David Kenneth Johnson

David Kenneth Johnson

Graduate Student


Research Interests: International Relations; Global Political Economy; U. S. Foreign Policy; Empire and Imperialism; Global Development; Political Theory; Historical Methods

Born in the Chicago area, I did my undergraduate studies at Ithaca College in philosophy, political theory and international relations. After finishing my BA in 2015, I took two years off from school before deciding to go to the University of British Columbia to pursue research on the Indigenous political economy of North America, where I earned an MA in political science in 2018. From there, I moved from Vancouver to Baltimore to join the department at JHU, where I have been privileged to research, write, teach and live for the past five years. 

Main Advisor: Robbie Shilliam

Thesis Title: "Empire of Capital: U.S. International Development Policy from the Spanish-American War to the Bretton Woods System "

My work broadly investigates the relationship between capitalism and empire, with a focus on the imperial dimensions of American capitalism from the turn of the twentieth century to the present. I mobilize a critical archival method that draws on diverse primary sources to analyze the political economy of capitalist globalization. My dissertation examines the institutional and imperial sources of U.S. global hegemony from the Spanish-American War to the post-World War II period, asking how U.S. experiments in overseas empire shaped plans for international order after 1945. Parting ways with liberal and realist frameworks that reify the nation-state within a timeless anarchy, the project demonstrates how the ideological and institutional foundations of U.S. international power emerged from a global imperial experience. The project thus challenges us to view U.S. power in the world today less as a product of preponderant national power and more as the function of a global ordering project with fundamentally imperial roots. 

This work emerges out of a more general program of research on the politics of capitalist development, in which I grapple with the international and imperial dimensions of capitalism. My previous work in this vein has been published in Review of International Political Economy and Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. Looking forward, I am at work on the beginning stages of a second project that examines the fate of U.S. structural power in an increasingly multipolar world system. Contrary to longstanding IR discourse on U.S. hegemonic decline, the project acknowledges that the global dollar system received a new lease on life after the financial crisis of 2008 and asks how this could be. The project explores the institutional and structural sources of U.S. financial power in contemporary global capitalism and argues that the most formidable challenge to the ‘imperial circle’ of the dollar system – to borrow a phrase from the New York Fed – lies not so much at the level of interstate competition, but in the reconstitution of U.S. and international working-class politics. Accordingly, the project draws on transnational struggles to transform global finance from an extractive private business to a democratically controlled public utility.

My pedagogy grows out of and informs my scholarship and forms the obverse side of my commitment to fostering collective political reflection on the imperial legacies of capitalist development and their relevance to contemporary international life. I have worked as an instructor of record and a teaching assistant for courses in international relations, global political economy, security studies, and political theory. As a Dean's Teaching Fellow in the Spring of 2023, I designed and taught a course on the British and American empires in global historical perspective. In the future, I look forward to teaching more courses on historical and contemporary international relations and the politics of global development. 

“Walter Rodney and the Method of Political Economy: Retrieving a Critical-Historical IPE,” Review of International Political Economy 30, no. 2 (2023): 421–36, https://doi.org/10.1080/09692290.2022.2153263

“International Political Economy: Overview and Conceptualization,” with Renée Marlin-Bennet, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies (online, 2021), https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.239