Dissertation Abstracts

Deborah Al-Najjar
Around 199l: Performing Iraq and Militarized Masculinities
“Around 199l: Performing Iraq and Militarized Masculinities” stares at artists (performers, novelists, filmmakers) who imagine militarized masculine subjects within a racial triangulation framework. I dissect that paradigm by demonstrating how this triangulation is a national trauma; it functions as sexual/racial terror. My project understands the current 2003-2010 ongoing war against Iraq by looking backward to the 1991 Gulf War, then further back to the pre Baathist Coup of the 1950s and U.S. institutional and structural operations (covert and overt). By examining what some academics, artists, and activists might perceive as benign institutions (the Peace Corps, Foreign Service, & the academy), the reader, citizen, activist, or artist would find herself as a relational, imbricated, and responsible, active participant in these institutions. The artists in this dissertation put themselves and us in positions of vulnerability and culpability. My dissertation maps onto Claire Jeane Kim’s “Racial Triangulation” a paradigm shift. If Arabs are Asians (Model Minorities and perpetual foreigners) in her formulation of Asian, Black, White, how does this formation work for textual readings? Racial triangulation as sexual/racial trauma operates through white militarized masculine subjectivity and is a sexualized/gendered violence. I couple the terms racial triangulation and militarized masculinities in order to get at the nexus that is a heterosexualized violence of empire’s formation. These artists are not collaborators with the state but art, especially art that speaks against the grain, will collide and collude with those structures. M y theoretical engagements and stakes in various fields of studies triangulate one another: African American, Arab American, Asian American studies. These fields of knowledge intersect and crosscut queer/feminist theory as I meditate on empire, occupation, and knowledge production in the academic landscape, the other “cultural imaginary” of this dissertation. My primary archive consists of art that I read as racial engagements with triangulation: performance artists Timz, Narcicyst, Paul Mooney, and Tania Hammidi; Alan Ball’s cinematic rendition of Alica Erian’s novel Towelhead (2007); Sam Greenlee’s novel Baghdad Blues (1976); Sinan Antoon’s novella I’Jaam (2007); Rajiv Joseph’s play The Bengali Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo (2010); Edward Zwick’s film The Seige (1998).
 
Maytha Alhassen
Engaged Witness : A Post-1945 Transnational History of the Grammar and Geopolitics of Black-Arab solidarity
This dissertation explores the transnational intersections between Black and Arab sociopolitical projects and metaphysical imaginaries through historical-anthropological methods while being attentive to cultural studies theories. The project begins in the post-WWII moment, tracking the legatos of the Black freedom movement with decolonizing movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)[1]; ending with the encounters of the Black radical tradition and social justice movements in the what I will call Shruq and Maghreb (but is traditionally referred as MENA in Area Studies)---namely the “Arab uprisings” and the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement. It seeks to interrogate sustained and contingent solidarities between Black internationalism and the Arab diaspora, taking account of moments of dissonance, through the organizing principle of the “delegate.” Centralizing the figure of the delegate opens a window into the convergences between the Black radical tradition and MENA (the people, the place and as a site of productive sociopolitical imaginaries), convergences that while challenging the logic of US imperialism, are at times facilitated by the practices and apparatuses of empire. The role of race (racial formation of Blackness & Arabness), Islam (ummic imperative/religious praxis), gender, aesthetics and travel (delegate/delegations) in generating what Ibn Arabi calls “double vision,”[2] (also Edward Said’s “double perspective” of the “intellectual exile,” W.E.B. DuBois’s “double consciousness” and Antonio Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will”) as a basis for forging transnational and local solidarities, will be examined. This project is concerned with operating on two disciplinary planes. In the first instance as a historical-anthropological study on the transnational solidarity politics between Black and Arab peoples through the figure of the delegate. Undercutting this study is a cultural studies exploration of modern subjecthood formation in a global racial order, looking at systems that race humans and produce and sustain the enslaved subject/properitized subject and the colonized subject. In the process of traversing these interstices, a central question arises: is there a fundamental distinction between the project of decolonization and the project of liberation[3]? Or are they conversant and overlapping “geographies of liberation” (as Alex Lubin terms it) as Cornel West suggested when he recently argued "There is a relationship between the ghetto of Gaza and the ghettos of America"?
 
