Ayten Gundogdu

Associate Professor of Political Science

Barnard College

Ayten Gündoğdu, associate professor of political science, joined Barnard’s faculty in 2008.  At Barnard she teaches courses on political theory and human rights.

Professor Gündoğdu’s research addresses problems related to human rights, migration, sovereignty, and personhood by drawing on the resources of modern and contemporary European political theory, the political thought of Hannah Arendt, critical human rights studies, and international political and legal theory. Her research has been shaped by two main goals: First, understanding how universalistic discourses of rights can leave some subjects (e.g., asylum-seekers) in a vulnerable condition with very tenuous guarantees for fundamental rights (e.g., the right to be free from indefinite detention); and second, rethinking key political concepts such as human rights, sovereignty, territoriality, and personhood in light of the struggles waged by these subjects at the margins of law and politics.

These goals are reflected in Professor Gündoğdu’s book, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015), which offers a critical inquiry of human rights by engaging with the works of twentieth-century political theorist Hannah Arendt and by examining the contemporary rights struggles of asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. The book presents new readings of Arendt’s key concepts (e.g., “the social,” “the right to have rights”) by rethinking them within the context of immigration detention, deportation, refugee camps, and struggles for regularization.

Professor Gündoğdu is currently at work on her second book manuscript, tentatively titled “Between the Human and the Person: A Critical Inquiry into the Subject of Rights.” The project questions the widely shared assumptions about “personhood”—i.e., that it is a distinctively human status grounded in an intrinsic human characteristic such as sanctity, dignity, reason, or autonomy. These assumptions map personhood neatly onto humanness, rely on a questionable human/nonhuman divide, and get in the way of understanding various practices that can unmake or diminish the personhood of marginalized subjects before the law. This critical analysis also strives to examine the possibilities of mobilizing law to contest the borders of personhood and reinvent the meaning of equality.

Professor Gündoğdu is the recipient of a Mellon Mid-Career Fellowship from the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University (2017-18), a postdoctoral fellowship from the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University (2011-12), and several other grants and awards from Barnard College and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.