Melissa Yates

Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Smith College

Contact & Office Hours

Spring 2023

Tuesday and Thursday, 12–12:30 p.m.
Appointments can be made online
Wednesday, 10–11 a.m. on Zoom

Dewey Hall 211



Ph.D., Northwestern University

B.A., Grinnell College


Melissa Yates’s research and teaching addresses social, political, and ethical philosophical questions about the ways citizens within democratic societies exercise power, and the institutions that constrain, enable and coerce citizen engagement in public life. In her affiliation with both the Department of Philosophy and the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching & Learning, she works with students and faculty on the development of public-facing writing initiatives, assignments, and means of assessment, in the interest of facilitating student engagement in the public sphere. 

She has developed her research in two directions in publications and presentations: (1) as applied to the specific issues that arise in the context of relationships between religious and nonreligious citizens and the state, largely drawn from intersections between the works of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, and (2) in terms of her development of a concept of democratic citizens as strangers and an analysis of the particular challenges and promises this shift has for contemporary democratic societies. 

In her manuscript in progress, Democracy as Strangers: Governing without Ties of Intimacy, she argues that current democratic theory fails to account for one of the most important realities of contemporary democratic life, namely the fact that the vast majority of democratic citizens are strangers to one another. Without understanding this central fact, it is impossible to develop adequate and robust norms of democratic deliberation or representation. Accounting for democratic strangers means that democracy itself needs to be understood as an exercise in governing without ties of intimacy. The manuscript draws connections between democratic estrangement and algorithmic personalization in the context of democratic digital public spheres, and on the idea of trans-temporal relationships of power that are particularly relevant in the context of migration increases that are caused by climate change.