“My hobby is politics,” said Alexander Gourevitch.
It’s no surprise, perhaps, that the political philosopher, whose line between work and leisure time is admittedly blurred, has focused on precisely those two topics and their relationship — work and leisure — for much of his academic career. “For just about everybody, it’s the dominant daily experience: either work or the fact that you’re unemployed. It’s the defining feature of one’s life, maybe along with being married,” said Gourevitch, who joins the Brown faculty as assistant professor of political science this fall.
Gourevitch became interested in politics the summer after his freshman year at Harvard when he went to Mexico to take documentary photographs of migrant workers he met in his hometown of San Diego. Sophomore year, he switched his major to "Social Studies," an interdisciplinary social sciences degree. After graduating from Harvard, he made the leap to political philosophy when, while attending Oxford as a Frank Knox fellow, he realized that his interests were more conceptual than scientific.
“I didn’t really like the constraints that contemporary understandings of scientific method placed on what I could to in comparative politics and international relations. So I started working more in the area of political theory, where I could look at concepts like sovereignty, freedom, work, justice,” he said. “So it was a push and a pull factor. I didn’t feel that I could study what I wanted to study on the science side of political science, and I liked the kind of questions that I could study in political philosophy.”
Those concepts remained the focus of his study throughout the course of his master’s and Ph.D. work at Columbia and continue to show up in his current research, including a book that’s nearing completion. In the book, which examines the relationship between slavery and freedom and the political mindset that drove the 19th-century labor movement, Gourevitch seeks to answer modern-day questions of what it would mean to organize the economy on a cooperative basis, rather than on the basis of wage labor. His current work also includes a political philosophy-based analysis of the impact of debt on the choices that people have in their careers, work, and education.
Gourevitch is also the co-author, with former classmates from Oxford, of a book titled Politics Without Sovereignty: A Critique of Contemporary International Relations. In it, the authors challenge the conventional wisdom that sovereignty often does more harm than good.
“We argue that there had been a shift, an anti-sovereignty shift in the way international relations is organized in both the developing and developed worlds and that this is not a progressive change, but that it led to less democratic forms of politics and less accountable and less responsible forms of political institutions within international relations,” Gourevitch said.
When he’s not writing in an academic capacity, Gourevitch is sharing his knowledge with a more mainstream audience. His blog, The Current Moment, which he co-authors with a Paris-based colleague, analyzes news and developments in the United States and European economies.
“We’re trying to develop critical perspective on mainstream thinking about these specific developments in the world of finance and employment. The idea is to criticize some of the common wisdom but also to develop our own ideas,” Gourevitch said, adding that the authors are careful to include plenty of statistics and graphs to back up their assertions. Previous posts have touched on U.S. unemployment rates and the euro crisis.
Gourevitch has also written for left-wing publications like Jacobin, Dissent and The American Prospect.
“I like to do that as a way of keeping contact with the issues that matter to me, but also as a way of not just writing for a professional audience.”
No stranger to Brown, Gourevitch taught as a postdoctoral research associate in the Political Theory Project during the 2011-2012 academic year, before heading north to teach for a year at McMaster University in Ontario.
During this second stint, Gourevitch will teach an undergraduate political philosophy course and a graduate seminar on socialism in the fall. In the spring, he’ll head a senior political philosophy seminar on work and leisure: “We’ll be looking at different ideas of the place of work and leisure in a good life and in a just society.”
It’s all in a day’s work — or is it leisure? — for Gourevitch.