Like Rachel, my expectation for AMST 507 would that it be something of a direct continuation of AMST 506, with more contemporary theoretical texts that might be considered foundational in American Studies. While less direct than I was expecting, I appreciate the overall shape of the course and the particular subjects we have worked with. I think I would have liked to have more connection with 506 just for my benefit, since some of the concepts we covered in that class were new to me, and I would have like to solidify them a bit further.

But I did enjoy the majority of the texts we read for the class. I think my favorites were the ethnographies. I tend to be a more "concrete" thinker, and having specific details and situations helps me to understand theoretical concepts more quickly. Tsing, West, Deloria, and Coleman to a lesser extent worked well for me in that regard. And although I tend to need more processing time with denser theoretical texts, I found myself really interested in Mirzoeff's work, and I'm planning to give it more attention over the summer.

Assignment-wise, I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate the project proposal assignment, as opposed to an essay. While it does some of the same work as an essay in terms of theoretical grounding, the proposal also allows us to really think practically about applying our work, and that's a skill we need as academics, writing grants for research and projects and the like.

Thanks for a challenging and enlightening semester!

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Hey there,

I had a good time taking this course this semester. It was great to experience a graduate course outside of the English department and meet some folks from American Studies and Communications. As a master’s student, I particularly appreciated the opportunity to look on while doctoral candidates developed and refined dissertation-level research projects. If and when I go on to pursue a PhD, the experience of taking this course will definitely serve as a resource when it comes to planning out my own dissertation. I was really impressed with your interesting ideas for projects that address important, timely issues!

Another takeaway for me was the experience of building on my thesis work and thinking about plagiarism in new ways. During our first class when we did introductions I said that I was hoping to engage more with theory in this class. Reading Boyle’s and Coombe’s theories of intellectual property not only helped me to reach this goal, but also led me look at my thesis work from a non-compositionist perspective and to develop a project that was related to what I’ve done before, but also a progression into a new line of inquiry. 

Even though it was not directly related to my final project, I thoroughly enjoyed West’s From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive. Her investigation into the production, circulation, and consumption of coffee was fascinating, her book accessible, and her project well-theorized. The best part is that I can now use the term “neoliberalism” and feel confident that I know what I am talking about ; ) I highly recommend that this book be assigned for this course in the future.

The books I did not like as much were Coleman and Castells. I just feel like both books did not offer up as much as the others did. Perhaps it was because I had high hopes for them when I started reading, or because I felt their research lacked direction and focus. Overall, though, I thought the reading list for the class was excellent and I appreciated the threads running through the books that tied everything together.

Thanks, everyone, for a great semester!


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Trying this again....... viewable Prezi presentation?

In order to get this to open, I had to right-click and hit "Open Link in New Window." Heh, still figuring Prezi out.
Hiya folks, hope everyone's doing well. I have to admit to some slight confusion over a couple of the criteria for the project proposal, and I figured I'd bring it up here to see how you all are interpreting it. Forgive me if this question was ever brought up in class, but I'm not finding answers in my notes.

The criteria include a "literature review." They also include "specific links to class readings, discussions, and theme." In proposals I've done in the past, the term "literature review" was not used, so I am unsure as to what exactly that entails. I was assuming that this "review" is the establishment of the theoretical framework for the project using whatever of the class texts are appropriate. So is the second criterion something that is incorporated into the larger review section? Or am I missing something?

Sorry if this seems nitpicky or something...just want to make sure I'm crossing all of my Ts, as it were. -- Tiffany
While I'm here, I wanted to say that my project that I hoped to make a reality is seeming less and less like it's going to happen. This is because a much larger filming project has the convention's creators' full attention. They've got a Kickstarter and everything. While I still plan to attend the event and do my own filming, I'm wondering how (or if) I can incorporate this new aspect into my project. Very much still processing.

(The pic here is linked to the Kickstarter, if anyone wants to check it out for realz.)

Nicholas Mirzoeff's The Right to Look: a Counterhistory of Visuality (2011) interrogates the boundaries of visuality in colonial history and the postcolonial present, and he explores instances of countervisuality in three arenas: the plantation complex, the imperial complex, and the military-industrial complex. For Mirzoeff, visuality is a discursive practice based not merely on what/how entities see but how they are seen as autonomous (or not).

