Diego A. von Vacano | Professor and Director, Political Theory Convocation
- Political Theory
- Political Philosophy
- Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration
Dr. von Vacano has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He was also a Member of the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, NJ, during 2008-2009. He is the author of The Color of Citizenship (Oxford, 2012) and The Art of Power (Lexington, 2006), as well as of various articles, including a forthcoming piece on "Comparative Political Theory" for the Annual Review of Political Science. He received his doctorate in Politics from Princeton University and his master's degree in public policy from Harvard University. He studied in the College of Social Studies at Wesleyan University. He was born and raised in Bolivia and came to the US as a political refugee in his youth.
Dr. von Vacano’s teaching and research interests are in political theory, political philosophy and the history of political thought. He works mainly in Comparative Political Theory (modern Latin American and European political thought) and also in immigration ethics and race & ethnicity. The authors he focuses on are Machiavelli, Las Casas, Nietzsche, Bolivar, and Vasconcelos.
He recently completed a book focusing on the role of race in the making of modern citizenship. The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity and Latin American/Hispanic Political Thought (Oxford University Press, January 2012) examines the centrality of race to empire, republic, nation, and cosmopolis in the history of Latin American political thought. It develops a 'synthetic paradigm' of race as fluid, artificial, and mixed (as opposed to fixed, natural, and categorical) through a reading of the works of the Spanish missionary Las Casas, the Venezuelans Bolivar and Vallenilla Lanz, and the Mexican philosopher Vasconcelos. It argues that race is cardinal to modernity and that we should reconceptualize it rather than discard it owing to calls for a post-racial politics. The ancillary aim of the book is to develop a new normative conceptualization of race for contemporary multiethnic, racially-mixed societies.
Professor von Vacano's new book project in Comparative Political Theory is Transcultural Democracy: Popular Sovereignty Beyond the West. It employs CPT resources from Latin American (Bolivia), Sub-Saharan African (South Africa), Asian (India), and Arab (Tunisia/Algeria) traditions to examine non-Occidental foundations of democratic rule. It also critiques traditional Western, Greek-derived conceptions of democratic government. It aims to provide CPT-inspired correctives, based on a theory of transculturalism, to failings in models of contemporary Western liberal-democratic theory.
At present, he is the editor of two volumes of papers from conferences he organized at Texas A&M. One is Comparative Political Theory for Cambridge University Press. The other is Reconsidering Race: Racial Categories in the Age of Genomics for Oxford University Press. He is also carrying out research on various issues in Machiavelli studies, including a book project on Machiavelli's New World, examining his treatment of the Spanish Empire, Ferdinand and Isabella, and the conquest of the Americas; and on alternative visions of the early modern era through an analysis of the theoretical tensions between Las Casas and Machiavelli, especially in the context of Catholic thought. His work has appeared in journals such as 'History of Political Thought' and 'Theoria.'
Prior to joining the faculty at Texas A&M University, Dr. von Vacano served on the faculties of Hunter College CUNY, Vassar College, and Williams College. He was also a Visiting Scholar in Latin American Studies at Columbia University. Professor von Vacano has been the recipient of an NEH faculty grant in Latin American philosophy; the University Center for Human Values Graduate Fellowship at Princeton University; and grants from the Spencer Foundation, Tinker Foundation, and Mellon Foundation as well as from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he studied Public Policy of Political and Economic Development. When not engaging in political science, he is an avid association football player (and supporter of Bolivar FC, Chelsea, and Barcelona). He also covers international soccer tournaments and enjoys photography.
Dr. von Vacano is the author of The Art of Power: Machiavelli, Nietzsche and the Making of Aesthetic Political Theory (Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield, November 2006). The Art of Power examines the work of Machiavelli, arguing that he establishes a new, aesthetic perspective on political life. It then proceeds to carry out the most extensive analysis to date of an important relationship in political theory: that between the thought of Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche. Arguing that these two theorists have similar aims and perspectives, this work uncovers the implications of their common way of looking at the human condition and political practice to elucidate the phenomenon of the persistence of aesthetic, sensory cognition as fundamental to the human experience, particularly to the political life.
