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Tristan Bradshaw

Program Area(s):  Political Theory

Dissertation Title:

Exchanging Utility and the Specters of Radical Democracy

Dissertation Committee:  Lars T√łnder (Chair), Sara Monoson, Sam Weber, Miguel Vatter

Dissertation Description: For some time now, democratic theorists have largely abandoned the concepts of need and utility to economists as part of their rejection of the  economization of politics, whether under neoliberal or other circumstances. In this dissertation, I seek to critique the contemporary politics of utility—which I argue is only the latest stage of a protracted historical and political process—but also to revalue utility for alternative purposes. By turning selectively to Sophocles, Aristotle, Spinoza and Marx, I develop an approach to utility that affirms radical democratic politics as it expresses abundance, not scarcity; specifically human usefulness, not object-oriented functionalism; and individuated yet collective flourishing, not individual preference satisfaction.

Research Interests: To speak in arboreal terms, the two main branches of my research interests and training involve working in and between ostensibly discreet intellectual traditions. One branch involves illuminating the existence and further value of ancient Greek political thought in modern critical theories. To this end I am collaborating with Ben Brown (University of Sydney) on an edited volume on the role of antiquity in Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism as well as its contemporary legacy. The other branch involves investigating the imbrication of political theory and political economy. To this end I have convened a panel at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association entitled ‘Entanglements of Economics and Politics’. Somewhere in the overlapping and entangled upper branches of this research tree is my doctoral dissertation.

Conference Presentations: 

  • American Political Science Association - August, 2019 'Aristotle and the Politics of Utility'
  • Australian Political Theory and Philosophy Conference - February, 2018 'Aristotle and the Politics of Utility' 
  • Political Theory Colloquium of Martin Saar, Universität Leipzig - May 2017 'Life's Labor's Lost: Approaching the Economy and its Politics' (Invited)
  • 'Neoliberalism and the Pursuit of Happiness,' Conference for Nikolas Rose - June, 2017 'Life's Labor's Lost: Approaching the Economy and its Politics' (Invited)
  • 'Refuge and Refugees in the Ancient World' Conference at Columbia University, NYC - November, 2016 'Refuge and Utility in Sophocles’ Oedipus Plays'
  • 'Divided Authorities and Dispossessed Peoples' Conference at the Australian National University, Canberra - July 2016, 'Refuge and Utility in Sophocles' Oedipus Plays'


  • Review of Jonny Thakkar, Plato as Critical Theorist (Contemporary Political Theory, 2019)

Honors and Awards:

  • Nominated for Tutoring Award, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney
  • Nominated for Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award by undergraduate students and Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship
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