Five Questions with First-Years: Taylor Johnson!

In our third installment of “Five Questions with First Years” for the incoming cohort of 2018-19, we bring you Taylor Johnson. Taylor earned her undergraduate degree from Duke University in International Comparative Studies, and her research remains rooted in the ethical, moral, and methodological questions she began asking at Duke: how might one write on and for anti-imperial and anti-capitalist projects? How might we consider popular culture and media as sites of “subversive power?” Read on to learn more about Taylor’s academic background, interests, and her all-important (and quite excellent) definition of American Studies.

1) What is your background, academic or otherwise, and how does it motivate your teaching and research?

I came out of a transnational studies background; my undergraduate degree was in an interdisciplinary department created by Duke called International Comparative Studies. My coursework spanned Women’s and Gender studies, Cultural Anthropology, Global Cultural Studies, and History.  This has lent a transnational or comparative element to my academic research and my teaching interests. Before coming to UT, I worked in independent private schools and Austin ISD.

2) Why did you decide to come to AMS at UT for your graduate work? 

The publications by faculty at UT AMS indicated a cultural history focus to the department and a tradition of examining subaltern cultural representations, which mapped on very closely onto what I wanted to work on – primarily media studies, indigenous studies, and comparative studies between U.S. and non-Western poplar cultural materials.

3) What projects or people have inspired your work?

My theoretical grounding is in Marxism and anti-colonialism, and Fredric Jameson’s “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture” gave me a foundational understanding of the oft-overlooked subversive power of mass or “popular” culture. Mohawk Interruptus by Audra Simpson, an ethnographic project on indigenous struggles to maintain political sovereignty within settler colonialism, had a transformative impact on my indigenous studies research direction. Jill Lepore’s The Name of War provides both theory and methodology for analyzing depictions of brutal warfare from separate populations.

4) What projects do you see yourself working on at UT?

To foreground: my research will always be on anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, or decolonizing projects. I’m very interested in comparative media studies, with a specific emphasis on media productions by subordinate populations usually excluded from the dominant popular culture, and the ideological influence of that media on the populaces that encounter it.

My primary focus for research and academic background has been on indigenous rights reclamation in North America through forms of media like independent films and record labels, Vimeo, and Soundcloud. I have a particular focus on social movements of the last decade, such as Idle No More, Standing Rock, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement.

I’m also very interested in a comparative project examining depictions of the atomic bomb in Japanese animations starting in the 1980s, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and the corresponding but less overt references to atomic warfare in popular American cartoons of the 21st century, such as Steven Universe and Adventure Time.

5) What are your goals for graduate school? What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?

I hope to get a further research grounding from my coursework and then to successfully complete the research projects I would like to focus on. I hope to get experience submitting to publications and presenting my research. My ultimate goal is to teach in a higher educational setting, so I look forward to gaining experience instructing and interacting with students.

Bonus Question:  In your own words–what is American Studies?

American Studies is for me an interdisciplinary project of subverting and critiquing the dominant cultural experience of Americanness, as well as exploring the silenced and under-examined imperial and colonial projects done in the name of “America”.

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