Kevin Olson

Professor of Political Science
University of California, Irvine

Research Interests

Contemporary Political Theory, Insurgent and Popular Politics, Postcoloniality, Cultural Politics / Political Culture, Poststructuralism, Critical Theory

Current Research

Kevin Olson is a political theorist who writes on issues of popular and insurgent politics, postcoloniality, cultural politics, poststructuralism, and critical theory. He is the author of Imagined Sovereignties: The Power of the People and Other Myths of the Modern Age (Cambridge, 2016), Reflexive Democracy: Political Equality and the Welfare State (MIT, 2006), and editor of Adding Insult to Injury: Nancy Fraser Debates Her Critics (Verso, 2008). His work has also been published in Political Theory, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and other journals and books. He has served as an Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation Scholar in Residence at the Ch√Ęteau de la Bretesche, France, and an Erasmus Mundus Scholar at Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

Olson’s current research focuses on the cultural and normative bases of popular politics. It examines the complex ways that ideas such as “the power of the people,” “the public sphere,” and “speaking truth to power” inhabit our collective imagination. It traces these political imaginaries through a variety of written texts, images, and practices, with particular attention to the symbolic, material, and affective dimensions of politics. This work is largely genealogical, drawing on rich archives of treatises, pamphlets, broadsheets, correspondence, court records, illustrations, caricatures, and photographs from the postcolonial world and Europe. It maintains dialogue with insights of Michel Foucault, Gayatri Spivak, Ernesto Laclau, Benedict Anderson, Pierre Bourdieu, Cornelius Castoriadis, and others, and ranges over themes of collective imagination, constituent power, postcoloniality, collective identity, performativity, the construction of public spheres, and the conceptual architecture of popular sovereignty.


PhD, Northwestern University