John McGowan

Contact

Greenlaw 413
(919) 962-4022

John W. and Anna H. Hanes Professor of English and Comparative Literature

John McGowan’s work sits at the intersection of philosophy, political theory, and literary studies.  He is interested in how writers respond to the social conditions in which they live—and how they imagine alternative social arrangements.  In particular, he focuses on images and norms of democracy and justice since the Romantic era.  He teaches a wide variety of courses in American and British intellectual  culture since 1800. His first book, Representation and Revelation: Victorian Realism from Carlyle to Yeats (U Missouri P, 1986), explores the theory and practice of representation in seven Victorian writers. His Postmodernism and its Critics (Cornell UP, 1991) considers the philosophical antecedents to contemporary theory; offers an account of the work of Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty, Said, and Jameson; and presents an alternative political vision (based in a theory of democracy) to that found in postmodern thought. Hannah Arendt: An Introduction (U Minnesota P, 1998) and Hannah Arendt and the Meaning of Politics (U Minnesota, 1997), edited with Craig Calhoun, continue exploring the resources of democratic theory through an engagement with Arendt's work on the public sphere, judgment, and storytelling. McGowan is one of the editors of the massive (2500 pages) Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2001; 2nd. Edition 2010; 3rd. edition, 2017). His Democracy's Children: Intellectuals and the Rise of Cultural Politics (Cornell UP, 2002) collects essays on the shifting roles of the intellectual and of the university in our time. In response to the shifts in American politics over the past thirty years, American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time (UNC Press, 2007) tries to articulate a liberal vision drawn from James Madison and John Dewey that can animate a contemporary American politics. With Italian colleague Bruno Dallago (of the University of Trento), McGowan has edited two books derived from conferences on the European crisis of 2008-2012. Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy mines the pragmatist tradition in American philosophy (especially William James, John Dewey, and Kenneth Burke) to articulate a vision of liberal democracy that can serve contemporary needs.  That book ends with a consideration of the ways that comedy provides models for just societies, and is the basis for McGowan’s two-pronged current project: an exploration of the virtues—love, forgiveness, humility, negotiation—necessary to social peace and an examination of the sources and meaning of violence.  McGowan is a founding and active member of UNC's Program in Cultural Studies, was the first Director of the Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, and served for eight years as the Director of UNC's Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

Teaching Awards

Graduate Mentoring Award, Comparative Literature and English Association of Graduate Students, 2015
Sitterson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2005
Award for Excellence in Teaching Post-Baccalaureate Students, 2002
Chapman Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1999

History

Hire Date: 1992

Ph. D., State University of New York, Buffalo, 1978

M.A., SUNY-Buffalo, 1976

A.B., Georgetown University, 1974

Research Groups and Interests

Comparative Literature
Literature, Medicine, and Culture
Group IX - Critical Theory and Cultural Studies
Group V - English Literature from 1789 to 1900 (Nineteenth-Century British Literature)
Group VIII - British Literature from 1900 to the Present