Sophia Azeb
Ceci (n')est (pas) une arabe: Cultural Explorations of Blackness in the North African Diaspora, 1952-1979
Arabic-speaking North Africans have generally been considered to be racially and culturally distinct from sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants, both by imperial powers and North Africans themselves. However, this dissertation argues that transnational discourses of blackness have always included Arabic speakers, whose cultural production in the decolonial Cold War era utilized blackness as a language through which to make legible their respective anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles to African Americans and other African Diasporic peoples in Algeria, Egypt, France, and Britain. My project assembles an Afro-Arab cultural archive ranging from African American narratives of Algerians in 1950s Paris to the transnational jazz scene emergent in 1970s Egypt in order to demonstrate that Egyptians and Algerians have historically located themselves and been located by others in the African Diaspora within transnational and multilingual expressions of blackness. Engaging such alternate theorizations of blackness within this shared cultural production, I utilize Ethnic Studies, Post-colonial Studies and Cultural Studies methods and analytics of race and identity formation in order to examine how blackness is articulated and defined by diasporic Algerians, Egyptians, and African Americans between 1952, the year of the Officer’s Coup in Egypt, and 1979, the beginning of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse.
 
Umayyah Cable
Cinematic Activism: Palestinian Cultural Politics in the United States
This dissertation examines how and why Palestinian cinema—through films and film festivals—has emerged as a site around which Palestinians in the US organize their social justice activism and assert their diasporic identification with Palestine. I argue that the Palestinian-American community organizes itself around Palestine-themed film festivals as both a process of national identification and a strategy towards a socially just representational praxis, or what I theorize as “cinematic activism.” Through a combination of ethnographic research and media analysis, this dissertation takes the controversy around—and successes of—Palestinian film screenings in the Boston area as a site through which to understand the identitarian, pedagogical, and political work of Palestinian cinema in the United States.
 
Jolie Chea
Agents of War: Cambodian Refugees and the Containment of Radical
Agents of War: Cambodian Refugees and the Containment of Radical Opposition seeks to provide a critical genealogy of the “refugee” that does not reinforce or reimpose normative understandings of citizenship and belonging but rather, traces it back to a history of global racialized warfare and imperialist state violence. Drawing on Claire Jean Kim’s racial triangulation framework, Chea rejects hegemonic narratives that cast the refugee figure as “objects of rescue” and provides an analysis of the ways in which the Cambodian refugee is implicated in the American racial order and racialized vis-à-vis Black and Brown subjects. She argues that the incorporation of the Cambodian refugee into the US body politic is an extension of ongoing efforts to discipline and contain radical opposition to a US nation-building project founded on racism, genocide, war, and the colonization of racialized bodies. Located at the intersections of critical refugee studies and performance studies, Agents of War is an interdisciplinary study that examines the performativity of the “refugee” in a range of cultural works (including autobiographical documentary films and memoirs) and looks to enactments of post-war trauma and memory that posit the existence of the “refugee” as one that may challenge and disrupt US hegemony, imperialism and the logic of military intervention in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.” Ultimately, it asks: What might happen if the refugee subject acts out against that which has been imposed onto them?
 
Ryan Fukumori
The Motley Tower: Higher Education, the Urban Crisis, and the History of Race in Postwar Los Angeles
This dissertation takes as its area of inquiry the systemic incorporation of Japanese Americans and Mexican Americans as collegiate students, faculty, and curricular and research subjects in postwar Los Angeles. Far from being disinterested edifices of instruction, Los Angeles collegiate institutions were embedded within the political, economic, social, and cultural landscape of Southern California. The increasing prominence of research institutions within the regional political economy—in particular, the University of California at Los Angeles—ensured that such institutions were directly implicated in California’s postwar topographies of racial and class disparity. Capital investment in postsecondary education exacerbated the structural inequities and waves of social unrest that came to be popularly known in the 1960s as the “urban crisis.” UCLA administrators and progressive activists, in turn, embraced their respective visions of “ethnic studies” as the school’s activation of research capacities in order to solve the crisis. However, knowledge projects like “Asian American History” and “Chicano/a History” could be formally homologous to the structures and strictures of academic governmentality, even as they sometimes proffered a contentious or oppositional relationship to the academy itself. “The Motley Tower” employs archival research and documentary analysis to trace this complex process of negotiation and contestation from the end of World War II to 1978.
 
Analena Hassberg
To Survive and Thrive: Food, Justice, and Citified Sovereignty in South LA
Food is central to all human life and as such can function to unify disparate populations. Yet, despite our shared needs for clean air, water and food, the poor and people of color suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and globally oppressive food systems. Here in the United States, low-income urban neighborhoods are generally characterized by an absence of fresh food and green space, and an inundation of fast food, liquor and other toxic substances like drugs, pollution and violence. In South Los Angeles, this phenomenon has contributed to a culture of slow death in the form of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and a host of other preventable food-related illnesses. Analena Hope’s dissertation To Survive and Thrive: Food, Justice, and Citified Sovereignty in South LA uses food as a lens to examine urban development, racialized health outcomes, and self-determination in South Los Angeles from the post-WWII period to the present. She demonstrates how differential neighborhood food access and racialized health outcomes are symptoms of structural inequality within LA’s built urban environment. To Survive and Thrive also situates food at the forefront of revolutionary survival strategies in low-income urban communities of color, where repressive material conditions necessitate alternative ways of being, living, and eating at various scales.
 
