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Non-Fiction Books

Refugees Now:

Rethinking Borders, Hospitality, and Citizenship

Rowman & Littlefield International, 2019

This important new book examines the status of refugees from a philosophical perspective. The contributors explore the conditions faced by refugees and clarify the conceptual, practical, and ethical issues confronting the contemporary global community with respect to refugees. The book takes up topics ranging from practical matters, such as the social and political production of refugees, refugee status and the tension between citizen rights and human rights, and the handling of detention and deportation, to more conceptual and theoretical concerns, such as the ideology, rhetoric, and propaganda that sustain systems of exclusion and expulsion, to the ethical dimensions that invoke hospitality and transnational responsibility. Ideal for students and scholars in Political and Social Philosophy and Migration Studies more broadly, the book provides a critical commentary on material responses to contemporary refugee crises as a means of opening pathways to more pointed assessments of both the political and ideological underpinnings of statelessness.

Response Ethics

Rowman & Littlefield Press, 2018

In this seminal volume, Kelly Oliver articulates a “response ethics” as an alternative to mainstream moral frameworks such as utilitarianism and Kantianism. Oliver’s response ethics is grounded in an innovative understanding of subjectivity. Insofar as one’s subjectivity is informed by the social, and our sense of self is constituted by our ability to respond to our environment, reconceptualizing subjectivity transforms our ethical responsibility to others.

Oliver’s engagement in various debates in applied ethics, ranging from our ecological commitments to the death penalty, from sexual assaults on campus to reproductive technology, shows the relevance of response ethics in contemporary society. In the age of pervasive war, assaults, murder, and prejudice, Response Ethics offers timely contributions to the field of ethics.

Carceral Humanitarianism: Logics of Refugee Detention

University of Minnesota Press, 2017

Coopted by military operations, humanitarianism has never been neutral. Rather than welcoming refugees, host countries assess the relative risks of taking them in versus turning them away, using a risk-benefit analysis that often reduces refugees to collateral damage in proxy wars fought in the war on terrorism. Carceral Humanitarianism testifies that humanitarian aid and human rights discourse are always political and partisan.

Hunting Girls:

Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape

Columbia University Press, May 2016

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Bella Swan (Twilight), Tris Prior (Divergent), and other strong and resourceful characters have decimated the fairytale archetype of the helpless girl waiting to be rescued. Giving as good as they get, these young women access reserves of aggression to liberate themselves—but who truly benefits? By meeting violence with violence, are women turning victimization into entertainment? Are they playing out old fantasies, institutionalizing their abuse?

In Hunting Girls, Kelly Oliver examines popular culture’s fixation on representing young women as predators and prey and the implication that violence—especially sexual violence—is an inevitable, perhaps even celebrated, part of a woman’s maturity. In such films as Kick-Ass (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and Maleficent (2014), power, control, and danger drive the story, but traditional relationships of care constrict the narrative, and even the protagonist’s love interest adds to her suffering. To underscore the threat of these depictions, Oliver locates their manifestation of violent sex in the growing prevalence of campus rape, the valorization of woman’s lack of consent, and the new urgency to implement affirmative consent apps and policies.

Earth and World:

Philosophy After the Apollo Missions

Columbia University Press, 2015

Critically engaging the work of Immanuel Kant, Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida together with her own observations on contemporary politics, environmental degradation, and the pursuit of a just and sustainable world, Kelly Oliver lays the groundwork for a politics and ethics that embraces otherness without exploiting difference. Rooted firmly in human beings’ relationship to the planet and to each other, Oliver shows peace is possible only if we maintain our ties to earth and world.

Oliver begins with Immanuel Kant and his vision of politics grounded on earth as a finite surface shared by humans. She then incorporates Hannah Arendt’s belief in plural worlds constituted through human relationships; Martin Heidegger’s warning that alienation from the Earth endangers not only politics but also the very essence of being human; and Jacques Derrida’s meditations on the singular worlds individuals, human and otherwise, create and how they inform the reality we inhabit. Each of these theorists, Oliver argues, resists the easy idealism of world citizenship and globalism, yet they all think about the earth against the globe to advance a grounded ethics. They contribute to a philosophy that avoids globalization’s totalizing and homogenizing impulses and instead help build a framework for living within and among the world’s rich biodiversity.

Technologies of Life and Death:

From Cloning to Capital Punishment

Fordham University Press, 2013

The central aim of this book is to approach contemporary problems raised by technologies of life and death as ethical issues that call for a more nuanced approach than mainstream philosophy can provide. To do so, it draws on the recently published seminars of Jacques Derrida to analyze the extremes of birth and dying insofar as they are mediated by technologies of life and death. With an eye to reproductive technologies, it shows how a deconstructive approach can change the very terms of contemporary debates over technologies of life and death, from cloning to surrogate motherhood to capital punishment, particularly insofar as most current discussions assume some notion of a liberal individual.

The ethical stakes in these debates are never far from political concerns such as enfranchisement, citizenship, oppression, racism, sexism, and the public policies that normalize them. Technologies of Life and Death thus provides pointers for rethinking dominant philosophical and popular assumptions about nature and nurture,chance and necessity, masculine and feminine, human and animal, and what it means to be a mother or a father.

In part, the book seeks to disarticulate a tension between ethics and politics that runs through these issues in order to suggest a more ethical politics by turning the force of sovereign violence back against itself. In the end, it proposes that deconstructive ethics with a psychoanalytic supplement can provide a corrective for moral codes and political clichés that turn us into mere answering machines.

