Vivian Yoonhyong Choi| Kelly Feinstein-Johnson | Jenna Gray-Hildenbrand | Bradford Johnston | Rebecca Kaplan | Samantha Matherne | Tarun Menon | Julia Lehua Panko | Erin Pearson | Daniel Quirós | Jan Roselle | Josephine Richstad | Matt Russell | Emily Selove
Vivian Yoonhyong Choi, Anthropology, UC Davis
After Disasters: The Persistence of Insecurity and Violence in Sri Lanka
My dissertation, based on 15 months of field research in Sri Lanka, is a critical ethnography of disasters – both natural and man-made. It weaves together the “ends” of disasters, through processes of nation-building and reconstruction in a post-tsunami and post-war context, tracing the social, technological, and institutional negotiations and tensions ushered in at the end of the war and reconstruction efforts after the tsunami.In particular, I highlight a shift in governance and management that treats both natural disasters and terrorist attacks as inevitable threats to national security. I give the experiences of people living amidst the detritus of tsunami and war and with this shift in governance, and further, show how these techniques of governance actually lead to increased securitization and militarization in areas with histories of war-related trauma and violence, and a palpable lack of social and political change. The persistent threat of violence – even after the “end” of the war – illustrates the contradictions that seem to be part and parcel of nation-building processes in Sri Lanka. By examining how both disasters unfold socially and politically I aim to unsettle the very terms by which we understand phenomena as either “natural” or “man-made” – that is, “natural” and “cultural.” As such, I suggest that studying the social and political intersections of the civil war and the tsunami through projects of nation-building in Sri Lanka can illustrate that peace is neither the opposite of war nor the absence of violence, but rather is a dynamic assemblage of tensions constituted by various social, political, and material relations.
Broadside ballads were a form of inexpensive print that contained a story written in verse, printed on one side of one sheet of paper, frequently adorned with crude woodcuts, and sold for a penny. Although broadsides have received increasing attention from literature scholars and historians of popular culture, they have not been considered from an art or performance historical perspective. My approach to crime ballads combines social and cultural history, literature, and art and performance history. My dissertation more fully addresses the historical position of these ballads, which were meant to be sung and read, but also to be seen and performed.
This project presents a defendant-centered approach to the study of law and religion in the U.S. by analyzing cases in which the state criminalized religious practices. By focusing on legal conflicts involving Native American, metaphysical, and Christian communities my dissertation examines the ways religious individuals engage the law and how this engagement influences religious beliefs and practices. Focusing on defendants enriches past studies, which predominantly have taken a jurist-centered approach to the study of religion and the law, by investigating the many ways religious communities understand the law in light of their religious obligations and beliefs. My dissertation draws on theoretical and methodological tools present in legal studies, anthropology, and religious studies to address this central question: How does a defendant-centered approach reframe existing scholarship on religion and the law in the U.S.? I argue that this methodological shift provides a more complete understanding of 1) how the law influences religion in the United States, 2) how religious individuals and communities negotiate conflicting claims of authority over their practice, and 3) how the category of “religion” is challenged, negotiated, and restabilized not only in legal contexts but also in academic contexts.
This dissertation project will use brucellosis and brucellosis eradication policy in the United States as a lens to explore the historic relationship between animal and human health, public health, science, veterinarian and human medicine, agricultural practices, societal norms, and politics. The dissertation poses four novel questions regarding the history of brucellosis in the United States : How did scientific understanding of brucellosis change, and what and who (which stake-holders) determined reconceptualization of the disease? What was the relationship between understanding of the etiology, transmission and pathogenesis of the disease to economic, social and public health policy formation and implementation at local and national levels? Which major economic and political interests dominated the public policy process and why? What were the dominant cultural values and legitimating authority on which these negotiations were based? The dissertation project will contribute to the history of public health, science, agriculture, and animals.
