Faculty Fellows, Fall 2016
Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, CLA, Twin Cities
Death from Laughter, Female Hysteria, and Early Cinema
According to popular news reports and obituaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hundreds of women died from laughing too hard. Any activity in modern life—going to the circus, playing bridge, or salting pork in the kitchen—could become a gateway to the convulsions of hysterical laughter for women. In my project, I look at a variety of social discourses regulating women’s laughter around this time, and think about them in relation to the development of modern clinical neurology and psychology. Whereas laughter allegedly killed regular women, female hysterics could endure multi-day laughing, barking fits without so much as a trace on their bodies. Finally, I think about the striking oppositions between the female laughing hysteric and the hysterically laughing woman through the archives of early cinema. Film spectatorship not only offered women a space to laugh safely, but also represented a potential visual cure to nervous hysteria.
Sociology, CLA, Twin Cities
Criminal Debts: Predatory Government and the Remaking of American Citizenship
In the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown, the U.S. Department of Justice found that public officials in Ferguson, Missouri used the law as a coercive instrument of state revenue enhancement. Police functioned as street-level enforcers of a program that used fines and fees to extract resources from poor communities of color and deliver them to municipal coffers. This type of policing is surprisingly common in the U.S. This project analyzes why such practices have emerged, how they function today in the broader political economy of the American state, and what they reveal about the changing nature of citizenship and state-citizen relations today. With my co-author, I argue that the neoliberal transformation of American governance has created pressures to reincarnate the predator state and organize it in a distinctively neoliberal form. Using criminal categories and policing to extract resources from “commodity-citizens,” jurisdictions draw sharp distinctions between participants in the contract state and subjects of the predatory state. And as it preys on poor people of color, the state enriches and builds solidarity among citizens of the contract state, who are disproportionately White and middle- or upper-class.
Law, Law School, Twin Cities
Lost Duties: Searching for the Other Half of Our Rights
Duties and rights are inseparable. Every legally enforceable right relies upon a corresponding legal duty. This rudimentary precept has long been recognized in Western jurisprudence and political thought as a fundamental legal fact. Unfortunately, duties have become an afterthought in contemporary rights and human rights theory and practice. The consequences of this seemingly trivial conceptual elision have been enormous for realizing—or failing to realize—the promises that rights offer in both domestic and international realms.
When and why were duties dropped from the modern idea of rights? What has been the impact? To answer these questions, this project takes the unusual approach of searching for the historical origins of an absence. In this book manuscript project, I explore the historical process through which duties were left out of key human rights texts, domestic rights struggles, and contemporary scholarship.
Ultimately, I hope to draw upon my empirical findings and the members of the University community to identify a common point of departure for the disparate and ongoing studies study of human rights across disciplines. This project seeks to reintegrate the missing “duties” back into our understandings of history, policy, and scholarship.
Anthropology, CLA, Twin Cities
Genomics and Its Publics
In 2010 the University of California invited its entire entering class to provide DNA for genetic testing as part of its common freshman experience, Bring Your Genes to Cal. The same year at the University of Minnesota the Gopher Kids Study collected DNA from children at the State Fair. These cases illustrate the complex ways that a new generation of biomedical research is enlisting broad swaths of the citizenry into contemporary genomics. Based on a decade of ethnographic research, this interdisciplinary project interrogates the broad transformations in social relations unfolding at the forefront of efforts to translate genomic knowledge into clinical interventions. It will produce a book length examination of efforts to establish the social relations upon which any future molecular medical clinic will be based. In so doing, the project investigates the more and less democratic impulses of a wide range of future building activities that engage citizens in genetic thinking and practice, exploring crucial questions of how or to what extent diverse modes of citizen engagement with contemporary genomics will allow for meaningful democratic participation in the shaping of genomic culture.
Eva von Dassow
Classical and Near Eastern Studies, CLA, Twin Cities
The Ancient Near East and the Modern West
My project is to examine the construction of modern conceptual frameworks for the study of ancient Near Eastern history, in the context of writing my book on freedom and governance in the ancient Near East. Guided by classical and biblical sources, and motivated by contemporary political concerns, early Orientalists saw the newly-discovered civilizations of ancient Egypt and western Asia as sempiternally authoritarian. This view assigned the invention of freedom to Greece, whose heritage the modern West claimed. Yet it is an inaccurate reading of history, as our ever-accumulating ancient Near Eastern sources show. The first chapter of my book-in-progress will analyze the conventional paradigm of the ancient Near Eastern state, the antinomy equating the Orient with despotism and Hellas with liberty, and their intellectual supports, in particular the theory of hydraulic civilization. The central chapters will develop a new paradigm, delineating concepts of liberty in ancient Near Eastern societies, their operation in law and politics, and their transformation through two millennia of history. The concluding chapter will draw together my results and integrate them into the discourses on freedom, conventionally traced to 5th-century Athens, that shape our construction of past and present in the West and Middle East alike.
