Elisabeth Anker

Elisabeth Anker

Assistant Professor of American Studies and Political Science
2108 G Street 203B
Phone: 202-994-7489

Areas of Expertise

Political theory; critical and cultural theory; contemporary politics; feminist theory; film and media studies.


Libby Anker's research and teaching interests are at the intersection of political theory, critical theory, cultural analysis and media studies. Using both theoretical and cultural material, her work investigates the relationships between power, political knowledge, and cultural products. Professor Anker received her PhD in Political Theory from UC Berkeley, where she also received a Designated Emphasis in Film Studies. She has held research fellowships at Brown University's Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women and UC Berkeley's Charles Travers Fellowship in Ethics and Politics. Her research has also been supported by multiple faculty grants from the George Washington University.

Current Research

Professor Elisabeth Anker’s book, Orgies of Feeling: Melodramatic Politics and the Pursuit of Freedom (Duke University Press, forthcoming 2014) examines the role of melodramatic narratives in shaping political discourse.  Melodrama is not just a film or literary genre but a powerful political discourse that galvanizes national sentiment to legitimate state violence. Finding virtue in national suffering and heroism in sovereign action, melodramatic political discourses cast war and surveillance as moral imperatives for eradicating villainy and upholding freedom. In promising that sovereign freedom is the eventual reward for virtuous suffering, melodrama suggests that citizens can overcome devitalized political agency by legitimating anti-democratic and violent expansions in state power. Orgies of Feeling reframes political theories of sovereignty, freedom, and power by analyzing the work of melodrama and affect in contemporary politics. Arguing that melodrama animates desires for unconstrained power, the book examines melodramatic discourses in the War on Terror, neoliberal politics, anticommunist rhetoric, Hollywood film, and post-Marxist critical theory. Building on Friedrich Nietzsche's notion of "orgies of feeling," in which overwhelming emotions displace commonplace experiences of vulnerability and powerlessness onto a dramatic story of injured freedom, Orgies of Feeling contends that the recent upsurge in melodrama in the United States is an indication of public discontent. Yet the discontent that melodrama reflects is ultimately an expression of the public's inability to overcome systemic exploitation and inequality, rather than an alarmist response to inflated threats to the nation.

Professor Anker is in the early stages of a next book project, tentatively titled Ugly Freedoms. The book will examine contemporary practices of freedom in an era marked by nonsovereignty, global interdependence, and heightened levels of inequality. Contrary to popular traditions of modern political thought that locate freedom in sovereignty and choice, this book contends that pursuits of free choice and sovereignty often exacerbate rather than overcome conditions of unfreedom. Yet it also argues that practices of freedom can be found in situations that would seem to be its opposite: namely passivity, dependence, disorientation, and failure. Like Professor Anker’s first book, Ugly Freedoms also works at the intersection of political theory and cultural analysis. It analyzes ugly freedom in a range of practices, including contemporary political action, poetry, art, and Hollywood film.

Professor Anker is an Associate Editor for the journal Contemporary Political Theory, and a member of the Governing Council for the Association for Political Theory.


A.B., Brown University, 1997

Ed.M., Harvard University, 1998

Ph.D., UC Berkeley, 2007




Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom. (Duke University Press, forthcoming 2014)


“Freedom and the Human in ‘Evolutionary’ Political Theory” Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming 2014.

“Feminist Theory and The Failures of Post-9/11 Freedom”Politics and Gender (Commissioned exchange) 8:2 (June 2012): 207-216.

“Left Melodrama” Contemporary Political Theory 11.2 (May 2012): 130–152.

“Heroic Identifications: Or ‘You Can Love Me Too—I Am So Like The State’ ” Theory and Event 15.1 (March 2012)

“Villains, Victims and Heroes: Melodrama, Media and 9/11.” Journal of Communication. 55:1 (March 2005): 22-37.

Articles in Book Anthologies:

“The Communist Manifesto in an Era of Late-Capital: Melodrama and Melancholia” in The Cambridge Companion to the Comminist Manifesto eds. Terrell Carver and James Farr. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014 expected).

“The Limits of Neoliberalism” in Everything is Connected: The Politics of HBO’s “The Wire” eds. Shirin Deylami and Jonathan Hovercraft.  (London: Routledge, 2014).

“The Melodramatic Style of American Politics” in After The Tears: Victimhood and Subjectivity in the Melodramatic Mode eds. Scott Loren and Joerg Mettleman. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2014 expected)

“Wendy Brown” in The Encyclopedia of Political Thought eds. Michael Gibbons, Diana Coole, Lisa Ellis (NY: Wiley-Blackwell) expected 2014.

Review Essays:

“Red Alert: Communism and the End of Democracy” Political Theory, forthcoming.

“Terror Firma: The Landscape of Terror in American Politics” Theory and Event. 14.1 (March 2011)

“American Multiculturalism After 9/11 and Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel.”

“National Love in Violent Times” Political Theory 36:5 (October 2008 ): 762-769

“The Only Thing We Have To Fear. . .” Theory and Event. 8:3 (September 2005)

In Progress:

“The Horrors of Neo/Liberalism”

“Racism, Manderlay, and The Ugliness of Freedom”

“Pre-Political Repression and the Dreamlife of America”

Ugly Freedoms

Media Appearances:

“2016: Obama’s America” MetroTV Indonesia (November 2, 2012)

“Playing the Osama bin Laden Card” Al Jazeera (September 15, 2012)

“US Memorial Day: A Semantic Minefield” Al Jazeera (June 18, 2012)

Stealing America: Vote By Vote. Documentary Film Dir: Dorothy Fadiman. (Concentric Media, 2008. DVD)

Classes Taught


Capitalism and Neoliberalism

Critical Theory

Debating Democracy in America

American Political Thought and the Melodramatic Imaginary


Freedom in American Thought and Culture, Upper Division Lecture

Citizenship, Senior Research Seminar

Politics and Film, Undergraduate Lecture

American Political Culture After 9/11, Dean’s Seminar