The Asian American Experience Series turns 25 this year! Established in 1992, this interdisciplinary series publishes scholarship of high quality in history, religion, anthropology, sociology, political science, gender studies, visual culture, and other humanities and social science disciplines. Books published in the series include monographs, edited collections, and biographies. The current Series Editors are Eiichiro Azuma, Jigna Desai, Martin Manalansan IV, Lisa Sun-Hee Park, and David K. Yoo and the acquiring editor is Dawn Durante. The latest book in the series, Disrupting Kinship by Kimberly McKee, was published in March 2019.

Check out some of the latest books in the series below and come celebrate the series with us at the New Books Reception at the Association of Asian American Studies Conference on April 25!

Disrupting Kinship

Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States

By Kimberly McKee

Since the Korean War began, Western families have adopted more than 200,000 Korean children. Two-thirds of these adoptees found homes in the United States. The majority joined white families and in the process forged a new kind of transnational and transracial kinship. Kimberly D. McKee examines the growth of the neocolonial, multi-million-dollar global industry that shaped these families—a system she identifies as the transnational adoption industrial complex.

 

The Labor of Care

Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in the Digital Age

By Valerie Francisco-Menchavez

Valerie Francisco-Menchavez spent five years alongside a group of working migrant mothers. Drawing on interviews and up-close collaboration with these women, Francisco-Menchavez looks at the sacrifices, emotional and material consequences, and recasting of roles that emerge from family separation. She pays particular attention to how technologies like Facebook, Skype, and recorded video open up transformative ways of bridging distances while still supporting traditional family dynamics.

 

Muncie, India(na)

Middletown and Asian America

By Himanee Gupta-Carlson

Himanee Gupta-Carlson puts forth an essential question: what do nonwhites, non-Christians, and/or non-natives mean when they call themselves American? A daughter in one of Muncie’s first Indian American families, Gupta-Carlson merges personal experience, the life histories of others, and critical analysis to explore the answers. Her stories of members of Muncie’s South Asian communities unearth the silences imposed by past studies while challenging the body of scholarship in fundamental ways. At the same time, Gupta-Carlson shares personal memories and experiences that illuminate her place within the historical, political, and sociocultural currents she engages in her work.

 

Discriminating Sex

White Leisure and the Making of the American “Oriental”

By Amy Sueyoshi

Freewheeling sexuality and gender experimentation defined the social and moral landscape of 1890s San Francisco. Middle class whites crafting titillating narratives on topics such as high divorce rates, mannish women, and extramarital sex centered Chinese and Japanese immigrants in particular. Amy Sueyoshi draws on everything from newspapers to felony case files to oral histories in order to examine how whites’ pursuit of gender and sexual fulfillment gave rise to racial caricatures.

 

The Work of Mothering

Globalization and the Filipino Diaspora

By Harrod J. Suarez

Women make up a majority of the Filipino workforce laboring overseas. Their frequent employment in nurturing, maternal jobs–nanny, maid, caretaker, nurse–has found expression in a significant but understudied body of Filipino and Filipino American literature and cinema. Harrod J. Suarez’s innovative readings of this cultural production explores issues of diaspora, gender, and labor. He details the ways literature and cinema play critical roles in encountering, addressing, and problematizing what we think we know about overseas Filipina workers.

 

Becoming Refugee American

The Politics of Rescue in Little Saigon

By Phuong Tran Nguyen

Phuong Tran Nguyen examines the phenomenon of refugee nationalism among Vietnamese Americans in Southern California. Here, the residents of Little Saigon keep alive nostalgia for the old regime and, by extension, their claim to a lost statehood. Their refugee nationalism is less a refusal to assimilate than a mode of becoming, in essence, a distinct group of refugee Americans. Nguyen examines the factors that encouraged them to adopt this identity. His analysis also moves beyond the familiar rescue narrative to chart the intimate yet contentious relationship these Vietnamese Americans have with their adopted homeland.

