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).
 
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.
 
Crystal Baik
Unsettling Images that Bind: The Korean Militarized Diaspora (1905-1965), Critical Sensing, & the Decolonial Archive
My dissertation, entitled “Unsettling Images that Bind: The Korean Militarized Diaspora (1905-1965), Critical Sensing, & the Decolonial Archive,” interrogates the historical narratives and memories attached to the militarized making of the Korean diaspora across Asia and the Pacific (1905-1965). By examining an archive of cultural formations— ranging from early twentieth century footage of Korean anti-colonial protests to contemporary visual works by Korean transnational adoptees— I argue that visual objects are not merely aesthetic works, but political and epistemological mechanisms that unsettle discourses of American liberation and minjok, or Korean ethno-centric nationalism. Drawing upon theories of phenomenology and embodiment, cultural studies, and film studies, my interdisciplinary analysis offers the framework of critical sensing, which challenges the rigid boundary between the visible and invisible. Specifically, critical sensing describes the processes in which visual objects encounter and remediate primary sources of evidence, such as U.S. and South Korean military images, adoption papers, and state-produced films. While remediation gestures toward the preservation of the original, I argue that this process also alludes to obscured memories, social traces, and disappeared bodies excluded from dominant visual frames. Therefore, my dissertation does not only index the militarized making of a Korean diaspora, but offers a decolonized historiography capable of “sensing” memories and subjectivities deemed disposable to the intertwined projects of South Korean accelerated development, U.S. liberation, and Korean ethno-centric nationalism.
 
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.
 
Jih-Fei Cheng
“Queer Visibilities: Race, Gender, and Viral Ways of Seeing”

“Queer Visibilities: Race, Gender, and Viral Ways of Seeing” examines how the term “virus” came to designate an object of scientific inquiry and a mode of social organization. Drawing upon decolonial theory and queer of color critique, Cheng works backwards in time to analyze the visual and conceptual movements of the term across media platforms. Cheng examines web campaigns, documentary films, news, performances, scientific literatures, and historical accounts that illuminate HIV/AIDS in relation to the circulation of racial and gender significations that historically underpin discourses of disease. The dissertation demonstrates how virus representations generate a visual grammar by which queer subjects of U.S.-European empire forge kinships and build alliances across geographical scale and historical eras. By exploring the visual politics of viruses, Cheng bridges literatures in the humanities and sciences to propose a critical framework for understanding the development of discourses about viruses over time. “Queer Visibilities” ultimately argues that AIDS politics and queer theory can be used to identify a connection between the scientific narrative about the discovery of the first virus and concerns about race-mixing at the turn of the twentieth century.
 
Jennifer Declue
Specters of Miscegenation: Blood, the Law, and the Reproduction of Blackness
Jennifer’s dissertation "Specters of Miscegenation: Blood, the Law, and the Reproduction of Blackness" examines the manner in which antebellum anti-miscegenation laws surface in postbellum legislation and ideologies of blackness and whiteness by tuning in to the specter of black women’s reproduction in the making of the racialized U.S. body. By contextualizing literary and visual cultural texts that contend with anti-miscegenation violence, “mulatto” children’s rights of inheritance, interracial couple’s right to marry, and domestic spaces that merge black and white bodies with key legal cases and judicial history, this project establishes that a culture of miscegenation which both depends upon and erases black women’s reproductive bodies is central to the making of the U.S. national body. "Specters of Miscegenation" analyzes visual and literary representations of state and national legislative and judicial responses to the problematics of defining blackness, prohibiting miscegenation, and securing or refusing rights of black citizens during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era. This project hones in on the gray areas - the ambiguities of race, family, and community - that anti-miscegenation legislation and Jim Crow laws attempt to disentangle by defining epistemologies of blackness through symbolics of blood. I examine the shadow system of sexualized racial violence that produced “mulatto” children, allowed white vigilantism, and overlooked extralegal interracial couplings, which engender what I describe as a culture of miscegenation through laws, custom, and culture. The visual and literary texts examined in this project illustrate how generations of sexual violence, subsequent familial ties, and racially indistinct collectivities blur putatively immiscible bodies that often escapes dominant narratives of race within the U.S. "Specters of Miscegenation" examines the complex of secrecy, shame, and violence imposed upon the figure of the mulatto who threatens white supremacy’s claim to blood purity in the film "Pinky" (1949, the novel "Clotel" (1853) and Kara Walker’s "Bureau of Refugees" series (2008. This project also examines miscegenation by discussing collectivities of black and white people that together attain freedom by using the group to defy systemic racial and gendered violence in Sherley Anne Williams's novel "Dessa Rose"(1986) and Alfonso Cuaron's film "Children of Men"(2006). "Specters of Miscegenation" grounds analyses of literary and visual texts, which grapple with miscegenation and racial purity, by discussing the categorical obfuscation of black women’s reproduction in significant legal cases that shape ideologies of American blackness and whiteness, in order to support the contention that black women’s reproductive bodies haunt key civil rights decisions, the U.S. cultural imaginary of the antebellum and Jim Crow south, and the contradictory constitution of our supposed racially distinct national body.
 
