Below is a brief description of my current projects. I am excited about doing this work.
1. Criminal Justice as Harm Reduction. My current research on criminal justice, growing out of my book, The Limits of Blame: Rethinking Punishment and Responsibility (HUP, 2018), explores the public nature and social role of criminal law. It does this by developing a “harm reduction” approach to criminal justice and elaborating its several components, including fair opportunity to comply with law, focused deterrence, and attention to the interconnection of criminal justice and social justice. The result is a conception of criminal justice that depends on an understanding of responsibility that is distinct from familiar notions of moral responsibility because it does not insist that criminal conviction implies moral blame and it assigns no role to retribution. Harm reduction, compared with other approaches to criminal punishment, better serves the public role of criminal law.
2. The Art and Life of Winfred Rembert. Over the last two years, I have been interviewing and collaborating with African-American artist Winfred Rembert to produce a book about his life. The book, Chasing Me To My Grave: A Story of Struggle and Survival from the Jim Crow South, tells Rembert’s story and traces his development and discovery as an artist. The story is told with attention to the ethics of self-understanding under adversity.
3. Reparative Justice. Sometimes individuals who are forced to deal with mass violence find ways to reckon with trauma and to repair broken relationships. I am interested in how. For the next two years (2019-21), I will be collaborating with Tufts colleague Jonathan Tirrell (Child Study and Human Development) to conduct funded research that explores forgiveness as a civic virtue. Using a developmental science perspective that focuses on relational-developmental systems, and a moral philosophy perspective that probes questions of responsibility, justice, and moral repair, we will assess whether forgiveness can function as a civic virtue that fosters personal and societal well-being and serves as a constructive response to grave injustice. We are focusing our work in Rwanda, given the societal-wide trauma of the 1994 genocide and various community-based efforts toward moral repair and restoration that have been pursued. Narrative analysis will be used to investigate why individuals chose forgiveness in response to injustice, how they enact the forgiveness process, and how their understandings of forgiveness shape their civic contributions and self- constructed identities. Findings will be used to broaden philosophical conceptions of justice as well as personal and communal well-being.
4. Civic Studies. In 2018 I led an effort at Tufts to introduce a new major in Civic Studies. Civic Studies is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on critical reflection, ethical thinking, and action for social change. It considers phenomena that are central to other disciplines—governments, law, markets, societies, cultures, and networks—but from the distinctive perspective of civic agents, individuals and groups who think together and act cooperatively. The focus on civil society includes the study of collective action in social spheres that, while organized, may not be institutionalized or otherwise sanctioned by the state. Using empirical study and normative evaluation, civic studies aims to understand how people may challenge social structures for positive social transformation.
My work on developing this program has led me to begin to develop an account of civic justice—a understanding of justice in civic life that supports and enables just institutions to function well. Civic justice includes forms of recognition and remedy for background injustice that are appropriate to a pluralistic, democratic society. It illustrates the urgency for democratic justice of navigating historical and background injustice to promote civic recognition and inclusive norms of social membership.
5. Prison Education. I work with the Tufts University Prison Initiative, which offers an Associate’s degree for incarcerated students at MCI Concord, in partnership with Bunker Hill Community College. In the fall of 2019 I taught Introduction to Philosophy to incarcerated students at MCI Concord. I am collaborating with Tufts colleagues on a trauma-sensitive pedagogy.