 

Follow the series on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AAEseries/

 

Melissa Raine is a research associate in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. She recently shared her thoughts on her article, “Humor and Humoralism: Representing Bodily Experience in the Prologue of the Siege of Thebes” from an issue of the Journal of English and Germanic Philology.


Hunger and satiety might be universally experienced sensations, but the meanings attached to them vary across time and culture. While the physical consumption of food affects the biological body, eating usually also involves social co-operation. What, where and how one eats almost inevitably expresses social relationships, and, it can be argued, the place of the consumer within these relationships contributes to that individual’s embodied sense of self.

When descriptions of eating find their way into literary texts, those elemental bodily sensations are brought into the arena of language, where the meanings associated with eating can be intensified, explored, and organised into discursive registers. In my own reading practice, literary reference does not “replace” bodily experience, but invokes it in the reader. When reading texts from the medieval period, modern readers need to be highly alert to their own culturally ingrained beliefs about eating in order not to misread how those cues might make sense to medieval audiences.

My cautionary tale is the body humor of the fifteenth-century Prologue to The Siege of Thebes. The author, John Lydgate, who was a Benedictine monk, presents himself as an extra pilgrim in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Lydgate’s Prologue is often considered to be an unsophisticated imitation of Chaucer’s low style, his crass jokes about over-indulgence in food dismissed simply as poor writing, and the relevance of contemporary anti-monastic sentiment uncertain. I find that competing claims over the body of the Prologue’s Pilgrim-Monk are implicit in those jokes. They cohere into a sophisticated assertion that secular interference in monastic business is as inappropriate as the Prologue’s preoccupation with excessive consumption. The Prologue is a much richer text when its evocations of greed, indigestion and flatulence are freed from modern prejudices about “meaningful” embodied experiences to participate in a purposeful critique.

Beneath the deepest snows
The secret of a rose
Is merely that it knows
You must believe in spring

 

Lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman might not have had Illinois in mind when they wrote these soulful words, but there is no doubt that they speak to the hope that sustains through a long, cold winter. It’s not too much of a stretch to compare that seasonal waiting and hoping with the process of publishing. First, an idea, a conversation; then, a flowering of that kernel into a narrative, fed by new research streams; a sometimes protracted process of peer review and revision; and at last, the harvest of a new work come to fruition. We, along with our authors and editors, bring faith, hope, and vision to our collective enterprise—with wonderful results!

This season’s Callout celebrates an exciting new series in Black Internationalism, as well as significant anniversaries for two longstanding series: Latinos in Chicago and the Midwest, and Women and Film History International. We report on our successful inaugural Publishing Symposium, a daylong conference on the Urbana-Champaign campus that we anticipate becoming an annual event. Journals and books synergy in Scandinavian studies gets some airtime, as do new publications in music.

This spring also marks the launch of our campaign to build the Darlene Clark Hine African American History Fund to help underwrite and sustain the Press’s future publications in this cornerstone field. The Fund honors Professor Hine, a founding editor of the University of Illinois Press’s prestigious New Black Studies Series and recipient of a National Humanities Medal for her groundbreaking scholarship in African American women’s history. This fund will join several others recently established—including the Bruno Nettl Fund for Ethnomusicology and the Judith McCulloh Fund for American Music—that will help ensure the future of scholarly publication in key fields at Illinois.

The landscape of scholarly publishing continues to evolve in dramatic and sometimes daunting ways,but we continue to believe in the ultimate value and transformative energy of new scholarship. Come on in and take a stroll in our garden!

Sincerely,
Laurie Matheson, DMA

Check out the new issue here.

 

  Learn more about giving to the University of Illinois Press Here: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/giving/

 

Donna J. Nicol is an associate professor and the chair of Africana studies at California State University Dominguez Hills. Jennifer A. Yee is an associate professor of Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton. Nicol and Yee recently answered some questions for us on their article, “‘Reclaiming Our Time’: Women of Color Faculty and Radical Self-Care in the Academy” from Feminist Teacher.


