IRW Seminar

2005-2006 Seminar Abstracts

Thinking About Gender: Diasporas and Migrations

Project Abstracts

Kim Butler
Africana Studies
"Ransoming the Queen: Reclaiming Women’s Agency and Philosophy in the Making of the African Diaspora"
This project focuses on e-inscribing the role of women travelers and entrepreneurs in the making of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. It focuses not on one-time migrations, but on circularity and transnational flows that positioned certain women as conduits of diasporic knowledge, sensibilities, and material complements. These women went on to leverage the benefits of their position to challenge their marginalization, which found expression in the construct of African queenship. In interpreting this history, and the difficulty of its retrieval, the project aims to interrogate the theorization of diaspora more broadly. Women’s spheres of activity represent as compelling an agent of diaspora as nation-states, but much work remains to situate women in comparative diaspora theory. If theorizing diaspora may well be an activist act to create it, what are the implications of having theory written almost exclusively by men? Are there other ways of both creating and inscribing diaspora that better incorporate women’s historical and ideological contributions? The seminar project will conclude with a consideration of these and other theoretical challenges.


Rama Chase
Women’s and Gender Studies
"Changing Gender Dynamics Inside/Outside Home: Women, Migration and Diaspora"
That the production of and dynamics of gender in its broadest sense are linked to specific material, cultural and political conditions of production is the epistemological premise that moves this project forward. Though migratory labour for men is a traditional practice for many ethnic communities in Nepal, the escalating situation of violence has left many rural places without men. Women have assumed many gender roles relegated to men, from carrying the guns to ploughing the fields. In addition, women find themselves in various migratory and diasporic situations as a result of the conflict. How do gender dynamics change in the local spaces during times of crisis when the dominant structures that produce particular forms of gender collapse? What kinds of constraints are at work within the global/transnational spaces influencing the local? By taking the Napali situation as a case study, my paper will look at the relationship between homespun diaspora, migratory labour and changing gender dynamics in a time of cultural war, ethnic conflict and economic globalization.


Cati Coe
Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice – Camden
"The Strategies of Ghanaian Immigrant Women to Raise Their Children"

How do Ghanaian women in the US ensure the reproduction of the next generation under the constraints and opportunities created by the increased flow of ideas, cultures, capital, and labor known as globalization? Because most Ghanaian women come to the US to work, raising children in the absence of family support or a social safety net creates difficult choices. This research will give insight into how, at a micro-level, women make decisions about raising their children in regard to specific structures-schools, economic opportunities, and kinship networks-affected by global flows; and how, at a macro-level, the economic and social responsibility for the care of the next generation is being distributed within and between families and between labor market centers and peripheries.


Carlos Decena
Women’s and Gender Studies/Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caribbean Studies
"Washington Heights, Perverse Modernities and the Making of Dominican Transnational Worlds"

This project maps the various ways in which Washington Heights—the area of Northern Manhattan with the largest concentration of Dominicans outside of the Dominican Republic—has been imagined in New York and in the Dominican Republic as a site of pathology and social disorganization. By focusing on the figure of the “Dominicanyork,” this paper will point to the ways in which the project of reproducing and sustaining the nation after the massive exodus that began in the 1960s has been heavily informed by the construction of notions of “domicanos ausentes” as embodiments of the “perversely modern.”


Kayo Denda
Rutgers Libraries
"Japanese Women Diaspora: Bibliography and Research Portal"

The objective of this project is to inventory and create a bibliography, including secondary and primary sources and digital resources, during the summer ’05, that pertains to the women of Japanese diaspora in three distinct communities: 1. São Paulo, Brazil, the largest Brazilian community, where over 800,000 Japanese Brazilians reside. 2. Seabrook, NJ, where 2,500 Japanese Americans relocated after their internment experience during WWII. 3. Ueda, Japan, where a community of 2,500 Japanese Brazilians relocated in the mid 1990’s. The original resources in Japanese, English and Portuguese, will have English annotations facilitating access to the resources internationally. Additionally, the Japanese Women Diaspora Research Portal (JWDRP) focused on the Japanese women diaspora will be constructed based on the above resources. This knowledge mapping can concatenate terms and concepts, and establishes relationships in this particular domain with applications from research and classroom instruction to library information discovery and access.


