Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis on Surveillance and Emotion

A few years ago, Dr. Randy Lewis received a Humanities Research Award from the College of Liberal Arts in support of research for his upcoming book, currently titled Surveillance of the Heart: Fear and Loathing in Fortress America. In this video, Dr. Lewis describes the specific research that this award supported, from visits to Walden Pond to churches in Colorado. Take a look!

5 Questions: Dr. Simone Browne, Associate Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies

Browne Picture

Today we share with you an interview with Dr. Simone Browne, Associate Professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies department and affiliate faculty member of the American Studies department. Dr. Browne and American Studies senior Rebecca Bielamowicz discussed teaching in the public school system, black feminist thought, the politics of creative expression, and her new book, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2015). And, you’re in luck: the conversation was so engaging that we expanded it beyond our usual five questions. Read on for a fascinating discussion!

 

What is your scholarly background and how does it motivate your teaching and research?

Oh that’s a good question – nice – and I like that you put teaching first because that’s so important to me. So my scholarly background, I grew up in Toronto and I went to school at the University of Toronto for undergrad, master’s degree, and PhD. In between that I got a teaching degree, and so I actually have background teaching kindergarten and the second grade as well, too. And so one of the things that was important in my graduate studies was that in the program that – so I’m a sociologist, but the program that I was in was sociology and equity studies, and so it wasn’t like an add on, it was something that was really important to the department’s political project, and I think that comes in to how I think about how we can see the world sociologically, it’s also about equity as well, so I think that kind of influences my teaching.

After I did the teaching degree, I wanted to go into a master’s in education in the field of education. I was interested in pursuing those issues around social justice and equity in the public school system and so – but when I went there, sometimes you get a little sidetracked with some things, and I was kind of interested in those same things but as well as a cultural studies approach to looking at sociology and so that’s how I ended up in more of the, I guess more of the academic track as opposed to public schooling.

How was teaching the younger kids?

It’s hard. That was the hardest job I’ve ever had. A different type of hard because you’re on every day, there’s so much prep work to do, of course there are always, and I’m sure it’s changed a lot now where it’s been ramped up, but there’s always these metrics and benchmarks and testing and everything that you have to do. There’s oftentimes that you have to create spaces for them to learn through play or other things, and so it was tough, I’ll tell you that. My mother was a teacher, so I have a great – she was actually teaching at the same school as me for one time – but it was a great appreciation for the labor that they do. It’s no joke. They are really putting it in and they’re often not given the respect they deserve and the schools are not given the money they need. It is the toughest job but so important. And they’re great – to see the students, some of them are finished with university now, you know, that was such a long time ago.

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Faculty and Graduate Research: An Evening of Pecha Kucha Presentations

by Cole Wilson

The American Studies Department tried out a new style of presentation this Friday the 6th, a PechaKucha Night. Designed by “Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture” The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo February, 2003 and consisted of seven minute presentations consisting of 20 slides lasting for 20 seconds each.[1] The Austin adaptation took place on the fourth floor of Burdine Hall in the American Studies conference room and featured seven varying, thought-provoking, and engaging presentations by AMS faculty, Ph.D. candidates and masters students. Like the original invented in Japan, UT Austin’s PechaKucha Night presentations were limited to 20 slides, lasting for 20 seconds each. The topics varied from American students in Vienna, Austria to modern day interpretations of Tiki drinks and its allusions to cannibalism. Every presentation was jam packed with information that both captivated the attending audience and propagated a lively discussion following the event. Here’s a recap:

Masters student Kerry Knerr connected the contemporary constructs of tiki with cannibalism through her argument that “consumption [of the contents of the iconic tiki cup] inhabits the being of the cannibal” while also carrying out the act of “consume[ing] the cannibal” itself. Knerr offered a glimpse into the history of Tiki as a physical artifact and as a romantic notion constructed by western entrepreneurs “Trader Vic” and “Don the Beach Comber.”