What is radical self-care and why is this important for women faculty of color?

  Radical self-care involves practices that not only keep us physically and psychologically healthy and fit but also allow us to reflect on and make deliberative choices about how we allocate our time and energy, how we choose projects which align with our values and how we remain unapologetically ourselves in the face of often unrealistic and unrelenting demands within the academy.  We call this practice “radical” because it fundamentally alters how we allocate our time, money and energy and seeks to revolutionize our workplace practices. Radical self-care is especially important for women faculty of color because of a phenomenon we explore in our article which merges Padilla’s (1994) concept of “cultural taxation” and Hirschfield and Joseph’s (2012) concept of “identity taxation” in which women of color are saddled with unpaid and unacknowledged labor serving on all of the university diversity committees and mothering students through various academic and personal crises. 

Identifying “radical self-care” is important for women faculty of color because we have often been socialized and conditioned to believe that making choices to take care of ourselves is negative, selfish, and non-collegial in both personal and professional environments. As a concept, radical self-care creates the professional space for women faculty of color to say “no.” We cannot realize our values and personal goals for the world if we are unwell. Re-framing self-care as “radical” helps us to understand that our life missions as change agents in society relies on our ability to protect our selves, our health, and our lives. Practicing radical self-care involves identifying and acknowledging multiple forms of intersectional oppression that women faculty of color face. It’s a sad commentary that caring for ourselves and one another is revolutionary rather than normal to transform institutional policies and practices.

Can you discuss why this study is important to you both personally?

?Early in our careers as faculty, we made an agreement to “not let this job kill us” after discussing our concerns with how institutions were socializing junior faculty to prioritize work to the point of risking their health and happiness outside of the academy. Since we both came to the faculty via a non-traditional route as university administrators, we also had enough experience assessing the institutional culture to know when to push back and say no to various demands which took us away from our primary reason for being faculty – engaging in research and teaching our students.  We managed to be fairly successful early in our faculty career to hold onto our promise to one another.  However, when Jennifer was diagnosed with kidney cancer and Donna fell ill with complications of polycystic ovarian syndrome, this forced us both to further re-evaluate and make new choices for how we spent time with our families, in our jobs, and how we took care of ourselves physically, psychologically and spiritually.  

DN: Our study was personally important to me, because as a woman of color in academia, I want to share our experiences as a way to prevent the “imposter syndrome” or that sense of doubt that is all too common among people who are new to the profession especially those of us who are viewed as “outsiders-within” because of our race, gender, sexual orientation or immigrant status.  Imposter syndrome often leads to unhealthy behaviors which affects our emotional, physical and psychological well-being. My hope is that our study can help someone avoid the same pitfalls that we’ve encountered along the way.

JAY:  Sharing the results of our study is important to me personally because I don’t want others to go through what I’ve experienced. I’m generally a very private person, but I’ve made a political and professional choice to share some of the particulars of my experience with the hope that the world can be more compassionate, kind, and loving.  Perhaps leaders and policy-makers may learn how to establish more humane professional norms, policies, and practices. Perhaps people facing oppression will gain language and strategies to maintain and protect who they are in spite of pressure to be otherwise.

What were some of the biggest lessons you took away from choosing radical self-care??

JAY:  Interestingly, it was the process of realizing I needed to choose radical self-care that was one of my biggest lessons. I learned that in spite of everyone’s best intentions, if the institutional policies and practices did not value me as an individual and my health, then some leadership decisions would not be made for my personal safety and well-being.  I was shocked to learn that many institutional norms, policies, and values would prevent other well-intended people from choosing to make decisions to support my ability to return to work while engaging in a safe process of cancer survivorship. I learned that choosing radical self-care and leaning on my closest colleagues for support was necessary to maintain my health and my chosen livelihood. I would not be a tenured faculty member today if I hadn’t chosen radical self-care.

