(Two posts in two days. This is a record for me!)
After about a year and a half of writing and revising I have finally submitted my prospectus for my dissertation to our department’s graduate committee for review. If all goes well I will take my second exam and advance to candidacy in mid-March. *fingers crossed*
Here is an excerpt of what I submitted:
The rhetoric of free movement surfaces with new vigor in discourses of networked societies in the late 20th and early 21st century. Though this language can be found earlier in the twentieth century in the flâneur or the expatriate (and in countless others that predate these), it returns in virtual form as what Lev Manovich calls digital navigators or flâneurs.1 The virtual movement of these navigators and flâneurs as they “browse” and “surf” the Internet and traverse digital spaces is indicative of a networked mobility in a world seemingly free of borders, as lauded by early techno-utopianism, which saw limitless possibility in digitally networked technology like the Internet. In the “real” world, we see mobile figures emerging in contrast to the national citizen—the “static” resident within a territorially sovereign nation-state. This project will examine one paradigmatic instance of these mobile subjects: the temporary worker, a politico-juridical category we encounter in cultural figurations of the entrepreneur, the gangster, the migrant laborer, the guest worker, and the sex worker. I propose a cultural study of their representations in print, audiovisual, and digital media, focusing specifically on the affordances of networked communication and travel technologies that facilitate or hinder mobility.
Such a study is clearly warranted for several reasons. First, if we look at the dominant discourses on technology, neither the libratory potential of networked technologies, nor the disparity of the “digital divide,” adequately theorize the role of these technologies in the cultural engagements of underrepresented temporary workers. I argue the new, networked technologies affect mobility in a tangible sense. While offering a fiction of agency, or what Aihwa Ong has called “flexible citizenship,” they highlight the experience of temporariness characteristic of this contemporary moment. Second, while there have been several studies of particular coteries of migrant subjects—from refugees to corporate elites—few studies have brought these figures together under the same critical rubric. The dissertation takes up this challenge not to homogenize temporary workers, but to underscore the glaring divides and unseen relations in this unstable political category. The same mobile body that represents potential opportunity also emerges as a dangerous supplement to the citizenry, one that incites ambivalence at various national, corporate, local, and individual levels. These differences impact the social experience of temporary migration quite substantially. For an elite few, like binational citizens who have a surplus of both capital and citizenship (multiple passports, diplomatic immunity, business visas), traditional nation-bound concepts of belonging are no longer restrictive. For others, like migrant and guest workers, this type of global citizenship is little more than an unattainable ideal. The promise that networked communications have created a borderless world, allowing for the virtual and “real” migrations of people, media, information, and goods, remains somewhat of a utopian myth. Recent events in the Middle East may have demonstrated the democratic potential of social networking technologies, but the types of networks that temporary workers utilize and form are infinitely more diverse and complicated in terms of form and function as they connect individuals and communities across nation-states. Rather than being subaltern and voiceless others, these migrants, from the most transnational corporate elite to the most disposable unskilled laborer, engage with networked technologies in various ways: professionals seeking job opportunities; unskilled workers sending remittances to family members; undocumented immigrants providing interviews to NGOs; or traffickers and coyotes relying on underground networks to transport human cargo. My dissertation is chiefly concerned with these migrants, legal and illegal, the networks they navigate, and what awaits them upon arrival in their host nation.
It goes on for quite a while (who knew I’d be so wordy), and details the geographic regions (Los Angeles, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City) and texts I’ll be working with (print, digital, graphic, cinematic). It’s a project I’m completely in love with, and I hope it turns out well. Who knows what the next few years will bring!
And many thanks to my friends and colleagues (frolleagues!) for their invaluable feedback and time. <3