Kai Green
“Into the Darkness: A Black Queer (Re)membering of Los Angeles in a Time of Crises (1981-Present)”

“Into the Darkness” examines the ways in which Black queer folk articulate, create, construct, and reconstruct Black queer space and place in Los Angeles from 1981 to the present. In 1981, the crises that Black people experienced in Los Angeles because of rising incarceration rates, unemployment, drug addiction and gang violence, were further compounded by the arrival of the HIV/AIDS virus. And while there was much silence and stagnation nationally and locally in Black and white communities in response to HIV/AIDS in particular, there were Black queer folk in South Los Angeles who worked to provide knowledge, support, community, and life saving opportunities for themselves and their communities. This dissertation reveals some of those Black queer struggles in South Los Angeles. Darkness is an instructive framework, a scale that helps us to understand the relationship between place making and the production of identity and difference. Darkness functions in three ways in the dissertation: 1) A physical embodiment (Blackness) 2) A type of place (South Los Angeles) 3) It is the intellectual and imaginary site of (re)production of Black queer knowledge. In order to complete this project, Green utilizes an interdisciplinary methodology that combines historiography, ethnography, and ethnographic film.
 
Priscilla Leiva
“Bigger Stadiums, Better Futures? The Cultural Politics of Difference and Civic Identity in Postwar Urban Imaginaries”

This dissertation approaches stadiums as political, economic, and cultural infrastructure that shape ideas about place, conditioning who belongs and what spaces are desirable. As sites of immense ideological and financial investment, stadiums provide a generative site for exploring the unresolved relationship between race and power in the postwar period. This project demonstrates how the stadium’s transformation from a site of athletic prowess to a symbol of progress and infrastructure serves as a critical window into racialized and gendered struggles for civic identity and alternate urban futures over time. It offers Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Houston as important metropolitan spaces that chart architectural, technological, and ideological stadium transformations amidst rapidly changing demographic landscapes. In focusing on cities with majority-minority populations, the dissertation contends that communities of color have capitalized, and continue to capitalize, on the importance of the stadium to create new urban imaginaries and alter civic identities.
 
Jessica Quizar
Who Cares for Detroit? Urban Agriculture, Black Self-Determination, and Struggles over Urban Space
Drawing on interviews and ethnography, this project examines development in Detroit through the analyses of urban farmers who view agriculture as a strategy for Black freedom and self-determination. The projects draw on rich histories of Black organizing in the city and use farming to develop community and relationships, a sense of spiritual and historical connection, collective and individual self-improvement, and to build Black economic and political power in the city. Black-led urban agriculture in Detroit centers the idea of care—how one cares for people, for neighborhoods, for nature—as a primary measure of what is appropriate use of urban space. The issue of care in this context is both a question of responsibility—attending to, maintaining, and managing space—and affect—emotional and historical connection to place, and the people that inhabit it. In framing legitimate use of land and space as hinging on how one cares, for it, Black farmers in the city emphasize use-values of land over exchange-values and prioritize affective relationality as the basis of their vision of urban development—building strong, caring relationships between people and land, the city, their food, nature, and each other.
 