DN:  The biggest lesson I learned is how expendable we all are to the university and how I needed to employ a radical self-care practice as a way to push back when the demands became too much. While I saw some of this as a graduate student, this feeling like no one was going to advocate on my behalf was intensified in my work as an administrator (these positions were often “at-will” – there was no job security,  and emphasized performance over people). I also saw how my former institution treated Jennifer through her cancer survivorship (such as capping the amount of leave time we could donate to help her through her treatment). I simply made the choice to not let my job become my life and became more selective about the projects I took on or the people I surrounded myself with. When my health took a turn of its own, I doubled-down on being selective about how I allocated my time, energy and physical presence.

Do you have any suggestions for how someone might begin performing radical self-care?

Each person is unique. We offer these ideas as ways for people to choose what resonates best with them.

  • Create a practice of reflection. Make time to consider your life, where you’ve come from, where you are now, and where you may wish to be. The purpose is to raise consciousness, determine what’s important to you, how your life aligns with your values.  Consider if you’re well, personally centered and at peace and if not, what is out of place for you. This practice may take the form of journaling, going for walks or drives, talking with friends and loved ones, engaging in counseling, praying, meditating, exercising, participating in a spiritual community, and more.
  • Identify what you want to keep. If the values, norms, and practices in your life are working well, what can you do to continue these norms and practices intentionally? How do you ensure (if it’s in your power/control) that you maintain what keeps you well and centered? If it’s not in your power/control, how do you incorporate alternatives into your life?
  • Identify what you want to discontinue. If you realize your values, beliefs, norms, and practices are not working well for you, what can you do to stop or disengage from the situation? Brainstorm ways that you may individually or in community make decisions to stop or disengage.
  • Find friends. All transformative movements have resulted from communities organizing. Are there people who can be part of your journey? Could you maintain or establish friendships with people who share your values and beliefs and can begin to share and affirm your practices? Our collaboration has evolved from colleagues to friends to collaborating activists. We call each other to vent, laugh, brainstorm, and seek advice. We always remind each other to take care of ourselves and to steer back to doing what’s healthy.    
  • Know your worth and your power. It may seem strange to name and affirm your worth to yourself, but it’s entirely necessary in academia or any institution with a tendency to value outcomes, prestige, and profits over people, life, and process. In addition, it’s also important to know the privilege and power that come with holding our positions in academia, and the responsibility of exercising our power thoughtfully in the service of our values to promote anti-oppressive practices and social justice. We also acknowledge the power and privilege of our option to leave our universities so that we do not feel powerless. While we have chosen vocational careers in higher education, we know from our life experiences that we would seek work in other settings if our current situations are unhealthy for us.
  • Make choices to actualize your values. Easier said than done, become conscious of whether your choices help you to manifest your values. Because our intersectional identities as women faculty of color often translate into multiple representation of identity groups to others, we are likely to be asked to participate in multiple committees and work that may somewhat align with our values, but not closely. Be aware that saying yes to one commitment means that your opportunity to say yes to another much more closely aligned with your values may close because you do not have the capacity.  
  • Have fun! Joy is an integral part of being human, and having fun or enjoying what you do makes life worthwhile.

It’s that time of year again! The University of Illinois Press and the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) are pleased to continue the annual competition for the best dissertation or first book manuscript by a single author in the field of women’s and gender studies. Applicants must be National Women’s Studies Association members. The Press and NWSA seek nonfiction manuscripts that exemplify cutting-edge intersectional feminist scholarship, whether the area of focus is historical or contemporary. The competition is open to scholars from all disciplinary backgrounds, but the sponsoring organizations especially encourage work that speaks effectively across disciplines, and projects that offer new perspectives on concerns central to the field of women’s and gender studies.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Activism
  • Coloniality, postcoloniality and neo-imperialism
  • Cultural production (media, film, music, literature)
  • Feminist knowledge production
  • Feminist pedagogy
  • Feminist politics
  • Feminist science and environmental studies
  • Feminist theory
  • Gender and disability
  • Gender and globalization
  • Gender and labor practices
  • Gender and militarism
  • Gender and queer sexuality
  • Gender and violence
  • Gendered experiences of people of color
  • Girls studies
  • Global and transnational feminisms
  • Institutions and public policies
  • Intersectionality
  • Theories and practices of coalition
  • Transgender studies
  • Women of color feminisms

