Elisabeth Anker

Elisabeth	Anker

Elisabeth Anker

Professor of American Studies and Political Science



Office Phone: (202) 994-7489
2108 G Street 203B

Professor Elisabeth Anker is Associate Professor of American Studies and Political Science at the George Washington University, and Director of the Film Studies Program. Her research and teaching interests are at the intersection of political theory and cultural studies, with a focus on practices of freedom, violence, and power in US politics and culture. She is the author of Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke 2014) and Ugly Freedoms (Duke, forthcoming 2022). Her articles have appeared in Political Theory, Social Research, Theory&Event, American Literary History, Politics and Gender, Contemporary Political Theory, Journal of Communication, and others. Anker currently serves as co-editor of the interdisciplinary journal Theory&Event. She is also a media contributor on television, and regularly discusses current events on Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, CNN, BBC and other networks.

Political theory; critical and cultural theory; contemporary US politics; film and aesthetics; neoliberalism; gender and sexuality; theories of freedom and emancipation

Anker’s newest book Ugly Freedoms argues that while freedom is highest ideal in American political culture, throughout American history it has legitimated brutal domination. Libby Anker argues for a full reckoning with modern freedom’s complex legacy, which includes support for white supremacy, environmental destruction, settler colonialism, neoliberal exploitation, and misogyny. Each illustrates the problem of “ugly freedom”. Yet Anker also identifies a second, inverse form of ugly freedom found in disparaged practices and discarded spaces of the freedoms reflexively deemed ideal. Defying familiar boundaries of free expression, she locates emergent freedoms in uninspiring, compromised, and disturbing acts otherwise dismissed as demeaning, gross, or ineffectual.

Anker analyzes the work of both types of ugly freedom in canonical and contemporary political theory, film, multimedia art, Caribbean sugar plantations, television serials, defunded urban bureaucracies, culinary confections, and even human guts, to foreground overlooked practices of free action that cultivate more mutual, collaborative, and non-exploitative futures -- even when they seem unsettling or insignificant. Ugly Freedoms shifts the very study of freedom, both by contesting its idealized expressions and by radically expanding visions for what freedom can look like and who can exercise it.

Anker's first book Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke, 2014) examined the role of melodrama in US politics.  Melodrama is a powerful political discourse that intensifies suffering and galvanizes national sentiment to legitimate state violence. Orgies of Feeling reframed political theories of sovereignty, freedom, and power by analyzing the work of melodrama and affect in the War on Terror, neoliberal politics, Hollywood film, and post- Marxist critical theory. Orgies of Feeling was a finalist for the Romero Prize for the Best First Book in American Studies, awarded annually by the American Studies Association, and a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.


Freedom and Domination

Capitalism and Neoliberalism

Critical Theory

Debating Democracy in America

American Political Thought and the Melodramatic Imaginary 

Post-9/11 Politics and Culture


Politics and Feelings, Senior Research Seminar

Democracy and Power in a Global Era, Honors Seminar

Freedom in American Thought and Culture, Undergraduate Lecture

Citizenship, Senior Research Seminar

Politics and Film, Undergraduate Lecture


Ugly Freedoms. Duke University Press, forthcoming 2022

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

Journal Articles 

"White and Deadly: Sugar, Slavery, and the Sweet Taste of Freedom" Symposium on this article, with responses. Theory&Event, Vol 23, No. 1, January 2020, pp. 169-206.

"I Feel Your Pain: A Reckoning"Politics and Gender, March 2018, pp. 127-131.

"Longing for Sovereignty: Violence and Power in the Trump Era" Theory @ Buffalo, 20th Anniversary Special Issue: Doing Theory,  Spring 2018, pp. 39-49.

"Sovereign Aspirations: National Security and Police Power in a Global Era" Co-Authored with William L. Youmans Theory & Event, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, 20:1, January 2017, pp. 3-18.

"Thwarting Neoliberal Security:  Inertia, Bureaucracy, and Outmodedness in The Wire" American Literary History, 28:4, Winter 2016, pp. 759-778.

"The Cinematic Dream-Life of American Politics" Political Theory, 44:2, (May 2016): 207-218.

 “Three Emancipations: Manderlay, Slavery, and Racialized Freedom” Theory & Event, 18:2 (May 2015)

“The Liberalism of Horror” Social Research, 81:4 (Winter 2014): 795-823.

“Freedom and the Human in ‘Evolutionary’ Political Theory” Political Research Quarterly 67:2 (June 2014): 453-456.

“Feminist Theory and The Failures of Post-9/11 Freedom” Politics and Gender 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 Books

"A Tale of Two Protests: Anti-Maskers, Black Lives Matter, and the Specter of Multiracial Democracy"The Long 2020, ed. Richard Grusin, (University of Minnesota, forthcoming 2022)

"The Exceptional Sovereign" Theologies of American Exceptionalism, eds. Winnifred Sullivan and Elizabeth Hurd (Indiana University Press, 2021)

"Mobile Sovereigns: Guns In Public" The Lives of Guns, eds. Jonathan Obert, Andrew Poe and Austin Sarat (Oxford University Press, 2019)

"Three Emancipations: Manderlay and Racialized Freedom" Politics, Theory and Film: Critical Encounters With Lars Von Trier, Bonnie Honig and Lori Marso, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2016)

“The Communist Manifesto in an Era of Late-Capital: Melodrama and Melancholia” The Cambridge Companion to the Communist Manifesto eds. Terrell Carver and James Farr. (Cambridge University Press, 2015). 

“The Melodramatic Style of American Politics” After The Tears: Victimhood and Subjectivity in the Melodramatic Mode) eds. Scott Loren and Joerg Mettleman. (Amsterdam University Press, 2015)

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

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

Review Essays

"Worldmaking In A Shitstorm" Theory and Event 23:3 (July 2020)

"Ranciere’s Sentiments" Perspectives on Politics, 17:`1 (March 2019)

"War Crimes, Atrocity, and Justice" Perspectives on Politics, 14:2 (June 2016): 13-14

“Red Alert: Communism, Protest, and the End of Democracy” Political Theory, 43:2 (April 2015): 262-270.

“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.” American Literature, June 2014.

“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)


Media Appearances

Insurrection and Impeachment”, Al Jazeera English, January 11, 2021

Race, Gender and Violence in Trump’s Election Strategy”, Al Jazeera English, November 5, 2020

Black Lives Matter Protests” Al Jazeera English, June 29, 2020

The Murder of George Floyd” Al Jazeera Arabic, June 6, 2020

Joe Biden and the Democratic Primary”, Al Jazeera English June 2, 2020


Ph.D., University of California - Berkeley, 2007

Ed.M., Harvard University, 1998

A.B., Brown University, 1997