Alyson Cole

Position: Executive Officer

Campus Affiliation: Graduate Center | Queens College

Phone: 212-817-8670

Summer 2022 office hours: By appointment


Degrees/Diplomas: PhD University of California, Berkeley

Research Interests: feminist theory, politics of identity, American political culture

Alyson Cole is Professor of Political Science, Women’s & Gender Studies, American Studies, and Liberal Studies at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her work bridges political theory and American politics/culture, linking central questions of political thought—especially formulations of justice, the nature of victimization, vulnerability, and precarity, and the possibilities of resistance—with an examination of political ideologies, rhetoric, and law/policy-making, emphasizing gender, sexuality, and race.

Cole’s books include: The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror (Stanford University Press), Derangement and Liberalism (Routledge Press) and How Capitalism Forms Our Lives (Routledge Press). Her scholarship has been translated into French, Japanese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. Cole’s articles have appeared in journals such as Signs, American Studies, Theory & Event, Feminist Studies, Michigan Law Review, Gender, Work & Organization, Critical Horizons, and European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Cole is co-editor of Polity, Journal of Political Science and of philoSOPHIA: A Journal of transContinental Feminism. She is also a member of the editorial boards of Politics & Gender, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and International Journal of Criminology & Sociological Theory. She is the recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2008), the Graduate Center Mentoring Award (2021), a Mellon Resident Fellowship at the Humanities Center (2009-10), and served as a principal scholar in the Vulnerable & Dynamic Forms of Life” International Network of Research, an interdisciplinary research collective supported by funding from the National Center for Scientific Research (2017-20). Cole was also appointed as a member of the Activist Educators Collective of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (2020-1). For eight years, Cole served the chair of the PhD/MA Program in Political Science at the Graduate Center (2014-22).


Alyson Cole. The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror (Stanford Univ. Press, 2006)

Condemnations of “victim politics” are a familiar feature of American public life. Politicians and journalists across the ideological spectrum eagerly denounce “victimism.” Accusations of “playing the victim” have become a convenient way to ridicule or condemn. President George W. Bush even blamed an Islamic “culture of victimization” for 9/11. The Cult of True Victimhood shows how the panic about domestic and foreign victims has transformed American politics, warping the language we use to talk about suffering and collective responsibility.

With forceful and lively prose, Alyson Cole investigates the ideological underpinnings, cultural manifestations, and political consequences of anti-victimism in an array of contexts, including race relations, the feminist movement, conservative punditry, and the U.S. legal system. Being a victim, she contends, is no longer a matter of injuries or injustices endured, but a stigmatizing judgment of individual character. Those who claim victim status are cast as shamefully passive or cynically manipulative. Even the brutalized Central Park jogger came forth to insist that she is not a victim, but a survivor.

Offering a fresh perspective on major themes in American politics, Cole demonstrates how this new use of “victim” to derogate underlies seemingly disparate social and political debates from the welfare state, criminal justice, and abortion to the war on terror.

Alyson Cole and George Shulman. “Derangement & Liberalism” (Routledge, 2019)

Michael Rogin’s scholarship profoundly altered the scope, content, and disposition of political theory. He reconstituted the field by opening it to an array of texts, performances, and methods previously considered beyond the purview of the discipline. His work addressed the relationship between dimensions of politics typically split apart – institutional power and cultural forms, material interests and symbolic meanings, class projects and identity politics, the public and the private. Rogin’s scholarship enlarges our sense of the borders and genres defining political theory as a field and enriches our capacity to think critically and creatively about the political.

The editors have focused on three categories of substantive innovation:

Demonology and Countersubversion
Rogin used the concepts “countersubversive tradition” and “political demonology” to theorize how constitutive exclusions and charged images of otherness generated imagined national community. He exposed not only the dynamics of suppressing and delegitimizing political opposition, but also how politics itself is devalued and displaced.

The Psychic Life of Liberal Society
Rogin addressed the essential contradiction in liberalism as both an ideology and a regime– how a polity professing equality, liberty, and pluralist toleration engages in genocide, slavery, and imperial war.

Political Mediation: Institutions and Culture
Rogin demonstrated how cultural forms –pervasive myths, literary and cinematic works- mediate political life, and how political institutions mediate cultural energies and aspirations.

Alyson Cole and Estelle Ferrarese. How Capitalism Forms Our Lives. (Routledge, 2020)

By using the concept of capitalism as a “form of life”, the authors in this volume reconceive capitalism, and its mechanisms and effects on our bodies and on our common life.  The idea that capitalism is more than a discrete economic system and instead a “form of life” that shapes our relationships with others, our sense of ourselves and our capacities, practices, bodies, and actions in the material world should be rather obvious. Yet efforts — whether through criticism or policy remedies — to redress the vast inequalities, inherent exploitation, alienation, and the manifold destructive effects of capitalism on the environment, typically proceed without grappling fully with the entwinement of the economic with the social and cultural, much less the ethical, ontological, and phenomenological.

This volume proposes “form of life” as a heuristic tool, connecting literatures that often remain isolated from one another – the Frankfurt School, neo-materialism, Wittgenstein’s philosophy, Foucault’s and Agamben’s biopolitics, and Marx’s discussion of reproduction. In emphasizing economic practices, as opposed to capitalism as a system, they conceive of “the economic” as an integral and integrated dimension of life, and thus develop new possibilities for critique. Viewing human beings as “economic bios,” provides a needed alternative to analyses that position neoliberalism as an economic logic imposed upon the social and cultural.

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