Asian American Studies

A View from the Ivy Gates: Christine Yano on Privilege and Affirmative Action

yanoChristine Yano is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and co-editor (with Neal K. Adolph Akatsuka) of the new book Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. This guest post offers her reflections on current and recent lawsuits on affirmative action in higher education.

Privilege is an ugly word.  And any pedestal of privilege holds a fraught position that draws critics and wannabes.  Given these elements, the possibilities for manipulation of privilege and its pedestals run high.  In my mind, this is part of the backdrop of the current lawsuit against Harvard University’s admissions policy by the so-called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) led by conservative activist Edward Blum.  The lawsuit charges that Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policy discriminates against Asian American applicants, by holding them to a higher bar than others, based on their numerical test scores and rates of admission.  The lawsuit on surface carries commonsense momentum, because it feeds upon a history of rumor and innuendo, in part driven by similar lawsuits levelled at other places of privilege, such as University of California, Berkeley.  It feeds upon stereotypes of Asian Americans as a model minority that is high-achieving and low maintenance, ignoring the diversity of national origins, culture, education levels, and social class.  The model minority stereotype thrust upon Asian Americans by white media during the racially volatile 1960s categorized them as the so-called “good minority” in contrast with other persons of color as the “bad minority.”  The lawsuit feeds upon the creation and manipulation of such divisiveness, pitting minority against minority in the most insidious ways.  The lawsuit generates its own hype.

978-1-4780-0024-2I come to these thoughts on the impending lawsuit through perusing related documents in the news media, but also through my experiences as a Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Harvard in 2014-2015, teaching an experimental and temporary undergraduate course entitled Being Asian American: Representations and Realities (Anth1606).  My students were primarily Asian American undergraduates, who were excited and enthusiastic to find a class that dealt with their own experiences.  The students’ energies coalesced as Straight A’s:  Asian American College Students in Their Own Words.  Straight A’s consists of first-person narratives of Harvard Asian American undergraduates, gathered by the students (dubbed “Asian American Collective”) through personal writings and interviews.  As their instructor and fellow Asian American, I was moved by their tales, which were direct, unblinking, and intimate.  They helped me learn the pitfalls of the public pedestal of Harvard and the constant scrutiny that such a position entails, which includes families (sometimes arcing back to extended families in Asia), friends, high schools, communities, and more.  These students live under tremendous pressure, and a lawsuit such as Blum’s only adds to the confusion and complexity of their college years.

I admit that I, too, did not know exactly what to make of the lawsuit without having done some background reading.  Because the lawsuit feeds into so many pre-existing assumptions, stereotypes, and histories, those who hear news of it may find themselves hard put to examine its context more closely.  After all, prejudice against Asian Americans is a very real thing.  Shutting out minorities (here Asian Americans; in the past, Jews) from institutions of privilege is well documented and an ugly part of history, including that of Harvard.  These kinds of historical encounters with the allegations set forth by the lawsuit give a kind of common-sense, superficial acceptance of its premises. This is a dangerous thing, especially given an age of right-wing conservatism with calls for dismantling affirmative action programs.  The lawsuit implies that the admissions process at a place of privilege such as Harvard follows affirmative action practices—that is, racial and ethnic quotas—that in this case have worked against one minority that has proven too successful for their own good.  Proponents of the lawsuit suggest that the answer is to abandon all affirmative action that might give any particular group an advantage (or here, disadvantage) over any other group.  Thus Blum and his followers (including some recruited Asian Americans, such as Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education) have found a circuitous means to argue against affirmative action in general.  It’s a neat and cynical trick.