Samantha Matherne, Philosophy, UC Riverside
Art in Perception: Making perception aesthetic again
Though perception has traditionally been considered to be something passive, something that happens to us, more recently philosophers and cognitive scientists alike have been converging on the thesis that perception is essentially active, something we do. This activity, however, has tended to be characterized in more or less mechanical terms. My project aims at correcting this one-sidedness by exploring the artistic or ‘aesthetic’ dimensions of perceptual activity. I am interesting in how things like imagination and creativity, which have traditionally been situated in the aesthetic domain and more closely associated with artistic production, actually underpin our everyday perceptual experience. In support of such an account, I build upon earlier work by two philosophers who recognized the relevance of reflection upon art and aesthetic experience to the explanation of everyday perception: Immanuel Kant and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. By taking our cue from these philosophers, I hope to show that aesthetic experience is a valuable resource for philosophers and cognitive scientists who want to explain activity in perception, and help us come to see that not only is there activity in perception, there is art in perception as well.
This project is a question of pressing importance to the fields of literature and media studies: what is the fate of the novel—a form with a long tradition as a printed object—in the “post-print” era of digital texts? The project focuses in particular on how the novel competes with, emulates, and critiques information storage media. Linking the increasing prominence of the interface in storage systems to increased attention to the visual properties of literary texts, Reading the Interface argues that formal innovations in the novel have forced a reevaluation of how the novel itself functions as an information storage system. This reevaluation ultimately broadens the concept of storage to include physical preservation, as well as to accommodate information overload. By tracing parallels between the current moment of media transition and the early twentieth century, the project critiques the narrative that casts the digital era as a revolutionary rupture.
My dissertation examines metaphors of eating and cannibalism in relation to American slavery. In the antebellum United States, many proslavery advocates used the purported ancestral cannibalism of slaves to justify the institution, while antislavery writers argued that American slavery itself represented cannibalism on a colossal scale. Beyond the slavery debate, cultural artifacts in both the antebellum and post-Emancipation eras abound in depictions of African Americans as agricultural products, foodstuffs, and money. In some ways, these categorical collapses express the simple fact of the staggering market value embodied by slaves by the final decades of U.S. slavery, but the metaphoric merging between slave bodies and crops also suggests at least a subconscious recognition of consumer complicity—the idea that by eating sugar and using cotton, consumers also eat and use the slaves that produced them to some extent.
My dissertation is an interdisciplinary and comparative project that lies at the intersection of political economy and cultural production. Specifically, it seeks to explore the relationship between film and literature and the consolidation of neoliberalism as the dominant socio-economic system in Argentina and three countries of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua) during the 1990s-2000s. By this time, the promises of development and democratization under a neoliberal agenda characterized by free markets and free trade are seriously challenged by a dramatic increase in criminality, violence, poverty and inequality in all four countries. The dissertation argues that these specific political and economic events also involve certain shifts in subjectivity, representation, and the relationship between politics and aesthetics. The dissertation explores how the cultural production of this period registers and indeed helps to construct new modes of subjectivity relating to the experience of neoliberalism from the periphery of the world economy, one that involves a complex relation between the individual and the new global economic order, as well as a reformulation of the critical possibilities of cultural texts in a historical moment characterized by a crisis of leftist political projects. As commodities within the global market themselves, cultural texts are able to unveil the contradictions, inequalities and tensions within neoliberalism, resisting its dominant logic, but at the same time appropriating and reformulating it in a variety of ways.
This dissertation is the first sustained formal analysis of the English fashionable novel, also commonly known as silver-fork fiction. These fashionable novels, popular in the 1820s and 30s, claimed to offer a direct and exclusive look into the lives, possessions, and habits of a fashionable English aristocracy. As such, they have long been read primarily as cultural and historical documents. Against this, I contend that these novels positioned themselves for their contemporary readers as mere documents of recordation, creating with great ingenuity a realist effect of transparency, to which later scholars have also fallen prey. Through historically situated close readings of these texts, I am exploring narrative strategies in the key categories of authorship, description, plot, and character in order to offer three significant contributions to scholarship: it offers a reassessment and reconsideration of a currently neglected genre of popular nineteenth-century literature by focusing on individual texts and their form rather than upon authors or groups of novels as previous studies have done; it explains how this genre formed part of, and contributed to the history of the novel; and it shows what these fashionable novel have to teach us about the relationships among culture, form, and politics in nineteenth-century England.