Following Knerr was Department Chair, Dr. Steve Holescher who presented on his bi-annual maymester course in Vienna. Dr. Hoelscher outlined his course objectives: understanding memory, the city’s adaptive reuse, and the cultural norms that have grown out of Vienna complicated past. He went on to discuss how he goes about reaching these objectives. Dr. Holscher pointed to Nazi era anti-aircraft towers standing stories above the tallest buildings in the city’s center, which are impossible to remove due to the dense urban landscape, and poses the question: how does the city of Vienna deal with this permanent reminder of the past? During his class students visit sites like the Jewish Monument against fascism, the Nameless Library,[2] and Mauthausen Gestapo camp. As a former participant of Dr. Holescher’s Viennese course I can safely say each and every day is filled with impactful and insightful lessons all revolving around the city and its concept-of-self. Dr. Holesher states that students in his course are constantly prompted to answer the question: how is Viennese memory displayed and interpreted at these location.

Ph.D. candidate Andrew Gansky presented a portion of his dissertation titled “Apple helps those that help themselves” next. He opens with a provocative question: “why do teachers love Apple?” Gansky goes on to argue that the answer lies somewhere in Apple-funded educational grants, a teacher-centric acknowledgement campaign, and a business model that made “people feel good consuming.” Gansky states that Apple continued their marketing techniques from the early 1970s through the 1990s, each year gaining more clout in the world of educators through their marketing grant-based, publicity-driven, education-focused business model.

Next, Dr. Lauren Gutterman presented on the case of Jeannance Freeman, a lesbian woman who charged with the murder of her two children in 1960, with the aid of her lover, and mother of the children, Gertrude Nunez Jackson. Freeman was the first woman sentenced to death in the history of Oregon’s penal system; however, the sentence was reduced to life in prison four years later. Dr. Gutterman argues that Freeman was considered a villain but later became a victim in the public’s eye. Dr. Gutterman touched on Freeman’s transition from villain to victim and how that change relates to her sexual orientation. She also explored how capital punishment was distributed unto the LGBTQ community in the 60s and sheds light on Oregon’s LGBTQ population’s progress throughout the decade. For more information check out Gutterman’s synopsis through the University of Michigan here.[3]

Dr. Jeff Meikle was next to present, and he did so on G.I. Pitchford’s iconic 4×6 inch portraits of the American southwest. Dr. Meikle explains that Pitchford sold (in bulk), captured, colored, and altered the post cards that would later create Americas notions of the “open road,” perhaps anticipating Jack Kerouac’s widely read On the Road. From his iconic, almost generic, sunset, to his incorporation of blossoming American technology like the automobile, highway, city center, or, in one famous instance, Hoover Dam, Pichford’s work has captivated the American imagination and instilled a picturesque romanticism of the continental southwest unlike any other artist before him or scene.

Masters student Josh Kopin presented on portions of his thesis concerning Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang and their allegorical ode to adulthood. Kopin argues that Charlie Brown counters the American nuclear family by presenting an allusion to the American worker, similar to Charlie Chaplin’s “Industrial Man.” By becoming consumers, fulfilling parental roles, and their acknowledgement of finite American cultural minutia (as evident in the gangs interest in works like “War and Hate”) the Peanuts are both children, and adults, possibly more so than Chaplin’s Industrial Man.

Lastly, Dr. Randy Lewis’ centered his presentation around the artistic interpretation of modern day surveillance. Dr. Lewis remarked on how artist action is at its heart a cultural barometer and went on to discuss how contemporary artists like Zach Blas[4], Karin Krommes[5], and Josh Kline[6] have thus expressed an uneasiness surrounding the practice. From drones to street cameras, artists have taken on the task of digesting and presenting these surveillance practices.

If you missed out, that’s alright! There is a PechaKuch Night planned for the Spring you can catch next semester. Keep in touch with the blog, the UT AMS website, our Facebook page, twitter feed, or wherever you get your UT Austin AMS news for more info on the next PechaKucha Night.


 

[1] PechaKucha.org. “PechaKucha About” Klein Dytham Architecture. http://www.pechakucha.org/faq

[2] “Holocaust Monument a.k.a. Nameless Library (2000)” University of Florida school of Art and Art History, http://art-tech.arts.ufl.edu/~kecipes/whiteread/holocaust.html.

