Topic Proposal

I am wavering between two different projects: both of which need narrowing and further focus.

Background/Foundational Interest:

– Key concepts of interest: politics of disposability, culture of disposability, global capitalism, discourses of US empire (especially contemporary war rhetoric), urban ruins, dystopian literature

I am very interested in the concept of disposability and waste, especially in how discourses of disposability pervade and are actively encouraged (possibly) by the United States government and capitalist projects (including the media, corporations etc).  More specifically I am very interested in how these discourses manifest in material reality and in everyday social practices and lives.

I am slowly forming the opinion that the United States (although not exclusively) is particularly invested in fostering/creating a culture and politics of disposability as a tool of empire building, especially utilizing this concept to build a particular national identity and culture.  I suspect, that global capitalism and neoliberal thought plays a central role in this process, perhaps serving partially as the origin and more arguably the catalyst for such an agenda.  I am of course interested in how the United States engages in disseminating and incorporating a certain politic of disposability, whether this be through the American corporation initiatives of planned obsolescence, (encouraged) reliance on consumerism, or war rhetoric naturalizing soldier deaths in America’s current state of “terror” (and consequently perpetual war), the exportation of American waste to “third” world countries or minority/poverty stricken areas, and the list continues.

However, I would like to focus on my study specifically on one of two different archives that I find fascinating: urban ruins and the rise of young adult dystopian literature.  I am just uncertain of which research questions/methods/theoretical bases are most appropriate.  Also,  I am debating which idea I should pursue, although I am leaning toward urban ruins.

Idea # 1:

I would like to pose my questions of US investment in a politic or culture of disposability to the study of urban ruins and urban exploration.  Specifically, I would like to explore what role urban exploration and urban ruins play within this discussion and what an analysis of this role reveals about US identity as well as anxieties and thoughts about contemporary US governance.  I am particularly interested what urban ruins represent for contemporary society.

Some questions that I have include:

What is so mournful and/or beautiful about these images?  What is so appealing about these spaces that people actively engage in illegal activities in order to access these spaces?  How does this “forbidden,” but very rarely policed, search for the aesthetics of urban ruins affect public consciousness (especially in examples such as Detroit – an almost mecca for urban ruins/explorers)?  What about these ruins evoke feelings of an “authentic” experience?  Does this provide a certain commentary on American modernity and progress?  In what way do these spaces disrupt and support national agendas?  What does the lack of “policing” suggest in an era of increased/ing surveillance?  Why has American ruins not been more “museumified” or “memorialized” in the ways that European industrial ruins have been?  Also, what does it mean when these ruins become commercialized or taken over in capitalist projects such as the guided tours of urban ruins emerging in areas like Detroit?  How do these ruins reflect American’s views toward waste, ruin, and disposability?  Why and how might the US government be invested in these views?

Idea # 2:

I would like to explore the increasing popularity and rise of young adult dystopian literature.  Specifically, I would like to see how the concept of disposability play within young adult dystopian literature and how this might reveal possible US investment in this politic.  I would like to look at the emergent themes within these novels in order to understand how dominant discourses of the US government are incorporated and articulated through these themes.  I am especially interested in why these novels are specifically targeted toward children (as opposed to adults) and what is so particularly resonant for this age demographic, although many could argue that adults also enjoy and find these novels resonant and relevant.  I am interested in why these books themselves are not banned or discouraged in the ways that adult dystopian novels like Brave New World or 1984 were.  I also question what about US society is evoking such anxieties and fears at this particular time (for example comparing a prior increase in popular dystopian publications during the Cold War which was, among other things, a time of increased anxiety about government interference/involvement).

Working Source List for Idea # 1:

  • Briante, S. C. (2006). American Ruins: Nostalgia, Amnesia, and Blitzdkrieg Bop Doctoral dissertation
  • Dawdy, S. L. (2010, December). Clockpunk Anthropology and the Ruins of Modernity. Current Anthropology, 51(6), 761-793.
  • Fassi, A. J. (2010). Industrial Ruins, Urban Exploring, and the Postindustrial Picturesque. The New Centennial Review, 10(1), 141-152.
  • Fershau, R. (2002). Modern Urban Ruins: Landscapes of Decay (Master’s thesis).
  • Kabesh, A. T. (2011). On Being Haunted By the Present. Borderlands, 10(2), 1-21.
  • Nayar, K. I. (2012). Reclaiming A Fallen Empire: Myth and Memory in the Battle Over Detroit’s Ruins (Master’s thesis).

Working Source List for Idea # 2:

  • Campbell, J. (2010). The Order and the Other: Power and Subjectivity in Young Adult Science Fiction and Dystopian Literature for Adolescents Doctoral dissertation
  • Gainer, M. G. (2012). Dystopia and Loci of Power: Language, Landscape, and Survival Doctoral dissertation
  • Hall, A. (2007). Dyscontent: The Critical Dystopia in 21st Century American Culture (Master’s thesis).
  • Lempke, C. (2012). Adding More “Diss” to Dystopia: The New Manifestations of Dystopia and Dystopian (Anti)Heroes in Postmodern Graphic Novels and Adolescent Literature (Master’s thesis).
  • Marshall-Rubin, A. (2009). Teenage Wasteland: The Painful Journeys and Tragic-Ambiguous Fates of Antiestablishement Heroes in Young Adult Literature (Master’s thesis).
  • McAlear, R. D. (2010). Dystopian Resistance: Politics and Form in Contemporary American Dystopian Fiction Doctoral dissertation
  • Texter, D. (2009). All the World A School: Utopian Literature as a Critique of Education Doctoral dissertation



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