Monthly Archives: October 2014

PAB #4: Theories and Methods. Well, mainly methods.

Methods and Literary Studies

I used the first half of the semester to become acquainted with Critical Race Theory’s legal and academic scholars, history, its interdisciplinary application, and debates about its future. For this Progressive Annotated Bibliography, I chose to address my focus on literature and literary studies.  Although the PABs are not directly addressing issues in African American Literary Studies, the ideas and implications are influential in how to approach the discipline and the texts.


The Cultural Studies word cloud contains many ideas and concepts present in Literary Studies. Where does one discipline begin and the other end?

As we’ve discussed all semester, the field of English Studies as a whole is constantly in flux, as are the various departments that comprise the field and even the internal research and foci of the departments themselves.  As Sreevvidya Surendran states in “Of Methods and Methodologies in Literary Studies and Humanities,” the interdisciplinary approach to the study of the humanities no longer centers the research question as the focus of the school but on the method and methodology (Surendran).  Although Surendran’s discussion of methods and methodology is worth of discussion in a longer post, what is most relevant for the purposes of this short entry is that an interdisciplinary approach to literary studies means that “the corpus of literary study has suddenly widened to include a cornucopia of diverse media” (Surendran).  Surendran notes that this has broadened literary studies so much from its original methods and objects of study that it is “almost melding into that field of terrifying and infinite variety:  Cultural Studies” (Surendran).  Indeed, as my last paper explained, if everything about a text, from the writer, to reader, to market forces are considered in analysis of the text, then is the focus of my research literary studies or cultural studies?  Does the method create the discipline or the discipline define the method?  I think these are questions that are at the core of the debates in contemporary Literary and Cultural Studies departments.  It comes back to what we have been discussing all semester:  How do we define and individuate departments and disciplines and what are the benefits and detriments of those choices, particularly in a field like African American literature which is often a sub-department of English Departments.  For example, an interdisciplinary focus in American or British literature (and those terms themselves focus on exclusion as if African American and Black British authors are frequently excluded from the canon), is more easily accomplished in American university with film, history, and sociology departments that contain classes steeped in the dominant.  Many institutions of higher education do not have classes, much less departments, that study African American film, sociological impacts of race, etc.  While they may be a small part of a class, they are seldom the focus of interdisciplinary departments.

Surendran suggests that “the key is to integrate disparate ideas and identities that teem under the umbrella term of ‘Literature’ and create a method that is not applicable to all, but one that allows itself to be suitably tailored for each research question” (Surendran).  Thus, I believe, the major questions in addition to the research questions will guide the approach to history and objects of study rather than artificial boundaries of study and inquiry based upon disciplinary predetermination and departmental posturing.  This still doesn’t address the Balkanization of minority studies, but it allows for the attempt to expand the limited research opportunities within a department to other areas of viability.

Works Cited

Surendran, Sreevidya. “Of Methods and Methodologies in Literary Studies and Humanities.” Sociological Imagination. N.p., 27 June 2011. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.


I include a PAB to Aldo Nemesio’s article “The Comparative Method and the Study of Literature” to highlight an interesting debate in the field over methods used.  Nemesio criticizes contemporary research as collecting data with an emphasis on the gathering of information rather than the production of knowledge (Nemesio).  He claims that repetition of research strategies, methods, theories, and methodologies are in service to celebratory research that does not delve into uncharted territories, but rather rehashes already existing knowledge (Nemesio).  Instead of studying what he calls “human literary behavior,” literary researchers seek to further their own cultural models or values at the expense of literary research (Nemesio).

Nemesio delves into the reasons that the study of literature has developed in a certain way, but what’s most interesting to me about his essay is critique of limiting research to a “national” literature.  He calls such a focus “professional laziness” and while it produces certainty and cohesion, it does not produce literary research or knowledge (Nemesio).  In fact, he claims, it produces situations in which over 6000 articles about Shakespeare are produced in a decade (Nemesio).  The volume is not accessible to even the most ardent Shakespeare enthusiast and researcher.  Nemesio asserts that production on this scale is not about knowledge, but about “celebration, entertainment, or satisfaction of vanity” (Nemesio).

How much more can be said about Shakespeare?

