future research

I am looking forward to pursuing several future research projects that extend my interest in ethnicity and in gameplay as forms of cultural discourse and aesthetic expression. Below are a few areas of inquiry that I am currently interested in.

1. “Racial Risk Society: National (in)security in Post-9/11 America”

This project turns from a broad conception of gameplay to the specific intersections between race and risk, reframing post-9/11 discourses of national security, terrorism and racial profiling as present-day incarnations of Cold War game theory. Racial profiling directed towards Muslim, South Asian and Arab Americans has, I contend, become the nation’s preferred method of reclaiming agency amid the paralysis of uncertainty that, now more than ever, has made the issues of racial and religious difference into a matter of national security. I draw on a range of primary sources, including literature, film, and government documents, to demonstrate how the concept of racial difference has become central to our perceptions of contemporary global society as a “risk society.” German sociologist Ulrich Beck’s foundational theory of a “world risk society,” and his idea that modernity is distinguished by its lack of insurance against the threat of instantaneous and wide-spread destruction, frames my interrogation into the explicitly racialized underpinnings of twenty-first century perceptions of collective risk. As a form of national reflexivity that American culture uses to defines itself through and against the rest of the world, the “risk” of racial difference functions as a charged institutional site wherein “scientific” assessments of containable threat levels intersect with highly emotional discourses of national insecurity in complex and fascinating ways.

2. “User’s Manuals and Self-Help Guides: Games that will change your life”

I am currently in the process of drafting an article on the relationship between gaming and civil disobedience as a counter-cultural phenomenon in George Cockcroft’s The Dice Man (1971), an American novel about a psychiatrist who begins making life decisions based on dice rolls. The book, which quickly achieved a cult following and was banned in several countries, was essentially marketed as a “user’s manual” to relinquishing control as a paradoxical means of gaining newfound jurisdiction over one’s destiny and public identity. My essay accordingly explores the intersections between such figurations of gameplay and the outgrowth of “self-help” culture, which scholars like Elizabeth Ermath and Micki McGee have explicitly connected to a “postmodern” crisis of subjecthood.

3. “‘Re-Civilizing’ China: The Rise of the Chinese Humanities”

The current moment is deluged by morose and anxiety-stricken accounts of America’s impending “fall” before the inevitable economic ascendancy of China – a decisive overshadowing that the IMF predicts will be unmistakable by 2016. Yet I argue that the implications of China becoming a global superpower, while generally defined as economic consequences, are just as much aesthetic and cultural ones. The growing prominence and international visibility of writers like Yiyun Li, Ha Jin, and recent Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan suggest that China’s “arrival” on the world stage constitutes the country’s concerted attempts to define itself as a non-economically driven entity, asserting its “civilized” commitments to humanity through artistic ideals if not labor practices.

4. “Jack, Jill & Benjamin Koo: Asian Transracial Adoption as Children’s Literature”

Fickle_Childrens_Lit_ChapterIn 2012 alone, Americans, the vast majority of them Caucasians, adopted nearly 2,500 Chinese infants from abroad, swelling the population of transracially-adopted Asian children to well over 100,000. As these children grow from infancy to adolescent awareness of their adopted status and the fact of their racial difference, what stories do adoptive parents tell their children–and what stories do adoptees tell themselves? This essay emerges out of my undergraduate honors thesis, which explored Asian transracial adoption as a simultaneously economic, cultural, political and literary phenomenon. I look at the rapidly-expanding market of children’s literature directed specifically at Asian adoptees to consider how this contemporary adoption trend is creating entirely novel discourses of American kinship, domesticity, race, and identity.

5. “‘The Oprah Effect’: How Book Clubs are Transforming English Departments”

“The Oprah Effect” is a reference to the decisive role that Winfrey’s eponymous book club plays as an arbiter of “middlebrow” literary taste, transforming obscure texts into overnight bestsellers and exposing the “fraudulence” of previously acclaimed authors.

This essay considers Winfrey’s influence through John Guillory’s and others’ productive redefinition of literary canon formation as the circulation and redistribution of immaterial forms of capital. Winfrey, who has essentially created an alternative American canon to rival the one found on classroom syllabi nationwide, might similarly be understood as fundamentally altering established conduits for and assumptions about literary cultural capital. Rather than treat Oprah’s Book Club and its ilk as dilutions of or defiant reactions to highbrow culture, I will demonstrate that book clubs’ traditional focus on readers’  “gut” responses has been curiously instrumental in the recent turn to affect in the academy by transforming emotion itself  into an ergodic, or interactive, avenue of cultural capital.

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