History, CLA, Twin Cities
The Course of a Life
My current work, a book titled The Course of a Life, weaves together two distinct, original histories. The first history traces the story of Americans encounter with flammable fabrics in the mid-20th century – children’s cowboy suits made with a dangerously flammable fabric that exploded into flame disfiguring, disabling and claiming the lives of an untold number of children. I am reconstructing this history through legal, corporate, governmental, and newspaper records, and oral life histories of the children and their families themselves. The second history is of the curriculum vitae, the professional form that lies at the center of American academic life. This history rests on research in the papers of individual scholars, departmental and university administrative records, the records of professional organizations, and, finally, oral life histories. Each of these histories is important in and of itself. Together they raise questions about how a life becomes a subject of inquiry, whether historical, legal, medical, or any other field, how and with what consequences disciplinary norms and institutional practices frame a subject, and in so doing how we frame “the course of a life.”
Faculty Fellows, Spring 2017
Sociology and Global Studies, CLA, Twin Cities
Visualizing Urban Futures:
Speculation and Sacrifice in the Making of Global Cities
Over the past several years, I have conducted research on the implementation of a widely circulating vision of the “global city” as a modern megalopolis brimming with “world class” infrastructure and amenities, documenting its extremely uneven social effects—including mass displacement—in the city of Bangalore, India. Although I have substantial sociological and political-economic data to make the argument about the causes and effects of displacement, they don’t fully capture the human angst and experience as the displaced are forced to scramble for a new life. Firstly, I will work with an accomplished photographer to conduct life history interviews and take photographs guided by the displaced and their sense of meaning of place, community, and loss, to better understand the transformation of their lives. Secondly, I will create a photograph-and-text based section for my book manuscript and a public photographic exhibition representing the lived experiences of those affected by urban change.
Anthropology, CLA, Twin Cities
Animal Bedlam: Troubled Creatures and Interspecies Care
This project explores mental illness models and healing modalities through which human caretakers respond to psychological disturbance in nonhuman animals, specifically disturbance attributed to traumatic effects of abuse and confinement. Through ethnographic fieldwork, I focus on trans-species therapeutic cultures developing within sanctuaries or between healing practitioners and their animal clients. I explore the implications of these therapeutic cultures for a re-envisioning of animal-human relationships and the animal-human distinction, as well as for theories of psychological trauma. How do human caretakers mobilize or transform understandings of trauma in the sciences or humanities to address mental distress in animals? In what ways do their interventions draw on or resemble techniques such as the evocation of memories, hypnosis, psychotropic medication, bodywork, relationship work, behavioral modification, or play therapy, and in what ways do they improvise novel therapeutics, emerging through interspecies interactions? Through what modes of interspecies communication do caretakers’ assess and respond to the mental illness of animals in their care? How do psychological illness and psychotherapeutics in nonhumans depend on and/or undermine notions of species integrity and normativity? The project pursues these questions through examination of the therapeutic interpretations and treatments of psychological distress in parrots, elephants, and chimpanzees living in captivity.
Architecture, CDes, Twin Cities
Pragmatic Visionaries: Activist Architecture and Informal Urbanism in Contemporary São Paulo
Since the 2000s, self-organized social movements have multiplied in São Paulo, Brazil, fighting for causes such as affordable housing, bikeways, and green spaces. They are guided by a do-it-yourself attitude: pop-up parks, festivals, even a swimming pool on top of an expressway. These movements represent a pragmatic utopianism: visions of a more equitable and diverse society, achieved through piecemeal work and tempered by disillusionment with established political channels. Despite their small scale, they have changed not only specific sites, but also public policies. However, these handmade urban projects can be coopted by official strategies that profit from their cultural cachet while downsizing public services, thus requiring even more “do-it-yourself” urbanism. This research project provides the first systematic documentation and critical analysis of these movements. In addition, it situates them historically by acknowledging their indebtedness to foundational examples of architectural and artistic experimentation in Brazil from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Political Science, CLA, Duluth
The Political Psychology of Income Inequality
This project examines the language politicians use to discuss income inequality and the political and psychological determinants of people’s beliefs about income inequality. The study of language is accomplished by content analyzing politicians’ speeches and other publically available information about income inequality. The second portion of this research examines two questions: 1) how much (or little) do people know about income inequality in the United States and 2) what drives them to support (or not) various policies aimed at addressing income inequality. This is accomplished by using a series of experiments and a multi-wave panel survey fielded during the 2016 United States presidential election. The findings from this project will have important interdisciplinary implications for work in political science, mass communication, and public policy.