But in fact, the trick is not quite so neat.  For example, the lawsuit mischaracterizes Harvard’s current admissions process.  In fact, many institutions, including Harvard, utilize holistic review—that is, a widespread, multi-factored review process that aims to assess the context of the whole person, rather than simply relying on test scores.  That context includes family background, life circumstances, and unusual achievement, assessed through letters of recommendation, personal essays, and interviews.  Holistic review allows institutions to deliberately and purposefully look beyond numerical test scores to recognize future value to careers and communities.  This is not about a “positive personality” score to which Asian Americans have been ranked lower—what Blum labels the “Asian Penalty.”  Rather, holistic review provides admissions offices with a range of factors that might predict fit and function, including in some cases recognition of educational barriers that certain Asian American applicants may face, such as low-income families, refugee status, or lack of English as a primary language.  The lawsuit, in fact, relies upon disaggregated data that takes Asian Americans as a monolithic group, ignoring those who might fall outside the model minority category.  Blum’s trick only works if we uncritically accept the methods of his fact-gathering and the ideological basis of his argument.  The key element to understanding the issues involved lies in contextualizing Blum and the motivations behind SFFA.

And a number of groups have done just that.  Foremost among these is the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance (H4A), an organization of 7000 Asian American and Asian alumni around the globe and founded in 2008.  If anything, their voice should be heard as persons directly concerned with the lawsuit issues.  In an extensive June 29, 2018 message to members, the H4A Board and Executive Committee emphasized two main points:  1) they support the inclusive, whole-person admissions process that Harvard uses; and 2) they oppose any form of racial discrimination in the process.  The message also notes Blum’s history of conservative activism, of which this lawsuit is only one.  Blum, for example, was at the forefront in bringing down civil rights protections in the Voting Rights Act.  He twice went unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court on behalf of a white plaintiff in Fisher vs University of Texas to end the consideration of race in admissions.  Realizing that he needed Asian American plaintiffs to further his generalized case to dismantle affirmative action, he sought and found them in his newly created “Students for Fair Admissions.”  The Harvard lawsuit is the result.

One of the most comprehensive documents that I have read is that issued by the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard of June 26, 2018, entitled “Admissions Lawsuit Update: A Look Behind the Hype.”  The Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic organization of nearly 1100 Harvard and Radcliffe alumni and students, includes more than 200 Asian Americans and was founded in 2016.  Its steering committee spent hundreds of hours reviewing the lawsuit documents, and comparing the statistical evaluations in a “battle of the experts”—Dr. Peter Arcidiacono (Professor of Economics, Duke University) representing SFFA versus Dr. David Card (Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley) representing Harvard.  Because the lawsuit is ongoing, its conclusions are as well.  However, the Coalition importantly identifies the overarching aim of Blum and SFFA as seeking to ban holistic review admissions processes nationwide through a court ruling that any use of race or ethnicity in an evaluative educational setting is unconstitutional.  If successful, the injunction would prevent all educational institutions from conducting their screening with knowledge of the applicant’s race, including surnames, mention of family background in personal essays, or in-person interviews.  SFFA seeks an admissions process that elevates (or returns) the importance of numerical test scores, while disregarding, among other things, life histories, special skills and talents, and individual passions.  This flies in the face of longstanding acknowledgment of the very limitations and biases of standardized testing.

The key here is not only that the Blum-SFFA position on admissions is wrong-headed.  It is, of course.  But there is more to it than that.  Rather, Blum-SFFA seeks to dismantle the very goals of diversity in access to higher education by “fracturing communities of color” (the words of the Coalition).  And he is using Asian Americans as his bulwark.  Those goals of diversity have been long served by affirmative action, widespread programs that recognize that students do not arrive from the same starting line.  Harvard’s admissions process may not be considered strictly “affirmative action,” but in prioritizing the whole person over a test score, and by upholding a goal of a diverse student body not because of a statistical mandate, but because of the richness to be gained and curated and advanced by difference, the ipso facto result takes race as one part of the context of all students.  The experience of race says something about the student, not as an assumption, but as one element in a particularized context of culture, family, educational expectations, stereotypes, and more.

Because the lawsuit plays so easily into sneering comments about privilege, as well as widespread rumors about access to pedestals of privilege, such as Harvard, the general public may too easily fail to look beyond the accusations.  They’ve heard this before; they’ve felt this before.  Asian Americans as almost-whites, subject to the same kinds of reverse discrimination that whites might face.  Model-minority privilege.  Focused on the easy predictability of the accusation, the general public may too easily ignore the goals of the accusers, and rely too easily on their own intentional and unintentional stereotypes of Asian Americans and other domestic communities of color.

