Methodology (Draft 1)

Methodology:

Research

Being interested in how Asian American communities operate according to or challenge representations of the racialized Asian identity, I will assume the position of a researcher with a social constructivist perspective. This assumption would be most appropriate because I strive to learn about the social conditions, cultural contexts, and historical formations that have impacted the experiences of the participants in relation to existing images of the different Asian minorities in the U.S. In addition to the social constructivist position, however, I am interested in how participants could interact with each other to make sense of each other’s experiences and negotiate new forms of representation imagined by them for the purpose of creating media representations empowering to the Asian diaspora communities. In order to engage in such a discourse and pedagogy, I will have to account for concrete agendas geared for cultural change. I must reflect on my own position as an advocate, facilitator, and participating agent of social and cultural change. I plan to be a part of this movement, which will be led by a community of mobilized Asian American artists and media practitioners.

To begin, I must identify a collection of media and artwork dealing with the issues of Asian American and/or Asian immigrant identities and communities. Critical analyses of both content and the form in which they have been presented will be necessary to form research arguments. Through this stage of the research, I plan to determine or at least find a better understanding of whether or not there is a viable “model” for alternative media dealing with particular racial politics regarding the histories of Asian diaspora communities. I will pose questions such as, what is the historical formation of this model or practice(s)? What social and cultural impact have these media works had on the communities for which they concern? What are the terms currently being negotiated in order to either reinforce or reform existing alternative practices?

Then, taking more of a participatory action approach, I plan to engage in a collective investigation on imagining a new set of alternative media artistic practices designed to mobilize Asian diaspora communities toward actively making social changes, particularly in regards to cultural perception and representation of the Asian identity(s). I plan to explore the research questions with activists, artists and media practitioners who are currently working on de-constructing and constructing images or representations of Asian minorities in North America. I would want to have active discussions on how we as practitioners can collaborate on developing a new model for alternative Asian Diaspora media/art. I would collect stories of the artists’ past experiences with different alternative modes of production (and viewership) as we construct a new narrative or discourse collectively. We could experiment on producing a media project (preferably audio-visual) or multiple projects to propose as examples for what could possibly motivate activism against racial subjugation of Asian Americans.

Specifically, I plan to conduct this participatory action research with a Korean American grassroots organization based in New York City. Willing members of the organization will participate in the research to share their own stories of being Asian American activists and develop methods or aesthetic/formal strategies to communicate understanding of their unique memories, experiences, and struggles. The participants would use audio-visual media tools to produce their own expressions of the displaced history of Asian American (in this case Korean American) activists. Then I would facilitate several sessions of discussions on how we interpret as well as analyze this particular set of art/media works. In this dialogue, participants would also discuss how these “texts” would serve to motivate and drive more people to support their causes and become a part of their activist community.

Documenting the Process

As the research facilitator, I will document all of the participatory processes by taking field notes and capturing audio-visual representations through video cameras and audio recorders. Additionally, the participants will be asked to engage in informal interviews and individual oral narration exercises, which will also be recorded audio-visually. Eventually, the captured audio and images will be edited into a short (20-30 minute) experimental documentary piece revealing the processes involved to gather, analyze, and represent data from the research. Participants will be informed of the documenting process and will be reminded that they always have the choice to withdraw from the recording sessions without penalty or losing their right to confidentiality and anonymity.

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Lit Review – Power of Cinema (Draft 1)

The Potential of Cinema towards Mobilization and Empowerment:

Mass political participation is important and quite the realistic phenomenon to consider, especially since technological advancements have allowed for mechanical reproducibility. In fact, in the age of modernity, some radical scholars prompted the modern subjects to mobilize or at least test the consciousness of the masses through newly developed technological media. Thinkers like Walter Benjamin saw the liberating potential of certain technological media, which had the capacity to awaken the masses to the fact of ever-changing malleable quality of social structures and cultural norms.
Benjamin suggests that film (or cinema) in the age of technological reproducibility had certain capabilities of projecting a collectivized representation of what he refers to as the “optical unconscious.” The cinematic apparatus can present a virtual experience (although primarily optical) that otherwise would not be comprehended let alone recognized by the collective masses progressing through time and space structured by hegemonic understandings of social norms. Benjamin states, “Thanks to the camera, therefore, the individual perceptions of the psychotic or the dreamer can be appropriated by the collective perception” (Benjamin 118). If this is the case, the multiplicity of untapped memories within a collective or community’s unconscious can be addressed, and perhaps simulated through the cinematic medium.

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Lit Review – “Cultural Identity” (Draft 1)

“Cultural Identity” and Resisting Cultural Imperialism:

Hall characterizes two specific ways of situating ourselves when we think about “cultural identity.” One position conceives of identity shared by a collective in which individuals can relate to one another through common history. Cultural identity stands for the common historical experience that individuals share; it is that which allows for the individuals of a collective to hold a profound sense of belonging and a “oneness,” which keeps a community together through even the gravest of adversities, like those of colonial oppression.

It is suggested that in order for colonized subjects to fight against colonialism, they must collectivize by uncovering their shared history stripped and manipulated by the colonizers. This idea is to strategically bring about empowerment by returning to the pre-colonial cultural traditions and representations that may have once given their existence meaning. “It lay at the centre of the vision of the poets of ‘Negritude’, like Aimee Cesaire and Leopold Senghor, and of the Pan-African political project, earlier in the century” (Hall 223). Yet there is another position we need keep in mind with the concept of identity. For example, Frantz Fanon was critical of this revitalization of pre-modern cultures and the connections made between identity and a common essential ancestry or origin. Rather than emphasizing the recovery of this idea of the pre-existing unity of a race or people, Fanon sought the production of identity based on the concurrent struggles of the colonized collective. Identity, in this case is not a begotten force unchanging and continuing to flow through those united by it, but it is constantly challenged according to any retelling of the past and any individual’s desire to negotiate his/her position through present struggles into the future. Hall argues, “Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power” (225).

