2021 Thesis Projects

Krista Anara Cibis

Of Garmentology: Reading Between the Labels

Thesis Mentor: Sara Bernstein

I have photographed over 500 different garment brand labels in thrift and secondhand stores. The images were categorized by the way they were divided in the stores by women’s and men’s sections. I have modeled my approach on Material Cultural Theory and object-based research methods. Drawing from that archive of images, I use the brand labels as an intersection point for different fields like linguistics, fashion theory, history, material and consumer culture to analyze as an artifact. In that volume of material texts, not much larger than the paper in a fortune cookie, themes emerged, for example, themes of aspirations (Dreamer), identity (Expert), nihilism (Garbage), body (Petit Sophisticate), gender (Total Girl), nationalism (Faded Glory) even racialized purity (Lily White.) The labels act as value statements that are physically connected to the garment. These statements go largely unnoticed, and unseen worn inside a garment. When they are read separately from the garment and read in relation to it, as in this project, the labels are more than fashion identifiers but form a social grammar of identity and aspiration.

Kyle Cohlmia

Traveling through Space: Finding a Borderless Bayt in the Poetry and Paintings of Etel Adnan

Thesis Mentor: Dana Ghazi

This thesis explores the idea of space, both physical and mental, within Lebanese writer and artist, Etel Adnan’s literary and artistic endeavors, The Arab Apocalypse and her most recent series of paintings, Planètes. I examine The Arab Apocalypse and its place within the speculative fiction genre, Adnan’s use of color throughout the poems and its connection to her Planètes series which depicts both earthly and planetary objects in the same frame. The inspiration for this research is founded in my Lebanese identity. Years ago, my father told me that, while born Syrian, one day as a child, he woke up and was now considered Lebanese. The ambiguity and control of borders, such as that between Syria and Lebanon, sparked my interest in critical theory and the ways in which Southwest Asian North African (SWANA) identifying people are responding to these issues through writing and artwork. In the same way my father’s nationality switched in a single day, this paper explores the effects of borders on identity; and while Adnan has outwardly condemned the idea of using activism or theory to define her work, through this paper I, myself, attempt to theorize Adnan’s beliefs on the confinement of space and, further, her representation of home, or what is known in Arabic as bayt.

Ashley Couch

Proving Grounds

Thesis Mentor: Raechel Anne Jolie

Though the speakers’ accents in bootstrap mythologies may differ slightly, common elements such as addiction, abandonment, “hillbilly justice,’’ trauma, poverty and a deep appreciation of “home” lace whitewashed perspectives that typically fail to critically consider race, gender, disability, power, oppression or the patchworks of cultures and critters inhabiting our hollers. Combining memoir, creative nonfiction, critical theory, popular culture, legal history and history of place, this autotheoretical thesis serves as a rebuttal to, and indictment of, typical bootstrap mythologies, interrogating systems to disrupt assumed beliefs. Beginning with a Preface and Introduction framing the content and providing personal and theoretical grounding, the work next considers the Blues Highway, a stretch of space connecting Nashville past Memphis deep into the Mississippi Delta. Next, Tobacco Road describes the area of North Carolina around Chapel Hill and Duke, a hotbed of race-related protests from the Civil War era to modern times. Questioning notions of justice, /ˈpro͞oviNG ˌɡround[s]/ transports its readers to the scenes of the crimes to consider their own complicity and accomplice liabilities, compelling discovery along the ride.

Kristin Derryberry

By Her Own Hands: A Newfound Agency for the Final Girl in Contemporary Horror Cinema

Thesis Mentor: Angela Catalano

Contemporary horror films have been turning generic conventions on their head, including the slasher staple, the Final Girl. This thesis applies feminist film scholarship analyzing the Final Girl throughout horror film history to contemporary folk horror directed by men. Unlike the films that came before them, Midsommar (2019) and The VVitch (2017) give a new type of agency to the Final Girl. These films can be read as a reconciliation of the violent treatment of women throughout the history of horror. Instead of the women being subjected to violence, these films show how the Final Girl takes up agency and space in a way that she is not only allowed to save herself, but to choose her own fate. This critical look at the horror genre and the trope of the Final Girl demonstrates a more sophisticated engagement with issues of gender, patriarchy, and questions of agency, subjectivity, and spectatorship in contemporary horror cinema.

