Department of Politics and International Studies

Dr Shai Gortler

Key information

Department of Politics and International Studies
Russell Square: College Buildings
Email address


Shai is an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Postdoctoral Fellow with the project “Torture as Political Technology.” His first manuscript is based on his PhD dissertation (Political Science, University of Minnesota, 2020). The manuscript, Carceral Subjectivity and the Exercise of Freedom, explores the Israeli incarceration and torture of Palestinian political prisoners since Israel’s founding in 1948 to the present day as a multi-layered site of subject formation. The manuscript builds on archival documents and interviews to trace the Israeli attempt of affecting the prisoners’ identity, behavior, and sense of self as well as the prisoners’ resistance to such attempts. It asks: What can we learn from prisoners’ transcendence over carceral subjectification toward their own counter-subjectivation—and from their failures—for the purpose of expanding freedom in darkening times? Just as Freud analyzed psychoses to better grasp the psyche, this project studies prisons to better understand politics.

Shai is at work on a second book-length project, tentatively titled “Settler Colonialism 2.0: Surveillance and the Self.” Here, he takes the insights of subject formation in analog sites— prisons and torture facilities—to the digital realm.

A central tenant of counter-revolutionary theories is the desire to know everything: to collect as much information as possible on the controlled population. Contemporary surveillance technologies in Israel-Palestine complicate this story. Israeli means of surveillance not only collect information but affect subjectivities. In this project, Shai studies the multi-layered contexts of surveillance and resistance in Israel-Palestine, to get at a broader story of how subjects are made and dominated. The contexts this project unpacks include the use of facial recognition technologies towards Palestinians, Jews, and international activists in Hebron, surveillance of Closed-Circuit TV in East Jerusalem, the evolution of the use of drones from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon to present day deployments by the military, settlers, and NGOs, Social media monitoring, phone hacking, and surveillance of Jewish citizens. Combined, these technologies of the self tell a story about how control works through subjectivity, not only information.

Key publications


  • Shai Gortler, “The Sumud Within: Walid Daka’s Abolitionist Decolonization,” Contemporary Political Theory 21, no. 4 (2022): 499–521. (link)
  • Shai Gortler, “Participatory Panopticon: Thomas Mott Osborne’s Prison Democracy,” Constellations 29, no. 3 (2022): 343–58. (link)


  • Shai Gortler, Carceral Subjectivity and the Exercise of Freedom

Research interests

  • Political theory (modern and contemporary)
  • 19th- and 20th-Century continental thought, particularly Foucault and critical theory
  • Settler colonial studies, particularly prisons and surveillance in Israel-Palestine
  • Theories of punishment and control


Contact Shai