If a winner of the competition is selected, he or she will receive a publication contract with the University of Illinois Press and a $1,000 advance. Runners up may also be considered for publication with the University of Illinois Press. Submitted dissertations must have been completed and defended within the three years prior to submission. All submissions must be must be electronically submitted and timestamped by 11:59 pm (central time) on June 1 and should include the following materials via email:

  • Current NWSA individual membership
  • Cover letter (be sure to indicate if any material from the manuscript has been previously published)
  • C.V.
  • Proposal, including a 4-5 page overview of the scope of the project and analysis of competing titles
  • Complete manuscript, at least 150 double spaced pages, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, saved as a PDF
  • Submit materials as attachments to a single email to Dawn Durante. In the email subject line, include “Last name_Year NWSA/UIP First Book Prize Submission.”

Cover letters should mention the competition and indicate if any material from the manuscript has been previously published. All submissions must be exclusive submissions to the University of Illinois Press for the duration of the contest, and finalists will be notified by the end of July. Please visit https://www.nwsa.org/nwsauipbookprize for more information.

Please direct all questions and submissions to:

Dawn Durante

Senior Acquisitions Editor

University of Illinois Press

durante9@illinois.edu

 

Past Book Prize Winners:

2018 Winners:

Wen Liu

Assembling Asian America: Psychological Technologies and Queer Subjectivities

Nishant Upadhyay

Indians on Indian Lands: Intersections of Race, Caste, and Indigeneity

2017 Winner:

Nicosia M. Shakes

Gender, Race and Performance Space: Women’s Activism in Jamaican and South African Theatre

2017 Honorable Mention:

Elizabeth Verklan

Objects of Desire: Feminist Inquiry, Transnational Feminism, and Global Fashion

2016 Winner:

Michele Eggers

Embodying Inequality: The Criminalization of Women for Abortion in Chile

2015 Winner:

Erin L. Durban-Albrecht

Postcolonial Homophobia: United States Imperialism in Haiti and the Transnational Circulation of Antigay Sexual Politics

2014 Winner:

Ethel Tungohan

Migrant Care Worker Activism in Canada: From the Politics of Everyday Resistance to the Politics from Below

2013 Winner:

Christina Holmes

Ecological Borderlands: Body, Nature, and Spirit in Chicana Feminism

2012 Winner:

Sophie Richter-Devroe

Women’s Political Activism in Palestine: Peacebuilding, Resistance, and Survival

2011 Winner:

Erica Lorraine Williams

Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements

On March 29, 2019 Michael Metz, author of the new book Radicals in the Heartland: The 1960s Student Protest Movement at the University of Illinois gave a lecture at the YMCA Friday Forum for their series RESIST: Building a Culture of Nonviolence. Radicals in the Heartland tells the story of the student protest movement at UIUC that reached a flashpoint in 1969.  A participant himself, Metz draws on interviews, archives, and newspaper records to show a movement born in demands for free speech, inspired by a movement for civil rights, and driven to the edge by a seemingly never-ending war. If the sudden burst of irrational violence baffled parents, administrators, and legislators, it seemed inevitable to students after years of official intransigence and disregard. Metz portrays campus protesters not as angry, militant extremists but as youthful citizens deeply engaged with grave moral issues, embodying the idealism, naiveté, and courage of a minority of a generation.

Watch the video of his lecture and learn more about this fascinating piece of UIUC history.

Melissa Phruksachart (prook-sa-chart) is LSA Collegiate Fellow in the Department of Film, Television, and Media at the University of Michigan. She teaches and researches across Asian/American studies, women of color and transnational feminist politics, and U.S. minority film and media. She recently answered a few questions about her article in Feminist Teacher, titled “On Mentoring Future Faculty of Color.”