Thus it is important to re-focus and re-calibrate our attention.  In this case, the true news story lies in the accusers’ ideology of exclusion and political conservatism.  The accusers’ world view has no room for affirmative action.  Ultimately targeting and dismantling those practices that seek to rectify social conditions of inequality, the accusers would have us believe in the holy grail of test-score objectivity.  This is why Blum advocates eliminating any and all references to race in the admissions evaluation.  The accusers would have us rush to the defense of poor Asian Americans, whose only crime was doing too well.  They would have us ignore the educational richness of a diverse campus, as well as the steps that an institution might take to achieve that balance. They would have us ignore the many ways that an individual might excel and contribute to a variety greater goods.  Using the public spotlight upon privilege and its pedestal, the accusers manipulate a quasi-minority position to do battle in the courts.  In many ways, it is a battle of world views.  But that characterization sounds far too neutral.  Indeed, this is a human rights issue.  The Harvard lawsuit represents a struggle for the very concept of what higher education and its access in the United States might mean.  The stakes run high as Blum threatens the ongoing work of affirmative action aimed at extending privilege and pedestal to a broader swath.  Asian Americans are but a pawn in his game.  This fall the courts will decide whose world view prevails.

Read more about the Asian American experience at Harvard in Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. Check out the introduction, and save 30% when you purchase a copy from Duke University Press by using coupon code E18STRA at checkout.

Historian Dawn Bohulano Mabalon Has Died

Dawn+photoWe were deeply saddened to learn of the death of historian Dawn Bohulano Mabalon on August 10. 2018. Mabalon was the author of Little Manila Is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California, published in 2013.

Mabalon saw her work as an act of community building. In an interview with The Margins in 2013, she said: “Filipinos in Stockton are on a journey towards realizing our memories and stories are history. We have been taught that it’s the growers and business owners and elite in Stockton who make history, and we only have our memories and those don’t mean as much. But realizing how we are a part of the American story is so empowering and so important. And that’s what I wanted to do with this book.”

littlemanilaShe toured tirelessly to share her research with Filipino-American communities, often sharing homemade treats with her enthusiastic audiences.  She was a co-founder and board member of the Little Manila Foundation, and in 2013 she was named to the list of the Filipina Women’s Network 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the World.

The Stockton Record reports that the local Filipino community is deeply mourning Mabalon’s loss, casting a shadow over the annual Barrio Fiesta. Dawn Mabalon’s family has set up a memorial fund to help with her funeral costs.

 

New Books in April

 April brings a fresh crop of great new books. Check out what we’re releasing this month.

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In Biblical Porn Jessica Johnson draws on a decade of fieldwork at Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle to show how congregants became entangled in a process of religious conviction through which they embodied Driscoll’s teaching on gender and sexuality in ways that supported the church’s growth.

In Abject Performances Leticia Alvarado explores how Latino artists and cultural producers have developed and deployed an irreverent aesthetics of abjection to resist assimilation and disrupt respectability politics.

Matthew Vitz’s A City on a Lake outlines the environmental history and politics of Mexico City as it transformed its original forested, water-rich environment into a smog-infested megacity, showing how the scientific and political disputes over water policy, housing, forestry, and sanitary engineering led to the city’s unequal urbanization and environmental decline.

In Domesticating Democracy Susan Helen Ellison offers an ethnography of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) organizations in El Alto, Bolivia, showing that by helping residents cope with their interpersonal disputes and economic troubles how they change the ways Bolivians interact with the state and global capitalism, making them into self-reliant citizens.

978-0-8223-7081-9.jpgKatherine Verdery’s My Life as a Spy analyzes the 2,781 page surveillance file the Romanian secret police compiled on her during her research trips to Transylvania in the 1970s and 1980s. Reading it led her to question her identity and also revealed how deeply the secret police was embedded in everyday life.