We are indebted to thinkers and scholars like Hall and all who precede him in thinking about the critical discourses of cultural formation. Thanks to them, we understand that culture and power are not inherently contained in the bodies of a select few. Concepts like race also are not fixed or natural limiters of human power, but have been arbitrarily formed to give political advantage to a select few over the remaining majority. Although more of us now consider racial codification to be a result of non-essential social imagination, it has proven its real existence, manifested with real boundaries, and had real effects on the social conditions to which such classification of human beings has been applied. Historically, social phenomena such as slavery and colonialism have been legitimized and justified by hegemonic systems of racial codification, in which there was consensus based on the common understanding of the distribution of power, value of life, and human rights according to certain physical characteristics of the human body, namely the color of one’s skin. Yet, for such arbitrary associations like skin color signifying human value to maintain their status as truth claims, they need to be structurally supported by infrastructure of knowledge. Western consciousness found one through the intricate study of the Orient, or at least what it viewed and imagined to be the peripheries outside of the Western European center. Although the Orient covered in Orientalism does not refer to the “Far East,” or East Asian and Southeast Asian nations and cultures, it is worth looking at in order to grasp the concept of the Western gaze of the rest of the world and its knowledge systems.

Lit Review – Intro (Draft 1)

Literature Review:

It is critical to navigate the historical formation of Western consciousness, which has imposed divisions on human beings and marginalized many of its subjects to racial otherness. In many ways, the rendering of racialized identities to “otherness” has marked dehumanization. Throughout this review, we will look at how forced acceptance of “otherness” is detrimental to a subject’s control over the formation of his/her identity.

It is also important to note that representations of the racialized “other” have been constructed based on the Western gaze. The images of racialized bodies have been filtered through deep roots and sturdy structures of a particular Western epistemology engendered since the beginnings of the world political economy. Howard Winant argues, “I consider how the theme of race, though prefigured in earlier ages, only took on its present range of meanings with the rise of modernity” (Winant 170). As European colonization started to come into fruition, the colonizers required a rationale for conquering foreign lands and its people. The practical reason may have been economic advantage in a time of global economic integration. Yet there had to be much stronger justification to legitimize and preserve this kind of all-encompassing power. We will critically view the reasons for and ways in which the Western powers normalized racial categorization. Then, we will also address the ways in which those subjected under racial regimes have used media like cinema to reclaim control over representation of their identities.

To begin, we must confront the concept of identity and decide under which definition(s) we will operate. The term “identity” can encompass so many connotations and meanings. For the purposes of this exploration into racial formations, we will continue the discussions using definitions of “cultural identity” as proposed by Stuart Hall. Hall engages in a discourse on identity for colonized peoples, who have been stripped of their powers and human right to identify themselves in a system, which hardly recognizes their human value or even existence as human beings.

Description (Draft 1)

Description:

Throughout American history, stereotypes and marginalizing representations of racialized subjects have been repeatedly reproduced and perpetually circulated in many forms of media. We have been categorized and subordinated as a racialized other that is not figured into the national narrative defining “Americanness” or setting the protocol for U.S. national belonging. Instead, the Asian American identity has been forced to fulfill the myth of the “model minority.” This separate history of the violence strongly present in the processes of cultural assimilation is defined by “gaps in history: the absence of information bespeaks a historical trauma that defines Asian Americans” (Feng 17).

I plan to address the issue of representing Asian American identities and histories through alternative models of audio-visual art/media practices. These alternative media practices will be employed to address discourses on the discontinuous history of Asian American cultural formation and the exclusion of historical accounts of Asian American activist communities from the “official” historical narrative still legitimizing U.S. nationalism. These discourses also attempt to counteract the myths about Asian American identity constructed by the dominant ideology, which also have fashioned the American Dream pertaining to immigrant communities and the “Model Minority” myth directly imposing values on Asian American individuals struggling through the process of identity formation. As I critically engage in the abovementioned discourses and organize the stories on the politics of assimilation, I also want to investigate the possibilities of imagining aesthetics and formal strategies geared specifically for mobilizing (cultural) activists to make the desired social and cultural transformations.

Asian American artists and activists must work together to experiment with alternative formal strategies capable of representing the liminal existence of Asian Americans and the liminality of their identities situated between Americanness and the Asianness. Imagining a new Asian American culture and history also implies that we cannot ignore the gaps in the official history, which failed to include our struggles of assimilation and memories of how we entered the liminal space in the threshold between national (Asian American nations and the U.S.) boundaries.

(to be continued…)

Abstract (Draft 1)

Abstract:

In this thesis, I will engage in a discourse on the reiteration of the Asian American identity politics and the mobilization of Asian American activists through various forms of alternative audio-visual media representations. Asian Americans, like other racialized minorities, face the challenges of negotiating for claim over their culture and history against the forces of Western cultural imperialism and dominance. Thus, it is important critically examine the violence of cultural assimilation imposed by the dominant ideology shaping U.S. nationhood. The purpose of this research and experiment is to evaluate prevailing strategies of stereotyping Asian American identities as well as find alternative artistic practices in order to challenge existing cultural norms that impose dehumanizing categorical markers on both communities and individuals. How do we go about constructing images and aesthetics that can potentially mobilize people situated within the U.S. to participate in activist movements against racial injustices enacted upon Asian Americans? At the same time, how can a group of Asian American activists effectively organize the histories and untold stories of racial oppression or marginalization of Asian American communities?