Elisabeth Anker

Elisabeth Anker Headshot

Elisabeth Anker

Professor of American Studies and Political Science


Office Phone: (202) 994-7489

Elisabeth R. Anker is Professor of American Studies and Political Science at the George Washington University, and Director of the Film Studies Program. Her research and teaching interests are at the intersection of political theory and American studies, with a focus on expressions of freedom, violence, and power in US politics and culture. She is the author of Ugly Freedoms (Duke, 2022), which won honorable mention for the John Hope Franklin Prize for the Best Book in American Studies, and Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke 2014), which won honorable mention for the Lora Romero Prize for the Best First Book in American Studies. Anker currently serves as co-editor of the interdisciplinary journal Theory & Event.

Professor Anker has written for The New York TimesBoston ReviewLos Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. She is also a media contributor on television, where she regularly discusses current events on Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, CNN, BBC and other networks.  Her current book projects include "Make Sovereignty Great Again" which examines new forms of white supremacy and misogyny, and "We Go Low" a book about fighting for democracy.

Anker received her PhD in Political Science (Political Theory) with a Designated Emphasis in Film & Media from UC Berkeley, an Ed.M. in Education Policy and Theory from Harvard University, and an AB in Public Policy and American Institutions from Brown University. 

Political theory; critical and cultural theory; contemporary US politics; film and aesthetics; neoliberalism; gender and sexuality; theories of freedom and emancipation


Anker’s newest book Ugly Freedoms argues that while freedom is highest ideal in American political culture, throughout American history it has legitimated brutal domination. Libby Anker argues for a full reckoning with modern freedom’s complex legacy, which includes support for white supremacy, environmental destruction, settler colonialism, neoliberal exploitation, and misogyny. Each illustrates the problem of “ugly freedom”. Yet Anker also identifies a second, inverse form of ugly freedom found in disparaged practices and discarded spaces of the freedoms reflexively deemed ideal. Defying familiar boundaries of free expression, she locates emergent freedoms in uninspiring, compromised, and disturbing acts otherwise dismissed as demeaning, gross, or ineffectual.

Anker analyzes the work of both types of ugly freedom in canonical and contemporary political theory, film, multimedia art, Caribbean sugar plantations, television serials, defunded urban bureaucracies, culinary confections, and even human guts, to foreground overlooked practices of free action that cultivate more mutual, collaborative, and non-exploitative futures -- even when they seem unsettling or insignificant. Ugly Freedoms shifts the very study of freedom, both by contesting its idealized expressions and by radically expanding visions for what freedom can look like and who can exercise it.

You can read Anker's article "The Exploitation of Freedom" in The New York Times.
You can read an interview about Ugly Freedoms in the The LA Review of Books.

Anker's first book Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke, 2014) examined the role of melodrama in US politics.  Melodrama is a powerful political discourse that intensifies suffering and galvanizes national sentiment to legitimate state violence. Orgies of Feeling reframed political theories of sovereignty, freedom, and power by analyzing the work of melodrama and affect in the War on Terror, neoliberal politics, Hollywood film, and post- Marxist critical theory. Orgies of Feeling was a finalist for the Romero Prize for the Best First Book in American Studies, awarded annually by the American Studies Association, and a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.


The Politics of Freedom

Capitalism and Neoliberalism

Critical Theory

Democracy in America

Post-9/11 Popular Culture

Democracy in Film, Literature and Museums


What is Democracy?

Freedom in American Thought and Culture

Politics and Film


Politics and Feelings


Ugly Freedoms. (Duke University Press, 2022)

Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom. (Duke University Press, 2014)


Media Appearances

"House Speaker Stalemate", BBC January 7, 2023

Insurrection and Impeachment”, Al Jazeera English, January 11, 2021

Race, Gender and Violence in Trump’s Election Strategy”, Al Jazeera English, November 5, 2020

Black Lives Matter Protests” Al Jazeera English, June 29, 2020

The Murder of George Floyd” Al Jazeera Arabic, June 6, 2020

Joe Biden and the Democratic Primary”, Al Jazeera English June 2, 2020

"Orwell's 1984 in the Trump Era", CNN January 25, 2017


Journal Articles 

"States of FreedomPolity, Vol 54, No 3, July 2022.

"White and Deadly: Sugar, Slavery, and the Sweet Taste of Freedom" Symposium on this article, with responses. Theory & Event, Vol 23, No. 1, January 2020, pp. 169-206. 

