Opening Plenary – A Conversation with Dr. Caroline Light, Harvard University

By Dr. Circe Le Compte



Le Compte C. A conversation with Dr. Caroline Light, Harvard University. HPHR. 2022;69. 

Opening Plenary – A Conversation with Dr. Caroline Light, Harvard University

Dr. Circe Le Compte interviewed Dr. Caroline Light, of Harvard University, for the BCPH Research Summit on November 12, 2022.

Read Dr. Caroline Light’s Blog on

Caroline Light is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Harvard’s Program in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. She earned her doctorate in U.S. history, and her research combines historical, critical race, and feminist methods to interrogate citizenship and belonging in the U.S. In her recent book – Stand Your Ground: A History of American’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense (Beacon Press, 2017) – Light unpacks the historical and epistemic roots of our nation’s attachment to “self-defense” as a justification for the unrestrained distribution and use of firearms. While many celebrate armed self-defense as a natural right – even an obligation – of all good citizens, Light’s research confirms that the exonerating promises of self-defense have always been a privilege of the select few. Amidst the contemporary spread of concealed carry and “stand your ground” laws, appeals to “Armed Citizenship” authorize violence by the powerful while rendering the majority of us less safe. Light’s teaching addresses the race, gender, and class implications of immigration, gun violence, labor, and consumer culture, with an eye to the ways in which collective historical memories are made (and unmade) in the context of deep-seated structural injustice.

She was inspired to create this cross-disciplinary conversation about gun violence when she noticed that many of our contemporary debates get “stuck” on issues of data and method. As she explains:

“Many stakeholders who want a similar objective – an end to the carnage – end up speaking (or yelling!) past each other, and there continues to be significant disagreement on the validity of various data sources. I am grateful to the public health experts who have claimed that gun violence is an urgent public health issue that we politicize at our peril. And – as a feminist and anti-racist scholar of U.S. history – I recognize that politics and power, and their unequal distribution across populations, must be interrogated if we are to find the deeper roots of our contemporary crisis. If we want to find concrete, implementable solutions to the problem, we cannot tackle just one “pillar” of injustice at a time; we must instead interrogate the way long-standing race, class, and gender-based hierarchies conspire to position some people as the primary users and consumers of firearms while placing others directly in the crosshairs. Ultimately, I hope this series and the conversations therein will illuminate the structural and historic roots of our gun violence epidemic so that we can generate more robustly justice-centered solutions.”

About the Author

Dr. Circe Le Compte