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Anthony Obst

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin


April – May 2023

April – May 2022

2019 –

Global Sentimentality Fellow at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Visiting Research Scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, NYC

PhD Candidate
Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

2016 – 2018

M.A. North American Studies
Thesis: “Drums of Haiti: Black Radical Literary Representations of the Haitian Revolution in the 1930s”
John-F.-Kennedy Institute, Freie Universität Berlin

2008 – 2011

B.A. American Studies / German Literature
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Grants and Fellowships




DGfA Targeted Research Grant


Global Sentimentality Fellowship



Honorable Mention: Willi-Paul-Adams-Preis


Rocco Clein Preis für Musikjournalismus

Outlines of Abolition Democracy: Affects and Temporalities of Black Left 1930s Writing  (dissertation project)

Dissertation in Culture

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Lüthe
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Herman Bennett

My dissertation traces an archive of democratic theory as it takes shape in writings from the Black Left of the 1930s that theorize the abolition of slavery as an unfinished project. Drawing on W.E.B. Du Bois’s term from his historical study Black Reconstruction (1935) to describe the necessary linkage of slavery’s dismantling to the creation of new democratic institutions, I propose to think about these interconnected concerns as theories of abolition democracy. In a moment of capitalist and democratic crisis, writers and activists like Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Ella Baker, Marvel Cooke, Richard Wright, Louise Thompson Patterson and William L. Patterson articulated incisive visions for the radical reconstruction of political, economic, and social relations. These visions oftentimes extended and modified Marxist analyses as they grappled with discursive and material sites they described in terms of “neo-slavery”: domestic work, colonial occupation, plantation economy, and legal lynch justice.

In my analysis, I balance two different, but, I argue, closely related notions of abolition democracy: one that derives from Du Bois and Black Reconstruction and one that takes up this notion and re-tools it in the twenty-first century. Informed by Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Dylan Rodríguez and other contemporary theorists and activists mobilizing abolition democracy to build a world without police and prisons, I suggest that the 1930s archive I examine provides crucial analyses of the relationship between democratic forms and the organized violence of the state that remain strikingly resonant. Put differently, I show how this archive prefigures some of the concerns of abolition democracy today. As such, I conceptualize these writings as outlining forms of what the philosopher Ernst Bloch called “concrete utopia”, visions of a better world, grounded in everyday practice. I position my genealogical argument in the theoretical and methodological framework provided by what the cultural analyst Raymond Williams called “structures of feeling”: Rather than crystallizing as a discrete ideology or political movement, I suggest that abolition democracy in the 1930s registers primarily as a set of tones, restraints, and impulses. My argument proceeds, then, also through an affective register, shedding light on the political emotions underpinning abolition democracy as a tradition of theory and praxis.


"Modern Conjunctures: W. E. B. Du Bois and Berlin.” Minor Perspectives on Modernity Beyond Europe: An Encounter Between Jewish Studies and Postcolonial Thought, edited by Yael Attia, Jonathan Hirsch and Kathleen Samson, Nomos, 2023.

“‘Revolution of Thought and Action’: W. E. B. Du Bois’s World Search for Abolition Democracy.” Lateral 11.2, 2022.

“Ceremony Found: Sylvia Wynter’s Hybrid Human and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” aspeers 12, 2019, pp. 77–96.

“Take Care: Drake als Vorbote einer inklusiven Männlichkeit im Rap des Internetzeitalters.” Rap im 21. Jahrhundert: Eine (Sub-)Kultur im Wandel. Ed. Marc Dietrich. Transcript, 2016, pp. 55–80.

Lectures & Conference Paper

06/2023, Lecture Series at the Chair of Political Science with a Focus on Political Theory and the History of Political Thought, Technische Universität Dresden, Germany

Lecture: “To Make Force Obsolete: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Abolition Democracy After Black Reconstruction

06/2023, 69th Annual Meeting of the DGfA, Universität Rostock, Germany

Paper: “‘Slavery... 1939 Style’: Marvel Cooke’s Abolitionist Writing on the ‘Bronx Slave Market’”

05/2023, Annual Conference of the Political Science Section of the DGfA, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: “Challenging the Legitimacy of Racialized Class Rule: Black Communist Critiques of American Democracy in the 1930s”

05/2023, Global Sentimentality Project, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany

Lecture: “Scottsboro Sentimentalism and the Problem of Innocence”

01/2023, Lecture Series (Ringvorlesung) “Movement(s): People, Products, and Proposals, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Lecture: “The Working Woman, Labor Defender, and the Radical Roots of the Civil Rights Movement”

11/2022, Mid-Term Conference of the Graduiertenkolleg “Practicing Place”, Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany

Paper: “Practicing Democratic Place: The Domestic Workers’ Union in Richard Wright’s Black Hope

10/2022, AAAS Annual Conference, Paris Lodron Universität Salzburg, Austria

Paper: “Richard Wright’s Black Hope: Topographies of Carcerality and Abolition”

07/2021, International Graduate Conference, Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: “‘Without Force of Police’: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Abolition Democracy in Dusk of Dawn

06/2021, Affective Societies Workshop with Tyrone Palmer, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: “Pr(e/o)positions Alongside Negativity” (co-authored with Jasón Bustos, Henrike Kohpeiß, Matthew James Milbourne, Christian Schwinghammer, and Claas Oberstadt)

04/2021, European Association of American Studies Conference, University of Warsaw, Poland

Paper: “Dusk or Dawn? Affective Relations to Temporality in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Depression-Era Theory of History”

03/2020, European Social Science History Conference, Leiden University, Netherlands (Postponed)

Paper: “Radical Despair in the 1930s: Troubled Responses to America’s Unfinished 19th-Century Revolutions”

10/2019, Symposium “African American Worldmaking in the Long Nineteenth Century, Universität Potsdam, Germany

Paper: “The Long Nineteenth Century and Long Emancipation: Black Radical Tragic Worldmaking in the Wake of the Haitian Revolution”

02/2017, Configurations of the Black Atlantic: Interdisciplinary Symposium at the JFKI, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Paper: “Black Atlantic Politics of Representation in the Music of Dean Blunt”

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft