Revising the Dissertation Abstract

One of the most useful pieces of advice I received from my mentors is not only to focus on writing my dissertation, but to write about it (often). This practice of constantly framing and reframing my project has helped me keep track of my research questions and their exigency. It reminds me of why I do the work that I do and keeps me engaged in it. Plus, it never hurts to give yourself a bit of breathing room to reflect on what you have learned in the process of your research and to recognize what you have accomplished so far.

One of the reflecting experiments I engaged in recently was to revise my dissertation abstract to offer more grounding in terms of motive, methodology, and audience. You can check it out below:

Animate Impossibilities

On Racialization, Knowledge Politics, and Alternative Humanities

Abstract: This dissertation identifies Asian American studies as an exemplary knowledge formation for apprehending and challenging the racialization that persists in the American academy. Despite the field’s historical commitments to social justice and antiracist politics, it has also had to grapple with the constraints of institutionalization and shifting conditions around the study of race and racialization in a putatively “post-race” era. This project functions in conversation with the work of scholars like Roderick Ferguson, Jodi Melamed, and Sara Ahmed who argue that the rhetoric of minority difference, antiracism, and diversity has become especially vulnerable to co-optation by administrative agendas in the academy, used to perpetuate discourses that imply institutional racism has been or will soon be overcome.  My dissertation contributes to their work by investigating how the university structurally reproduces social and material inequality through the disciplining of Asian American studies and Asian Americanist practices and pedagogies. It also explores what it means to undiscipline Asian American studies. I use the term undisciplining to invoke a conceptual practice that invites contemplation of alternative arrangements of knowledge in the academy.

This project engages with Asian American literary and cultural productions, drawing insights from authors such as Karen Tei Yamashita, Charles Yu, Patricia Powell, and Manjula Padmanabhan, whose works create affective imaginaries that not only attend to material conditions of racialized inequality, but also materialize timescapes that illuminate other ways of conceiving social, political, and epistemic formations. I suggest that recognizing how these affective imaginaries participate in “world-making,” both existing in and exerting a material impact on the world, can enable the perception of what is rendered unknowable or illegible, the animate impossibilities, under hegemonic structures of knowledge that can lead to envisioning an alternative humanities. My dissertation works through affect and aesthetic theory to demonstrate how feeling and art, that which is often perceived as immaterial, irrational, and removed from politics, can play a critical role in illuminating processes of racialization and possibilities for seeing, thinking and acting otherwise in an increasingly compromised present. Therefore, while this dissertation examines tactics for undisciplining Asian American studies specifically, it contributes to ongoing efforts to facilitate alternative approaches to humanistic knowledge production that can mobilize the academy in the service of social justice.

Key terms: Asian American studies, disciplinarity, humanities, institutional racism, knowledge politics, social justice

The dissertation abstract is still a genre that I am slowly trying to figure out, so there will definitely be future iterations- hopefully a bit shorter with chapter descriptions, but that’s all for now. As always, any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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