What did the project MFFC aim to accomplish?

MFFC’s aim was primarily to get a group of students through graduate school. Its main intervention was the recognition of “diversity” or “of color” as an epistemological and not demographic project. We cohered around supporting graduate students who were working at the intersections of minoritized fields like ethnic studies, black studies, queer studies, and decolonial thought. We focused on advancing scholarship that engaged these minoritized intellectual traditions, rather than on collecting and promoting non-white bodies per se. One of the primary ways we built this community was through a lunch and lecture series where we invited a prominent scholar of color to give a public talk on their latest their work in addition to a closed lunch session where they spoke about their experiences in the academy with students.

Can you discuss why it is so important to have programs like Mentoring Future Faculty of Color (MFFC) for graduate students and faculty?

It’s still entirely possible to take a course on the Victorian novel and not engage with empire and slavery. It’s still entirely possible to do an undergraduate major in film and not see a film by a single black filmmaker except for Spike Lee. (I could go on.) In the liberal humanities, knowledge outside the universal position of “man” is still relegated to the last two weeks of the syllabus. Minoritized interdisciplines operate as a critique to that universalism. MFFC offered a space for making more formal what is often informal: the networks of support and conviviality that arise among the minoritized (both horizontally between peers and vertically between faculty and students) in environments that normatively center the intellectual output of white men.

How did the college campus become, as you put it, “too much of a home” for the MFFC community?

As MFFC created spaces of intellectual and professional support, it shifted its members’ relationships to the institution. Instead of only feeling alienated on campus, we felt a sense of community with each other, too. Our shared critique of the university paradoxically constituted the reason we spent more time there. As I mention in the article, we found campus a good space to meet because it was centrally located and did not require us to buy food/drinks in order to occupy space for unlimited amounts of time. We also had access to wifi, bathrooms, printers, and other basics. Would investing in communities outside of or adjacent to school have been a better use of our time?

Now that the MFFC has disbanded, what next steps would you suggest to continue the efforts of the project?

The efforts of the project continue as its members move on to new institutional spaces. MFFC disbanded in part because many student members were graduating, and in part because of its institutionalization: it became clear that MFFC was becoming a valuable promotional tool for the English department and the university (three years after the bulk of us graduated, it’s still being advertised to prospective students as an interest group on the English department website). Institutionalizing the group within student government meant that even when we decided that the rubric “MFFC” no longer met our needs, MFFC still retained a paper life that played out according to student government bylaws: we discovered that because we had chartered as a student group, it was not possible to formally disband. This calcification within bureaucracy allowed for the blind institutional reproduction of diversity work and opposed the vision we had for the university.

We are pleased to announce that Chinatown Opera Theater in North America by Nancy Yunhwa Rao has won the Irving Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music (SAM). The award was announced at the annual SAM conference, March 20-24, in New Orleans. The award honors a book judged as the best in the field of American music.

The book has also received the Music in American Culture Award from the American Musicological Society (AMS); a Certificate of Merit for Best Historical Research in Recorded Country, Folk, Roots, or World Music from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC); and Outstanding Achievement in Humanities and Cultural Studies: Media, Visual, and Performance Studies, Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS).

We’re so proud to have published this incredible work of scholarship. Congratulations Nancy!

Candis E. Bond is an assistant professor of English and women’s and gender studies at Augusta University, where she also serves as director of the university writing center. Her areas of expertise include writing center studies, British modernism, and women’s and gender studies. Previous research has appeared in the journals Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History, Woolf Studies Annual, and the D.H. Lawrence Review. She recently shared her thoughts about her article in Feminist Teacher, titled “Catcalling and the College Classroom.”


