Skip to main content Skip to navigation
School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs Meet our Faculty!

Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs PortraitsClaudia Leeb

Associate Professor of Political Theory

Office: VMMC 202F
Phone: 360-546-9552
Curriculum Vitae
Personal Website


  • Ph.D. in Political Theory and Philosophy, The New School for Social Research, New York
  • Ph.D. in Psychology and Philosophy of Science, University of Vienna, Austria
  • M.A. in Gender Studies and Feminist Theory, The New School for Social Research
  • B.S./M.S. in Psychology, The University of Vienna

Dr. Leeb is originally from Austria. Before coming to Washington State University, she was an Assistant Professor at Roanoke College and Dartmouth College and held post-doc positions at Harvard University and the University of Chicago. She is a feminist political theorist who works at the intersection of early Frankfurt School critical theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic thought. Two questions drive her research: First, what are the mechanisms of power that subordinate the working classes, women, and minorities in contemporary societies? Second, what can we do to transform these mechanisms of power to create more just societies?  In her recent research, Dr. Leeb addresses these questions in three coinciding research areas: the rise of the far-right, political subjectivity, and political guilt. Dr. Leeb has published books with university presses in each of these research areas.

  • The Rise of the Far-Right: This research explores the power mechanisms that allow the far-right to exploit the suffering created by precarity capitalism for its political ends. In her new book, Contesting the Far-Right: A Psychoanalytic and Feminist Critical Theory Approach (Columbia University Press, New Directions in Critical Theory, April 2024), she examines right-wing recruitment tactics in the United States and Austria, where people discontented with the status quo have turned to far-right parties and movements that further cement capitalism’s adverse effects. She contends that Freudian psychoanalytic theory, early Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and decolonial thought provide analytical tools to explain this apparent contradiction in psychological terms. Living under precarity capitalism generates feelings of failure and anxiety, because it has become difficult, if not impossible, to live up to the fetish of economic, interpersonal, and bodily success, and the far-right preys on such feelings. Its psychologically oriented propaganda tactics produce the illusion of wholeness and a positive sense of self while leaving the socioeconomic conditions that cause people’s suffering intact. At the same time, they remove the inhibitions that keep people’s repressed aggression and racist and sexist attitudes in check. To demonstrate the workings of this process, she compares cases, including Trump and the alt-right in the United States and the Freedom Party and the identitarian movement in Austria. She was also recently invited to take over authorship of the entry on “Psychoanalytic Feminism” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Political Subjectivity: In this research area, Dr. Leeb focuses on transforming power structures in contemporary capitalist societies. In Power and Feminist Agency in Capitalism: Toward a New Theory of the Political Subject (2017, Oxford University Press), she draws on German critical theory (Karl Marx and Theodor W. Adorno) and French psychoanalytic thought (Jacques Lacan) to develop her novel concept of the political subject-in-outline as the agent of socio-political change. This agent moves within the tension of a certain coherence necessary for agency and permanent openness to counter the exclusionary character of a political collectivity based on identity. She also develops the idea of the moment of the limit, which refers to those moments when power structures fail to subordinate the working classes, women, and minorities, and transformative agency becomes possible. She received the ASCINA (Austrian Scientists in North America) award for research excellence for this book.In another new book, Power: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, under contract, in progress), Dr. Leeb explains the meaning of power in the humanities and social sciences. She outlines the controversial debates that define power as power over others versus the power to do things, and power as individual agency versus agency as determined by societal power structures. She discusses how Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist poststructuralist, intersectional, and (feminist) decolonial theories of power represent approaches from these distinctions. She also foregrounds how her conception of power resolves these controversies.
  • Political Guilt: In this area, Dr. Leeb explores the mechanisms of power in the context of totalitarian regimes. In her book, The Politics of Repressed Guilt: The Tragedy of Austrian Silence (2018, Edinburgh University Press), she draws on Theodor W. Adorno, Hannah Arendt, and Anna Freud to explain how repressed guilt impacts people’s ability to make critical judgments. She developed the innovative concept of an embodied form of reflective judgment, which implies that thinking and feeling are interconnected and vital for judgment. She analyzes post-war trial cases of Austrian Nazi perpetrators and contemporary debates about Austria’s involvement in Nazi crimes to show that if individuals and nations fend off guilt, their capacity to make critical judgments becomes stifled. She also shows that subjects-in-outline who do not wholly identify with a nation can best live up to guilt and break the cycle of negative consequences resulting from repressed guilt.Scholars have widely engaged and reviewed her books, underlining her research’s impact. She has also published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles on these research areas, including in Political Theory, Theory & Event, Perspectives on Politics, Constellations, Social Philosophy Today, Philosophy & Social Criticism, Contemporary Political Theory, and Radical Philosophy Review. She has also contributed several book chapters to several anthologies. She lectures about her work worldwide.

Dr. Leeb teaches politics and philosophy courses in Washington State University’s School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs. She offers undergraduate courses on Contemporary Political Theories of Power, Oppression, and Resistance, the Development of Marxist thought, Feminism and Philosophy, Gender and Politics, Contemporary Political Theory, and Classical Political Thought. In addition, she offers graduate courses that introduce graduate students to the core fields of political theory and philosophy and supervises doctoral candidates in political theory and philosophy. She is also the founder and coordinator of the Political Theory Research Group, which meets regularly to discuss the ongoing research of political theory graduate students.

Book Publications