"Diego A. von Vacano’s book fills an important hole in political theory literature. If one can say that Machiavelli inaugurates a certain modern conception of politics, one can also say that Nietzsche announces and analyzes its limits and its end. Von Vacano shows that both thinkers share a similar conception of the political and of human agency. The analyses are always sharp and the argument is clear and convincing. If, as Burckhardt argued, the state can be thought of as a work of art, von Vacano shows us what this actually entails. He also shows us why Nietzsche has to be understood as having a conception of and concern for the political"--Tracy B. Strong, University of California, San Diego
Reviews for The Color of Citizenship:
“Diego von Vacano puts Latin American and Hispanic political thought in the forefront as he examines, with originality and precision, the role that race has played and can play in both political thought and theory...race as a synthetic concept illuminates the workings of politics, power, and citizenship and challenges the ways in which race has traditionally been elided in Western political thought.” - Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University
"Diego von Vacano's important new book forces us to rethink central assumptions about modernity and race that have long been part of European and North American intellectual traditions. Through the writings of four major Spanish American intellectuals, spanning fully 400 years, The Color of Citizenship explores the evolution of racial ideas based on mixture and fluidity rather than purity and stability. With The Color of Citizenship, the important contributions of Latin Americans to thinking about race can no longer be ignored." --Edward Telles, Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
"The Color of Citizenship is an excellent genealogy of racial thinking and post-colonial states in the Americas. Scholars of philosophy, political theory, and race will better understand the complicated and 'synthetic' nature of racial discourse in the Americas from reading this book."--Mark Q. Sawyer, Professor of Political Science & African American Studies, UCLA
"By examining what a selected number of Spanish American thinkers had to say about race, regardless of their politics, Diego von Vacano's book is a most valuable contribution on various fronts. It offers a fruitful and exceptional interdisciplinary engagement between political philosophy and the history of ideas, which is also an invitation to take more seriously Latin American political thinkers. More substantially, it traces a 'particular intellectual tradition' towards a 'modern synthetic conceptualization of race,' one that accepts the values of miscegenation against hierarchical and dualistic paradigms of race. By placing a reconceptualised notion of race at the centre of political philosophy, von Vacano identifies the basis of a universally inclusive notion of citizenship. What is discussed here is undoubtedly relevant to key debates in our contemporary societies." --Eduardo Posada-Carbo, Latin American Centre, Oxford University
"In his latest book, von Vacano (Texas A&M Univ.) offers readers an eloquent statement on the role of race in political thought. Arguing that race has rarely, if ever, been adequately dealt with in the Western "canon," American political thought, or even contemporary theory, von Vacano turns to Latin American thought to move readers beyond this myopia. He examines the writings of colonial theologian Bartolomé de las Casas (chapter 1), Latin American liberator Simón Bolivar (chapter 2), Venezuelan intellectual Laureano Vallenilla Lanz (chapter 3), and Mexican thinker and political figure José Vasconcelos (chapter 4). Owing to the cultural and ethnic richness of Latin America, all four thinkers are said to offer glimpses of a "synthetic paradigm of race." This is "a mode of thinking about the phenomenon of race and its tributaries that eludes fixed, rigid notions and tends to incorporate those which are mixed and fluid." In so doing, these thinkers enrich readers' understandings of race and allow them to think about both racial difference and political citizenship in more inclusive ways. This stunningly original and thoughtful work demonstrates the tremendous potential of comparative political theory. Summing Up: Highly recommended." (CHOICE)
"The Color of Citizenship is an original intervention into ongoing debates on the concept of race, an important new account of Latin American political thought, and a welcome invitation to comparative political theory" (Perspectives on Politics)
Current Research Topics:
Comparative Political Theory:
- Assessment of Comparative Political Theory for the Annual Review of Political Science
- Non-Western/comparatve democratic theory (especially from Latin America, with a focus on Bolivia and Brazil)
- Politics of race and ethnicity in Bolivia: European and Indigenous ideas in the new Constitution
- Nietzsche in Latin America: Rodo, Mariategui, Vasconcelos
- Immigrant identity, cosmopolitanism, and city life
- New perspectives on race due to immigration in US
- Status of immigrants in Sao Paulo; Buenos Aires; Doha; DC; Barcelona
- Ethics of migrant labor in football mega-events such as the World Cup
- Ethics of migrant labor in gas/oil sector in Latin America
Conferences Organized (Funded by the College of Liberal Arts Dean's Strategic Development Program):
- "Reconsidering Race: Interdisciplinary Approaches" (May 3-4, 2013)
The workshop explored race in light of genomics and of non-Western paradigms of racialization.
- "Comparative Democratic Theory from a Global Perspective" (October 11-12, 2013) Workshop.
The workshop explored the meanings, prospects, and problems of democracy in intellectual traditions outside (and in dialogue with) Western Europe and the US.
- "Machiavelli Between Past and Future: On the 500th Anniverary of The Prince" (February 8-9th 2014, TAMU)
With Guillaume Bogaris. Participants: Maurizio Viroli, Thomas Pangle, Harvey Mansfield, Nathan Tarcov, Clifford Orwin, Mikael Hornqvist, Erica Benner, et al.
- POLS 306 - Immigration and Political Theory
- POLS 362 - Latin American Political Thought
- POLS 454 - Contemporary Political Ideas
- POLS 650 - Normative Political Theory
- POLS 674 - Seminar in Race, Ethnicity and American Politics
- POLS 689 - Special Topics
Diego Von Vacano, The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity and Latin American/Hispanic Political Thought (Oxford University Press, 2012).
Diego A. von Vacano, “Las Casas and the Birth of Race,” History of Political Thought 33 (No. 3, Autumn 2012).
- OpEd on Brazil Protests
- OpEd on Comparative Democratic Theory
- OpEd on Bolivia, Morales and Snowden
- OpEd on Brazil and World Cup revolts
- OpEd on IQ, Hispanic immigration, and race
- OpEd post about Hugo Chavez
- Conference: "Immigration and National Identity: Lessons from/for Political Theory"
- Political Theory Convocation