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Tanja Aho portraitTanja Aho

Transnational Studies

“A Mad Critique of Anti-Neoliberalism: Sanism in Contemporary Left Thinking and Scholarship on Political Economy”

My dissertation uses a materialist, intersectional feminist approach to disability/mad studies to intervene in the current academic (re)turn to political economy that has often focused on neoliberalism as an explanatory paradigm and a field of adversity. Analyzing a range of discursive sites – from radical left manifestos and so-called neoliberal literature to pop psychology and the sharing economy – I challenge current discourses of political economy to move beyond their focus on neoliberalism. As I show in my dissertation, our understanding of neoliberalism is shaped by liberal assumptions about how humans act and react rationally, autonomously, and in their own self-interest. Concomitantly, the ways in which we imagine alternatives, read and analyze stories, understand our sense of self in relation to work, and experience sharing practices and public space are all informed by our conceptualization of neoliberalism and its effects, effects that are oftentimes interpreted as mental illness and/or madness. Bringing into conversation disability studies, feminist theory, critical race theory, and political philosophy, my dissertation offers what might be called a ‘feminist crip’ critique of contemporary debates and practices that are imbricated in a specific, neoliberal vision of political economy. Given the under-representation of feminist voices in studies of political economy and the rising interest in questions of political economy in the humanities, this project contributes to the intersectional work that the humanities have pioneered in past decades while offering scholars across disciplines a more thorough understanding of neoliberalism’s functioning as an explanatory paradigm.


Alison Fraser portraitAlison Fraser


“Homemade (Post)Modernisms: Ephemeral Objects in the Twentieth-Century American Poetry Archive”

“Homemade (Post)Modernisms: Ephemeral Objects in the Twentieth-Century American Poetry Archive” studies traditionally feminized objects like scrapbooks, photo albums, and clippings files to argue for the authorization of process over product (or publication), laying bare the physical basis of poetry in material culture. Addressing plural “(post)modernisms,” I analyze the evolution of homemade object making by studying the work of four women poets representative of the modernist and postmodernist periods, demonstrating how these poets manipulated emerging forms of media—from Marianne Moore’s files of newspaper clippings and Helen Adam’s occult scrapbooks of pulp fiction to Lorine Niedecker’s snapshots and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Xeroxes—in their multidisciplinary approaches to poetry.

Refuting the longstanding assumption that the modern collage poem—one of the most influential contributions of modernism—was developed exclusively from the (male) avant-garde, I argue that these poets’ engagement with ephemeral projects makes legible an increased sensitivity to the page as a visual staging ground for writing, and that their work also speaks to concerns in postmodern literature including visual poetics, pastiche and intertexuality, and the tension between narrativity and fragmentation. As women at work in male-dominated literary communities, these poets also found that homemade objects provided a method around dominant publishing economies and exclusive historical narratives while claiming taste-making roles (like editors and publishers) for women.


Kathryn Lawton portraitKathryn Lawton


“Deinstitutionalization and Disability Rights: Policy and Activism in New York State”

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, people with developmental disabilities received state support via large, remote institutions where residents received, at best, custodial care for the duration of their lives. One hundred years later, disability policy shifted toward community-based services in hopes of providing more effective and humane means of support. This dissertation uses two institutions, Willowbrook State School and West Seneca Developmental Center, to examine the relationship between political economy, public policy, and activism in this process of deinstitutionalization in New York State. Scholars have accounted for the shift by pointing to concerns of political economy or pressure from activists but have not adequately integrated these strands into a whole. Additionally, the existing literature neglects the perspectives of those impacted most by this change: institutional residents themselves. My research fills these gaps through an analysis of the interplay between the evolving welfare state and the Disability Rights Movement, and the collection of oral history narratives from former institutional residents, advocates, family members and staff of both institutions. This research strengthens a growing body of disability histories while bridging gaps between the social sciences and the humanities, and disability studies and postwar U.S. historical scholarship.


Laura Levon portraitLaura Levon


“The Silent Legacy of Sectarian Conflict: Identity and Memory among Young Protestants in the Aftermath of Northern Ireland’s Troubles”

This project analyzes the construction and negotiation of youth identity in the aftermath of sectarian conflict. To do so, it focuses on when and which narratives of the past are selected and used by young, self-identifying Protestant adults to negotiate the contradictions of everyday identity in Northern Ireland. Using the ethnographic research methods of participant-observation, interviews, and document collection (first in rural Armagh and then in urban Belfast), the project reveals the integral roles that memory and sites of memory play in such identity negotiation and construction— as well as the lasting impact of silence when it comes to experiencing and remembering violence. Further, the project highlights the tensions between the competing influences of traditional community narratives and newer peace process narratives, arguing that it is young Protestants (ages 18 to 35) who are taking the lead in forming new understandings of Northern Irish Protestant identity. Thus, the conclusions of this project not only address the gap in academic knowledge of young people by revealing their important role in creating new understandings of identity in a divided society, but also add crucial insight into the long-term aftermath of violent conflict.


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