Effy Garside Mitchell

Navigating Chaos: Dirty Kid Subculture and Surviving the Apocalypse

Thesis Mentor: Margaret Killjoy

Dirty Kids are a subculture of transient punks who survive by hacking into a country's infrastructure through urban camping, dumpster diving, squatting, hitchhiking, lock picking, shoplifting, and riding freight trains, allowing them to live as autonomously as possible. These are partially conditions of poverty and austerity, but they are also modes of refusal, reflecting a constant grappling with living anywhere and belonging nowhere. Dirty Kids live in a space between fraught freedom and societal exile. Dirty Kids use counterknowledge to help us imagine an alternative way of moving through life outside of capitalist confinement, balancing exterior struggles imposed upon them like societal exile and poverty with interior struggles such as mental illness and addiction. These are both prerequisites and after-effects of living a transient life that is ultimately a struggle for freedom, survival and autonomy.

Madison Hames

The Intelligence of Things: Twenty-first-century Omens, Time-eating Matter, and the Subtle Call of Plastic

Thesis Mentor: Sloane McNulty

This thesis gives philosophical expression to the knowledge, intelligence, and agency of objects as a means of making non-human collaborators to think with as we combat the multiple crises of the Anthropocene. Drawing from the chemical philosophies of Isabelle Stengers and Gay Hawkins, it considers the ways in which intelligence is encoded into the molecular composition of materials, giving rise to a sort of ontological intelligence and agential capacity of things. Influenced by Deleuze, Mathew Fuller, Olga Guironova, and Harold Bloom, this thesis explores how this intelligence is interlocked with ethico-aesthetics, wherein the object uses aesthetics as a communication technology, typically by initiating embodied sensations and feeling in what/whoever is encountering it. As a framework for this thingly communication, this thesis suggests a reimagination and revitalization of the historical human practice of interpreting omens, wherein the omen is desacralized and reframed as an ontologically intelligent thing. Finally, this thesis suggests that plastic, one of the most pressing issues of the Anthropocene, is an apt material to interpret for its inherent ability to perform spatio-tempophagy, or space-time compression.

Alex Hebler

Laying Down Arms: Metaphor and Phenomenology in Illness and Disability Studies

Thesis Mentor: Cole Cohen

This thesis draws critical attention to the role of metaphor when describing illness, disease, and disability. While the primary focus is on military metaphors in medicine, disability as metaphor is also considered throughout, revealing the impact metaphor has on how we conceptualize embodied experiences. Shorter sections on cognitive metaphor theory and phenomenology provide context for what North American and UK medical professionals, literary and disability scholars, and critical medical humanities scholars argue about the use of metaphor when describing illness and disease. It is evident that the language we use is commonly rooted in the idea of a universal, normative phenomenology, even when describing nonnormative experiences (eg, illness and/or disability). Ultimately, this paper takes up the frameworks of critical disability studies and critical medical humanities and calls for two things: 1) a more integrated approach to language and medicine, especially surrounding diagnosis conversations, and 2) a more individualized perspective to illness narratives, allowing personal experience to play a larger role than compulsive military metaphors allow for.

Justin Lizik

"Mont Blanc" and the Secular Sublime

Thesis Mentor: Jay Ponteri

This thesis examines the poem “Mont Blanc” by Percy Shelley through investigation of Shelley’s religious and political views. Analysis provides a clear understanding of the text and what an interested reader can encounter through engagement with the text. Although early analysis of the poem has led to discussions focused on Shelley’s theory of mind, my analysis will move beyond early scholarship toward a reading of “Mont Blanc” that is more wholly invested in Shelley. While analysis is historically focused within the text and Shelley’s philosophy, this paper will argue that Shelley’s politics and experiences are also useful tools for analyzing his poetry. By engaging Shelley’s intentions more fully, I read “Mont Blanc” to be a political poem, one that is asking the reader to reexamine their own feelings and politics.

Laura Nash

Crips Claim Space: Disabled Writers Resist Eugenicist Ideology Through Science Fiction

Thesis Mentor: Sloane McNulty

Science fiction presents a powerful tool for imagining and shaping the future. Problematically, most American science fiction reinforces eugenicist ideology, imagining futures in which humans have eradicated disability or disabled characters develop compensatory superpowers. These narratives cause real harm to disabled people by bolstering ableist beliefs that devalue any disabled person who can’t meet the demands of neoliberal capitalism. Fortunately, counterstories written by disabled authors have the potential to overturn these damaging master narratives. In this thesis, I examine the short stories “Hollow” by Mia Mingus and “Deep End” by Nisi Shawl, along with the novel Kea’s Flight by Erika Hammerschmidt and John C. Ricker, all three of which confront eugenicist realities and envision bright crip futures. These authors depict ordinary disabled people surviving and thriving on spaceships and in space colonies, creating accessible and caring communities built on crip kinship, brilliance, and interdependence. We need more science fiction stories like these to liberate our minds and illuminate paths forward.