Belinda Edmondson
English – Newark
"Caribbean Middlebrow: Popular Culture, Women, and the Caribbean Middle Class"
This proposal is a subset of my larger book project, Caribbean Middlebrow: Popular Culture and the Caribbean Middle Class, which explores “middlebrow” literature and popular culture of the Anglophone Caribbean. I argue that women are central to the “middle-classization” of Caribbean society, as exemplified by what I term its “aspirational” popular culture: beauty pageants, internet communities, “middlebrow” literature. Specifically, I propose to investigate the centrality of Caribbean women in the development and dissemination of such aspirational popular culture around the Caribbean diaspora. The project concentrates on contemporary middlebrow literature (exemplified by Caribbean-authored romance novels oriented to Caribbean readers both within the regional and without) as well as Caribbean internet communities.

Nicole Fleetwood
American Studies
"In The Light: Gender, Visuality and Blackness"

In The Light proposes to address a long established and persistent problem in black studies: the place of the black subject in the visual field. The study contends that the discourse of blackness is predicated on a notion of a visible and performing subject. The book-length study focuses on cultural practices through archival research; close readings of visual arts, media, performances, and debates amongst black thinkers and activists; as well as scholarly engagement with cultural events and visual phenomena that occur in public space and through technological mediation. The study enters the creative and intellectual exchange in black diasporic studies and offers a feminist analysis by theorizing how the black female body becomes the surface for mapping the black public’s relationship with the visual field. In essence, the project is concerned with the circulation of ideas about visibility and visuality and visual cultural practices in a black diasporic framework.


Jessica Kelly
"Claiming Abandoned Landscapes: The Impacts of Gendered Migration on the Human-Environment Interface in El Salvador"

Scholars of the human-environment interface have traditionally ignored case studies in El Salvador, primarily, due to the reputation of the state of “without community” and “without Nature.” However, recent scholarship has demonstrated that Elk Salvador has experienced resurgence in forest cover (afforestation) and has developed a strong transnational community. Thus, this project seeks to understand how the results of gendered patterns of migration have altered the rural landscape and how local and transnational community structures continue to evolve and shape the “abandoned landscape.” The project will examine the effects of two distinct migrations in El Salvador: 1) the international migration or diaspora of the 1980’s during a twelve year civil war; and 2) the rural to urban migration that intensified following the civil war to today. The project will demonstrate that the male-dominated migration or diaspora changes the structure of the rural community, produces a landscape dominated by insecure land tenure, and encourages a remittance-based economy.


Renée Larrier
"Marabout, Madras, and Colombo: [Dis]placed Bodies Engendering Dyaspora[s]"

Two disaporas—African and South Asian—converge in the Caribbean. I propose to examine the ways in which contemporary Haitian and Guadeloupean women writers embody, imagine, and inscribe migrations and diasporas as they and their characters renegotiate home. Evelyn Trouillot’s Rosalie “Infame (2003) recreates the initial displacement from West Africa to colonial Saint-Dominigue, now Haiti. Arlette Minatchy-Bogat’s Terre d’exil et d’adoption

(2001) traces East Indian migration to Guadeloupe, a tension articulated in the title. Reading Trouillot and Minatchy-Bogat in tandem will reveal how these early twenty-first century novelists revisit traumatic periods in women’s history in order to elucidate a Caribbean that itself has spawned a new diaspora, an issue explored by Giséle Pineau in L’Exil selon Julia. Born in Paris to immigrant parents, the narrator discovers Guadeloupe through her grandmother who prepares her for a “return home.” These writers carefully examine how gender informs the immigrant experience. Carol Boyce Davies’ concept of women as “migratory subjects” provides a useful framework for this analysis.


Julie Livingston
"A World of Pain: Palliation & Personhood in Botswana"

This project explores the history of pain and palliation in Botswana, paying particular attention to questions of gender. A World of Pain will consider how Batswana come to realize that their most fundamental expectations about the substance and nature of care may not be universally understood, what they do with this knowledge, and how they have historically learned new cultures and meanings of pain. This history is deeply shaped by African diasporic contexts, and by the global circulation of Euro-American ideas and palliative technologies. European doctors and missionaries circulated ideas about the relationship between blackness, gender, and corporeality throughout a larger Atlantic world, and they applied these understandings of black bodies, pain, and sensitivity to Tswana women, men, and children. Over the past century, Batswana have increasingly come to biomedical and Christian healing sites seeking palliation. In such encounters, Euro-American ideas, values, and technologies about and for African pain have articulated with Tswana ones.


