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Robert Pirro

Robert Pirro

Dr. Robert Pirro


Robert Pirro came to Georgia Southern in 1997 after finishing graduate work at U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. 1996) and undergraduate work at Harvard (B.A. 1986). In addition to covering the department’s survey courses in political theory (Ancient, Modern, Contemporary, American, Feminist), he teaches the political theory senior seminar, which has engaged such topics as aesthetic politics, religion and politics, Italian political thought and film, and psychoanalytic considerations of maternal care and political identity. In alternate years, he also offers the social theory course required for the MASS graduate degree program.

In teaching the Core requirement POLS 1101: Introduction to American Government or the political science major’s gateway course, POLS 2101: Introduction to Political Science, Pirro employs a case study approach. In any given semester students may find themselves studying one of several significant political phenomena such as revolution, genocide, populism, utopia, or money in politics.

Pirro’s newest book, Motherhood, Fatherland, and Primo Levi: The Hidden Groundwork of Agency in His Auschwitz Writings (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2017) argues that Levi’s engagement with problems of political and human agency preceded his experiences in a Nazi slave labor/death camp and significantly conditioned how he wrote about Auschwitz. His earlier books, The Politics of Tragedy and Democratic Citizenship (Bloomsbury, 2011) and Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Tragedy (Northern Illinois University Press, 2001) extend his longstanding research into how the interdependent relationship of democratic politics and tragic theater in ancient Athens, Greece, continues to resonate in the political language and imagination of contemporary politicians, activists, and theorists.

Pirro’s journal publications, which include peer-reviewed articles in Political Theory, German Politics and Society, Italica, European Journal of American Culture, and The Germanic Review, contribute to the scholarly literature in two main areas: theories of democratic political agency and the political-cultural significance of German intellectual and aesthetic engagements with (and in) America. Publications on the latter theme include, “Luftkrieg and alien invasion: Unacknowledged themes of German wartime suffering in the Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day,” European Journal of American Culture 30:1 (2011) and “Homer’s Lies, Brad Pitt’s Thighs: Revisiting the Preoedipal Mother and the German Wartime Father in Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy (2004),” Of Muscles and Men: Essays on the Sword and Sandal Film (McFarland, 2011). These publications and related conference papers form the basis for his current book project on the political dimensions of post-unification films shot in Germany by US directors and films shot in Hollywood by German directors.

Pirro has been an invited lecturer at Loyola University in New Orleans as part of the Biever Lecture Series (February 2003); at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institut für Amerikastudien, Free University, Berlin (July 2009) for the Perspectives on American Literature and Culture Series; and at the Hannah-Arendt-Institut of the Technical University of Dresden, Germany (May 2006). He participated in the 2001 NEH Summer Seminar – Literature and Values – at Chapel Hill, N.C. and completed an NEH Summer Institute in Athens, Greece on the topic, Mortality: Facing Death in Ancient Greece, in July 2014. He was awarded a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) grant for archival research in Berlin and recently served as a keynote speaker at the 2019 student conference, Hannah Arendt: On Threatened Democracies, North American Studies Department, University of Göttingen.

Research and Teaching Interests: the politics of tragedy, Primo Levi, aesthetic politics, Hannah Arendt, the politics of German-Hollywood cinema

Teaching Responsibilities: Classical Political Theory, American Political Theory, Feminist Political Theory, Modern Political Theory, Contemporary Political Theory, Introduction to Political Science, Social Theory (graduate level)

Selected Publications:

“Tragödie und das Tragische.” In Literatur & Philosophie: Handbücher zur kulturwissenschaftlichen Philologie, Andrea Allerkamp and Sarah Schmidt (eds), Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter 2021 (20pp).

“Primo Levi: I sommersi e i salvati (Die Untergegangen und die Geretteten).” In Literatur & Philosophie: Handbücher zur kulturwissenschaftlichen Philologie, Andrea Allerkamp and Sarah Schmidt (eds), Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter 2021 (7pp).

“Primo Levi’s Journey Home from Auschwitz in the Light of Ancient Civic Pilgrimage: Levi’s The Truce as a Form of TheōriaInternational Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage (7:3) 2019.

“The Tennis Shoe Army and Leviathan: Relics and Specters of Big Government in The Road,” European Journal of American Studies (12:3) 2017.


Motherhood, Fatherland, and Primo Levi: The Hidden Groundwork of Agency in His Auschwitz Writings (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2017).

“Atrocity and Agency: W.G. Sebald’s Traumatic Memory in the Light of Hannah Arendt’s Politics of Tragedy.” Tragedy and the Tragic in German Literature, Art and Thought. Stephen Dowden and Thomas Quinn, eds. (Camden House, 2014): 296-310.

“Aesthetic Legacies and Dashed Political Hopes: Caspar David Friedrich Motifs in Roland’s Emmerich’s Post-9/11 Popcorn Message Movies.” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 88:4 (October-December 2013): 400-417.

The Politics of Tragedy and Democratic Citizenship. New York: Bloomsbury, 2011.

“Tragedy, Theodicy and 9/11: Rhetorical Responses to Suffering and Their Public Significance.” thesis eleven 98 (August 2009): 5 – 32.

“Václav Havel and the Political Uses of Tragedy.” Political Theory 30:2 (April 2002): 228 – 258.

Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Tragedy. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Last updated: 1/26/2023