Graduate Student Directory

Shaun Terry
  • Title
    • PhD Student
  • Division Humanities Division
  • Department
    • History of Consciousness Department
  • Email
  • Office Location
  • Mail Stop History Of Consciousness

Summary of Expertise

Communication Studies, Fascism Studies, Cultural Studies (Frankfurt and Birmingham Schools)

Research Interests

Political Theory, Communication Studies, Fascism Studies, Modernism, Cultural Studies (Frankfurt and Birmingham Schools), Political Economy, Freud and Psychoanalysis, Performance Studies and Phenomenology, Nationalism Studies, Affect and the History of Emotions, Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, Sara Ahmed, Pierre Bourdieu, Ernst Bloch, Stuart Hall, Temporality, the Pittsburgh School, Conjunctural Methodology, Social Psychology, Surplus Population, Religion Studies, the History of Capitalism, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, Escapism, Libertarianism, Postmodernism

Biography, Education and Training

I am primarily a communication scholar and political theorist, but I also draw from cultural studies (Frankfurt and Birmingham Schools), psychoanalysis, and political economy. I study the capitalist production of fascist culture, and my dissertation is provisionally titled, “Fragmentation and Intensification: On the Capitalist Production of the Structure of Fascist Experience.” In my research, I analyze how modern phenomena—from modern science to secularism to individualism/libertarianism to capitalist production to nation-state politics to the proliferation of images and narratives—entail the division of the world and the intensification of particular aspects of it. In my account, people’s experiences of fragmentation and intensification are necessary for the possibility of popularizing fascist attitudes and choices. These fragmentations and intensifications see their opposite in the pseudo-social bonds created through nationalism—despite its simulacraic and hollow aspects.

I’m especially interested in those peculiar phenomena that consistently recur in far-right modern cultures. Fundamentally, I treat fascism as a shared style of modern, and highly nationalist, thinking. Nationalism binds subjects who might otherwise feel even more alienated and atomized. The fascist rhetorician produces, and intensifies, fears that come about not only in moments of liberal social crisis—but also as a matter of course in liberal capitalist social arrangements. Nationalism appears, then, as a largely negative form by which people associate with one another: rather than nationalists forming bonds according to shared aspects of social life and shared understandings of the world, they often ally among themselves according to a shared feeling of threat from a perceived “other.” This nationalist process developed over the course of the transition into capitalist modernity.

The transition to capitalism entailed a few centuries-long processes. The assumption that increasing abundance would improve everyone’s lives was foundational to capitalist social arrangements. Based on this assumption, capitalist societies could sometimes collectively decide to not prioritize the provision of what vulnerable communitymembers needed. Second, and closely related, ways of dividing societies according to group identities—based on race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and so on—had to be (re)constructed. These divisions could be used to justify, first, forms of social stratification, and as an eventual consequence, the production of what Karl Marx called the “surplus population.” These divisions could not occur without signifiers around which society could divide the population. Therefore, capitalism would always need legal and ideological institutions (parts of what Marx called the “superstructure”) to produce these signifiers and to ascribe them to groups of people. Important for my work, then, is how the capitalist production of otherness, through the media, affects people’s basic understanding of their social world and how to act in it. The theoretical problematics found in phenomenology and performance studies, and particularly, the work of Pierre Bourdieu and the Pittsburgh School are important for how I think of the surplus population and the implications by which it mediates the transition from liberalism to fascism.

Much of what’s at stake in this transition, then, is a kind of psycho-political mechanism used as the last resort for reproducing capitalist relations. Psychoanalysis, affect theory, the history of emotions, and work in social psychology provide useful tools for this area of my work—particularly the works of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, the Frankfurt School, Sara Ahmed, and Lauren Berlant. These psycho-political processes take part by exploiting the tensions described by Ernst Bloch as “non-synchronous temporalities.” Different people live in different times, and while capitalism relies on these temporal differences in order to extract surplus-value, these temporal differences preserve social differences entailed in various social conflicts. The work of Walter Benjamin, here, is also very important for me.

Methodologically, I’m committed to the kind of Spinozist Marxist framework used by people like Louis Althusser, Étienne Balibar, and Stuart Hall. Althusser and Hall also share with Vladimir Lenin, Antonio Gramsci, and Lawrence Grossberg a commitment to the historical conjuncture—or, as Grossberg calls it, “conjunctural analysis.” I find this approach particularly generative for my own research and writing practice.

I often think critically with and against Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, modern forms of escapism, libertarianism, individualism, and Postmodernism.

Apart from this scholarly work, I'm also a filmmaker, musician, and creative writer. I'm very interested in thinking about how to make art that—not only avoids reproducing problematic ideological functions, but—contributes to the imagination of better futures.

One great source of inspiration for me comes from the Zapatista saying Caminamos al paso del mas lento [We walk at the pace of the slowest], and I aspire to contributing to political projects (including aesthetic ones) founded on the idea of privileging the most disadvantaged. If such political projects take for granted that everyone is necessarily vulnerable and in need of care, then it occurs to me that fascists might reject such a conceit. Instead, the fascist subject (tragically) hopes to overcome any and all forms of vulnerability.

I have a very sweet, interesting, fun, curious twelve-year old daughter, named Jovie.

Honors, Awards and Grants

2024                Tribeca and History of Consciousness Summer Research and Travel Grant

2023-2024       UCHRI Grant for The California Ideology Working Group

2023                Affiliated PhD Student at American University of Beirut

2023                Summer STARS Re-entry Scholarship

2023                History of Consciousness Travel Funding

2022-2023       UCHRI Grant for Alt-Right Media Literacy Series

2022                History of Consciousness Travel Funding

2022                Summer STARS Re-entry Scholarship

2022                Summer Graduate Dean’s Travel Grant

2022                History of Consciousness Summer Research Support

2021-2022       Regents Fellowship

Selected Presentations

2024 “Capitalism and The Phenomenon of Mass Fear,” at Polycrisis across Divides, Historical Materialism Cluj-Napoca

2024 “Immediate Transcendence and Purifying Violence: On Surfer Fascism,” at California Ideology, UCSC

2024 “Fragmentation and Intensification: On the Liberal Dissolution of Authority and The Fascist Tragedy of Authority’s Simulacrum,” Authority and Its Discontents, Fides Quaerens at Villanova University

2023 “Fragmentation and Intensification: On the Capitalist Production of Fascist Culture” at Critical Humanities for the Liberal Arts, American University of Beirut

2023 “Modern Dialectical Intensification and The Capitalist Production of Far-Right Habitus” at Spatialities of the Right: Practices and Tactics of the Far-Right, American Association of Geographers Conference

2022 “Modern Dialectical Intensification and Fascist Compensation” at Culture and Theory in Reactionary Times, University of Minnesota

2022 “Fragmentation, Fascism, and the Grendel Academy” at The Spectre Haunting Academia: Understanding the Role of Academia in the Rise of the Far-Right, University of Heidelberg

Teaching Interests

I'm particularly interested in teaching about politics, writing, aesthetics, film studies, communication, performance studies, social theory, vulnerability, and emotions.