Have you ever seen those spikes cities put on sidewalks and park benches to keep the homeless from loitering and sleeping? I remember encountering these for the first time at a small park in Chicago when I was an undergraduate. I sat down on the bench, carefully avoiding the spikes, and thought to myself, “Why would these be here? It makes it hard to be comfortable.” It was a relatively new thought to me, the idea that supposedly “public” spaces might not be neutral territory. But surely someone had put these spikes here for a reason, meaning someone had made a decision about this space and how it was meant to be occupied. Around this time, I had been reading Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for a philosophy course, and a word came to mind for the benches, which so clearly discriminated against the homeless: disciplinary. Those spikes were meant to shape users’ behavior. The metal-dressed benches welcomed those who used the space appropriately, staying shortly to watch their children play or to eat their lunch, and to discourage those who used the space “inappropriately” by overstaying their welcome or disrupting class-based hierarchies with their presence.

Sitting at the park on that gray day, I made a connection I hadn’t made before, despite years of witnessing and experiencing street harassment and its many forms: street harassment is also a predatory, disciplinary social behavior that shapes women’s experiences and mobility. At this point in my life, I had not taken any Women’s and Gender Studies courses, and I didn’t yet identify as a feminist, so my realization was fairly simplistic: I thought, street harassment is like these spikes—it can make women feel unsafe, unwelcome, and uncomfortable in public. The fact that men engage in this behavior and it is trivialized in our culture makes the behavior, whether intentional or not, predatory and disciplinary toward women as a group. And street harassment is an overwhelmingly common behavior in the United States, affecting women across age groups, socio-economic status, religion, race, and sexual orientation. According to a 2014 survey of 2000 American women, more than 65% reported experiencing street harassment (stopstreetharassment.org).

After this day in the park, and over the course of several years in graduate school spent studying feminist theory and cultural geography as part of my PhD in English literature, I realized more and more that public spaces are not innocuous, they are not innocent, they are not transparent, and they aren’t abstract. Spaces are concrete, social, and political. They are socially constructed and maintained through every day, material practices, and the way we move through space is dependent upon our relationship to social structures and systems. In a patriarchy, public space comes to embody, through material practice—including street harassment and catcalling—heteronormative and sexist values that instill fear in many women and gender nonconforming individuals. As a consequence, agency and mobility become restrained. In order to make spaces socially just, we must interrogate and expose the politics of public space. As Ed Soja explains in his book Postmodern Geographies, “We must be insistently aware of how space can be made to hide consequences from us, how relations of power and discipline are inscribed into the apparently innocent spatiality of social life, how human geographies become filled with politics and ideology.” In a patriarchal society, this means thinking critically about the behavior of street harassment as a political and social act that disciplines women’s and queer people’s bodies in immobilizing and debilitating ways.

Throughout graduate school, I searched for academic scholarship on the topic of “catcalling,” but I always came up short. During my doctoral exam period, however, I came across an article from the 1980s that used the term “street harassment,” and doors opened. I knew I wanted to read the existing scholarship on this topic, and I knew I wanted to teach a course that would inform students about the socio-political construction of American space that makes street harassment at once so prevalent and so under-researched. Around this time, in 2014, the nonprofit organization Hollaback! released a video that went viral featuring a woman being street harassed in New York City. This film sparked national conversation around the topic of street harassment, and behavior that had historically been trivialized began to be taken more seriously. I taught my class focused on street harassment in spring 2016, just a year and a half after the film’s release. My article explains my rationale for the course, how I designed the class and assignments, and students’ reactions to participating in a class that treated street harassment as a scholarly and political topic.

I am pleased that today, a mere three years later, the landscape of the conversation around street harassment has changed dramatically. Due to films like Hollaback!’s, activism led by nonprofits such as stopstreetharassment.org, and feminist movements such as #metoo and #everydaysexism, street harassment is much more visible. Academics, feminists, activists, and mainstream media report on street harassment regularly, and definitions for the practice are much more readily available (street harassment even has a Wikipedia page these days!). I hope this conversational shift will lead to positive change and more inclusive models of public space.

The following is a guest post from James E. Dobson, author of Critical Digital Humanities: The Search for a Methodology.

