Congratulations to this year’s Summer Research Award recipients! We are thrilled by the ambitious and innovative work they’re all completing, and are pleased to be able to provide summer funding to support their research initiatives.
My research project for the Summer 2016 will be to examine how black cosplayers make their performances of media characters (comic books, television, film, etc.) of all races widely visible on a range of Internet platforms, including Tumblr, YouTube, and blogs dedicated to fans of color (such as Black Girl Nerds). This project seeks to argue that black cosplayers value the Internet as a performance site in part because when they perform in physical spaces, they are either viewed as suspicious and dangerous, or they experience deliberate exclusion (as when cosplayers of color are left out of fan conventions’ official photographs).
To further examine this project, I will be participating in Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) 2016 Spring Popular Culture Research Workshop. This PCA/ACA research workshop is taking place conjointly with the Department of Popular Culture, the Ray and Pat Browne Popular Culture Library, and the Music Library and Sound Recordings Archives at Bowling Green State University. This research workshop is intended to introduce scholars from around the country and abroad to the research and pedagogical treasures of these very special collections. In particular, the Ray and Pat Brown Popular Culture Library primary focus is popular fiction, popular entertainment (radio, television, film and the mass communication industry), and the graphic arts/advertising. Additionally, books and magazines, the collection includes a range of nontraditional materials including fanzines, webcomics, movie posters, postcards, greeting cards, digital trading cards, television episode scripts and many three-dimensional items (such as action figures, fast food toys, and games).
Engaging with this deep, rich, and unique collection will allow me to have direct access to a rich archive which will add another creative level of inquiry, while expanding my research on race and new media, comic book fandom culture and digital black culture, and their respective interdisciplinary relationship.
My BCNM summer fellowship is taking me to the Harvard Yenching Library in Cambridge, MA this June. The Yenching Library contains archival materials relating to the early history of manga, particularly the 1930s periodical Karikare (Caricature). Karikare was the publication of a short-lived manga group that evolved out of the repressed proletarian arts movement in Japan, and I’m very interested to read the magazine in order to gain a better understanding of the vexed politics of the period, particularly around manga and its role vis-à-vis the wartime Japanese state.
The classroom as a site of learning raises two questions about contemporary knowledge-production, both of which I plan to engage through my dissertation: on one hand, the classroom asks us to consider the way industry reorients education towards the ends of industry, (i.e., getting a job, professionalizing, relying on technical objects), or what French theorist, Bernard Stiegler, has referred to as “technoscience”; on the other—less dreary—hand, the classroom asks us to consider the conflation of technology and learning into “technology as learning”, a notion that complicates boundaries between human and digital technologies. In other words, if early AI thinkers, like Alan Turing, asked the question—can a machine function like a human brain?, then I am interested in the line of inquiry that asks: how do brains begin to resemble computers? how do computers construct modes of learning?
With the mass adoption of smartphones and GPS-enabled mobile applications across the Global North since 2007, there has been a proliferation of location-based services (LBS) focused on “solving” the city for upper-income digital natives, like Yelp, Foursquare, and Google Local/Zagat. In my dissertation research, I plan to study how digital location-based services benefit savvy residents, businesses, and landlords, amplify inequality and displacement from gentrifying neighborhoods, and fundamentally change the lived experience of urban space. These complex assemblages of user-generated and proprietary data, dependent on gamified and unpaid contributions, are increasingly being used to market urban property, as real estate sites like Trulia and Redfin integrate Yelp reviews and Walk Score® values on their listings pages.
Of course, contemporary LBS are part of a long line of informational technologies designed to make the city visible for consumption, from the window displays in Walter Benjamin’s infamous Parisian arcades to private city directories and Yellow Pages, what sociologist Sharon Zukin calls “the critical infrastructure” of urban amenities. Announcing the purchase of the Zagat Survey in 2011, Google’s Marissa Mayer called the company, founded in 1979 by New York lawyers Tim & Nina Zagat, “one of the earliest forms of UGC (user-generated content)—gathering restaurant recommendations from friends, computing and distributing ratings before the Internet.” This summer, I will use BCNM’s Summer Fellowship to conduct interviews and archival research on the Zagat Survey and other pre-digital city guides, from 19th-century Baedeker guidebooks to the Jim Crow-era “Green Guides” African-American motorists used to find accommodations, as a preliminary step in situating location-based services historically within a genealogy of urban informational systems.
Yairamaren Roman Maldonado
How can non-hegemonic sectors tell a different story about negotiating colonialist conditions? To what extent can Puerto Rico’s younger generations have a critical role and voice in re-thinking contemporary colonialism and the question of self-determination from a scholarly perspective? In my dissertation, I aim to explore what Puerto Rico’s mainstream media do not sufficiently articulate or question: the island’s colonial status in the 21st century. I will investigate themes of contemporary colonialism and identity in stories of everyday life by analyzing discourse among authors of experimental literature and young people’s digital narratives. As part of the first stage of the project, this summer I will hold a pilot workshop on contemporary literature and digital story-telling offered to Puerto Rican youth. Collaborators include community-based organization Centro de Acción Urbana, Comunitaria y Empresarial (CAUCE) [Center for Urban, Community, and Entrepreneurship Action] at the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras, as well as community leader Vladimir Pérez and writer Guillermo Rebollo- Gil. The participating youth will use new media tools and techniques for digital story-telling such as blogs, video, and podcasting to formulate their original narratives about everyday life in the island. Upon return to Berkeley, I will analyze their stories and explore how to design a methodology that combines literary criticism, new media studies and cultural agency.