Past Dissertation Descriptions
Kam Copeland is ABD in the Division of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. His dissertation, “Muhammad Gazes: Islam, Blackness, and Resistance Cinema in the US,” is a representational history of US Black American Muslims in cinema. This project also explores how Black Muslims have developed alternative gazes and liberatory cinematic practices to resist dominant framings of Muslimness in the US media.
Course: AADS5526 Islam in African American Cinema
This course is a historical exploration of Islam in African American cinema from the 1960s to the present. In this course, we will simultaneously trace the evolution of African American cinema alongside social, cultural, and political developments in U.S. Black American Muslim communities to understand how Black Muslims have historically and theoretically defined the cinematic. In addition to focusing on representation, we will explore the various ways Islam and the Islamic has been understood by Black filmmakers while investigating how Black Muslims have used cinema to resist dominant narratives. Representation, production history, and audience reception are approached through a cultural studies framework that emphasizes critical analyses of race, class, and gender.
"Deserving Humans in the Desert: How Black Trans-Saharan Migrants Experience the (ll)Logics of Liberal Humanism via Humanitarian Care in Transit."
As the title suggests, Ampson Hagan's work interrogates the opportunities and limitations of humanitarianism in the Sahara Desert when such aid also attempts to promote border management and anti-migration imperatives of the nation-state.
Course: AADS 5525 Humanitarianism in Africa
Human suffering amid socio-economic underdevelopment, structural and political crises, and "natural" disasters have long defined the predicament of Africa in relation to the rest of the world, as have the many humanitarian efforts to address that suffering. This course will explore these humanitarian endeavors, what types of politics they reproduce, and what the constant humanitarian focus on Africa contributes to assumptions and notions of "Africa" and "Africans". This course will engage these themes by analyzing concepts such as "secularism," "development," "aid," and "white savior complex" in the context of (post)colonial Africa, through ethnographic and historical research of specific case studies.
"Somali Youth in the Dadaab Refugee Camps and their Aspirations to Return Home"
This dissertation explores the relationship between Somali refugee youth living in protracted displacement in Kenya, their experiences of exile, perceptions of home, and their aspirations to return to Somalia.
Course: AADS 5524 African Refugees and the Politics of BelongingThis interdisciplinary course explores contemporary refugee and forced migration issues affecting people on and from the African continent. We look at the historical causes of displacement in Africa and focus on the politics of humanitarianism and belonging at the local, regional, and global levels. We examine displacement at three key sites: borders, refugee camps, and cities, and consider the lives of the displaced at
these locales as well as the legacies of war and exile. We scrutinize the durable solutions of local integration, resettlement, and return, and trace the experiences of African refugees at different geographic scales and policy contexts.
"Hip-Hop and the Politics of Language and Public Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania"
This research addresses the intersection of youth performance, language practices and resistance politics in postcolonial Tanzania, examining the hybrid use of English and Swahili — what Hannah Vidmar refer to as Swanglish — in contemporary hip-hop and spoken word art in the country’s largest city, Dar es Salaam. She posits that youth artists in Dar es Salaam use Swanglish in both live and mediated spaces of performance to construct and mobilize a sociocultural identity that is both distinct to postcolonial Tanzanian nationhood and inseparable from an urban, transnational and global imaginary. Bringing together youth studies, urban studies, linguistic anthropology and global hip-hop studies, this project critically interrogates how Swanglish functions as an act of youth resistance. In Tanzania, to resist the language of the state is to resist the state itself; therefore, to create novel hybrid linguistic forms is to create forms of identity and community that, in this case, are crucial to the transnational reach of urbancultural production in the digital age.
Course: AADS 5523 Hip-Hop in the African Diaspora
This course examines how youth within the African Diaspora use hip-hop to articulate identities and challenge sociopolitical realities. We will critically examine questions of gender, class, language, and intergenerational divides. The approach to this course is interdisciplinary, drawing upon works from Africana studies, music, history, and hip-hop studies. While this is an exploration of hip-hop within the African Diaspora, we will examine musical traditions such as hiplife, Afrobeat, Bongo Flava, rumba, reggae, and Afro-Cuban jazz, to better understand hip-hop's transnational history.