 In Edges of Exposure, following Senegalese toxicologists as they struggle to keep equipment, labs, and projects operating, Noémi Tousignant explores the impact of insufficient investments in scientific capacity in postcolonial Africa.

 

Examining human rights discourse from the French Revolution to the present, in Human Rights and the Care of the Self Alexandre Lefebvre turns common assumptions about human rights—that its main purpose is to enable, protect, and care for those in need—on their heads, showing how the value of human rights lies in its support of ethical self-care.

Gay PrioriLibby Adler’s Gay Priori offers a comprehensive critique of the mainstream LGBT legal agenda in the United States, showing how LGBT equal rights discourse drives legal advocates toward a narrow array of reform objectives that do little to help the lives of the most marginalized members of the LGBT community.

In From the Tricontinental to the Global South Anne Garland Mahler traces the history and intellectual legacy of the understudied global justice movement called the Tricontinental and calls for a revival of the Tricontinental’s politics as a means to strengthen racial justice and anti-neoliberal struggles in the twenty-first-century.

Aimee Bahng’s Migrant Futures traces the cultural production of futurity by juxtaposing the practices of speculative finance against those of speculative fiction, showing how speculative novels, films, and narratives create alternative futures that envision the potential for new political economies, social structures, and subjectivities that exceed the framework of capitalism.

A Primer for Teaching Environmental History, by Emily Wakild and Michelle K. Berry, is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching environmental history for the first time, for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses, for those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, and for teachers who want to incorporate environmental history into their world history courses. The book is part of a new series, Design Principles for Teaching History.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for Subject Matters, our e-mail newsletter, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Recent Scholarship on the 2017 Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people marched all over the world in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental policy reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and worker’s rights, among other causes. We are excited to share this recent scholarship that analyzes the Women’s March itself, as well as continued scholarship on feminism and women’s rights.

“Positions in Solidarity: Voices and Images from the US Women’s Marches” by Deborah Frizzell in Cultural Politics

Trump-WomensMarch_2017-top-1510075_(32409710246)In this article featured in Cultural Politics, Frizzell features photographs and remembrances of the Women’s Marches in New York City and Washington, D.C. The article addresses the efficacy of mass marches and similar forms of protest and poses questions about the nature of the March, what it achieved, and questions if solidarity can be sustained in an environment of ongoing divisiveness.
An excerpt from the article:
On the morning of January 21, 2017, I reviewed a PDF file from the National Lawyers Guild and the Black Movement Law Project to prepare for participation in the Women’s March in New York City. As I dressed for a mild winter’s day, I wrote with a Sharpie pen on my forearm the guild’s legal support hotline number in case of arrest. My good friend and colleague Sharon Vatsky and I decided to attend the march together. Although we had experience protesting in a number of marches over the years, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, we were not sure what to expect in 2017 with militarized police forces and escalating violence deployed by Trump supporters as a tactic against Muslims, Latinos, people of color, Jews, and LGBTQ communities.
Read the full article, made freely available.

“The Women’s March: New York, January 21, 2017” by Caroline Walker Bynum in Common Knowledge

Women's_March_2017-01_(04)Bynum wrote this article, featured in Common Knowledge, two days after the Women’s March in New York City. It describes the event while focusing on two specific aspects: the March’s multi-issue focus and its response to the denigration of women’s expertise represented in much of the hostility to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Bynum argues that “a pernicious and often unrecognized denigration of female voices and female expertise forms an undercurrent of contemporary political debate that needs to be much more widely resisted.”

An excerpt from the article:

Indeed, the staggering diversity of issues was one of the most obvious aspects of Saturday’s march. Even among those in my little group, there were many reasons for turning out. Our signs spoke of defending Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, gun control, the inner cities, the environment. If there was no clear agenda, why does it seem so important that my friends and I marched?

Above all, it is important because it was a women’s march—a fact that the commentators have not fully noted and understood.

Read the full article, made freely available.

