Timothy Mitchell is a political theorist who studies the political economy of the Middle East, the political role of economics and other forms of expert knowledge, the politics of large-scale technical systems, and the place of colonialism in the making of modernity.
Educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, where he received a first-class honours degree in History, Mitchell completed his Ph.D. in Politics and Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University in 1984. He joined Columbia University in 2008 after teaching for twenty-five years at New York University, where he served as Director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies. He is now professor and chair of the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.
Mitchell is the author of Colonising Egypt, a study of the emergence of the modern state in the colonial period and an exploration of the forms of reason, power and knowledge that define the experience of modernity. The book has been influential in fields as diverse as anthropology, history, law, philosophy, cultural studies, and art history. Translations have appeared or are in preparation in seven languages, including Arabic, German, Polish, Spanish and Japanese.
Mitchell's subsequent work covered a variety of topics in political theory and the contemporary political economy of the Middle East. His essay on the modern state, originally published in the American Political Science Review, has been republished on several occasions. Further writings on the nature of European modernity include an edited volume,
Questions of Modernity, bringing together the work of leading scholars of South Asia and the Middle East. In political economy he has published a number of essays on agrarian transformation, economic reform, and the politics of development, mostly drawing on his continuing research in Egypt. The research includes long-term fieldwork in a village in southern Egypt, which he has studied and written about for more than a decade.
His 2002 book, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity, draws on his work in Egypt to examine the creation of economic knowledge and the making of “the economy” and “the market” as objects of twentieth-century politics; the wider role of expert knowledge in the formation of the contemporary state; the relationship between law, private property, and violence in this process; and the problems with explaining contemporary politics in terms of globalization or the development of capitalism.
Mitchell's research on the making of the economy led to a four-year project that he directed at the
International Center for Advanced Study at NYU on The Authority Of
Knowledge in a Global Age. Articles on The Middle East in the Past and Future of Social Science,
The Properties of Markets,
and The Work of Economics: How a Discipline Makes Its World,
explored these concerns, and developed Mitchell's interest in the broader field of science and technology studies (STS).
His recent research brings together the fields of STS and postcolonial theory in a project on "Carbon Democracy," which examines the
history of fossil fuels and the possibilities for democractic politics that were expanded or closed down in the construction
of modern energy networks. His book Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil was published by Verso Press in 2011.
Mitchell has served on the editorial committees of the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, the American Political Science Review, Middle East Report (where he has also been chair of the editorial committee), Social Text, Society and Space, the Journal of Historical Sociology,
the Journal of Cultural Economy, and Development and Change. He has been invited to lecture at most leading research universities in the United States, and at universities and academic conferences in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. Several of his writings has been translated and published in Arabic, including three further books of essays, as well as in Persian, Hebrew, and Turkish.