"Rastafari Women's Intellectual History and Activism in Jamaica and Ghana."
Rastafari Women’s Intellectual History and Activism in the Pan-African World, uses documentary film, ethnography, and oral history methods to explore the ways Rastafari women build transnational communities through their activism around gendered anti-Black racism, classism, and religious discrimination from the 1970s to the present in Ghana, Jamaica, and Ethiopia. She draws upon theories in Rastafari Studies, Womanism, Black transnational feminism and Pan-Africanism to analyze how Rastafari women create communities of social justice across the Black Atlantic. Rastafari is an anti-colonial spiritual movement that began under British colonialism in 1930s Jamaica to challenge injustices of imperialism and racialized oppression. The dissertation explores the primary social and political issues driving women to become Rastafari and organize in their communities and examines the ways they combat the triple marginality of being Rastafari, Black, and women as their international travel forges relationships between Africans and African Diasporans.
Course: AADS 5522 Rastafari Black Radical Thought
This course introduces students to the theoretical frameworks, methods, and practice-based application of engaging with Rastafari philosophy. We will critically examine literature produced about Rastafari and the community-based activism of the movement in the context of Pan-African movements from the 1930s to the present. The approach of the class is interdisciplinary and thematic, drawing upon works from Africana studies, literature, history, music, and film. Students will engage with Rastafari guest speakers and read the most recent literature in Rastafari studies. Special emphasis will be placed on gendered anti-Black racism and Rastafari woman’s community activism.
"The Last Emancipation: Rio de Janeiro and the Atlantic History of Slavery and Abolition, 1879-1900".
This dissertation examines how abolitionists reworked the history of Atlantic emancipation to bolster the argument that abolition could open an era of social peace, economic prosperity and political stability in Brazil. I explore how activists sought to realize this vision by learning from historical examples in order to formulate reformist and revolutionary visions for a more equitable Brazilian future. I suggest that the manner in which history was injected into the abolition question meant that when slavery was abolished in 1888, activists had downplayed the prospect that racial hierarchy and political exclusion would survive or become more rigid after abolition. This led to a particular, transnational and comparative way of remembering Brazilian emancipation and to a corollary mythology of racial exceptionalism. By using comparative history to link emancipation with national progress, abolitionists unwittingly helped lend durability to residual forms of inequality and exclusion that were often as pronounced as those inherent to slavery itself.
Course: AADS 5521 Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World
From New England to Brazil, American slavery was central to the emergence of the modern world. This course examines the comparative history of Atlantic slavery, tracing the institution’s evolution from an engine of colonial expansion, to the backbone of an industrial plantation economy. We will focus particularly on the lived experience of slavery, examining how people made sense of, survived, and challenged enslavement across diverse historical contexts. By comparing the different combinations of racism, material inequality, and political exclusion that undergirded centuries of enslavement, we will attempt to understand how and why slavery’s legacies continue to burden an entire hemisphere..
"Boston's Struggle in Black and Brown: Racial Politics, Community Development, and Grassroots Organizing, 1965-1985".
This project is the first historical investigation of Boston’s racial politics in the “post civil rights era.” In a comparative multiracial study of Boston’s African American and Latino communities, this dissertation utilizes a “bottom up” perspective to expose the limits of a black/white racial binary order. This work begins by examining postwar urban community development in Boston, a city that embodies the complexities of the African Diaspora in the American urban North. Paying close attention to the role of black-brown im/migration into Boston’s emerging ghettos, it considers how these communities intersected, overlapped, and engaged with one another and how this, in turn, shaped their racial and ethnic formation. This project highlights the ambiguous racial position of Afro-Latinos in the city, considering what it meant to be both Latino and black. It also complicates what it meant to be black or African American in Boston by considering the role of migrants from across the African Diaspora like Cape Verde, the West Indies, and Haiti.