Carly Naughton

Eugenic Assemblages: Race, Disability, and Reconceptualizing Eugenics Through Assemblage Theory

Thesis Mentor: Sloane McNulty

Drawing on disability studies, critical race theory, biopolitical thought, and eugenic historiography, this thesis details the interdisciplinary struggle of defining “eugenics” and proposes eugenics is best understood through assemblage theory. Though this essay jumps through time, space, and disciplines, it foregrounds historiography on eugenics in the United States from the mid-19th to early 20th century, paying particular attention to the imposed dichotomies that negate the complexity and persistence of eugenics in American society. Rather than a singular ideology or movement, eugenics is an ongoing, multiplicitous, shifting, and incomplete project which requires ongoing, multiplicitous, shifting, and (implicitly) incomplete analysis. To demonstrate the utility of eugenic assemblages as a crip analytic, I explore the re/deterritorializing relationship between race and disability through an analysis of 19th century racialized diagnostics in order to problematize the emphasis on inclusion, valorization of plasticity, and neoliberal attempts to cast disability as desirable in disability studies and the notion of “race-neutral” disability history.

Elizabeth Simins

Ghosts of Queerness Yet-to-Come: The Horrors of Heterosexuality in a Decade of Made-for-TV Christmas Movies

Thesis Mentor: Sara Bernstein

This thesis broadly examines 140 made-for-TV Christmas movies released between 2005 and 2020 alongside a variety of scholarly texts on subject matter including popular romance readership, queer interpretations of horror, cultural studies, and critical heterosexuality studies to argue that the pleasure experienced by queer viewers in the made-for-TV Christmas romcom audience may be more akin to that traditionally generated by horror than romance. Christmas movies paint a bleak view of the world for presumed-heterosexual women—all women according to the genre’s internal logic—one in which only a once-a-year force known as Christmas Magic can save them from the misery of the magic-free heterosexual dating pool. The largely generically consistent narrative structure of Christmas movies, intended to be watched in bulk during annual marathons, uniquely qualifies them to expose the horrific and uncanny aspects of a world in which anything other than heterosexual marriage is perceived as a tragic failure. For queer viewers, a truly happy ending might entail the heroine’s realization that heterosexual marriage isn’t the only valid relationship model, and that her near-universal dissatisfaction with men may suggest something that can’t simply be solved by the timely arrival of “the one.” That she never does, thanks always to the timely intervention of Christmas Magic, is a chilling and constant reminder to queer viewers of the impossibility of their own existence in the Christmas movie’s supposedly charmed world. However, like horror viewers whose terror is confined to a movie’s running time, queer viewers may breathe a sigh of relief as each Christmas movie comes to a close, secure in their knowledge that Christmas Magic has no purchase in the world off screen.

2020 Thesis Projects

Kate Baker

“The Equity Cost of ‘Institutionalization’: From Information Practices to Embodied Impacts in Public Administration”

In the United States, public and nonprofit administrative bodies rely on institutionalized processes to deliver efficiency, economy, and efficacy in their work. This paper argues that designed dynamics of institutionalization essentialize whole people, perpetuating inequity in the process. While public administration scholarship acknowledges that public and nonprofit workers are mission-driven representatives of public good and social equity, the established institutional theory and practice models fail to adequately interrogate institutionalization as a power-laden set of networked dynamics perpetuating institutional violence. The paper considers foundational and contemporary scholarship in the fields of organizational theory, institutionalism, and administrative theory through and against critical frameworks, to offer a critical systems perspective of institutionalization which connects most basic information-level administrative practices to more severe embodied impacts on equity. Ultimately, the paper calls upon public and nonprofit institutional workers – in their professional practices - and scholars – in the focus on and incorporation of critical rhetoric – to become critical administrators who intervene to ameliorate institutionalized inequities both for themselves and for the publics they serve.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/katebakerworks/

Hannah Bakken

“Unconscious Boundaries and Paradigmatic Capture: The Fence in the American West”