Marc Matera
"Colonial Intellectuals and Interwar Pan-Africanism"

A small but significant cohort of West Indian and African intellectuals, students, artists, and activists spent all or part of the interwar period in Britain and established a variety of networks enabling transnational encounters and exchange. Many went on to become prominent anticolonial nationalists and then politicians in postcolonial Africa and the Caribbean. Situated at the heart of the empire, sojourners lives in Britain, both the relative freedom and the paternalistic racism they experienced profoundly shaped their writings and politics as well as their reactions to developments in the colonies and the growing popularity of black internationalism around the Atlantic. Moreover, though the majority of Caribbeans and Africans were men, notions of gender difference and sexual propriety always informed their intellectual and political work, and women played essential roles in Pan-Africanist organizations and the lives of individual activists and student. My dissertation examines the creative tension between identity and difference, racial and gender identifications, in the politics, activism, art, and everyday lives of West Indians and Africans in interwar Britain. It also seeks to recover the significant contributions of African, Caribbean, and British women to interwar black internationalism.


Sonali Perera
"Rethinking Working-Class Literature: Feminism, Globalization, and Socialist Ethics"
Rethinking Working-Class Literature: Feminism, Globalization, and Socialist Ethics theorizes the cultural politics of working-class literature in terms of the gendered international division of labor and the postcolonial present and maps an alternative genealogy for literary radicalism. My objectives are twofold. The project is in part an excavation of traditions of anti-colonial and feminist working-class protest writings that remain outside the scope of metropolitan discourse studies. Beyond simply arguing for the inclusion of an overlooked and undervalued corpus of texts from the periphery, however, I also analyze the ways in which these non-representative texts transform the organizing logic and dominant archetypes of what is generically named “working class” writing. My study asks what “working class” literature and “the proletariat” might be in the context of recent theories of interpretations emphasizing feminism and diasporic cultural studies. In order to reopen questions of literary internationalsim and think a comparative cultural politics of working-class literature, I focus on the narratives of South Asian, Sub-Saharan, and North American working-class and activist writers continuing to write, not toward some fabled moment of revolution, but in the struggles of the everyday.

Jasbir Puar
Women’s and Gender Studies
"Queer Diaspora and Questions of Affect"

In this project I note that South Asian queer diasporas, emergent in the U.S., Canada, and Britain during the past 20 years, are disproportionately impacted by the production of terrorist corporealities, navigating the figures of the Muslim terrorist as well as the turbaned Sikh man so often mistaken for him. As such, South Asian queer diasporas must attend to not only the stigmatization of their communities – the intersection of sexual perversity and racialized non-normativity renders South Asian queer subjects doubly vulnerable to hate crimes and state racial profiling – but also the forms of (U.S.) sexual exceptionalism that are offered in response to this stigmatization. The two foci of my project – the affective reading of South Asian queer diasporas that underscores bodies over place/origins, and the affective reading of turbaned terrorists, a body that, through it feminization/emasculation/queerness, haunts South Asian queer diasporas – come together to interrogate the tensions between epistemology and ontology, representation and affect.


Robyn M. Rodriguez
"The Labor Brokering State: The Philippine State and the Globalization of Citizen-Workers"
This project develops an analysis of the gender and sexual politics of Philippine state and migrant transnationalisms: The state’s “labor brokering” strategy and migrants’ “transnational citizenship” struggles. Through “labor brokering,” the state profits politically and economically from the global production, distribution and regulation of its gendered and sexualized citizen-workers. It produces and distributes workers for flexible transnational, privatizing states, and nascent middle-classes making the Philippines a top labor exporter. The state also extends transnational regulations, or protections, to its overseas citizens while it simultaneously regulates them transnationally to fulfill national obligations. “Labor brokering” has led, effectively, to an emergent “transnational citizenship”. Though meant to reproduce the system of “labor brokering”, “transnational citizenship” enables citizen-workers to engage and mobilize in global struggles for rights in the homeland. I focus on the state’s and migrants’ competing contestations around work, morality, family and nationalism to explore Philippine transnational formations of gender and sexuality.


