitical optimization and management associated with racial capitalist social reproduction, and what critical perspective on society might be generated from its failures, limits, or alternative temporalities, even and especially when they seem to take irrational or negative forms? Drawing on decolonial and feminist thought while also locating parallel inquiries in an earlier set of genealogies, I ask, what are the modes of endurance that might bolster rather than constrain transformation today? The project builds on broader interests in continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, and legal theory, with a particular focus on South African jurisprudence. (Nica Siegel)

Research partner:
Nica Siegel follows the invitation of Rainer Forst, Professor of Political theory at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, and the Justitia Centre for Advanced Studies funded by the Alfons and Gertrud Kassel Foundation.

Scholarly profile of Nica Siegel

Nica Siegel received her PhD in Political Science from Yale University in October 2021. Before beginning her PhD, she received her BA in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought with honors from Amherst College and served as an intern and research fellow in Land Reform, Customary Law, and Socioeconomic Rights at the Legal Resources Centre, a constitutional impact litigation NGO in Cape Town, South Africa.

Please find more information about Nica Siegel here.

Main areas of research:
Political theory; Continental philosophy; Postcolonial and anti-racist thought; Psychoanalysis; Legal theory, with a particular focus on South African jurisprudence

Selected publications:
  1. »Book Review of Bonnie Honig, Public Things«, in: PhiloSOPHIA: a Journal of TransContinental Feminism. (forthcoming)
  2. »The Roots of Crisis: Interrupting Arendt’s Radical Critique«, in: Theoria: a Journal of Social and Political Theory vol 62, no. 144 (Fall 2015), p. 60-79.
  3. »Thinking the Boundaries of Customary Law in South Africa«, in: South African Journal on Human Rights vol 31, no. 2 (2015), p. 357-378.

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