Knock me up, Knock me down:

Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Film

Columbia University Press, 2012

No longer is pregnancy a repulsive or shameful condition in Hollywood films, but an attractive attribute, often enhancing the romantic or comedic storyline of a female character. Kelly Oliver investigates this curious shift and its reflection of changing attitudes toward women’s roles in reproduction and the family. Not all representations signify progress. Oliver finds that in many pregnancy films, our anxieties over modern reproductive practices and technologies are made manifest, and in some cases perpetuate conventions curtailing women’s freedom. Reading such films as Where the Heart Is (2000), Riding in Cars with Boys (2001), Palindromes (2004), Saved! (2004), Quinceañera (2006), Children of Men(2006), Knocked Up (2007), Juno (2007), Baby Mama (2008), Away We Go (2009), Precious (2009), The Back-up Plan (2010), Due Date (2010), and Twilight: Breaking Dawn (2011), Oliver investigates pregnancy as a vehicle for romance, a political issue of “choice,” a representation of the hosting of “others,” a prism for fears of miscegenation, and a screen for modern technological anxieties.

Animal Lessons:

How They Teach Us to Be Human

Columbia University Press, 2009

Philosophy reads humanity against animality, arguing that “man” is man because he is separate from beast. Deftly challenging this position, Kelly Oliver proves that, in fact, it is the animal that teaches us to be human. Through their sex, their habits, and our perception of their purpose, animals show us how not to be them.

This kinship plays out in a number of ways. We sacrifice animals to establish human kinship, but without the animal, the bonds of “brotherhood” fall apart. Either kinship with animals is possible or kinship with humans is impossible. Philosophy holds that humans and animals are distinct, but in defending this position, the discipline depends on a discourse that relies on the animal for its very definition of the human. Through these and other examples, Oliver does more than just establish an animal ethics. She transforms ethics by showing how its very origin is dependent upon the animal. Examining for the first time the treatment of the animal in the work of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Agamben, Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva, among others, Animal Lessons argues that the animal bites back, thereby reopening the question of the animal for philosophy.

Women as Weapons of War:

Iraq, Sex and the Media

Columbia University Press, 2007

Ever since Eve tempted Adam with her apple, women have been regarded as a corrupting and destructive force. The very idea that women can be used as interrogation tools, as evidenced in the infamous Abu Ghraib torture photos, plays on age-old fears of women as sexually threatening weapons, and therefore the literal explosion of women onto the war scene should come as no surprise. 

From the female soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib to Palestinian women suicide bombers, women and their bodies have become powerful weapons in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In Women as Weapons of War, Kelly Oliver reveals how the media and the administration frequently use metaphors of weaponry to describe women and female sexuality and forge a deliberate link between notions of vulnerability and images of violence. Focusing specifically on the U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Oliver analyzes contemporary discourse surrounding women, sex, and gender and the use of women to justify America’s decision to go to war. For example, the administration’s call to liberate “women of cover,” suggesting a woman’s right to bare arms is a sign of freedom and progress. 

Oliver also considers what forms of cultural meaning, or lack of meaning, could cause both the guiltlessness demonstrated by female soldiers at Abu Ghraib and the profound commitment to death made by suicide bombers. She examines the pleasure taken in violence and the passion for death exhibited by these women and what kind of contexts created them. In conclusion, Oliver diagnoses our cultural fascination with sex, violence, and death and its relationship with live news coverage and embedded reporting, which naturalizes horrific events and stymies critical reflection. This process, she argues, further compromises the borders between fantasy and reality, fueling a kind of paranoid patriotism that results in extreme forms of violence.

The Colonization of Psychic Space:

A Psychoanalytic Social Theory of Oppression

University of Minnesota Press, Fall 2004

Reveals the psychic and social costs of racial and sexual oppression

Eloquently arguing that we cannot explain the development of individuality or subjectivity apart from its social context, Kelly Oliver makes a powerful case for recognizing the social aspects of alienation and the psychic aspects of oppression.

Oliver explores the ways in which the alienation unique to oppression leads to depression or violence; and how these affects can be transformed into agency, individuality, solidarity, and community.

Noir Anxiety:

Race, Sex and Maternity in Film Noir

University of Minnesota Press, 2002

In Noir Anxiety, Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo interpret what has been called the “free-floating anxiety” of film noir as concrete apprehensions about race and sexuality.

“Intriguing…a well-written and meticulously researched book…builds a sophisticated argument…a provocative collection of modern and inventive psychoanalytic readings of various film texts. I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys cultural criticism, psychoanalytic film analysis, and film studies that posit the importance of gender and race issues to film analysis.”
Film Criticism

Witnessing:

Beyond Recognition

University of Minnesota Press, 2001

A new, ethically based theory of identity by a major scholar.

Challenging the fundamental tenet of the multicultural movement-that social struggles turning upon race, gender, and sexuality are struggles for recognition-this work offers a powerful critique of current conceptions of identity and subjectivity based on Hegelian notions of recognition. The author’s critical engagement with major texts of contemporary philosophy prepares the way for a highly original conception of ethics based on witnessing.

Magnificent in its breadth of comprehension, depth of, and originality of vision, Witnessing provides us with rich clues as to how ethics might be possible in a multicultural world. This work will be of considerable importance for those interested in rethinking the meaning of ethics in the context of issues of race, gender, and ethnicity.
Cynthia Willett, author of Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities

Subjectivity Without Subjects

Rowman & Littlefield Press, 1998

Family Values:

Subject Between Nature and Culture

Routledge Press, 1997

Womanizing Nietzsche

Philosophy’s Relation to the “Feminine”

Routledge Press, 1995

Reading Kristeva

Indiana University Press, 1993

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