Samera Esmeir

Associate Professor

Co-Director of Projects, International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs


Image of Samera Esmeir


7311 Dwinelle Hall

Thursday 1-3pm, sign up on Bcal

Research Interests

Legal, Social, and Political Thought; Colonial and Postcolonial Studies; Critical Theory; Law and Society; Middle East Studies.

My research and teaching are at the intersection of legal and political thought, Middle East studies, critical theory, and colonial and post-colonial studies. One ongoing intellectual focus has been to examine how late-modern colonialism introduced  juridical logics and grammars that in turn shaped modalities of political praxis, which have not only persisted  into the twentieth century, but have also come to foreclose other modalities of politics in the present. The  concrete terms of this closure and the possibilities that remain uncaptured by it are the two motivating threads of my work.

My first book, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford University Press, 2012), pursues this problem in relation to colonial Egypt and examines how colonial juridical powers have reconfigured the concept of the human during the late-modern colonial era by bonding the human to the law. These powers have forestalled other political and legal projects that proceed neither under the sign of positive, state law nor of the human.

I am currently finishing a second book project that is also guided by the intersectionality of law and politics. Titled The Struggle that Remains: Between World and International, this book in progress tracks the modern entry of the word international into the English language, theorizes its emergence as a contending signifier of the world (in legal and political discourse), explores its reconfiguration of horizons of struggle, in particular in how it has contributed to shifting the relationship between war and revolution, and probes the struggle that remains in excess.

I also have ongoing interests in questions of destruction–natural, legal, and political. I have been pursuing these questions in preparation for a book project on political action in the presence of catastrophes that have foreclosed the future or deprived it of the orientation it once offered progressive or radical politics.

Along with Natalia Brizuela, I am the co-director of the projects of the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs. I am also also the senior editor of Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory.




—-“On the Lives of Modern State Law,” Modern Intellectual History, FirstView

—- “How Seismology Received Islamic Theology,” CSSAAME, Vol. 40, No. 2 (2020): 329-344.

—-“Before Emptiness: On the Destructiveness and Impotence of Law,” in Looking for the Law in all the Wrong Places, edited by Marianne Constable, Leti Volpp, and Bryan Wagner (New York: Fordham University Press, forthcoming, 2019).
—-W/ Marianne Constable, “Rhetoric and the Possibilities of Legal History,” in The Oxford Handbook of Legal History, edited by Markus Dubber and Christopher Tomlins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018): 79-95.
—-“On Becoming Less of the World,” History of the Present, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2018): 29-56.

—-“Bandung: Reflections on the Sea, the World and Colonialism” in Bandung, Global History and International Law: Critical Pasts and Pending Futures, eds. Vasuki Nesiah et. al (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
—-“In the Land of the International,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 48 (2016): 362-366.
—-“On the Coloniality of Modern Law,” Critical Analysis of Law, Vol. 2 No. 1 (2015).
—-“A World Compared, Destroyed and Connected: A Response to the Mission Statement of CSSAAME,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 33 No. 3 (Winter, 2013).
—-“The Time of Engagement: A Commentary on Revolutions,” Law, Culture and Humanities, Vol. 10, No. 3 (2014) (electronic version 2012).
—-“At Once Human and Not Human,” The Journal of Gender and History, Vol. 23, No. 2 (August 2011).
—-“Citizenship and the Return of Refugees: On the Archives of Law and Memory” in Family Papers: Studies in the Contemporary Social History of Palestine, ed. Zakaria Muhammad, Salim Tamari, and others (Institute of Jerusalem Studies, 2009) (in Arabic).
—-“The Violence of non-Violence: Law and War in Iraq,” Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 34, No. 1 (March 2007).
—-“Memories of Conquest,” in Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, Lila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad Sa’di, eds. (Columbia University Press, 2007).
[A revised version of “1948: History, Memory, Law”].
—-“On Making Dehumanization Possible,” PMLA: The Journal of Modern Languages Association, Vol. 121, No. 5 (October 2006).
—-“1948: History, Memory, Law,” Social Text, Vol. 75, No. 2 (Summer, 2003).

Select Occasional Pieces:
—-“Equality Time” (roundtable on Saba Mahmood’s Religious Difference in a Secular Age), The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion and the Public Sphere,
—-“A Guide for the Perplexed: On the Return of the Refugees,” Middle East Report Online (April, 2014).
—-“A History from the Back,” in I would have smiled: Photographing the Palestinian refugees. A Tribute to Myrtle Winter Chaumeny, eds. Issam Nassar and Rasha Salti (Beirut: Institute of Jerusalem Studies, 2008).
—-Contributor to a roundtable: “Anti-Authoritarian Revolution and Law Reform in Egypt.” Book Reviews:
—-Omnia Al Shakry, The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt (Journal of Social History, Vol. 35, No. 4).
—-Tobias Kelly, Law, Violence and Sovereignty Among West Bank Palestinians, (Journal of Palestine Studies, Vo. 38, Summer 2009).
—-Rande Kostal, Jurisprudence of Power: Victorian Empire and the Rule of Law (Journal of British Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1, January, 2008).
—-Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu Baker, Coffins on Our Shoulders: The Experience of the Palestinian Citizens, (Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 140 Summer, 2006).