The fence is an omnipresent material object in the rural American West, yet it is often unperceived -- it is expected and therefore taken for granted and unquestioned. The fence is a direct, material manifestation of the settler colonial power structures we function within; we live and remain within physical boundaries but also within individual and communal ideological boundaries; both of which keep us from deeper connections and realizations of experiences past our own. This paper reminds that settler colonialism is a structure and not an event — a structure of “paradigmatic capture” which is so deeply entrenched into the thought, ideology, and visual perceptions of the American West that it is rendered unnoticed. This structural paradigm limits future possibilities of relationality in order to sustain itself and creates a situation of “environmentally unconscious” perception — a foreshortening of attentiveness to the fence and therefore the structure of settler colonialism. This thesis argues that it is urgent for settlers to alter their way of looking inward and outward by engaging with the materiality of the fence. By exposing and advocating for an ongoing individual engagement with the material presence of the fence and therefore settler coloniality, this work presents a tool of close looking for a consistent reprocessing and revisioning of an individual experience through meditation, care, and settler responsibility in order to cultivate future efforts towards decolonization and healing in the American West.

https://www.hannahbakken.com/

Nico Bartulski

“Privileging White Women’s Innocence: The Use of Gender-Based Violence to Legitimize the State”

The legitimization of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) results in harm that is intentionally directed at Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPoC) via the carceral impulse. By upholding and relying on prisons and supporting criminalization and increased policing white feminist movements and the white women apart of them are complicit in both the historical and present sexual violence experienced by BIPoC and QTPoC as well as the targeted mass incarceration of BIPoC and QTPoC. The carceral impulse predicates the notion that relying on and looking to prisons as a form of justice and/or solution to harm is unreflective and instinctual. I offer a dimensionality to the term, carceral impulse, and examine the ways that a strategic reliance on the PIC is facilitated by the state. This privileging of white cis women’s innocence, safety, and interests as they pertain to issues concerning gender-based violence ultimately results in carceral feminism. This paper examines the privileging of white cis women’s innocence, safety, and interests above BIPoC with marginalized genders as a key aspect of white supremacy culture. The privileging of white cis women has dictated the popular discourse of movements that address gender-based violence within the United States from the 1960s to the present. Furthermore, the privileging of white women’s safety has erased and whitewashed the experiences and labor of BIPoC, specifically as it relates to prison abolition work. As a result, the topic of gender-based violence within white feminist movements has served to maintain the carceral system in the United States by further legitimizing the PIC as a source of justice through the use of measures, legislation, and laws.

https://nicolaba.cargo.site/

Richard Boswell

“Neurodiversity, Inclusive Pedagogy and the Need for Peer Support in Postsecondary Education”

In 2018, more than 200,000 of the 21.1 million students enrolling in colleges and universities in the U.S. were on the autism spectrum, otherwise recognized as being neurodivergent. The awareness of neurodiversity is changing the approach of inclusive pedagogy on campuses and in classrooms, emphasizing the need for better understanding and more efficacious management of the particular challenges neurodivergent students face. Focused programs in a few institutions that work directly with learning-impaired students exist, but liberal arts schools are feeling the growing pains of reimagining outdated pedagogy. I argue that peer support, a form of bridge program that enables positive learning to motivate success, is essential in assisting the neurodivergent student population. Led by members of the neurodiversity community, peer support provides a working presence available to students, faculty, and staff members. In this paper I address what defines post-secondary peer support, why it is important, and its long-term benefits and success for the institution and the student.

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Richard_Boswell

Alexis Chapman

“Arts Engagement: Social Consciousness and the Art Institution”

Art spaces, their collections, and their public arts engagement programming have a history of aestheticizing “diversity” for capital and social gain. This paper seeks to acknowledge, critique, and highlight ways that those practices are being transformed through arts educational programming. Drawing on Nicholas Bourriaud’s theory of relational aesthetics, and Saidiya Hartman’s notions of critical fabulation, this thesis argues the need for counter-narrative creation. With these theoretical and analytical frameworks in place, the paper centers regional voices in arts engagement using examples of participatory programming and immersive curatorial projects from the Pacific Northwest.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexis-chapman-03683b4b/

Caitlyn Clester

“Unearthed Violence Stillness, Absence, and Alterity in Regina José Galindo’s ‘Tierra’”

