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Stephen Engel


Stephen Engel is Professor and Chair of Politics at Bates College and an Affiliated Scholar of the American Bar Foundation. After serving on the faculty in political science for two years at Marquette University, Professor Engel came to Bates College in 2011. His research and teaching focus on American political development, inter-branch relations, constitutional law, and social movements, particularly LGBTQ socio-political and legal mobilization.

His recent book, Fragmented Citizens: The Changing Landscape of Gay and Lesbian Lives (NYU Press 2016), utilizes concepts in the field of American political development (particularly the notion of a fragmented polity and the partiality of political change) to evaluate how and why inequalities for gay and lesbian citizens persist in the United States, even as formal rules mandating equal treatment are put into effect. His second book, American Politicians Confront the Courts: Opposition Politics and Changing Responses to Judicial Power (Cambridge University Press 2011), is a cross-institutional analysis that examines how changing understandings over time of loyal opposition has influenced elected branch relations with the federal judiciary.  His first book, The Unfinished Revolution: Social Movement Theory and the Gay and Lesbian Movement (Cambridge University Press 2001) evaluates how the distinct political institutional environments of the US and the UK affected the development, strategies, and goals of the LGBTQ rights movements in each country. Professor Engel has also completed a fourth volume (co-edited with Stephen Skowronek of Yale University and Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School), The Progressives' Century: Political Reform, Constitutional Government, and the Making of the American State (Yale University Press 2016), which evaluated a century’s worth of progressive legal, political, and constitutional reform to consider its resilience or exhaustion and to propose alternative formulations that might advance the cause of democratic renewal.

Professor Engel is currently working on two projects. His latest project examines the concept of dignity in the United States and through a comparative constitutional context, specifically how dignity has been used in legal argumentation, especially in the context of LGBT rights litigation, and what the limits of that concept might be. He has written two articles associated with the project. His first article (a collaboration with Timothy Lyle, assistant professor of English at Iona College), “Fucking with Dignity: Public Sex, Queer Intimate Kinship, and how the AIDS Epidemic Bathhouse Closures Constituted a Dignity Taking” (Chicago-Kent Law Review), utilizes a queer theoretical lens to examine whether and how the bathhouse closures during the early years of the AIDS crisis in New York City and San Francisco constituted a dignity-taking and considers the limits of the dignity-restoration that is proceeding through Supreme Court rulings, including Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges. His second article (forthcoming in Constitutional Studies) explores the conservative jurisprudential implications of “dignity” and offers a developmental explanation of why same-sex marriage rulings may be more secure than rights related to abortion access and race equality. Professor Engel is also currently collaborating with Lyle on a book-length project that explores the unintended possibilities of dignity and its invocation in LGBTQ jurisprudence, public policy, and media.

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