Dissertation Abstracts

Deborah Al-Najjar
Around 1991: Racial/Sexual Terror and U.S. Empire 1950-2015
Within the context of the Cold War, both the CIA involvement with The 1958 Baghdad Revolution and the Baathist Regime's violent apprehension of Iraq created an environment of collective racial and sexual terror that played out somatically and psychically. The resulting grief produced a residue of material losses within Iraqi culture. This project intervenes in the fields of trauma studies and sexuality studies through textual analysis of cultural production by Sam Greenlee, Sinan Antoon, Alan Ball, and Rajiv Joseph. These cultural texts document the overlapping traumas caused by U.S. Empire & the Iraqi Regime inside of what Fanon names the “psycho-affective” realm. The Cold War tactics continued with the U.S. providing military aid to both countries during the Iraq-Iran War of the 1980s. The 1991 Persian Gulf War resulted in protracted and continual bombings and sanctions, followed by the 2003 occupation, destabilization of Iraq and internally displaced Iraqis as well as Iraqi refugees dispersed globally. I argue that the prostitutes and rape victims in these texts experience both cultural/racial betrayal and sexual exploitation not as separated experiences; the collective corporeal subject and the national psyche bear the psychic damage from endless wars. Racial/Sexual Terror refers to the racial/sexual trauma experienced by Iraqi citizens at the hands of both U.S. Empire and the Hussein family Baathist Regime.
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 American and Arab sociopolitical projects and metaphysical imaginaries through historical-anthropological methods while being attentive to cultural studies theories. What metaphysical geographies does Blackness occupy in the Sharq/Maghreb (known in Area Studies as "The Middle East and North Africa") imaginary? What are Black Americans’ imaginaries around the Sharq/Maghreb? What informs these imaginaries? Are these imaginaries potential sites of solidarity? The project begins in the post-WWII moment, tracking the legatos of the Black freedom movement alongside decolonizing movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and ending with encounters between the Black radical tradition and social justice movements in the Sharq/Maghreb ---namely the “Arab uprisings” and the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement. My work explores 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, or the "engaged witness," opens a window into the convergences between the Black radical tradition and Sharq/Maghreb (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. I examine the role of race, Islam (ummic imperative), gender, aesthetics and travel (delegate/delegations) in generating what Sufi scholar Ibn Arabi calls “double vision,” (prefiguring Antonio Gramsci’s “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will”) as a basis for forging transnational and local solidarities.
Sophia Azeb
Another Country: Black Americans, Arab Worlds, 1952-1979
"Another Country" examines the intersections of race and literary, musical, and visual cultures within Afro-diasporic communities in France, Algeria, and Egypt during the Cold War. Azeb’s project constructs an Afro-Arab, multilingual cultural archive in order to analyze the transnational cultural currents of blackness among Algerians and Egyptians, who sought to construct a language through which to communicate their respective struggles to African Americans living in Arab spaces. These translational efforts often reveal tensions between black Americans and their Algerian and Egyptian counterparts, but also contribute to strengthening solidarities across linguistic, political, and geographic boundaries. Through this research, Azeb theorizes the place of Arabic-speaking peoples within the African Diaspora with the aim of contributing to a more thorough historical understanding of blackness in North Africa. Azeb’s research interests also include Arab American racial formations, comic and speculative fictions in Palestine, and race and sport. She has written on these and related topics for Africa Is A Country, the Chimurenga "Chronic," and KCET’s Artbound.
Umayyah Cable
Cinematic Activism: Palestinian Cultural Politics in the United States
"Cinematic Activism" examines Palestinian cinema—through films and film festivals—as a site around which Palestinian-Americans organize their political activism and assert their identification with Palestine. I employ a queer analytical lens with the methods of oral history, participant observation, and media analysis to illustrate how film festivals constitute a practice of “cinematic activism.” I theorize cinematic activism as a framework with four components—representation, organization, spectatorship, and reception—through which identity-based groups leverage film culture to resist the subjugation of their political expressions and cultural identities. Through this framework I conceptualize Palestinian-American subjectivity as politically and culturally queer in relation to both liberal American culture and the masculinist, heterosexual, and ethnocentric norms that structure the prevailing representations of national identity in Palestinian cinema. I use the term “queer” not to delineate a person’s sexual orientation, but rather to signify a position of radical alterity or a politics of resisting dominant norms. For the Palestinian-American community in particular, cinematic activism works to both transform the US discourse on Palestine and give voice to the diaspora in ways that recognize and accommodate gender, racial, and sexual difference.
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: Master Plans, Urban Crises, and Multiracial Higher Education in Postwar Los Angeles
"The Motley Tower" traces the institutionalization of racial diversity at the University of California, the nation’s premier public research academy, during the 1960s and 1970s. In this period, the University shifted from instituting the 1960 Master Plan, a colorblind framework for the statewide organization of higher education; to hosting the first ethnic studies programs amidst Governor Ronald Reagan’s (1967-75) budget cuts; to defending its affirmative action policies in the 1978 Bakke vs. Regents U.S. Supreme Court case. These transformations involved a multiplicity of institutional relations—between administrators, faculty, students, elected officials, and civic advocates—within the multiracial landscape of postwar California. Despite its prevalence in preexisting scholarship, campus protest was but one vector by which the University confronted its internal crises of racial representation and incorporated nonwhite students, scholars, and research subjects. Efforts to reorient the institution to California’s multiracial polity—from internal reform and outside pressure alike—coincided with broader public divestments from higher education as a staple of the midcentury Keynesian state. Programmatic innovations and political conflicts at the UCs thus antedated the national tensions between liberal multiculturalism and neoconservatism coeval with Reagan’s rise to federal office. Employing archival research and textual and spatial analysis, "The Motley Tower" examines the University system writ large while focusing on UCLA, which grew rapidly in conjunction with the postwar globalization of Southern California.
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 Ramos
Worthy of Care: Comprehensive Healthcare and King-Drew Medical Center
Advancing black feminist and queer of color critique scholarship’s intersectional analysis of law and statecraft, "Worthy of Care: Comprehensive Healthcare and King-Drew Medical Center," argues that race and sexuality, as conceived and enforced through federal policy, racializes and triangulates poverty and kinship, auguring a common belief that “black poverty” is exceptional from (white) “poverty” and qualitatively different from “brown poverty” based on the differential valorization of each community as “responsible” or “irresponsible” for their perceived proclivities to pull themselves out of poverty, sexual deviance, and illness. "Worthy of Care" examines this phenomenon by showing how a national policy shift in healthcare called "comprehensive healthcare" and an anti-poverty policy mandate known as citizen participation made possible a public hospital built as a response to the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles called King-Drew Medical Center. Envisioned as a health-as-urban-renewal scheme, this modern public hospital and three new medical disciplines deployed within it are examined: Community Medicine, Community Mental Health, and Emergency Medicine, to illustrate how Postwar American medicine orients patients towards self-responsibility and public hygiene. Pitted between two racial paradigms (black/white vs. white/non-white) and within a shifting demographic of being a majority black neighborhood in the 1960s and a Latino neighborhood in the 1980s, "Worthy of Care" demonstrates that the state’s desire to manage health and urban renewal through the stabilization of race and sexuality as discrete objects of difference created a crisis of race and leadership in light of the region’s multiracial and sexually heterogeneous make-up.
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