 


The sheer number of sessions on the digital humanities at the recent Modern Language Association meeting in Chicago demonstrates the increasing acceptance of computational and social scientific methods originating outside of the humanities within humanities scholarship. However, observing a number of these digital humanities sessions, I noticed an increasing separation between discussions of a presenter’s methods and the significance of the results. In response to an audience question, one presenter said that he had no interest in improving his results because he found a large enough signal or result to confirm his hypothesis. This moment raised some major concerns for the continued use of computational methods within a discipline that is predominantly anti-empirical and suspicious of quantitative methods. If we merely use the results of some statistical and/or computational method to confirm what we already know or to prop up an unsubstantiated hypothesis without a thorough explanation and investigation of these methods then digital humanists run the risk of an appeal to the authority sciences without submitting their work to either a traditional humanist critique or the norms of contemporary computational science.

The humanities, and literary studies in particular, has a long history of importing methods from other fields. In many ways, it might be the hallmark of modern literary criticism. From psychoanalysis to structuralism to phenomenology, some of the major strains of literary criticism drew on the rich and varied resources provided by the methods and insights of other fields as critics applied these methods to their objects. Literary critics certainly might lean on the authority of historians when historicizing a text but that authority was always somewhat restricted and it was available for critique. The norms, so to speak, of the humanities are such that these methods are understood as co-existing, without a sense that one method might, in the end, trump another.

 

Its detractors  imagine computational criticism as a naïve scientism that is fundamentally incompatible with the other approaches used in humanities. Recent work including Andrew Piper’s Enumerations (Chicago, 2018) proves that not only can humanist methods and statistical analysis complement each other but that one of the most common and basic of these practices, close reading, is a necessary supplement to the presentation of data derived from textual sources.

What has been mostly missing within the digital humanities and what was most troubling about the hand waving dismissal of questions about methods and data during the MLA panel was the notion that the critical examination of computation is not required or, potentially worse, that it is a problem for another field. There are numerous critiques of computation within the humanities from digital studies, feminist epistemology, science and technology studies, and elsewhere but these tend to be directed at a higher level to abstract notions and concepts, such as critiques of data or algorithms in general. There has been some excellent recent work that continues this line of critique. Jacqueline Wernimont’s recent Numbered Lives (MIT, 2018) places contemporary discussions over the quantified self within the long history of the collection and use of data derived from human life and Wendy Chun’s analysis of network science in the recent collection Pattern Discrimination (Minnesota, 2019) demonstrates the obfuscation or laundering, as she puts, of the past and our biases in machine learning. Alexander Galloway’s ongoing investigation  into whether algorithms—and not just the creators, the training data, or their applications but the methods themselves—might be biased provides additional theoretical grounding for those interested in a critique of computation as such. While Ted Underwood  suggests that the humanities should to “join forces” with computational science, arguing that “any critique of contemporary culture needs to include a critique of machine learning,” a much stronger version of critique is needed that can historicize our field’s own computational turn.

The computational sciences have been recently undergoing a different type of critique. The so-called replication crisis in several fields, social psychology perhaps most notably, primarily occurred because of the move from in vivo to in silica experiment and the increasing dependence on computational models and simulations. The use of computational models and the standardization of methods has made it much easier for other researchers to attempt to reproduce experiments. The open science movement emerged from the difficulties experienced by these researchers to reproduce these experiments. In making methods and data open, in the sharing of the computational approaches (termed “workflows”), fields with a deep dependence on computational models acknowledge the importance of the ability of others to understand and validate their experiments.

It is still an early moment for the computational turn in the humanities but what we need is a critical digital humanities that refuses a split between methods and interpretation, between critique and results. Computational humanists cannot inhabit the site of this split through an act of disavowal that shifts attention away from their methods and toward their own interpretive arguments. To do so fails to acknowledge both the import of the already existing critiques of computation and the imminent critical methods available within computational science.

-James E. Dobson, Dartmouth College