Stephen Best's scholarship encompasses a variety of fields and materials: American and African-American literature and culture, cinema and technology, rhetoric and the law, and critical theory. His research pursuits in the fields of American and African American criticism have been rather closely aligned with a broader interrogation of recent literary critical practice. To be specific, his interest in the critical nexus between slavery and historiography, in the varying scholarly and political preoccupations with establishing the authority of the slave past in black life, quadrates with his exploration of where the limits of historicism as a mode of literary study may lay, especially where that search manifests as an interest in alternatives to suspicious reading in the text-based disciplines. To this end, he has edited a number of special issues of the journal Representations (on whose board he sits) – “Redress” (with Saidiya Hartman), on theoretical and political projects to undo the slave past, “The Way We Read Now” (with Sharon Marcus), on the limits of symptomatic reading, and “Description Across Disciplines” (with Sharon Marcus and Heather Love), on disciplinary valuations of description as critical practice. He also published The Fugitive's Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession (University of Chicago, 2004), a study of property, poetics, and legal hermeneutics in nineteenth-century American literary and legal culture. His most recent book, None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life, was published by Duke University Press in 2018.
His work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Humanities Research Institute (University of California), and the Ford Foundation; and in 2015-2016, he was the Mary Bundy Scott Professor at Williams College.