Mirzoeff points out that the visualization of history is an "imaginary" process, one that creates a lifeworld that, for the visualizer, "manifests [an] authority" (2). This way of visualizing history must be constantly renewed in order to become naturalized. Visuality is not just “visual perceptions” but consists of a "set of relations combining information, imagination, and insight into a rendition of physical and psychic space" (3).

In my reading, I found myself focused on representations of the Hero as they morphed through these various complexes of visuality/countervisuality, from the individual Hero of the plantation complex, to the "abstracted and intensified means of ordering biopower" in imperial visuality (196). Today, as Mirzoeff notes, the chaos that the Hero was supposed to hold at bay has now become a necessity in legitimating counterinsurgency (282). Yet, representations of the Hero still exist, though very much abstract in some sense. From a US point of view, the abstracted (and typically racialized) image of "the terrorist" or "the insurgent" is contrasted with the image of the American Soldier as the moral personification of citizens' continued liberty (to consume, if nothing else). Abstraction of the American Soldier relies on an absence of relationship, in some sense, through what is seen – mainstream media outlets generally don't show much war action or "counterinsurgency efforts," though the rhetoric of heroism can still be "heard" or "seen" through propaganda and thanks to citizens themselves (obviously this has the potential to get seriously complicated, and I'm trying not to go too far down the rabbit hole). Yet, this image of the American Soldier/Hero is also made concrete in various ways (e.g. special television episodes of families reacting to the return home of a soldier). It seems to me that despite the high level of abstraction, on some level, of a "global insurgency" that demands a permanent state of war, the continued management of domestic populations depends on the continued concretization of the representation of a Hero of counterinsurgency. This helps to inspire the "love" (again, on a domestic, national level) required for the military-industrial complex to continue even as the visuality itself, as Mirzoeff notes, "can no longer fully contain that which it seeks to visualize" (282).

I too found it interesting the Mirzoeff mentions Orwell since, in addition to the discussion of war as a permanent state (leading to the Party slogan "War is Peace") and the quasi-acceptance of a heightened state of surveillance ("Big Brother is watching"), I started thinking about doublethink, the concept of being able to believe in two contradictory ideas at once. I am still processing this, but on a domestic level, some kind of doublethink needs to happen in order to have an awareness of the tactics that the "counterinsurgency" is taking to maintain its authority while at the same time still venerating not only individual heroes but also the Soldier as abstract Hero figure. (I realize I'm in a very US-centric train of thought, but I'm going with what I know.)


1)      Not sure if this will actually form a coherent question, but I'm interested in the relationships between counterinsurgency, counter-counterinsurgency (does that exist?) and available imagery. Mirzoeff says, "The sovereignty of the visualizer shifted ground so that authority was now derived from the ability to ignore the constant swirl of imagery and persist with a 'vision' above and beyond mere data" (292). We've talked about the ability to create counterpublics (Coombe) using various kinds of imagery, but I can only imagine how those counterpublics can be not seen (can something be "unseen" if we consider the ability of a large amount of "data" to overwhelm a "system" on an organic level?) in particular spaces like the Internet.

2)      How is Mirzoeff defining "modernity" throughout this book? Perhaps I missed the part where he is explicit in his meaning. Is modernity a constant? What are its parameters?

As a final comment, my thinking about heroes led me to thinking about representations of the Hero in today's popular culture (a place I often go), and so I'm posting a clip that shows, I think, the sort of contrasting beliefs about heroes that we yet maintain. The clip is from a show called Firefly (created by Joss Whedon, lasted less than a season but now has a pretty large cult following).

In the clip, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) says, "Appears we got here just in the nick of time! What's that make us?" His second-in-command, Zoë Washburne (Gina Torres), replies, "Big damn heroes, sir." And Mal then says, "Ain't we just?" The tone is sarcastic, but the imagery is quite heroic (backlit smoke, dramatic entrance, the bringing of the "light" of Mal's ship and Jayne's [Adam Baldwin's] laser rifle scope). Mal and Zoë both do and don't consider themselves heroes, even as they would be considered "insurgents" by the imperial Alliance government. That they used to be rebels against the Alliance does put them in that category, but they serve as heroes to many, and they seem to have some awareness of that, especially as they see themselves rescuing the "innocent" siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau). [Side note that for now must remain a side note: in this scene, Mal also lays claim to the person of the witch, who has the ability to "eat" people, thus also playing into the politics of eating as a way of establishing power/authority.]
Philip J. Deloria’s Indians In Unexpected Places (2004) challenges non-Native readers in particular to rethink how they conceive of Natives as something dichotomous to "modern" space. He uses various examples from the beginning decades of the twentieth century (focusing on indigenous groups from the northern plains) to show how "a significant cohort of Native people engaged the same forces of modernization that were making non-Indians reevaluate their own expectations of themselves and their society" (6). Delving into the relationships Natives had with cars, sports, movies, and art song, Deloria tries to show how Natives taking part in these so-called modern activities, for whatever reason, went against non-Natives' expectations and thus worked to disrupt those expectations to varying extents.