Jessica Lovaas
Fostering Neoliberalism: the politics and power of the child welfare system in Southern California
What happens when we view the child welfare system not as a cluster of concrete agencies concerned with child protection but as a vast political apparatus that uses child removal as a form of social control? This dissertation seeks to situate Southern California’s child welfare system within a long history of racialized and gendered child removal practices in the United States, and within more recent shifts in neoliberal policies and practices. I argue that we cannot fully understand the power and purpose of the foster care system in Los Angeles without understanding how it interacts with and is impacted by border militarization and deportation practices, welfare and employment policies, marriage equality organizing and legislation, municipal policing and surveillance practices, and the growth of the prison industrial complex. In particular, this dissertation looks at the multiple ways through which the child welfare system in Southern California helps achieve market goals, transmit neoliberal values, and delineate notions of the normative family and ideal citizen-subject. Combining fieldwork, ethnography, interviews, and media analysis I analyze the localized ways in which foster youth, parents, social workers, and advocates experience this system, and the creative ways in which many challenge its boundaries, restrictions, and underlying impositions.
 
Joshua Mitchell
The Prisoners' Cinema: Perception in Carceral and Cinematic Time
“The Prisoners’ Cinema: Perception in Carceral and Cinematic Time” examines how the time of the prison sentence becomes felt in the human senses. Using archival administrative documents, prisoners’ publications, and philosophies of punishment and aesthetics, this dissertation imagines the histories and afterlives of two technologies—prison and cinema—as they innovate, evolve, and perhaps one day vanish. Departing from assessments of the prison’s representations in film and television, “The Prisoners’ Cinema” instead locates the confrontations of “prison time” and “cinematic time” in three processes: the spectatorship of moving-image media in prisons; the industries of cinematic production that use the prison as a filming location; and the ordering of cinematic form. These carceral and cinematic temporalities similarly elicit a range of embodied responses: anticipation, boredom, longing, and desire. Drawing on film historiography and theory, prison studies, and visual culture, I posit an interdependent relation between two experiences of time that are alternatingly supplementary and confrontational.
 
Nic John Ramos
Worthy of Care: Community Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Public Hospital Construction in Post War Los Angeles
Framed by demands from both community groups and government leaders to involve the poor in lifting themselves out of poverty, the medical community responded in-kind with two new Post War medical disciplines – Community Medicine and Emergency Medicine – designed to lift the sickly into healthy lifestyles. The figuring of the Watts Riots as symptomatic of larger social and economic crises welded poverty and sickness together in these forms of comprehensive care by their central placement in a public hospital built as a remedy to the riots (King General Hospital). Implying that good health is a civic requirement for economic independence, I argue that King General Hospital constituted an experiment in crafting flexible, durable, and mobile forms of medicine applicable in a wide array of racial and economic contexts in the service of managing the life of populations more efficiently.
 
Emily Raymundo
Racial Feeling: Reorientations in Asian American Culture
This dissertation traces the changes wrought in Asian American racial formation and feeling by the ideological and economic structures of late global capitalism and neoliberal multiculturalism. Reading a diverse archive of texts—including novels, Broadway musicals, and legal memorandums—Racial Feeling argues that the increasing accumulation of flexible economic and cultural capital of various Asian/American populations poses a specific and urgent problem for Asian American Studies: the discipline must reorient its definition of Asian American culture in order to encompass not only those texts that are contradictory and unsettling to structures of state, nation, and capital, but also those that are colorblind, neoliberal, and decidedly non-oppositional, in order to more fully comprehend the political orientations and structures of feeling that characterize contemporary Asian America. I develop racial feeling as a method and critical language that can describe the new, and sometimes unpredictable, ways in which some Asian American subjects and populations are folded into the daily operations of American state and capital—distributing unprecedented privileges and advantages, and reshaping the effects of racialization on such populations—while, at the same time, accounting for the ways in which older forms of racialization, which distribute stigma and disadvantage, continue to operate. The material effects of these multiple structures of racial formation do not always easily cleave to the so-called “color line,” or map neatly onto pre-given racial categories. Thus, racial feeling, as an analytic of the social, moves beyond the visual dimension of race and decodes the array of uneven affects and bodily feelings that together describe how, at any given moment or in any given scene, race feels as much as how it appears. In doing so, I trace how race is felt within multicultural neoliberalism—both how it lingers on and how it is produced anew as it continues to saturate the social.
 
  • Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
  • University of Southern California
  • 3620 South Vermont Avenue
  • Kaprielian Hall 462
  • Los Angeles, California 90089-2534