How much more can be said about Shakespeare?

I include his article here for two reasons:  One, it addresses the idea of what methods are used and worthy of literary study.  We have talked on many occasions about what disciplines and departments get priority when it comes to status, funding, or faculty.  Nemesio advocates a comparative method of literary study in which “nationalist” texts are disfavored and human literary study which incorporates “what happens elsewhere . . . in the comparative method” is elevated (Nemesio).  Ascribing to this idea of what “true” literary research is poses a danger for already marginalized departments and studies (such as Asian literature or African American literature) that are already marginalized cultures within the “nationalist” literary tradition.  Nemesio is taking a very privileged view of “national” and what literature is by not even considering the possibility that his assumption of what human literary history is excludes a vast number of humans.  His attempt at inclusivity is oppressive and his choice of methods reaffirms what already exists in the academy  — the larger voices, no matter the canon or “nation”, will be heard.

The second reason I include Nemesio’s article is because it also addresses our class discussions about the role of new media and the web in expanding what literary studies means.  He does not elaborate on this point, unfortunately.  However, he does critique the volume of materials published every year.  I agree with Nemesio that it goes beyond any researcher’s ability to read, digest, and respond.  Nemesio, however, goes further and claims that if the purpose of research is to add to the discourse and communicate significant achievements in literature, it is improbable this goal is met and that most writing published is for sheer vanity.  I disagree with this glib assessment, but do agree that a difficulty arises in who, what, and how to read the sheer number of texts within a field.  How Nemesio eliminates this conundrum through comparative literature and a departure from “nationalist” writing is not quite clear.

This article does lead me to think about the methods used and how some methods are privileged over others.  This definitely influences research and literary study through a determination of what methods are available, privileged, and what departments and research questions are given validity.  So while not directly related to my line if inquiry, these are things that I need to think about as I develop my career as an academic.

Works Cited

 Nemesio, Aldo. “The Comparative Method and the Study of Literature.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture. Purdue University, Mar. 2007. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.



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Paper #3 Objects of Study in a Shifting Field: CRT, African American Literature, and Racialized Bodies

Text and Context: Objects of Study in Critical Race Theory, African American Literature, and Racialized Bodies

Trying to write about and narrow the application of Critical Race Theory (CRT)  to African American Literature has been simultaneously frustrating and illuminating.  It’s frustrating because Critical Race Theory, by the very nature of a theory that seeks to invalidate stereotypes and labels, resists a one-size-fits-all application of its principles even within the same discipline.  It has been illuminating because in trying to apply CRT to African American literature, I have encountered new ways to approach the study of African American literature, the law, and CRT.  Thus, the fluidity and flexibility of CRT and even the various ways to approach the study of African American literature makes simple, clear-cut answers to this week’s questions impossible.  Therefore, I can only address how I am going to attempt the study of CRT and African American literature and the objects of study particular to my approach.  Much of my insight was gained through an interview with Dr. Delores B. Phillips (Old Dominion University, Postcolonial Theory and Literature).

Ida B. Wells - Civil rights activist, journalist, suffragist.

Ida B. Wells – Civil rights activist, journalist, suffragist.

Anthony Ryan Hatch, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University, Cultural Studies Critical Race Theory and Some Reflections on Methods (Hatch).  Hatch includes the study of the social construction of race and the racism as essential to the tenets of CRT.  Not explicitly mentioned in Hatch’s article is the role of the law in codifying and reifying social constructs of race and its influence on the administration of social systems throughout history.  Instead, he focuses on the historical approach to understanding race and racism by emphasizing the importance of writers and activists like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and W.E.B. Du Bois and objects of study.  Hatch also recognizes that this historical approach is intertwined with contemporary objects of study such as colorblind racism (Hatch) as the historical approach provides a foundation and understanding of the social construction of race from the 1700s through today (Hatch).  ­­­