As I read this text, I found myself speculating not only on the historical content but also on my own relationship to this book. It seems important not only to speculate on how "Indians in unexpected places" shaped non-Native views about Natives during this period in American history, but also to consider how those expectations continue to shape non-Native thought today. For example, the discussion of the singer Tsianina Redfeather in Chapter Five complicates the relationship between Native singers (in the context of "high" art song) and their white audiences. Deloria tells us that Tsianina Redfeather had to be seen as both authentically Indian and racially invisible in order to find a place of value on the stage, as her Indianness was mitigated by her talent as a vocalist. Thus, audiences could choose to focus on her race or deny it in favor of fixating on her talent, and somewhere in the gaps, there stood a Native singer participating in what is perceived of as a traditionally European musical realm. Standing squarely in that gap, these performers could "play…with white expectation, holding out familiar signs that proclaimed ‘Indian’ even as they offered more nuanced musical performances" (212).

My study of folklore has driven home the idea that tradition is dynamic, not static; the perception of the static-ness of tradition, however, gives it its value. In reading this chapter in particular, I found even myself momentarily surprised out of my own expectations of what constitutes traditional art song or opera (for which I, uh, thank a particular academic musical training), and I feel that this is exactly Deloria's point. While non-Native audiences of the time may or may not have been jarred out of their own expectations, the actual goal of this book is to jar us out of ours, either again or for the first time.

Apologies, but I'm having real issue in coming up with questions at the moment. TBD?

Hi y'all, sorry if I'm late on this....was dealing with some physical whatnot.
And my downloadable pdf notes...
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Paige West's From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The Social World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) uses ethnography to show how coffee (particularly specialty coffee) is produced and consumed (both in a material sense and "virtually") and how the labels assigned to these coffees by the global North have material consequences for not only Papua New Guinean growers and their attendant industries but also for consumers on a global scale.

West's focus on specialty coffees is important because she makes a distinction in terms of their marketing to consumers. This marketing creates an image of the people of Papua New Guinea as both primitive (in a "good" way, the "noble savage" story) and impoverished. This image is highly problematic because it sustains a relationship between global North and South (as West uses these terms) that is unbalanced at best and, at worst, continues to damage Papua New Guineans' ability to have much agency in their coffee industry. Consumers, "by literally buying into a troubling set of fantasy images of Papua New Guinea that are grafted onto the coffee through marketing, work to replicate dangerous ideas about indigenous people and poverty that have drastic material effects" (29).

I found myself particularly interested in how the development of neoliberal capitalism helped to foster a system of "self-regulation" that these specialty coffee companies use to further their own image as socially responsible, ecologically friendly industries. That image is expressed through labels – "fair trade-certified," "organic," "free-range," or "vegetarian" (47) – that serve to sell not only a potentially "better" coffee but also a more "aware" coffee. The industries that engage in this third-party system of self-regulation have, by labeling their products in this way, managed to commodify environmental awareness and social responsibility on a "global" scale, as well as make "ethical consumption…a lifestyle choice that marks status" (51).

The way specialty coffees are labeled is also part of a (neoliberal, according to West) process called "disembedding." This process occurs

when economic activities, like buying coffee, bec[o]me increasingly removed from the social relationships in which they had historically occurred and when the objects circulating in the economy c[o]me to be seen as fetishes seen as emerging in and of themselves and not from labor (56).
The problem with specialty coffees as West sees it is that they seem to be re-embedding consumers in a social network when, in fact, they are doing the opposite because consumers are buying from a "virtual" producer, one that has been constructed for them. Buying from a fantasy producer (the poor, primitive Papua New Guinean coffee grower) has the effect of separating the consumer from the material coffee world.