María Josefina Saldaña
"Urban Indians: New York and its New Mexican Immigrants"
This year-long seminar will allow me to enhance my teaching and advance my research simultaneously. Specifically, it will allow me to begin research on my second book project, an investigation of Mexican immigration to New York City and emerging forms of political citizenship among these racially diverse, and increasingly female, immigrants. As I regularly teach courses on Mexican and Central American immigrants to the United States, I have an extensive knowledge of the scholarship on immigration to the Southwest that I will bring to the seminar table. Indeed, I have conducted research on the relationship between development and migration in North America, as well as on bi-national identity formations that ensure from these migration patterns. My research thus far, however, has been limited to the traditional patterns of Mexicans and Central American migration to the Southwest, and has thus been rendered anachronistic by the phenomenal growth of migration from Mexico to the tri-state area: New jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Thus, this seminar will give me an opportunity to research the emerging scholarship on Mexican migration to the area and to share this with the seminar participants. My research indicates to me that a goodly amount of this literature focus on questions of gender and sexuality and on the growth of Mexican women’s participation in the domestic service labor market, both central aspects of my next book.


Louisa Schein
"Media, Gender and Diaspora: Structure and Subjectivity in Hmong American Homeland Practices"

During the IRW fellowship year I will be in the final stages of completion of my book, Rewind to Home: An Ethnography of Hmong Media and Gendered Transnationality, which is perfectly matched for the seminar these. In the book, I pursue a sustained endeavor of articulating three terms – transnationality, gender/sexuality, media – through a case study of the Hmong diaspora, in order to show that these three social processes are mutually constitutive. I base my arguments on multisited ethnography, primarily in China and the U.S, of transnational practices of Hmong refugees dispersed after the Vietnam war who return to Asia for homeland revisits, for business endeavors, including media production, and for sexual and marital liaisons. At IRW, I anticipate broader conversations about the gendering of geospaces, the textual production of homeland imaginaries, the materialities of homeland returns, thinking transnational sex, and the retooling of spatial subjectivities when people operate at transnational scales.


Edlie Wong
"Fugitive and Foreigner: Cultures of Travel in the Black Atlantic, 1830-1865"
Fugitive and Foreigner: Cultures of Travel in the Black Atlantic, 1830-1865 reads the writings of fugitive slaves against the Anglo-American legal history of slave transit to investigate the shifting meaning of mobility, resistance, and freedom in the antebellum Americas. In an industrializing society characterized by advances in communication and travel technologies, white slaveholding travelers, tourists, and migrants embarked upon interstate and international transit often crossing from slave to free jurisdictions in the company of their domestic slaves. Slave women often traveled in these silenced subsidiary positions, and their stories can only be imperfectly reconstructed through the freedom suits abolitionists instigated on their behalf. In landmark British and American freedom suits fought over slaves traveling in free territories including The Slave, Grace (1827), Commonwealth (of Massachusetts) v. Ames (1836), and Dred Scott V. Sandford (1856), antebellum jurisprudence began to racially codify crime, and the slave autobiographies of Mary Prince (1831), Frederick Douglass (1845, 1855), William Wells Brown (1847, 1852, 1855), William and Ellen Craft (1860), and Harriet Jacobs (1861) represent travel not as a trope for freedom, but as a harrowing passage that transformed them into nominally free subjects. For the American and West Indian slaves who sought asylum in free territories, freedom was contingent upon the loss of home, estrangement from kin, and indefinite displacement in a foreign country. This paradox of “enslaved mobility” allows us to historically situate travel as an ideology of freedom that profoundly shaped the representations of American national identity at home and abroad in the early nineteenth century.

Ellen Wu
American Studies/History
"Yellow Perils, Yellow Power: Race and Asian American Citizenship, World War II to the Movement"
My project traces the changing race and citizenship status of Chinese and Japanese Americans after the lifting of Asiatic exclusion in the 1940s and 1950s. Because Asians were no longer classified as “not-white” “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” and no longer regarded as “inassimilable,” what needed to be determined was how they were to be incorporated into the national community. In the context of both the Cold War and the Civil Rights era, this problem was “resolved,” in significant part, with the invention of a new racial understanding of Asian Americans as “model minorities” by the mid-1960s, largely through the actions, practices, and discursive strategies of Asian Americans themselves. I am particularly interested in how ideas of gender and family during the postwar period shaped the emerging racialization of Asian Americans as definitively “not-black,” exemplary citizens.