"I Feel Your Pain: A ReckoningPolitics and Gender, March 2018, pp. 127-131.

"Longing for Sovereignty: Violence and Power in the Trump EraTheory @ Buffalo, 20th Anniversary Special Issue: Doing Theory,  Spring 2018, pp. 39-49.

"Sovereign Aspirations: National Security and Police Power in a Global Era" Co-Authored with William L. Youmans Theory & Event, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, 20:1, January 2017, pp. 3-18.

"Thwarting Neoliberal Security:  Inertia, Bureaucracy, and Outmodedness in The WireAmerican Literary History, 28:4, Winter 2016, pp. 759-778.

"The Cinematic Dream-Life of American PoliticsPolitical Theory, 44:2, (May 2016): 207-218.

 “Three Emancipations: Manderlay, Slavery, and Racialized Freedom” Theory & Event, 18:2 (May 2015)

The Liberalism of Horror” Social Research, 81:4 (Winter 2014): 795-823.

“Freedom and the Human in ‘Evolutionary’ Political Theory” Political Research Quarterly 67:2 (June 2014): 453-456.

“Feminist Theory and The Failures of Post-9/11 Freedom” Politics and Gender 8:2 (June 2012): 207-216.

“Left Melodrama” Contemporary Political Theory 11.2 (May 2012): 130–152. 

“Heroic Identifications: Or ‘You Can Love Me Too—I Am So Like The State’ ” Theory and Event 15.1 (March 2012)

“Villains, Victims and Heroes: Melodrama, Media and 9/11.” Journal of Communication. 55:1 (March 2005): 22-37.


Articles in Books

"A Tale of Two Protests: Anti-Maskers, Black Lives Matter, and the Specter of Multiracial DemocracyThe Long 2020, ed. Richard Grusin, (University of Minnesota, forthcoming 2022)

"Hamilton (2020)", A Global Lexicon of Melodrama, eds. Heike Paul and Katharina Gerund (Transcript Verlag, 2022)

"Coalition of the Un-Willing", Los Angeles Review of Books: When The Towers Fell, ed. Brad Evans (Los Angeles Review of Books Digital Reader, 2021)

"The Exceptional SovereignTheologies of American Exceptionalism, eds. Winnifred Sullivan and Elizabeth Hurd (Indiana University Press, 2021)

"Mobile Sovereigns: Guns In PublicThe Lives of Guns, eds. Jonathan Obert, Andrew Poe and Austin Sarat (Oxford University Press, 2019)

"Three Emancipations: Manderlay and Racialized FreedomPolitics, Theory and Film: Critical Encounters With Lars Von Trier, Bonnie Honig and Lori Marso, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2016)

The Communist Manifesto in an Era of Late-Capital: Melodrama and Melancholia” The Cambridge Companion to the Communist Manifesto eds. Terrell Carver and James Farr. (Cambridge University Press, 2015). 

“The Melodramatic Style of American Politics” After The Tears: Victimhood and Subjectivity in the Melodramatic Mode) eds. Scott Loren and Joerg Mettleman. (Amsterdam University Press, 2015)

“The Limits of Neoliberalism: The Wire and Market Rationality” Everything is Connected: The Politics of HBO’s “The Wire” eds. Shirin Deylami and Jonathan Hovercraft.  (Routledge, 2014). 

“Wendy Brown” The Encyclopedia of Political Thought eds. Michael Gibbons, Diana Coole, Lisa Ellis (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.)


Review Essays

"Worldmaking In A Shitstorm: Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart's The Hundreds" Theory and Event 23:3 (July 2020)

"Ranciere’s SentimentsPerspectives on Politics, 17:`1 (March 2019)

"War Crimes, Atrocity, and JusticePerspectives on Politics, 14:2 (June 2016): 13-14

Red Alert: Communism, Protest, and the End of Democracy” Political Theory, 43:2 (April 2015): 262-270.

“Terror Firma: The Landscape of Terror in American Politics” Theory and Event. 14.1 (March 2011)

“American Multiculturalism After 9/11 and Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel.” American Literature, June 2014.

“National Love in Violent Times” Political Theory 36:5 (October 2008 ):762-769

“The Only Thing We Have To Fear. . .”Theory and Event. 8:3 (September 2005)


A.B., Brown University
Ed.M., Harvard University
Ph.D., UC Berkeley