Communication Studies, CLA, Twin Cities
Women in the Media-Military-Industrial Complex
This book chiefly addresses two questions: (1) How do discursive constructions of social identities in media produce what Michel Foucault has termed régimes of truth regarding war and military life? (2) How do such constructions potentially intensify militarism? I thus examine news and documentary media discourses about war and the military produced since September 11, 2001, along with the political economy context—the media-military-industrial complex—from which they emerged. I argue that these discourses draw from historically specific intersections of gender, race, sexuality, and class to construct a post-feminist régime of truth about contemporary warfare, the military personnel tasked with fighting wars, and militarism more generally. The object domain of my analysis comprises both hybrid media (the serial drama Army Wives) and legacy media sources such as The New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and TV news programs. These sources generate most of the news to which the public is exposed, whether it is reposted, re-circulated through social media, or blogged about later. Additionally, I examine think tank reports and white papers that deal with the book’s subject matter, such as the Strategic Studies Institute’s report on military soft power.
Art, CLA, Twin Cities
By Any Medium Necessary
My project is focused on the endeavor of writing a book. It is centered on an exploration of the work of artists within the fields of art and technology, new media, and new genres; women who were compelled to create or improvise new technological means to realize their artistic intentions. This project emerged from the symposium Wonder Women: Art & Technology 1968-2008 and the concurrent, companion exhibition: culturing nature :: culturing technology that I presented at the University of Minnesota, the Nash Gallery, and the Walker Art Center to mark the 40th anniversary of the Cybernetics Serendipity exhibition at the ICA in London, UK.
Interdisciplinary Doctoral Graduate Fellow, 2016-17
Geography, CLA, Twin Cities
Local yet global:
Mapping India’s electronics repair and reuse economies
Electronic waste—computers, cellphones, TVs—is a rapidly growing waste stream that has attracted international attention for hazardous recycling practices in the Global South. Following international trends, India recently outlawed the informal (unregulated) e-waste sector. However, this ignores widespread reuse and repair economies in India and their ties to global markets. Through ethnographic research, my dissertation project traces multifaceted linkages between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ in India’s used, repair and scrap electronics worlds in order to reveal the dense web of connections within which e-waste is located and their centrality to the functioning of formal national and international markets.
Community of Scholars Program Fellow, Fall 2016
Mai See Thao
Anthropology, CLA, Twin Cities
Type II Diabetes and Healing in the Hmong Diaspora
As the sixth leading killer in the United States, type II diabetes disproportionally burdens minorities and those of lower socioeconomic standing, including former refugees. However, why might a segment of a refugee population engage in return migration to places of exile for healing? Ethnographically examining disease as both socially and physically produced, this project investigates the multiple meanings behind return migrations to Laos and Thailand for Hmong-Americans who are 50 years and older. Prior to life as political refugees, northern Laos was home to Hmong-Americans, however many fled the Pathet Lao Communist Party during America’s Secret War. Post 1975, Thailand provided temporary asylum for Hmong-Americans who were later resettled in the United States. My project asks how do these return migrations serve as an alternative form of care to diabetes management? Yet there is also a paradox that challenges preventative medicine and chronic care in which interlocutors insist that a true cure and true return to Laos is only through death. How does this paradoxical notion of death challenge the paradigm of preventative medicine and chronic care? And what forms of power are enabled through these claims of life and death for a community in diaspora?
Scholars and Artists in Residence, Fall 2016
Yugoslav Metropolis: Entertainment, Urban Life, and the Making of a European Capital Between the Two Wars
Yugoslav Metropolis examines Belgrade during the 1920s and 1930s when the city became the capital of the newly unified Yugoslavia. Belgrade was testing ground of the nation-building project during the interwar years; it was a central site where citizens encountered top-down narratives, celebrations, and propaganda. Its growing population of first-time city dwellers, however, showed little interest in state-mandated culture. Instead, they gravitated toward culture popular in other European cities such as Hollywood films, jazz music, cabaret, and radio broadcasts. Yugoslav Metropolis examines the pathways through which a deluge of foreign culture arrived into the capital city of a nationalizing state, how it was assimilated alongside the state project, and how it was interpreted in local society. It explores the rhetorical strategies of its critics – state officials, religious leaders, and nationalists – as well as of its proponents – journalists, middle class entrepreneurs, and everyday consumers. Finally, the book examines how foreign entertainment placed interwar Yugoslavia into dialogue with global questions of gender, sexuality, class, race, capital, and urban space. As the state aimed to model Belgrade into a Yugoslav city, residents’ encounters with foreign entertainment connected it to a metropolitan network and transformed it into a European capital.