Discussion Questions:

1) I know this is super general, but since I missed last week's discussion (stupid bronchitis), I'm really hoping we can connect West to Tsing. I'm still working through Tsing's concept of scale-making, and I'm wondering how we can tie in West's ethnography, especially as she talks about embedding/disembedding and how the world becomes bigger for Papua New Guineans but smaller for consumers of these coffees.

2) If the "virtual" producer is a creation of a specialty coffee company, is that image/label (however untrue or unethical) safeguarded by copyright? (Am hoping to expand this question further as I continue to think about it.)

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005) explores the notion of "friction" as it can be applied to what has previously been considered "frictionless" by many scholars – particularly, the progress of globalization. Tsing makes several points about the global connections that have and continue to be made: 1) that these connections are not linear, as from central nodes of power outward, but instead are chaotic; 2) and that these connections are not simply top-down constructions from North to South, but that the global South is an active agent in constructing global scenes; and 3) that friction is not just present but necessary, as when she says, "Friction is not just about slowing things down. Friction is required to keep global power in motion" (6). For Tsing, it is important to study not only how the global North operates in a contested area but also to analyze how indigenous peoples contribute to the instability of these contested areas and create new cultures that speak not only to specificity but also to so-called universal notions.

Tsing uses ethnography to look not simply at the specific locations in which she is active, but to engage universals, ultimately making the point that it makes little sense to study universals and particulars as discrete entities but to analyze how the interplay between particular and universal "moves" global concepts and goals. She notes that her own projects with environmental activism in Indonesia "deploy the rhetoric of the universal even as they shape its meanings to their particular processes of proliferation, scale-making, generalization, cosmopolitanism, or collaboration. They require us to follow calls to the universal without assuming these calls will foster the same conditions everywhere" (267). That rhetoric of the universal, she says, is necessary on some level, even when (or, rather, especially when) the subjects in a particular location  do not exactly agree on what that universal entails. For Tsing, it is important to see how different agencies – local, national, international – use universals and how those uses shape local politics of difference.

One aspect of Tsing’s work that intrigues me (or, to use the vernacular, "blows my mind") is her discussion of scale-making. Scale-making, she argues, is not neutral; rather, "scale must be brought into being: proposed, practiced, and evaded, as well as taken for granted. Scales are claimed and contested in cultural and political projects" (58). Rather than one globalism, there are overlapping "globalisms," and the same is true for the regional and the local. As I understand it, the rhetoric of the universal as used by one group (North, for example) attempts to set the scale in a particular way, but in doing so, it ignores or dismisses or neglects contesting or collaborative rhetorics that would make the global seem less "frictionless." But, as Tsing says, that interplay between different ideas about universal concepts is what can make social movements more successful.

In her analysis of the various ways that people interpret "conservation" in Indonesia, she shows that while different groups may have very different definitions and goals for a particular location, they are collaborative agents in creating a global measure that contradicts (but still improves upon) the supposedly seamless process of globalization that would otherwise not take into account local particularities. Thinking about how scale is produced (rather than taking it for granted) helped me to understand better, I think, the politics of friction in a global community.

Discussion Questions:

1) In discussion commodification, Tsing uses the example of a lump of coal that is, at each stage of its commercial journey, "appraised for different properties" and, in order to remain a sellable object, "it must be ready to meet these varied demands" (51). How does this process change in order to work for intangible commodities? Who does the appraising, and how is the "worth" of particular intangible commodities established?

2) Tsing talks about friction as a useful element in collaboration. "Parties who work together may or may not be similar and may or may not have common understandings of the problem and the product. The more different they are, the more they must reach for barely overlapping understandings of the situation" (247). I wonder if there is a line that must, at some point, be drawn in order to achieve any kind of progress? I realize that other social justice or activist movements have different elements that change the nature of the question, but if Tsing is speaking generally on this point that collaboration should contain an element of friction in order to be truly progressive (if not successful in the way that some activists consider the term), then I question, generally, whether large amounts of friction are truly beneficial. (I do so the point, though, that some friction can be productive.)

