Kai Yui Samuel Chan 

I am Samuel Chan, a Lecturer on Social Studies at Harvard University. Prior to coming to Harvard, I completed my PhD in Political Science at University of California, Berkeley. My research can be divided into three areas: peoplehood, immigration, and approaches to political theory.


Peoplehood and a people's right to self-determination are often invoked to legitimate a global order of territorial sovereign states, but who constitute the people, and how can a people act to exercise their right to self-determination? My doctoral project complicates responses to these problems by zooming in on the experiences and practices of peoples who are significantly entangled geographically with other peoples, such as Mohawks, Puerto Ricans, Tibetans, and Hong Kongers. I also show how assumptions made about peoplehood infect a web of related concepts, such as sovereignty, state, and territory.


As the modes, locations, and agents of bordering practices multiply, how should political theories of immigration account for these variations? One of my working papers develops a typology of bordering practices and reflects upon how this may compel both open and closed borders advocates to revise their arguments. I also argue that themes of immigration cannot be properly understood without accounting for the role of diasporas. I currently have a paper (revise and resubmit) that grounds a political theory of diaspora with an ontology of diasporas as political communities, and am working on another project that investigates how diasporic members negotiate their commitments across varying geographical scales.

Approaches to Political Theory 

I am interested in uncovering methodological assumptions made by political theorists and social scientists in general, and in reflecting upon the philosophical grounds for these assumptions. I have recently written on how deliberative democratic theory is inevitably in tension with modernist social science. In a different paper, I uncover the functionalist and interpretive assumptions made by deliberative systems scholars, and reconstruct two internally coherent but mutually exclusive ontologies for deliberative systems scholars to ground their work on. I am now working on a paper that investigates the role of social practices in interpretive approaches.

Feel free to contact me at kaiyuisamuel_chan@fas.harvard.edu.