Course: AADS5520 Rethinking Civil Rights: Black/Brown Activism
The narrative of the civil rights movement remains centered on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and nonviolent protests in the American South. This course challenges this story and transforms the way we think about this history. Shifting away from top-down perspectives and national organizations in the South, we focus on "bottom up" history in areas like the urban North. The course centers on black/brown grassroots organizing and the role of ordinary people, particularly women, in creating and sustaining the movement. We consider various protest strategies and more radical visions of revolution from the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"From Invisible to Immigrants: Political Activism and the Construction of Caribbean American Identity, 1890-1940"
The early twentieth century witnessed the formation of numerous Anglophone Caribbean American benevolent associations and mutual aid societies. This project highlights how participation in these social and cultural organizations created kinship networks that both empowered immigrants to form a collective "Caribbean" identity and unleashed a political activism among immigrants fighting alongside African Americans to insure their equality in the tumultuous era of American Jim Crow. Despite excellent work on themes such as labor and remittance sending, scholars examining immigration narratives neglect the importance of this early period of history, as well as social and cultural organizations as vital to the development of Caribbean American identity and a wider black identity. However, without an examination of these organizations we are left with an inadequate analysis of the way in which transnational identity formation occurs. This study will remedy this gap in the literature by examining these organizations in order to illuminate the relationship between culture, politics, the role of women, and identity formation in the context of immigration. This work illustrates that it is in the framework of U.S. social and cultural organizations in the early twentieth century that Caribbean immigrants first saw themselves as Caribbean, developing a unified identity, which did not exist prior to immigration to the U.S. Through participation in these same organizations, immigrants were able to work together with African Americans; ultimately, championing issues that affected the black community as a whole.
Course: AADS 5519 Defining Freedom: Migration, Labor and Transnationalism in Post-Emancipation British Caribbean
Migration is a theme integral to the history of the Caribbean. Nowhere has this been truer than the British West Indies, which established a long tradition of mobility in the century following Emancipation in 1838. This course examines blacks in the Caribbean immediately after the abolishment of slavery and follows their migration, for both seasonal and long-term work projects, throughout the Caribbean-basin. This course discusses the ways in which emancipated blacks defined freedom, highlighting the connection between mobility and freedom. Further, students will analyze the themes of race, gender, identity, class, and nation in the context of Caribbean migration.
"Lifescapes of a Pipedream: a Mixed-Tape on Structural Violence, Resistance, and Struggle in Two Villages Along the Chand-Cameroon Oil Pipeline"
At the center of this research are the structural violences that accompanied the implementation of the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline, represented through the narratives, perspectives and resistance practices of the people who live alongside its right-of-way in Kribiand Nanga-Eboko in Cameroon. This research project will demonstrate that there are longstanding and historically grounded understandings of structural violence(s) in Cameroon based on witchcraft epistemologies and that these frameworks problematize and enrich scholarly theories of structural violence and resistance. Critical scholarship reveals the violence of large-scale development projects that fail to consider local epistemologies and cultural sensitivities (Scott 1998; Ferguson 2008) and my project responds to this lacuna by seeking to understand local narratives of violence and resistance within agrarian landscapes and lifescapes, as rural people are (re)incorporated into the structures of modern capitalism.
Course: AADS 5517 Geographies of Violence and Resistance in Africa
From resistance against Shell Oil in Nigeria’s Ogoniland to the revolutionary movement led by Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, this course looks at geographies of violence and resistance. Using case studies across West and Central Africa, we examine the routes/roots of protest movements and "nonmovements" against colonial, neo-imperial, and structural forms of violence. Challenging ethnic, religious, and race-based interpretations that naturalize violence in African places, we outline a comprehensive historical and spatial examination of violence, emphasizing that resistance and violence have particular geographies. We become acquainted with debates on the interconnections between violence, space, and development in Human Geography.
“Race, Empire, and the Global Intellectual Tradition of the Black Atlantic, 1750-1850.”
