CSC: Spring 2020 Student Organizing Committee (SOC) Presentations Panel

CSC: Spring 2020 Student Organizing Committee (SOC) Presentations Panel

Thursday, February 27, 2020 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM
Johnson Center, Assembly Room D

Please come and join us for this special colloquium event, organized by the Cultural Studies Student Organizing Committee (SOC). CS students will present their papers and share their research with the GMU community. Mark your calendars and don't miss the chance to learn more about CS students' research projects. 

Please see the program of the panel below.

Intersectionality and Cultural Capital: Educated Black Women and Their Healthcare Encounters in Childbirth

S. Akina Canady


Two recently published, starkly contrasting statistics spark a number of questions about the Black women’s experiences in the United States. The first is that Black women are the most educated group in the U.S.: Research shows that 64 percent of Black women in this country have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 56 percent of White women, and 44 percent of White men (NCES, 2019). The second, more alarming static: Pregnancy-related mortality rates are three times higher for Black women than non-Hispanic White women (CDC, 2019), and deaths of infants born to Black women are twice as likely to occur. These statistics are unaffected by education level or socioeconomic status (Novoa & Taylor) and are most often attributed to racist/discriminatory practices at the institutional level.

The stories of Black women’s tragic (or nearly tragic) experiences have been well-documented in mainstream media’s coverage of high-profile cases, as well as in academia. In a 2019 essay, professor and sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom details the experience of losing her infant daughter after healthcare professionals dismissed her repeated emergency room visits and complaints of pain. The pain turned out to be three days of labor and signs of fetal distress, which, had they been addressed, might have prevented the tragedy. Cottom writes that her overall experience, leading up to the pre-term birth and death of her daughter, is due to healthcare professionals’ assumption of her incompetence. 

Educated Black woman, specifically in pregnancy and motherhood, must navigate these assumptions and stereotypes in many spaces, not just in healthcare bureaucracy. My research aims to explore this navigation by expanding Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital to include race and gender, specifically the three intersectional identities of Black, woman and mother/expectant mother. Drawing on Bourdieu’s concepts, particularly “habitus” (the way one talks and behaves, as well as their ability to make intelligible moves within a space), I pose a series of questions around how this relates to educated Black women, who are also mothers or expectant mothers. Chief among them: Given Bourdieu’s theory, how can these two statistics co-exist?

Cultural capital is loosely described as the ability to discuss, know and understand things within different fields. In theory, this knowledge capital, most often gained through formal education, helps one navigate culture and serves as currency that can be cashed in to alter one’s experiences and increase one’s opportunities. Competence is the measure of how much cultural capital one has. So, what happens when competence clashes with assumptions of incompetence, as many formally educated Black mothers and expectant mothers face in myriad spaces within which they have more than enough cultural capital to succeed, maneuver or demonstrate that they know what they are talking about? This study does not aim to tackle the healthcare system or other bureaucracies directly; it aims instead to highlight what it takes for educated Black mothers to navigate them.


The Sacred Man of Philadelphia: Homo Sacer and John Africa

Ayondela McDole


In 1985 the city of Philadelphia earned the sobriquet, “The City That Bombed Itself”. This nickname is in reference to the event known as, “the MOVE Bombing”. During the late 1970s and early 80s, John Africa founded an organization in West Philadelphia dedicated to anarcho-primitivism. Essentially the group believed that until all living things have rights and until animals are treated fairly there are no equal rights. The state effectively revoked the citizenship of the MOVE members through a series of acts not limited to but including dropping two 1lb bombs on the organization’s residence ultimately killing six adults and five children. This move to revoke the citizenship of citizens who try to not conform to the social covenant that modern society demands or of those that try to fight the anesthetized submission that capitalism requires can be better understood through the lens of Agamben’s Homo Sacer.

Homo Sacer is a statute of Roman Law that decries if a sacred man were to be killed it is not murder (i.e. a punishable offense) however, if a sacred man were to die it is not a religious sacrifice to be revered or worshipped thereafter. In the Agamben understanding, sacred man is situated inside a pause in the law while sovereign power wields its authority inside and outside the law. But for Agamben the sovereign power that sentences a man to bare life and the sacred man himself are locked in dialectical tension. Mayor Goode dropping bombs on a residential area via helicopter represents a pause in the law as well as the exception to it. Mayor Goode represents the sovereign and his actions embodied the dialectical relationship between constituted and constituting power.

John Africa is homo sacer in that he was unlawfully murdered at the order of Mayor Goode and no official (including Goode) has been tried for the crime. Yet John Africa did not die a martyr. John Africa was not murdered nor was he sacrificed. This response by police is an enactment of martial law. The MOVE members were considered “forcible felons” to justify validating martial law and the subsequent water, tear gas, bullets, bombs, fire sequence of attack was to follow. While the camp is ahistorical it is indeed tied to a past, an event, an unmitigated decision to deliver sacred man to his untimely end. For Agamben the concentration camp is the strongest hand ready to be wielded at any time. Once the sovereign plays its ‘strongest hand’ it becomes the only hand to wield. But this impromptu camp is a hidden matrix that never retreats. Ultimately this project declares that the state delivered the camp to West Philadelphia and what remains is a reminder that citizenship can be revoked at any time.