[3] Gutterman, Lauren “Saving Jeannace June Freeman: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of Homophobia in Oregon, 1961-1964.” University of Michigan. https://lsa.umich.edu/women/news-events/all-events/archived-events/2015/03/saving-jeannace-june-freeman–capital-punishment-and-the-transfo.html

[4] Blas, Zach. “Facial Weponization Suit” http://www.zachblas.info/projects/facial-weaponization-suit.

[5] Facebook. “Karin Krommes” https://www.facebook.com/karinsabinekrommes/

[6] Kline, Josh. http://47canal.us/main.php?1=jk&2=pics

Announcement: AMS Pecha Kucha

tower1

UPDATE: Due to the weather, we’ve decided to reschedule this event for next week. More soon.

Today, at 4 PM in Burdine 436A, the department of American Studies will hold its first ever Pecha Kucha. Excitingly, both members of the faculty and the graduate student body will be giving presentations of 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each. The lineup is below.

We See You: The Art of Surveillance
Randy Lewis

 

Saving Jeannace June Freeman: Capital Punishment and the Lesbian-as-Victim in Oregon, 1961-1964
Lauren Gutterman

 

An American in Vienna
Steve Hoelscher

 

“They Do Say It’s Real”: G.I. Pitchford’s Postcard Images of the American West
Jeff Meikle

 

Apple Helps Those Who Help Themselves
Andrew Gansky

 

Kicking the Football: Charlie Brown in the 1950s
Josh Kopin

 

Deconstructing Tiki
Kerry Knerr

Grad Research: Carrie Andersen publishes article on drones and Call of Duty in Surveillance and Society

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan.

A Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) comes into land at Kandahar Airbase in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Summer may be winding down – it is August, after all – but we still have exciting news to share with you folks about our departmental community and its various projects. Ph.D. student Carrie Andersen has just published a journal article in the July 2014 issue of Surveillance and Society, entitled “Games of Drones: The Uneasy Future of the Soldier-Hero in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” This work comprises part of her dissertation research: her project examines the cultural and political construction of the drone within the post-9/11 milieu.

Check out her abstract below. The full article can be found here (bonus: the journal is open-access, so have at it without logging into any databases!).

In this article, I argue that the first-person shooter video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, reflects the U.S. military‟s transition as it reimagines the soldier‟s role in war. In the age of drone technology, this role shifts from a position of strength to one of relative weakness. Although video games that feature future combat often “function as virtual enactments and endorsements for developing military technologies,” Black Ops II offers a surprisingly complex vision of the future of drones and U.S. soldiers (Smicker 2009: 107). To explore how the game reflects a contemporary vision of the U.S. military, I weave together a close textual reading of two levels in Black Ops II with actual accounts from drone pilots and politicians that illuminate the nature of drone combat. Although there are moments in Black Ops II in which avatars combat enemies with first-hand firepower, the experience of heroic diegetic violence is superseded by a combat experience defined by powerlessness, boredom, and ambiguous pleasure. The shift of the soldier from imposing hero to a banal figure experiences its logical conclusion in Unmanned, an independent video game that foregrounds the mundane, nonviolent nature of drone piloting. Instead of training soldiers to withstand emotionally devastating experiences of death and violence first-hand (or to physically enact such violence), games like Black Ops II and Unmanned train actual and potential soldiers to tolerate monotony and disempowerment.

Announcement: Grad Symposium Features Torin Monahan

Join the American Studies Events Committee this Thursday, March 27 from 5:00 to 7:00 in Garrison 1.126 as they host a talk by Dr. Torin Monahan that incorporates our 2013-2014 departmental theme, SECURITY/INSECURITY. Dr. Monahan’s lecture will focus on his current NSF-funded collaborative research project that analyzes data-sharing practices through Department of Homeland Security “fusion centers.”

