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Working Around Ethnographic Entanglements: South Asian American Literature and Popular Culture

Sreerangarajan, Swathi (2016) Working Around Ethnographic Entanglements: South Asian American Literature and Popular Culture. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation identifies the significant demands on ethnic American artists to narrate their identities, and it analyzes specific literary texts and cultural practices that attempt to work around such imperatives. Interpreting the work of South Asian American authors and performers, I depart from two main strains of reading/viewing habits that entail expectations for ethnic people to explore and represent their (ethnic) identities. Building on the scholarship of Rey Chow, Jack Halberstam, and several Asian American literary critics, I argue that publishers and a range of readers often demand autoethnographic representations—i.e. cultural representations that correct or disrupt mainstream narratives—from ethnic authors. The dissertation’s introductory chapter elaborates on these expectations as part of what I call ethnographic entanglements, or the biopolitical situation of artists who must ethnographize themselves in order to be published.

The remaining chapters focus on workarounds produced by authors and artists, frustrating readers who expect cultural representation. Drawing attention to how South Asian diasporic authors have addressed ethnographic demands in their use of child characters, Chapter 2 takes up Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel An American Brat to explore the formal potential of the “brat” as an uncooperative figure allowing authors to circumvent readerly expectations of ethnography. Chapter 3 considers “identity confusion” among second-generation immigrants in the context of the cultural self-consciousness demanded of ethnic youth and analyzes fictional representations of a distinctive kind of nightclub event, the “desi party,” from the 1990s that offered temporary relief from the everyday demands of legible self-representation. Chapter 4 argues that the Indian Canadian standup artist Russell Peters produced a form of accent comedy that rejected both the performance of stereotypical ethnic identity thrust upon brown actors on the screen throughout the 1990s and the alternative task of providing an autoethnographic corrective. The coda to the dissertation returns to the question of the ethnographic packaging of South Asian American print and media narratives and the ways in which contemporary media convergence allows artists to de-privilege “outsider” audiences.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sreerangarajan, Swathishs104.pitt@gmail.comSHS104
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairGlazener,
Committee CoChairPuri,
Committee MemberMajumdar,
Committee MemberBickford,
Committee MemberAguiar,
Date: 3 October 2016
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 June 2016
Approval Date: 3 October 2016
Submission Date: 10 August 2016
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 191
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: "Ethnographic Entanglements," Autoethnography, "Burden of Representation," "Politics of Representation," Workarounds, "South Asian American"
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2016 18:48
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2021 05:15


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