This work reconsiders the history of black political thought in the British Atlantic between the American Revolution and the first decade of the twentieth century by engaging black literary and oratical responses to the expansion of Anglo-American imperialism. Despite the prominence of recent scholarship on the nineteenth-century British Atlantic world focuses on the constitutive role of empire in national self-fashioning, the study of black political thought in this period remains framed by national boundaries and discrete periodization centered on emancipation. This scholarship breaks from these forms of spatial and temporal categorization by arguing that black thinkers articulated the persistent importance of struggles againts empire both before and after emancipation.
Course: BK 515 Race and Capitalism: Blackness in Global Economy from Slavery to Mass Incarceration.
This course explores how violence against black bodies has been an integral component of global economic development from the eighteenth century to the present. Focusing broadly on the African Diaspora, we will study the history of capitalism's racial violence as it leverages cultural nationality, and sexuality, among others. We will critique relationships among capitalist as they develop from histories of racial slavery, colonial expansion, ghettoization, mass incarceration, and overseas warfare.
“‘I Live by a Stranger of another Nation:’ Land, Travel and Belonging in a Southern African Country.”
This study discusses the political need to focus on land in order to simplify belonging throughout Zimbabwe’s history and the impact that travel has had in problematizing this over-simplified sense of “national” belonging. Through an analysis of Rhodesian and Zimbabwean works of fiction and non-fiction, I examine how travel makes all belonging unsettled, and how this unsettledness can be productive in making us re-think and interrogate “African” identity in a post-colonial, post-essentialist, post-nativist, and post-race era.
Course: BK 518 Women Writers of Africa & the African Diaspora
This course comparatively looks at portrayals of girlhood, womanhood, sisterhood, and motherhood in the works of women writers in Africa and the African Diaspora.
“Theorizing Policy Implementation: Enforcing Anti-Gender-Based Violence Laws in Post-Conflict Liberia”
The central objective of this project is to understand why law enforcement officers (LEOs) deviate from their agencies’ official directives when they respond to some forms of gender-based violence (GBV). It also seeks to understand how this deviation affects governments’ efforts to reduce levels of these crimes and how the women’s movement influences the strategies that LEOs adopt.
Course: BK 511 Race & Politics in the African Diaspora
Subtitle: Gender and In (Security) in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings
This course aims to introduce students to the theories of gender and security. It also seeks to foster an understanding of how gender affects men and women's experiences of (in)security during and after conflict and, of how (in)security constitutes gendered norms and practices. The course draws on debates and lessons from across the globe but focuses on conflict and post-conflict settings in Africa, the shifting demographics and the cultural transformation they bring with them.
"(Lost) Tribes to Citizens: Lemba ‘Black Jews’ Engage the South African State"
“(Lost) Tribes to Citizens: Lemba Black Jews Engage the South African State” traces Lemba people’s efforts to position themselves as diasporic Jews and as indigenous Africans in pursuit of political and cultural citizenship within and beyond South Africa. The Lemba participated in DNA tests to prove their Jewish ancestry and have been the subject of debates about ‘lost tribes of Israel’ and ‘black Jews’ since the late 19th century. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in rural villages and townships, this project examines contemporary Lemba politics of citizenship and belonging against a backdrop of structural inequalities that survived South Africa’s late 20th century political transformation. By moving beyond essentialist ideas that position Lemba people as either ‘real’ Jews or as the products of invented traditions, I emphasize their multiple subjectivities and demonstrate that their cultural identities are meaningful to Lemba people as they struggle to find a viable place in their worlds.
Course: BK 362 South African Struggles, South African Lives
In South Africa, “the struggle” often refers to mobilizations against the racist Apartheid regime that was in power from 1948 to 1994. In this class, the struggle against Apartheid is just one site through which we will study meanings and practices of struggle in South Africa. As we examine various struggles for independence, livelihoods, rights and justice before, during and after Apartheid, we will also consider the role of struggle within South Africa. We will pay close attention to the struggles that people engage and enact in their lives, and we will approach discourses and meanings of concepts like culture, belonging, and politics as sites of struggle in and of themselves.