 

Additional Scholarship on Feminism and Women’s Rights

Read to Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights

readtorespondOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This blog post on Feminism and Women’s Rights features journal articles and books tackling topics from abortion laws, maternity leave, Islamic feminism, and more. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

“Borders and Margins,” a special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

ddmew_13_3_coverThis special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

“1970s Feminisms,” a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

Start reading now.

“Trans/Feminisms,” a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

ddtsq_3_1-2Feminism and trans activism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, argue the contributors to “Trans/Feminisms,” the most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

This special double issue, edited by Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher, goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up.

Central to this issue is the recognition that oppressions intersect, converge, overlap, and sometimes diverge in complex ways, and that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Start reading now.

“World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal
wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists, contributors imagine a world where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men.

The issue challenges the perception that women are not policymakers by showcasing the voices of female experts and leaders. Contributors to this issue address topics such as feminism in Chinaabortion laws across the Americascombating violent extremism by working with religious leaders, and women in media. The issue also features a conversation with Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritus.

Start reading now.

American Studies Association 2016

1We had such a wonderful time selling books and journals at the American Studies Association last week in Denver, Colorado.

On Friday we had a reception celebrating Small Axe‘s fiftieth issue and twentieth anniversary. The wine and cheese were great, but the Small Axe swag was an even bigger hit!

The reception was fun way to celebrate with editor David Scott, managing editor Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, editorial board members, and readers of the journal. Keep the celebration going by reading Small Axe #50.

Friday night also included a reception for GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. It was great to see so many scholars and contributors to the journal, as well as co-editors Beth Freeman and Marcia Ochoa, celebrating the journal.

Several of our authors won awards for their books. Simone Browne won the 2016 Lora Romero Prize for her book, Dark Matters, and Lisa Lowe’s Intimacies of Four Continents was a finalist for the 2016 John Hope Franklin Prize, both from ASA.

It was wonderful to see so many authors and editors stop by our booth. We loved seeing them with their books, and especially enjoyed E. Patrick Johnson and Kai Green’s reenactment of the No Tea, No Shade cover!

Not able to make it out this year? Are there a few more books or journal issues you wish you would have grabbed? Don’t worry—you can use the coupon code ASA16 on our website through the end of the year to stock up on our great American studies titles for 30% off.

Q & A with Elizabeth Chin

Chin S16 author photo (Credit Charles Chessler)

Elizabeth Chin is Professor of Media Design Practices at Art Center College of Design and the author of Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture. Her new book, My Life with Things, is a meditation on her relationship with consumer goods and a critical statement on the politics and method of anthropology in which she uses everyday items to intimately examine the ways consumption resonates with personal and social meaning.

Where did the idea for this project come from and how did it evolve?

Chin.jpgThe idea for the diary part initially began as a series of emails I sent out to a small group of friends.
This was in the early 2000s before blogs were even much of a thing. If I had started the project a few years later, it might just have been a blog, and the book might never have happened. Along the way, though, I became fascinated with thinking about Karl Marx and his relationship to consumption. I wondered what his personal relationship to things might have been, and this spurred me into exploring all kinds of things from the economy in secondhand clothes to lace-making and the ins and outs of carbuncles. I was interested in Marx and his family as people, not icons or two-dimensional figures. It was when I was exploring the world of pawn in Marx’s time that I also realized pawn had been so important for Native people in the U.S., and that sent me on a whole new exploration. The evolution of the book overall was never straightforward, and certainly was not the result of some sort of well-laid plan. It was a series of explorations and journeys that then had do be cobbled together into the book.

Was there a particular writer or scholar who inspired you to experiment with writing voice and the limits of ethnography?

Actually I think the main inspiration for experimenting with the writing was my father. My dad, Frank Chin, is a writer – all he does is to write. He’s written plays, novels, nonfiction. He writes every single day. Even after a devastating stroke he’s written several books. I grew up around writing, and I’ve always written and taken it seriously as a craft. I like to joke that in my family you don’t really grow up until you publish your first book. So because of that, my orientation toward writing has always had what I suppose might be called a writerly orientation that is concerned with the writing itself as a form of practice and expression.