Anthony Rodriguez
Heretical Scripts: Sylvia Wynter's Early Intellectual Life in the Decolonial Atlantic, 1947 - 1995
In the early twenty-first century increasing attention has been brought to the critical thought of contemporary cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter. My dissertation constructs an intellectual history of Wynter's early critical intellectual life in the Caribbean and United States between 1962 and 1977 - a period that coincides with the emergence of unprecedented Black social movements across the diaspora that collectively and collaboratively struggled for antiracist, anticapitalist, and anticolonial social transformation. Drawing from historian J. G. Pocock's contention that political discourse may be considered “the intellect's attempt to construct an intelligible world out of political experience,” I situate Wynter's early writings within the context of critical intellectual cultures that emerged in the wake of West Indian national independence struggles and the Black Power movement.1 As scholarly engagement with Wynter's critical thought continues to grow throughout the humanities and social sciences, so too will the need to engage those social movements that she witnessed and directly participated in during her early intellectual life. My dissertation aims to contribute to present and future scholarship on Wynter's work by interfacing her critical thought and philosophies on human freedom with these social movements, which themselves demand further study with regard to their impact on contemporary social theory.
 
Sriya Shrestha
“Profiting from disparity: Marketing to the poor across the United States and South Asia”

“Profiting from Disparity” tracks how the logics and practices of consumer capitalism have shifted under growing economic disparity. Sriya Shrestha takes Nepal and the United States as case studies to understand how multinational consumer goods companies target low-income consumers as a growth market. She examines market research, popular media, retail spaces, and product packaging for the personal care and household cleaning industry that aggressively seek out low-income consumers. These daily use products become indispensable through the universalization of Euro-American standards of health and hygiene rooted in hierarchies of development that constructs 'middle-classness' not as a disappearing income status but rather an accessible yet distinct lifestyle of consumption.
 
David Stein
Fearing Inflation, Inflating Fears: The End of Full Employment and the Rise of the Carceral State
"Fearing Inflation" blends social, political, labor, and economic history with the interdisciplinary fields of feminist economic theory, radical criminology, and African American Studies to reveal the centrality of full employment demands to Black freedom politics. This study investigates racial justice movements that sought to eradicate structural unemployment and examines contests over governmental responses to people who were disemployed due to automation and globalization. Spanning the 1930s to the 1980s, and drawing upon archives of activists, politicians, economists, and the Federal Reserve, I uncover the relationship between the rise and decline of the political program for full employment and guaranteed income, and the increased federal political focus on criminalization, including the escalation of punitive U.S. federal policies targeting "street crime". A number of scholars have argued that the growth of federal infrastructure for policing and imprisonment of street crime after the mid-1960s was premised on the need to discipline people who were rendered redundant to capital by automation, globalization, and other political and economic shifts that established a group of surplus laborers who were structurally unemployed. My dissertation follows these lessons, but looks backwards to elucidate their historical contingency. I investigate the social movements and government actors of the 1930s-40s that established an ethos that it was the federal government's responsibility to provide jobs or income for those whom the private market abandoned. I emphasize how—due to fear on behalf of capital of wage-push inflation—government and the Federal Reserve participated in actions to inhibit working-class power from the 50s-70s, and unmade a consensus about the need for full employment planning. I also foreground the role of civil rights socialists, such as A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin who tirelessly pursued full employment planning and whose anti-racist struggles were interlocked with their understanding of a just political economy. By highlighting their ultimately unsuccessful campaigns of the 1960-70s to respond to high rates of unemployment, I show how the structural contradiction of labor surpluses that has been "resolved" via the carceral state of the post-1960s was not the only answer to this problem. Rather, there were a number of plans and alternatives such as the Rustin-designed "Freedom Budget for All Americans," and the subsequent efforts (led by Coretta Scott King) of the Full Employment Action Council. In order to reveal the dynamic and textured struggles of the period, I draw on research in archives of leading figures in postwar social and economic policy such as: activists Rustin and Randolph, economists Leon Keyserling and Milton Friedman, and politicians Scoop Jackson and Tip O'Neill. Since many of these problems of structural unemployment and economic precarity have deepened with the rise of neoliberalism, I follow E.P. Thompson's argument that by looking at "lost causes" of prior organizers and activists "we may discover insights into social evils we have yet to cure." I am grateful to work with Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Chair), Robin D.G. Kelley, Laura Pulido, and Shana Redmond.
 
  • Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
  • University of Southern California
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  • Kaprielian Hall 462
  • Los Angeles, California 90089-2534