Political Theory Project

Political Theory Project

An interdisciplinary research center at Brown University


The mission of the Political Theory Project (PTP) is to investigate the ideas and institutions that make societies free, prosperous, and fair. We approach these big questions by combining insights from history, philosophy, politics, and economics. Central to our approach is a commitment to methodological and viewpoint diversity. We believe that quality research in political economy is best conducted by a community of scholars who see the world in diverse ways and whose work spans disciplinary boundaries. 

Bedrock Principles

  1. The PTP is committed to encouraging, and providing venues for, free thinking at Brown. Specifically, the PTP affirms freedom of speech and expression as first principles of education in a free society. We affirm that principle even when (indeed, especially when) the topics or speakers are challenging, controversial, or politically heterodox.
  2. The PTP believes that substantive policy disagreements are best conducted with reference to evidence--for example, findings of mainstream social science. If sides in a discussion deny social facts, or claim that opponents who assert facts are ipso facto committing errors, political discussions threaten to slip into virtue signaling, or mere assertions of power. By contrast, conscientious reference to social scientific facts improves political discourse.
  3. Free thinking takes bravery, especially when one questions widely held beliefs. But a culture of civility can make departures from orthodoxy less costly. We encourage Brown students to respect one another’s opinions, especially when those opinions diverge from campus orthodoxies. The PTP creates spaces for civil discourse through explicit presumptions of good faith and charitable interpretation.
  4. Civic education, especially at an elite university such as Brown, requires that students have regular opportunities to consider the ideas of leading scholars and public figures holding divergent ideological viewpoints. Public lectures and events sponsored by the PTP are crafted so as to showcase political differences (at a minimum, PTP events showcase central ideas from the major political parties in America).

Recent News

This critical historiographical essay explores how the decisions of police and sheriffs illuminated and drove developments in white supremacist power from Reconstruction through the era of Jim Crow segregation. The article considers the importance of law enforcement in light of demographic personnel changes after the Civil War, the role of lynching in constructing law, the interlocking legal and extralegal methods of control in the Jim Crow South, and the displacement of informal mob law and formal racial caste by a national regime of extralegal police violence, unequal patterns of incarceration and execution, and federal protections of civil liberties and civil rights.
American Society of Criminology (ASC)

Winner, 2021 Outstanding Book Award, American Society of Criminology

Congratulations to Professor David Skarbek whose book The Puzzle of Prison Order won the 2021 "Outstanding Book Award" from the American Society of Criminology's Division of International Criminology. In his book Professor Skarbek draws on economics and a vast empirical literature on legal systems, and offers a framework to understand why life on the inside varies in such fascinating and novel ways, and also how social order evolves and takes root behind bars.
Lowry Pressly is a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Political Theory Project. His philosophical work currently focuses on questions of privacy, oblivion, and the value of being obscure to others and to oneself. His book on privacy (forthcoming from Harvard University Press) argues against the cultural and economic forces of transparency and datafication for the vital role of ambiguity, inarticulacy, and obscurity in human life. A second book on the stranger is underway. In addition to his academic work, his essays, fiction, and criticism appear widely and have received several awards. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Lowry is the second PTP Postdoc to win this prestigious award.

We've moved and we're growing

We've come a long way since our humble beginnings in 2003 when we occupied the attic space of Blistein House. This summer the PTP moved our office from its longtime home in the carriage house at 8 Fones Alley to a beautiful historic building, 25 George Street, on the corner of Brown's main green. The move was necessitated by the project's continued organic growth and is a sign of good things to come in the years ahead. 

Upcoming Events

Video Archive

Videos from past lectures are available on our Youtube playlist.