Distinguished Visitor: Professor Margaret Kohn

Professor Margaret Kohn (photo credit: University of Toronto)

Our Department is pleased to welcome University of Toronto Professor Margaret (Peggy) Kohn (PhD Cornell) as a Distinguished Visitor. Professor Kohn is a political theorist, and her research interests include the history of political thought, critical theory, social justice, colonialism, and urbanism.

Professor Kohn will be giving a talk to our Department on Friday March 2, from 12-2pm.

Two of Kohn’s recent research projects have been supported by SSHRC grants, ‘Approaches to Public Goods: Solidarity and Social Justice’ (2015-16 Connection Grant), and Spaces of Civil Disobedience: From Sanctuary to Occupy (2014). Kohn is the former Acting Director of the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto (2015-2016), and previously taught at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Kohn’s Books:

The Death and Life of the Urban Commonwealth (Oxford University Press, 2016).

The city is a paradoxical space, in theory belonging to everyone, in practice inaccessible to people who cannot afford the high price of urban real estate. Why should access to public and social goods be tied to the ability to acquire private property? When people lose access to the urban commons, they are dispossessed of something to which they have a rightful claim. What kind of right is the right to the city? Political theory has much to say about individual rights, equality, and redistribution, but has largely ignored the city. In order to fill this lacuna, this book draws on a largely forgotten political theory called solidarism. Solidarism’s justification of social rights is particularly relevant to conflicts about urban space. The book uses solidarism to interpret the city as a form of common-wealth, a concentration of value created by past generations and current residents. This approach helps us rethink struggles over gentrification, public housing, transit, and public space.

This book is the recipient of two APSA awards: David Easton Award; Dennis Judd Best Book Award.

Political Theories of Decolonization (with Keally McBride, Oxford University Press, 2011).

Political Theories of Decolonization provides an introduction to some of the seminal texts of postcolonial political theory. The difficulty of founding a new regime is an important theme in political theory, and the intellectual history of decolonization provides a rich–albeit overlooked–opportunity to explore it.

Many theorists have pointed out that the colonized subject was a divided subject. This book argues that the postcolonial state was a divided state. While postcolonial states were created through the struggle for independence, they drew on both colonial institutions and reinvented pre-colonial traditions. Political Theories of Decolonization illuminates how many of the central themes of political theory such as land, religion, freedom, law, and sovereignty are imaginatively explored by postcolonial thinkers. In doing so, it provides readers access to texts that add to our understanding of contemporary political life and global political dynamics.

Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space (Routledge 2004).

Fighting for First Amendment rights is as popular a pastime as ever, but just because you can get on your soapbox doesn’t mean anyone will be there to listen. Town squares have emptied out as shoppers decamp for the megamalls; gated communities keep pesky signature gathering activists away; even most internet chatrooms are run by the major media companies. Brave New Neighborhoodsconsiders what can be done to protect and revitalize our public spaces.





Radical Space: Building the House of the People (Cornell University Press 2003).

Epoch-making political events are often remembered for their spatial markers: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the storming of the Bastille, the occupation of Tiananmen Square:. Until recently, however, political theory has overlooked the power of place. In Radical Space, Margaret Kohn puts space at the center of democratic theory. Kohn examines different sites of working-class mobilization in Europe and explains how these sites destabilized the existing patterns of social life, economic activity, and political participation. Her approach suggests new ways to understand the popular public sphere of the early twentieth century.

This book imaginatively integrates a range of sources, including critical theory, social history, and spatial analysis. Drawing on the historical record of cooperatives, houses of the people, and chambers of labor, Kohn shows how the built environment shaped people’s actions, identities, and political behavior. She illustrates how the symbolic and social dimensions of these places were mobilized as resources for resisting oppressive political relations. The author shows that while many such sites of resistance were destroyed under fascism, they created geographies of popular power that endure to the present.


Kohn’s Articles:

Kohn’s articles have appeared in a range of publications including, Political Theory, Journal of Politics, Polity, Dissent, Constellations, Theory & Event, Philosophy and Social Criticism.

A sampling of her recent articles includes:

  • Margaret Kohn, “Parks and Refs:  Community, Solidarity and Public Space,” Contemporary Political Theory 15.4 (2016): 446-452
  • Margaret Kohn, “The Critique of Possessive Individualism: Solidarism and the City,” Political Theory 44.5 (2016): 603-628.
  • Margaret Kohn, “What is Wrong With Gentrification?” Urban Research and Practice 6:3 (2013).
  • Margaret Kohn, “Postcolonialism and Global Justice,” Journal of Global Ethics 9:2 (2013): 187-200.
  • Margaret Kohn, “Privatization and Protest: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Toronto, and the Occupation of Public Space in a Democracy,” Perspectives on Politics,” 11:1 (2013): 99-110.