Our Department is pleased to introduce Assistant Professor Anna Jurkevics (PhD Yale, 2017). Anna’s research is in the fields of critical theory, democratic theory, and the history of German political thought.
In her work, Anna investigates themes related to territory, land, and migration. She also specializes in the political thought of Hannah Arendt.
Please join us in welcoming Anna to our Department, and read on to learn more about her research and teaching.
Please tell us about your dissertation
My dissertation, Cosmopolitan Territories: Land, Jurisdiction, and International Law (Yale 2017), challenges sovereigntist geopolitical thought. In it, I engage with a number of German political philosophers—Hegel, Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and above all, Hannah Arendt—and I use these engagements to disentangle the sovereign approach to territory and suggest a non-sovereign alternative. The non-sovereign approach embraces legal pluralism, federalism/federation, and post-national human rights politics. It also dispenses with the idea that land should be exclusively owned and mastered. In my work, non-sovereignty takes the shape of a political geography that is more responsive to the political and environmental challenges of our time. This alternative vision of territoriality, I claim, is capable of actualizing the promise of cosmopolitanism while simultaneously championing the power of local, democratic land politics.
What sparked your interest in questions about place/territory/sovereignty?
Even before university, I was troubled by the idea of home. My grandparents were refugees received by Canada after WWII and I myself emigrated as a child. Early on, it became apparent to me that the instability of home, and of the idea of “homeland”, was related to broader political problems. In university I began working systemically to understand the problematics of home, land, and territory by taking on the tradition that has one of the most captivating, but perhaps also most pathological, approaches to home and territory: the German tradition.
What literature does your scholarship challenge and/or contribute to?
Most directly, my work is a challenge to the sovereigntist approach to land and territory. This approach spans eras, canons, and continents; it is not a cohesive tradition, yet it pervades how we talk about and practice politics today. Otherwise, I am always continuing my work within the niche of Arendt studies, adding to what we know about her based on the currently expanding archives. Finally, in terms of methodology I consider myself a practitioner of Critical Theory, and I always hope to be in conversation with the scholars in that field.
What drew you to Arendt, and how does her work inform yours?
I didn’t become acquainted with Arendt until my last year of college – relatively late considering that I wrote my undergraduate thesis about her Lessing Address and continue to work with her texts and archives today. For me, Arendt’s approach to politics is the only viable, emancipatory response to the incredible disasters of the 20th century. If the “return to barbarism” (Adorno) is continually possible and progress is a false ideal, then how are utopian politics possible? What do an emancipatory, democratic politics look like under conditions of perpetual domination? For me, Arendt holds the key to understanding these difficult questions.
What will your work at UBC look like – what are you teaching, and what are your research plans?
This semester (Winter II), I will be teaching Poli 240, and I look forward to developing my take on the canon of political philosophy for my students. In my research, I will be working to develop a book manuscript, which is tentatively titled Territory without Sovereignty. I am also currently working on a project about the phenomenon of land grabbing.
Does your work speak to Indigenous-settler issues of land and sovereignty, or does it help to inform your perspective for living / working here, given that UBC is on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Musqueam people, and almost all of the province is on unceded indigenous lands?
One of the reasons I am excited about coming to UBC is that this is an opportunity for me to learn about indigenous land politics. Territorial sovereignty is nowhere more contested than in the various responses to settler colonialism that we have seen historically and which continue today. I believe that my approach to the idea of territory can be brought into fruitful conversation on topics of contested sovereignty, radical land politics, and indigenous self-determination.