This dissertation project explores the ways American women have used their bodies as metaphorical weapons to flout culturally enforced expectations of “femininity” and have struggled against being perceived as objects of sexual exploitation. It is divided into two distinct sections: Part one addresses representations of the female body in Early Colonial American Literature, and part two addresses American Literature of the 20th century. The epistemological themes linking the two eras and two halves of the project are colonialism and performance. In essence, this project creates a link between two seemingly disparate literary eras by establishing a historical precedent for aggressive and difficult work with the female body as a creative response to rhetorical, ideological, and even physical violence against women in the interest of disciplining women into culturally sanctioned ideals of femininity. Therefore, while the first half deals with the 16th and 17th centuries in the Americas, the second half addresses the ways in which these same kinds of physical and sexual resistance emerge in 20th century American Literature through the feminist work of poets, playwrights, and performance artists.
My dissertation project investigates the concepts and vocabulary commonly used to understand modernization and its effects on the “people” in South America. In particular I compare the sociopolitical and literary contexts of Peru and Brazil through revisiting the novels of a group of mid-twentieth century canonical writers, José María Arguedas, Clarice Lispector and João Guimarães Rosa. I argue that the writings of these authors serve to call into question the narrative of the “people” and its relation to modernization in both theories of culture and cultural movements of twentieth century Latin America. These novels attempt to map the movement of dispossessed populations through figures of unpredictable social landscapes which exceed biopolitical forms of reterritorialization that attempt to contain these groups and their movements as the “people” and the “masses” tending towards modern rational “subjects.” Through readings of Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão: Veredas (1956), Arguedas’ El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo (1971) and Lispector’s A Paixão Segundo G.H. (1964), I examine the uprooting of cultural identities resulting from dispossession and explore the narrative performance of the movements this generates, including the circulation of goods, people and narrative styles in a fictional rendition of a Peruvian boomtown, and the overlay of temporal trajectories of an integrated, modern Brazil and apparently reverse trajectories of violent rebellions in the backlands.
This project examines how contemporary Spanish novelists, filmmakers, graphic novelists, and authors of testimony are making use of the moral trope of the Holocaust in order to understand, mediate, and construct memories of Spain’s contentious history of violence. In my introduction, I make the case for the importance of the theoretical framework of postmemory, the transmission and reception of memories of trauma to individuals who did not experience the events firsthand, examining the role of the grandchild in the current efforts to ‘recover’ Spanish memory. I then examine the variety of (often unhelpful) paradigmatic tropes that have become ubiquitous in the Spanish and international public’s understanding of Spain’s recent past and argue that the Holocaust has been employed to re-moralize the Spanish case and place it in a broader European context. I develop this thesis in chapters on Antonio Muñoz Molina’s novel Sefarad, the graphic novel El arte de volar, the false Holocaust testimony of Enric Marco, and the documentary film Los caminos de la memoria.
My dissertation topic centers on an unusual medieval Arabic text, probably from the 11th century, called Ḥikāyat Abī al-Qāsim (The Imitation of Abū al-Qāsim). This text tells the tale of a Baghdadi party-crasher crashing a party in Isfahan, and the author informs us in his introduction that the protagonist is meant to represent a microcosm of the city of Baghdad. Indeed the party-crasher covers almost every topic imaginable in his shocking party conversation, encyclopedic in quality. The events portrayed at this microcosmic banquet unfold in real time, and the introduction tells us that they can be read out loud in the same amount of time they took to occur. This text presents many puzzles in its obscure vocabulary and its innovative form, but has seldom been addressed in scholarship, and is virtually unknown to readers outside the immediate field of Medieval Arabic literature. In analyzing this text, my dissertation draws from the ample scholarship on other Mediterranean portrayals of banquets and dinner conversation, and especially focuses on several ancient Roman texts which, sharing hospitality and culinary traditions as well as an interest in ancient Greek literature, have much in common with the Ḥikāya.