Public Expressions of Grief on Twitter: The Humboldt Broncos Accident

Terilee Edwards-Hewitt


On April 6, 2018, after a playoff game in the amateur Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team was hit by a semi-truck. Sixteen people died because of the accident and thirteen were injured. While tributes occurred locally, individual performances of public grief were shared by over 30,000 Twitter users in the week after the accident, many by people who had no direct connection to the team or that region of Canada.

Social media offers powerful ways to document, share and mobilize social movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Me Too. In addition to large, powerful movements and events, much of social media’s content is concerned with commerce or the minutia of everyday life. Social media allows people from around the world to associate with others who share the same interests, creating new virtual social networks of people, which are referred to as parasocial networks. This new network of online communities enables social media users to share grief with others and create new mourning rituals.

There is a growing interest in online memorial culture. Some of the literature about performance of grief online has focused on mourning for an individual with whom the person had a direct, interpersonal relationship. There is a larger body of research on the mourning of celebrities online. However, there is not as much research on mourning in parasocial networks for non-famous individuals with whom one did not have a direct relationship.

How was grief about the Humboldt Broncos accident performed on the social media platform of Twitter? What types of performance of grief were done? Where were these Twitter users located? What may be some of the factors that prompted people to participate in this sharing of grief? Tweets were assessed to identify the attributes of these Twitter users and the content of their posts was examined for patterns in the performance of grief. Sharing grief on social media allows individual expression and at the same time uses boundary markers to reinforce social connections to the parasocial network.

How did these tweets follow previously established forms of performance of online grief and how did they differ? Grief in modern society is expected to be performed only for a limited amount of time and there are few opportunities provided for shared mourning. This in turn may create a need to express and perform grief in ways that are recognized by members of one’s online communities. Social media may provide a safe space to perform grief that is discouraged in other contexts.


The Sacred and the Social: The Sri Venkatasawara Temple as a Site of Hindu-American Identity Negotiation

Pavithra Suresh


The 2016 Presidential election cycle was wrought with vitriolic, anti-immigrant remarks from then-candidate Donald Trump. In spite of this rhetoric emerged the oddity “Hindus for Trump,” a campaign led by the Republican Hindu Coalition in support of Trump’s presidential bid. As cited by Rozina Ali for The New Yorker, Shalabh Kumar, a Trump donor who donated over a million dollars, recognizes the impact of the Hindu community on Trumpian politics: “A lot of people think that Trump is somewhat of a racist . . . His partnership with the Republican Hindu Coalition will set that aside.”[1] Despite this partnership, in February 2017 (only a few months after Trump’s election), a white nationalist in Olathe, Kansas gunned down two Hindu Indian nationals in a bar after harassing them about their immigration visas. To many liberals and leftists, xenophobic, dog-whistle politics of Trump era are incompatible with acceptance of the Hindu-American community. Yet, as recently as September 2019, Trump hosted a rally in Houston, Texas entitled “Howdy, Modi!” to introduce Indian Prime Minister and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi to the Hindu-American diaspora during Modi’s American tour; Modi’s intentions can be seen as bolstering diasporic support for the Bhartiya Janata Party and indirectly influencing American political support for Hindu Nationalist policy, including the annexation of Kashmir. However, Trump’s involvement in the rally further blurs notions of who belongs as an American and who does not.

The object of study in this project is the Hindu-American population of Fairfax, VA. Moreover, through this project I sought to gain a working knowledge of the nature of the practicing Hindu-American community in the outskirts of the nation’s capital to determine the influence of religion, caste, cosmopolitanism, and attempts at assimilation (or lack thereof) on this population’s identity formation and sense of belonging.  Using techniques of participant observation and judgment sampling, I visited weekly pujas and cultural events, such as the Deepavali celebration, at Sri Venkateswara Lotus temple in Fairfax to meet, converse with, and observe practicing Hindu-Americans in their place of worship. I attended pujas at the temple, which are typically attended by the most devoted Hindu practitioners; I also attended Deepavali celebrations, which are typically attended by a wider audience. Through my interviews, I asked participants questions to determine the extent to which Hindu-Americans in Fairfax practice their faith and acculturate to the southeastern United States. Through my conversations with participants and informing my analysis with existing scholarship on the Hindu diaspora and multiculturalism in the United States, I found that the temple site is home to multiple occurrences: that of a religious site, of a diasporic community space for recent immigrants, and as a site of contention in which the desires of conservative, cosmopolitan, and typically upper-caste parents and their resistant children play out. Through this project, I explore the implications of this research on understanding an affluent immigrant group with a powerful political presence.


[1] Rozina Ali, “Hindus for Trump.” The New Yorker, October 31, 2016.