Dr. Monahan, author of the 2011 Surveillance Studies Book Prize winning text Surveillance in the Time of Insecurity (2010), has published a number of articles and books on surveillance and security programs and their tendency to reproduce social inequality. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

data
Here is an abstract of his talk, titled “Beyond Counterterrorism: Data Fusion in Post-9/11 Security Organizations”:

The voracious collection and promiscuous sharing of data define contemporary security organizations. While the seemingly disembodied, intelligent, and passive nature of new surveillance techniques appears to be less prone to bias or abuse, such techniques are infused with interpretive actions that afford racial, religious, and political profiling. Drawing upon empirical research on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “fusion centers,” this talk will explore the politics of emergent security paradigms. Fusion-center officials propose to fight distributed networks of criminals or terrorists with similarly distributed digital networks that overcome traditional jurisdictional boundaries. Through their intelligence activities, though, fusion centers perform an erasure, or a selective non-generation, of data about their own practices, thereby creating zones of opacity that shield them from accountability. This is concerning particularly because fusion centers are rapidly becoming primary portals for law-enforcement investigations and the model for information sharing by security agencies more broadly.

Dr. Monahan’s talk will take place on Thursday, March 27 from 5:00 to 7:00 in Garrison 1.126. We look forward to seeing you there!

Departmental Theme: The Music of [In]security

Marconi "Velvet Tone" Phonograph Record Sleeve - 1907

As part of our department’s 2013-2014 theme, we’ve compiled a collaborative Spotify playlist containing songs that relate to notions of security and insecurity. Today, we feature a few of those selections introduced by members of our departmental community, who opine on the relationships between sound and security. So kick your Wednesday off with some tunes and a little fancy scholarly footwork that sheds a little more light on some well-known (or not-so-well-known) favorites. The depth of some of these songs may surprise you. Enjoy.

And, if you’re a Spotify user, be sure to subscribe to the playlist at the link above.

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Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, “Nowhere To Run” (1965)

Ostensibly about the difficulty of walking away from a bad relationship, the jarringly upbeat “Nowhere to Run” is more of a ghost story.  The phantom lover haunts dreams, the bathroom mirror, and other people’s faces.  Reeves knows its time to go, but she can’t find a way out.  GIs took over the song as a metaphor for the quagmire of Vietnam.  Today, considering the quagmire of bankrupt Detroit, the Vandellas’ joyous romp through an auto plant in their promotional video offers an almost spectral image of a distant, happier past. – Dr. Karl Hagstrom Miller

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Steve Earle, “Rich Man’s War” (2004)

Steve Earle makes an appearance on the list. His “Rich Man’s War” is part of the most recent incarnation of Earle—a songwriter with politics on the sleeve and class consciousness in the heart. But it makes me think of an earlier, Appalachian-inspired Steve Earle—that of the “Copperhead Road,” bootlegging, fast cars, and law-breaking days. That Steve Earle had it the other way around, class on the sleeve and politics in the noisy heartbeat underneath. To my ears, both bring more layers to the question of security/insecurity. To “Are we secure or are we insecure?” Earle adds, “Did we build this prison ourselves?” and “How do we get out of this cycle?” As his “Satellite Radio” puts it: “Is there anybody listening to earth tonight?” Because it might just be us who are here to figure it all out. – Dr. Elizabeth Engelhardt

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Bruce Cockburn, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (1984)

Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.   Everything about Cockburn’s piece screams the eighties—from its cheesy keyboard patches to its scathing critique of the US pursuit of the strategy of supposedly “low intensity conflict” in Central America.  The pacifist folkie’s mounting frustration leads to dreams of high-powered vigilantism two years after the first Rambo movie and two years before the Iran-Contra affair made Ollie North a household name. – Dr. Karl Hagstrom Miller

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Jeff Buckley, “Grace” (1994)

Jeff Buckley’s “Grace,” the title track from the artist’s only self-released album, embodies the emotional volatility of nineties alternative rock. At once a driving hard rock anthem and a surprisingly tender expression of a man’s resignation to his own demise, “Grace” is a nexus among uncertainty, alienation, and shrill-but-powerful panic stoked when death knocks at the door. Such themes are well at home in the disaffected Gen-X musical world also inhabited by the pre-emo likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But fear not. That messy snarl of ostensibly inevitable misery is ameliorated, at least in part, by the power of love (no Back to the Future allusion intended, although Marty McFly certainly had reason to feel insecure). Much as love provides some semblance of stability, the raw finality of death is, sez Buckley, perhaps the greatest source of security we can hope for. – Carrie Andersen

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