Interconnected, a Kinetic Art Installation
My sculptures and installations are highly improvised projects that explore ideas about the vulnerability and resilience of living things. In my abstract forms, I work through questions of connection, protection, survival and permanence, often using fibers as my visual language. This project is aimed at creating a large-scale, kinetic sculptural installation that visually interprets ideas of interdependence. This will be my first artwork that intentionally incorporates motion and is inspired by a recent project during which I became fascinated with how thin strands of fiber respond to changes in air currents. I envision that the eventual finished artwork—which I will fully construct after my fellowship concludes—will consist of hundreds of strands of thread in motion. During the fellowship period, my goal is to lay the groundwork for this project by researching various forms of interdependence in nature and exploring different possible ways to activate movements in fibrous material.
Scholars and Artists in Residence, Spring 2017
This is my country:
A longitudinal study of the social construction of political awareness and national identity using children’s art work
This project uses children’s drawings to explore the formation of political/national awareness and identity in two countries (the United States and Poland) and at two different times (1991 and 2016). These questions guide the work: How do children represent their own political culture? How knowledgeable are they about that of others? What is the source of that knowledge? Is there evidence of political/cultural criticism in children’s depictions of their own society? In that of others? What influence do mass and social media have on children’s drawings?
Asian Languages and Literatures, CLA, Twin Cities
The Two Koreas: Growing Divergence in Language and Society
This book project will be the first of its kind, offering an introduction and contrastive analysis of the language and society of the two Koreas: the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). This book will address what the ever-growing divide between the two Koreas means for the East Asian region through a comparative linguistic and cultural analysis. The political complexity of the East Asian region is deeply affected by the relationship of the two Koreas but North Korea in scholarly work and the media tends to be treated as an isolated entity. My book provides a deeply contextualized understanding of North Korea through a comparative perspective with South Korea. I show that this comparative context is necessary for understanding issues often cursorily addressed in the global media including human rights, political isolationism, and nuclear warfare. My book manuscript particularly focuses on linguistics and everyday practice to understand the role North Korea plays especially in East Asia. I avoid treating it as an isolated outlier and instead bring in into conversation with South Korea through selected cultural and linguistic subjects. At the same time, I also tackle the caricature that South Korea can be in popular media when it is situated in such stark opposition to North Korea.
Scholar in Residence, Fall 2016 – Spring 2017
English, University of Michigan
A History of Complexity: 1650-1800
Complexity is the belief that things are best understood as though they are braided together out of simpler things. This is an extraordinarily powerful technique; it allows a clear plan for understanding difficult phenomena: simply untwist them into smaller, analyzable components. And so it is no coincidence that the modern sciences (including the recently emerging meta-field of complex systems analysis) depend on complexity in its technical or lay senses. Complexity has even become a cornerstone concept in the humanities, where we habitually take it as our task to unbraid the complexity of modern culture.
Taken as a word and concept, however, complexity is only about 350 years old, emerging in a set of paper debates on the origin of ideas. Arguing against a pervasive neo-Platonism, these scholars reconceptualized the intelligible world as one braided together (Latin: complicare) out of innumerable strands of simpler, but unknowable, things. This project, therefore, takes the hint of these early thinkers, braiding together several strands of narrative: a material and economic analysis of hair in early-modern England, a history of ideas threading through London and Oxbridge, a study of early modern information theory, and so on. Taken together, these strands offer a picture of complexity in its first emergence—with the epistemological and ethical burden that that development implies.
Visiting Scholar, Spring 2017
School of Foreign Languages, Guizhou Normal College
The History of Hmong Writing Systems Used in the U.S.
Currently, I am working on the research project entitled A Comparative Study on the Historical Development of the Hmong Writing Systems between China and Foreign Countries, with the aim at collecting the materials and information about the invention, development of the global Hmong writing systems for a comparison. My study and research in University of Minnesota, will help me to collect the relevant information about the Hmong writing in America. A fieldwork survey will be conducted in the Hmong communities in Minnesota for the Hmong writing there.