Kevin Olson

picture of Kevin  Olson

Professor, Political Science
School of Social Sciences

Ph.D., Northwestern University


University of California, Irvine
Department of Political Science
3151 Social Science Plaza
Irvine, CA 92697
Research Interests
Contemporary Political Theory, Insurgent and Popular Politics, Postcoloniality, Cultural Politics, Poststructuralism, Critical Theory
Academic Distinctions
Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation Scholar in Residence, Château de la Bretesche, France, 2016.

Erasmus Mundus Scholar, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 2006-7.
Research Abstract
Kevin Olson is a political theorist who writes on issues of popular and insurgent politics, postcoloniality, the cultural and material bases of politics, poststructuralism, and critical theory. He is the author of Imagined Sovereignties: The Power of the People and Other Myths of the Modern Age (Cambridge, 2016), Reflexive Democracy: Political Equality and the Welfare State (MIT, 2006), and editor of Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates Her Critics (Verso, 2008). His work has also been published in Political Theory, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Constellations, and other journals and books. He has served as an Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation Scholar in Residence at the Château de la Bretesche, France, and an Erasmus Mundus Scholar at Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

Olson's current research focuses on the cultural and normative bases of popular politics. It examines the complex ways that ideas such as "the power of the people," "the public sphere," and "speaking truth to power" inhabit our collective imagination. It traces these political imaginaries through a variety of written texts, images, and political practices. This work is largely genealogical, drawing on rich archives of treatises, pamphlets, broadsheets, correspondence, court records, illustrations, caricatures, and photographs from the postcolonial world and Europe. It maintains dialogue with insights of Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, Ernesto Laclau, Benedict Anderson, Pierre Bourdieu, Cornelius Castoriadis, and others, and ranges over themes of collective imagination, constituent power, postcoloniality, collective identity, performativity, the construction of public spheres, and the conceptual architecture of popular sovereignty.
Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates Her Critics (London: Verso, 2008). Edited and introduced by Kevin Olson. Nancy Fraser, principal author, with additional contributions by Elizabeth Anderson, Judith Butler, Leonard Feldman, Rainer Forst, Joseph Heath, Nikolas Kompridis, Kevin Olson, Anne Phillips, Ingrid Robeyns, Richard Rorty, Iris Marion Young, and Christopher Zurn. Chinese translation, trans. Zhou Suiming (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing, 2009). Italian translation, trans. Irene Strazzeri (Lecce, Italy: Pensa, 2012). Korean translation (Seoul: Greenbee Publishing, 2015).
"Decolonizing Critical Theory," Current Perspectives in Social Theory 36 (2019), forthcoming.
Kevin Olson and Stephen K. White, Critical Dialogue, Perspectives on Politics 17:1 (March 2019): 190-194.
"Popular Sovereignty," Cambridge Habermas Lexicon, ed. Amy Allen and Eduardo Mendieta (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 303-306.
"Universalism in the Age of Crowds: A Short Genealogy," in Europe and the World: World War I as Crisis of Universalism, ed. Kai Evers and David Pan (New York: Telos Press, 2018), 3-24.
"La Política Popular: Una Charla con Kevin Olson" / "Popular Politics: A Conversation with Kevin Olson," interview with Javier Toro (published in Spanish and English), Revista Foro (Venezuela), Marzo-Abril 2018.
"When is the Time of Revolution? Critical Reflections on Political Insurgency," Southern Journal of Philosophy 55, Spindel Supplement (2017):180-199; with a response by Andrew Daily, "Polyrhythms of Revolution: A Comment on Kevin Olson's 'When is the Time of Revolution?'" p. 200-208.
"Populism in the Socialist Imagination," in The Oxford Handbook of Populism, ed. C. R. Kaltwasser, P. Ochoa Espejo, P. Ostiguy, P. Taggart (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 661-678.
"Fragile Collectivities, Imagined Sovereignties," in Alain Badiou, et al., What is a People? (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 107-131.
"Complexities of Political Discourse: Class, Power, and the Linguistic Turn," in Rainer Forst, Justice, Democracy, and the Right to Justification: Rainer Forst in Dialogue (London: Bloomsbury, 2014): 87-102.
"Fraser, Nancy," in Michael Gibbons, ed., The Encyclopedia of Political Thought (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).
"Epistemologies of Rebellion: The Tricolor Cockade and the Problem of Subaltern Speech," Political Theory 43:6 (2015): 730-752. (Presentation of an early version at the University of Oregon; begins at 30:15.)
"Genealogy, Cryptonormativity, Interpretation," Foucault Studies 18 (2014): 253-260.
"Judgment or Justification? Two Paths for Rethinking the Discursive Turn,” Constellations 20:2 (2013): 361-365.
"Deliberative Democracy," in Jürgen Habermas: Key Concepts, ed. Barbara Fultner (Durham: Acumen Press, 2011), 140-155.
"Reflexive Democracy as Popular Sovereignty," in New Waves in Political Philosophy, ed. Boudewijn de Bruin and Christopher Zurn (London: Palgrave, 2009), 125-142.
"Constructing Citizens," Journal of Politics 70:1 (2008): 40-53.
"Governmental Rationality and Popular Sovereignty," Current Perspectives in Social Theory 25 (2008): 329-352.
"Participatory Parity and Democratic Justice," in Nancy Fraser, Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates Her Critics, ed. Kevin Olson (London: Verso, 2008), 246-272. Chinese translation, trans. Zhou Suiming (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing, 2009), 244-270. Italian and Korean translations forthcoming.
"Reflexivni Obcanstvi a Paradoxy Participace," trans. Michael Hauser, Filosoficky Casopis 56:1 (2008): 77-100. ["Reflexive Citizenship and the Paradoxes of Participation," Prague: Journal of Philosophy.]
"Adding Insult to Injury: An Introduction," in Nancy Fraser, Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates Her Critics, ed. Kevin Olson (London: Verso, 2008), 1-8. Chinese translation, trans. Zhou Suiming (Shanghai: Shanghai People's Publishing, 2009), 1-9. Italian and Korean translations forthcoming.
"Paradoxes of Constitutional Democracy," American Journal of Political Science 51:2 (2007): 330-343.
"Do Rights have a Formal Basis? Habermas’s Legal Theory and the Normative Foundations of the Law," Journal of Political Philosophy 11:3 (2003): 273-294.
"Welfare, Democracy, and the Reflexive Legitimacy of the Law," Studies in Law, Politics and Society 29 (2003): 97-122.
"Liberalism, Risk, and the Welfare State," Philosophy and Social Criticism 29:3 (2003): 351-7.
"Recognizing Gender, Redistributing Labor," Social Politics 9:3 (2002): 380-410.
"Distributive Justice and the Politics of Difference," Critical Horizons 2:1 (2001): 5-32.
"Democratic Inequalities: The Problem of Equal Citizenship in Habermas’s Democratic Theory," Constellations 5:2 (1998): 215-233.
"Habitus and Body Language: Towards a Critical Theory of Symbolic Power," Philosophy and Social Criticism 21:2 (1995): 23-49.
Graduate Programs
Political Science

Culture and Theory

Research Center
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