This thesis considers the impact of stillness, absence, alterity, and affectual subversion in Regina José Galindo’s photographic still image “Tierra,” created in 2013. In this essay, I explore what I term the subversive affects of “Tierra,” through two methods: the idea of “stillness,” in which stories of violence are told by the survivors of violence instead of through a manipulated narrative and colonial historical framework, and “absence,” where subtlety is embedded within the details on an image, intriguing the viewer to look longer and recognize violence beyond the traditional presentations of falsely historicized pain. When intertwined, these evocative methods of image production (stillness and absence) allow for a visceral and impactful viewing experience. By comparing colonial methods of image-making with the subversive tactics of stillness and absence, this paper offers a newly conditioned praxis of viewing, one that allows for an empathetic and educational response to the violence inflicted upon marginalized people.

https://www.caitlynclester.com/

Adrienne Grimes

“The Algorithmic Gaze: A New Mode of Looking”

This paper challenges the erasure of marginalized voices on social media platforms by helping users understand the role of algorithms within the platforms. Focusing on Instagram specifically, the thesis exposes a new mode of looking that has emerged as the platform’s algorithm decides what users see in their curated feeds and what content is deemed appropriate or not. I call this new mode of looking “the algorithmic daze”. The paper begins with an evaluation of how algorithms work, frames the discussion using theories of the gaze, and concludes with a case study of Salty’s, a newsletter for and by women, transgender, and non-binary people, that exposes algorithmic bias. Through this examination social media users can become more conscious and critical viewers. After recognizing where there is room for improvement with Instagram’s algorithm and the team that creates/monitors it, this analysis can be applied to other platforms using similar algorithms.

https://adriennegrimes.com/

Qamuuqin Maxwell

“Unlearning Subtler Colonialisms Through Storytelling”

This paper considers theory from a perspective informed by Indigenous traditions of storytelling. Following Brian Brayboy’s edict in Toward a Tribal Critical Race Theory in Education that stories are legitimate ways of knowing, I trace connections across realms of theory to both explore the stories that those theories tell as well as interrogate my own. By sharing the varied and various theorists who have informed my development and trajectory, I hope to demonstrate how listening to the stories of those both similar and different to us helps us all build more sustainable and vibrant communities.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/qamuuqin-maxwell-b2ba4b24/

Randall Meza

“White Epoch-alypse: The Settler Colonial Economic Paradigm Within Anthropocene Historiography”

The history that Anthropocene discourse writes is failing. In particular, this discourse fails to account for longstanding structures of domination in its writing of history, mainly settler colonialism. This historiography fixates both on origins that adjudicate a universalizing guilt and on a futurity that acts as a “settler move to innocence” (via Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang.) By applying the idea of divine economy from the field of theology, I assert that this historiography’s origins and futurity do not exist in isolation but as an active circuit. This cycle is what I call the settler colonial economy: a homogenous guilt is established to prescribe a futurity of innocence, which never fully absolves and leads to more universalizing guilt. I intend to offer a possible course of action in the present moment for white settlers in the hopes of rupturing this settler colonial economy -- a movement towards a settler dis/possession, which advocates for abolishing the structures that create and maintain white ways of life as well as moving away from the possessive logic of white kinship. Through this two-fold action of abolition and embracing a plurality of relationalities, white settlers could help attend to the longstanding structures of domination that Anthropocene historiography ignores all the while not relying on paradigms of guilt and innocence.

James Lee

“No Mere Metaphor: On the Return of Sovereignty in the Late Pasolini”

Critical scholarship around the Italian auteur Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, has often regarded the work as a damning allegory of the development of commercial capitalism in post-war Italy. While that reading is certainly justified, an alternative view of the work allows for a more literalist reading, in which the sovereign violence of the film’s fascist antiheroes is read as a prescient warning of an era to come. This essay explores the theme of resurgent sovereignty in Salò, using the near contemporary work of Michel Foucault in the “Security, Population, Territory” seminars. I argue that Foucault’s analysis of the two poles of state power – the administrative function of “governmentality” and the arbitrary power of “sovereignty” – is key to reading an important thread in Salò and Pasolini’s final prose works. It is finally in Pasolini’s concept of “anthropological degradation” that I show a novel reading of these poles’ codependence, where the tactical effects of governmentality, in their ultimate expression as late capitalism, prepare a homogenized landscape that anticipates the return of sovereignty. Pasolini’s film is thus read, rather than an allegory, as a vision or prophecy of a coming political violence.

https://strangeimperative.com/