In My Life with Things you are remarkably candid – almost shockingly so – about your personal life. Did you have any reservations about revealing that level of detail, or was it just a necessity of the project?

Early on I decided this project had to be done wholeheartedly and without self-censoring. Part of this was because that is really how I think the best work gets done, you just have to dive in and not worry while you’re doing the work whether or not it can be declared “good” or “acceptable” or “embarrassing.” I knew I had no hope of producing good work if I was actually trying to do good work. My goal was to be as honest as possible in producing the material; I knew I could always worry afterward whether anybody else should ever see it. In the book itself, there were some people who had to be edited out after the fact, and some events that had to be re-framed, as well. I made the choice to do this because to include them would have exposed very private moments without their consent. In this way I still stuck to the ethical code we use in any kind of ethnographic work: I did not have their permission to reveal a particular event, so including them was not ethical. I never felt I had the right to publish things about people in my life, even true things, which would be hurtful to them. Some of the most painful material does deal with my mother and her struggles with mental illness. She read the manuscript before it was published, and if she had asked me to remove those entries I would have.

How did you choose which of your things to write about? Are there any items that didn’t make the cut?

With the entries, I just would sit down and write about whatever came to mind. This meant that there were plenty of entries that were boring, or just never really went anywhere. Sometimes I was sure that some item I was writing about was just an amazing journey, but later it would be excruciating to read myself obsessing of some minute consumer decision or other. At other times I could see in the writing that I was trying to hard to make a workable entry. This is partly why it was so important to write and write and write. I knew there was no guarantee that every entry was going to have a life.

You close the book with the fictional account of Dr. ——, a hoarder/collector/consumer and anthropologist whose house—stuffed to the gills with things—explodes. Is there any overlap between yourself and Dr. ——?

Writing that section was a ball. I loved making fun of myself and making fun of anthropology. Like so many academics I tend to take myself so very seriously and every single tiny slight or ego poke can keep me boiling for weeks. I absolutely think that I could become a hoarder. My husband thinks I already am. For my part, I see many surfaces in my house that remain undecorated and under-occupied. Part of me would love to continue that piece of writing, turn it into a whole crazy novel.

What do you hope readers take away from this book, both in terms of your arguments and in the methodology and your writing voice?

For me this book has been about embracing a kind of fearlessness, and in a way that is the thing I hope people respond to most, the notion that fearlessness is possible, even in the midst of terrible depression, even while struggle to keep going is endless. As an undergraduate I attended NYU in the drama program, and I’ve danced very seriously all my life. In the performing arts, you have to be fearless as well, even in the midst of profound insecurity. When you are on stage and performing, you never reach the heights if you are working at being good. You have to get out there with all your training behind you and then throw it away and trust that somehow you’ll fly. This is my attempt at flying in my writing. Most of me is utterly terrified, but there was this other part of me that had to make the attempt, so I’m trusting that part while also planning to crawl into a hole for a while.

You can order My Life with Things from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. From now until June 20, this title and all other in-stock books and journal issues are 50% off using coupon code STOCKUP.

Save 50% on Asian American Studies Titles

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We are excited to announce a Spring sale on our Asian American studies titles. Save 50% on all in-stock books and special journal issues in that subject until May 2nd. Simply use coupon code ASAM50 during checkout after selecting any of our Asian American studies books.

Here are just a few of the great titles you can order with these great savings.