  This summer will see the first ever gaming convention that focuses primarily on LGBT issues and community. GaymerX (formerly known as GaymerCon) will be held in San Francisco and will include panels, contests, cosplay, and opportunities for play for LGBT gamers (sometimes called “gaymers”) and their straight allies. Since this is the first convention of its kind, I am interested in how the con’s organizers intend to use the space to address issues pertaining to the games themselves, primarily the representation of LGBT and other characters in games, as well as issues in gaming society, particularly the huge problem of hate speech and bullying.

Further, I intend to analyze how GaymerX came to be -- particularly, its use of online technologies to gain popular support and funding through Kickstarter and, as a result of that massive success, the development of of a GaymerConnect app (which allows participants to find and connect to others with similar gaming/geek interests) as well as maintenance through Facebook, Twitter, and the GaymerX website. The use of Kickstarter essentially made corporate sponsorship of this event a non-necessity, allowing the event organizers more autonomy in creating a specific alternative convention (altcon).

Research Questions

Specifically, some of the questions I’d like to ask are as follows:

1) How does the GaymerX event serve as a space of both counterpublicity and counterpower?

2) Will the con be able to discuss and work to implement solutions to the above problems on an institutional level? (This to counteract typically neoliberal proffered solutions by both gaming companies and users, solutions that include anything from self-policing to simply ignoring the problem in the hopes that those who can’t stand the heat will get out of the kitchen.)

3) How will the con offer a safe space to all event-goers? And will the con really be inclusive of all gamers (queer gamers of color, women gamers regardless of sexual orientation, etc.)?

4) How have the event organizers utilized online social networks to build the event, and how does the use of these technologies serve what Castells calls "the autonomy of the social actor"? (7).

5) What is the relationship between the GaymerX event and the general consumer framework of conventions in general?


Because I consider this a folkloric event and because it is so very visual, I would like to create a film about the con. As a documentary setup, I would include not only footage from the con (floor action, panels, contests and community get-togethers) but also interviews with attendees and event organizers. The fieldwork would be combined with theoretical grounding that comes from the fields of American Studies, digital technology studies, leisure studies (game theory), queer theory and folklore, at least. As a queer gamer, I have an emic perspective on this subject, and so my challenge (as always) is to strive for as much reflexivity as possible and to consider the experience from an etic perspective, as well.


My hypothesis is that the event organizers are really looking to transform the convention space – from a potentially unsafe space consisting of “booth babes,” overly judgmental cosplay, and panels that neglect or only pay lip service to LGBT issues in gaming to one that that celebrates the queer gamer/geek, strives for inclusivity for all, and really attempts to bring awareness to the very real social problems that accompany these sorts of leisure activities. The need for this kind of awareness is important particularly for a generation where “everybody games,” which is the GaymerX motto. It’s not literally true, of course, but video game culture has become more mainstream than ever and serves as a primary source of recreation for many young people. In this visual/online culture, the chances of being exposed to hate speech and misrepresentation of LGBT communities have multiplied greatly, so the idea of creating a safe space for “gaymers” (particularly young gaymers) is significant.

One argument I’d like to make pertains to the social value of altcons such as these to bring publicity to an area that some people tend to dismiss as “frivolous.” But it is precisely because gaming is perceived mainly as “play” that it becomes important as an area of study and transformative power, however. In folklore, “ludic recombination” is an integral part of any ritual, for through play people learn the social mores of their communities. If in gaming people learn that epithets against race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. are acceptable, or they are exposed to stereotypical representations of LGBT people, racial minorities, indigenous peoples, and women, then these are carried into other parts of their lives. Further, the anonymity provided by the Internet allows for the perpetuation of biases and makes hateful speech easier to get away with and harder to police.

I am hoping that how this con uses its space will help find ways of fighting these issues beyond the individual, forcing gaming companies to change their policies with regard to hate speech as well as include representations of LGBT peoples and other less dominant groups that are less stereotypically racist and/or misogynistic. This con has the opportunity to demonstrate to gaming companies that tolerating hate speech and creating racist/sexist/ableist misrepresentations in their games and at other gaming conventions is unacceptable because it DOES impact how people operate outside of these leisure frameworks.


Thus far, Coombe’s discussion of counterpublicity and how it operates is useful in informing I would approach the con as having a specific political agenda. I am also interested in Castells discussion about networks of power and how they operate, and I would like to discover how the con is a practical application of those ideas. I’m hoping that perhaps others in the class will have recommendations for expanding my theoretical framework?