Meet the Fellows: 2018 Newcombe Fellow Isak Tranvik

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship fosters the original and significant study of ethical or religious values in all fields of the humanities and social sciences. The 2018 class, announced by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, includes Isak Tranvik, a doctoral candidate in political science at Duke University. Isak’s dissertation, titled Existential Revolution: Democracy, Citizenship, and the Source of Popular Politics, examines the conceptions of citizenship used by groups engaging in popular politics.

Isak has drawn on his teaching—and learning—experiences to help shape his research:

I’ve had the opportunity to teach a variety of subjects in a variety of places. I’ve taught middle school math in large cities both in the US and abroad, English language classes at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, an undergraduate political theory seminar at Humboldt University-Berlin, and discussion sections at Duke University. I’ve tutored Duke athletes, neighborhood bilingual primary school students, public high school students from across North Carolina, and refugees new to the Raleigh-Durham area. I am quite confident I have learned far more from my students than they from me—and that most certainly includes my former eighth-graders. I hope that isn’t an indictment of my teaching abilities but rather a reflection of the richness of the classroom conversations I have been fortunate enough to participate in.

Most of these conversations happen to have taken place near particularly brazen borders. Whether it be the de facto boundary separating predominantly African-American North St. Louis from the rest of the city, the mountains between Quito proper and the wealthy suburb of Cumbaya in Ecuador, the ruins of a wall winding through Berlin, or the steel fence jutting out into the Pacific in the middle of the Tijuana-San Diego metropolitan area, my “classroom” always seems to be in the shadow of one big barrier or another. Extended and ongoing conversations with both students and colleagues about the politics behind and beneath such borders has sparked an interest in scholarly debates about citizenship, broadly construed. What does it mean to belong to a political community? Who decides who belongs? How is this decision enforced? How is reinforced? And, most importantly, how is it contested? These are the sorts of questions I examine in my academic work.

For more information about the 2018 Newcombe Fellows and a list of their dissertation titles, click here.



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