Tropical Renditions“In this stunningly refreshing take on the musicological and performative dimensions of Filipino American historical and cultural experiences, Christine Bacareza Balance makes intricate and superb sonic connections between seemingly separate realms such as colonialism, migration, youth culture, leisure, and labor. Standing alone in its incisive cultural critique and superb interpretive readings of a culture and a people spanning thousands of miles, Tropical Renditions makes a pioneering contribution to Asian American studies and performance studies.”— Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora
Asians Wear ClothesAsians Wear Clothes on the Internet is a fiercely imaginative and inspiring book. Minh-Ha T. Pham’s discussion of the garment industry’s racialization and the details she provides about bloggers’ lives and the conditions of their labor is impressive. She acknowledges and debunks the writing on overly utopian and breathless views of digital media as ‘participatory culture’ while giving full credit and agency to the bloggers she writes about. Stunning!”— Lisa Nakamura, author of Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet

Nguyen Tan Hoang’s exciting book is a compelling accountA View from the Bottom of the aesthetic, political, and queer possibilities of racialized forms of ‘bottomhood.’ As someone who has been writing about masochism and passivity in relation to queer feminisms for a while, I realize that this is the book I have needed in sorting through the complex forms of personhood, pleasure, and power that bottomhood braids into the meanings of race, nation, and sexuality.”— Jack Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure

Animacies“This ambitious transdisciplinary analysis of the relations between humans, nonhuman animals, and matter charts a compelling and innovative rethinking of the biopolitics of ‘animacy.’ Mel Y. Chen animates animacy, a concept of sentience hierarchy derived in linguistics, to offer a far-ranging critique that implicates disability studies, queer of color critique, and postcolonial theory. The generative result is a timely and crucial intervention that foregrounds the oft-occluded import of race and sex in the rapidly growing fields of posthumanist theory, new materialisms, and animal studies.”— Jasbir K. Puar, author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times

Details of the Sale:
To save 50% visit www.dukeupress.edu and enter coupon code ASAM50 during checkout.
Sale applies to all Asian American studies print books and journal issues (instock).
Sale is not valid for journal subscriptions or society membership fees.
Regular shipping rates apply.
All sales final; no returns.
Discount applies to orders placed through our website.
Sale valid from April 25 to May 2, 2016.

 

New Books in February

It seemed like January zoomed right by us, and now February is already here! Which of course means it’s time to take a look at the new books to watch out for this month.

Adams cover image, 6097-1
The contributors to Metrics, edited by Vincanne Adams, use ethnographic evidence from around the globe to evaluate the accomplishments, limits, and the consequences of applying metrics to global health. Now the standard in measuring global health program success, metrics has far implications that extend beyond patients to the political and financial realms.

In The Brain’s Body Victoria Pitts-Taylor applies feminist and critical theory to recent developments in neuroscience and new materialist social thought to demonstrate how the brain interacts with and is impacted by power, social structures, and inequality.

Day cover image, 6093-3In Alien Capital Iyko Day retheorizes the history and logic of settler colonialism by examining its intersection with Asian racialization and capitalism, showing how the conflation of Asian immigrants to Canada and the United states with the abstract dimensions of capital became settler colonialism’s defining feature.

Lesley Gill traces the rise and fall of the strong labor unions and working class of Barrancabermeja, Colombia in A Century of Violence in a Red City, showing how the incursion of neoliberalism, the drug trade, and counterinsurgency military campaigns into civil society that began in the 1980s has destabilized everyday life and decimated the city’s powerful social institutions.

Published in China in 2010 and appearing here in English for the first time, Revolution and its Narratives, by Cai Xiang and edited by Rebecca E. Karl and Xueping Zhong, is a historical, literary, and critical account of the cultural production of the narratives of China’s socialist revolution that illuminates the complexity of socialist art, culture, and politics.

Pierce cover image, 6091-9In Moral Economies of Corruption Steven Pierce provides a cultural history of the last 150 years of corruption in Nigeria as a case study for considering corruption’s dynamic nature, finding it to be a culturally contingent set of political discourses and historically embedded practices.

Placing the body at the center of critical improvisation studies, the contributors to Negotiated Moments, edited by Gillian Siddall and Ellen Waterman, explore the challenges of negotiating subjectivity through improvisation in various forms—from jazz, Japanese taiko drumming, and Iranian classical music to sound walking and political street theater.

Coles cover image, 6064-3In Visionary Pragmatism, Romand Coles’s new mode of scholarship and political practice called “visionary pragmatism” blends theory with practice in the generation of new transformative responses to contemporary political and ecological crises.

Indonesian Notebook, edited by Brian Russell Roberts and Keith Foulcher, contains myriad documents by Indonesian writers, intellectuals, and reporters that provide the largely absent Indonesian perspectives of the 1955 Bandung Conference and of Richard Wright’s activities there, adding new depths to the understandings of the conference. It also includes a newly discovered lecture by Wright.

Remembering Nancy Abelmann

nabelmanWe were saddened to learn of the death this week of Nancy Abelmann, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research (Humanities, Arts and Related Fields) and the Harry E. Preble Professor of Anthropology, Asian American Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-director of the Ethnography of the University Initiative, and author of The Intimate University: Korean American Students and the Problems of Segregation (2009) as well as several other books. She wrote on family, class, gender, education, and migration with a focus on South Korea and Korean/Asian America.978-0-8223-4615-9

Duke University Press Editorial Director Ken Wissoker says that, “She was a pathbreaking scholar who was always making connections between scholars from Asia and from North America.  She thought seriously about the academy and the lives of those of different backgrounds and experiences in it.” Wissoker adds that, “Most of all, she was a tireless mentor.  I can’t count the times I saw her sitting on the floor in a hotel or airport with a younger scholar giving them advice on their writing or their cv.  Her generosity was boundless and beyond words. She will be truly missed.”

Our thoughts and heartfelt sympathy are with her family, friends, and colleagues.

The Unending Korean War

Labeled as “forgotten” in the United States and yet seared into national consciousness in both Koreas, the Korean War persists some six decades after the signing of the armistice agreement as a differentiated and multisited structure of feeling, perception, memory, knowledge, and historical ruin.

positions 23:4“The Unending Korean War,” a special issue of positions

In the most recent issue of positions, “The Unending Korean War,” editors Christine Hong and Henry Em and contributors consider the longue dureé of the Korean War as a protean structure, at once generative and destructive, whose formations and deformations, benefits and costs, and truths and obfuscations can be traced on both sides of the North Pacific. This unfinished conflict not only reverberates in the relations between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States, but also manifests itself in regional and global tensions.

Contributors to the issue address such topics as comic books and the militarization of U.S. masculinity; a photo essay tribute to Chris Marker, French filmmaker and photographer; war as business in Manchurian action films in South Korea; and militarized and gendered diasporas of transnational adoption.

American Literature 87:1The Korean War and American Literature

The March 2015 issue of American Literature (volume 87, issue 1) addresses the unending Korean War through the lens of literature. Read further to discover how contributors Joseph Darda and Steven Belletto see literature coming to terms with the Korean War.

“The Literary Afterlife of the Korean War” by Joseph Darda

The Korean War is remembered only for not being remembered, Joseph Darda argues in “The Literary Afterlife of the Korean War.” Darda begins with an analysis of the biopolitical logic of defense that arose after World War II during a time of American global ascendancy and heightened anticommunism and then discusses the understanding of the Korean War as “forgotten,” an idea first introduced in 1951 but more recently taken up by memory studies scholars, before advancing an alternative narrative theory of the Korean War. He concludes with  a consideration of the twenty-first-century literary return of the Korean War through readings of two acclaimed American novels: Ha Jin’s War Trash (2004) and Toni Morrison’s Home (2012).

“The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” by Steven Belletto

In “The Korean War, the Cold War, and the American Novel,” Steven Belletto proposes that there are two broad phases of Korean War literature: one by white, male Americans who fought in the war, reported on the war, or ahd some other ties to the United States military. The second phase, which gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s, is generally written by first- or second-generation Korean Americans who either experienced the war directly or explored the cultural memory of a war that, some scholars have argued, is a precondition of the very idea of Korean Americanness. The category of “Korean War literature,” Bellatto writes, changes how we understand “Cold War literature” and therefore post-1945 American literature and culture.

To read these articles, made freely available, visit the positions and American Literature sites.