The difficulty with Hatch’s assessment of “race and racism” as the objects of study is that those terms on their own are ambiguous without the social context and cultural implications and materials that create their meaning.  How do you study racism?  Via interviews, surveys, observations?  Hatch writes about core themes of CRT.  It is these core themes, in my view, that provide some insight into potential objects of study:  the American mythos of democracy and meritocracy, lived experiences, and colorblind racism, to name a few.  Within these core themes, the approach that provides a more solid base of inquiry and study that involves one of the basic approaches to CRT:  narrative – how these themes impact and influence race, racism, and identity in individuals and cultural groups.  The collection and study of how people interact with American democracy, the observation of the impact of colorblind racism, etc. are all potential objects of study. However, it is Hatch’s emphasis on recognition of the historical foundation for modern CRT through the work of activists and writers like Douglass, Wells, and Du Bois that leads into my interest in African American literature.  The study of their lives and their work is a connection and transition to the study of CRT as it applies to African American literature.  It is not only their textual narratives that create the bridge, but the interactions with source of cultural, social and political power that serve as a catalyst for those narratives that apply CRT to African American literature.

The idea of studying literature through outside forces that shape a text is further developed in Maryemma Graham and Jerry W. Ward, Jr.’s  study of African American literature and objects of study in the Introduction to the Cambridge History of African American Literature.  Graham and Ward’s approach to studying African American literature is multi-faceted, beginning with the slave trade and slavery through contemporary America and its conflicting ideals of democracy and oppression (4).  In this way, it is very similar to Hatch’s approach of using literary history as a foundation of CRT.  It, however, is more specific as they state that “writers are not the sole shapers of literature” (4).  Literature should be looked a via the historical forces that created the text, but also through the “roles of publishers, editors, academic critics, common readers, and mass media reviewers” that nurture, create, market, consume, and evaluate the texts (4).  These are vital objects of study in the physical creation of the text.

In my research of African American literature and CRT, I wish to pursue and in-depth study of the forces that shaped the text, the law, and the transaction between the text and the law and society.  In particular, I am interested in how race and the law affect racialized bodies.  Analyzing race through racialized bodies looks at race as “not merely a social category, but an embodied experience. This cluster brings together scholars who examine the ways that contemporary and historical notions of race, racial ideology and racial politics are manifested in how the “body” is represented, inhabited and regulated” (Blair).  How are racialized bodies manifested in African American literature?  How are racialized bodies manifested in culture and society?  What is the transaction between bodies racialized by the law in society and culture and African American literature?  How do people create counternarratives to resist racialized efforts to define and control their bodies?

During my October 10, 2014 interview with Dr. Phillips, we discussed critical race theory, African American cultural studies, African American literature, and racialized bodies.  The interview helped narrow my approach to African American literature and focused my use of CRT analysis.  For example, we discussed the increased exposure of police brutality and violence. When looked at through CRT, the focus is on how power and law reinforce power structures through violence against black bodies while still predominantly privileging white bodies in similar situations.  This was clearly seen in last week’s #pumpkinfest where white college students at Keene College in New Hampshire participated in the annual pumpkin festival by rioting, destroying property, fighting each other, and terrorizing locals.  Not only did the rioters taunt officers into using heavy duty militarized equipment, the police response was negligible compared to the police response to civil disobedience protesting the killing of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.  The internet did not take long to notice the discrepancy between how the police and the media treated the two events.  Twitter was alight with satire and disdain for the way the drunk, belligerent white rioters were treated versus the way African American peacefully protesting a murder were treated.  The difference is obvious — African American bodies are racialized and must negotiate state sanctioned violence in ways that white bodies do not.

One of these things is not like the other -- the difference between how the police, media, and society view African American protesters and white rioters.

One of these things is not like the other — the difference between how the police, media, and society view African American protesters and white rioters.

While CRT would focus on the interaction of law and race, a look a racialized bodies would analyze how the public violence against black bodies engaging in civil disobedience further stigmatizes black bodies and black anger as thuggish, dangerous, and in need of severe control.  White bodies on the other hand, are sometimes “unruly,” but rarely dangerous.  This analysis transfers to African American texts even when the law is not overtly present – how do racialized bodies move through the

The cover of "A Gathering of Old Men"

The cover of “A Gathering of Old Men”

world and negotiate violence and outsider status even as citizens of their own community and nation?  For example, in what I think will be one of my seminal texts, “A Gathering of Old Men” by Ernest Gaines, an African American man has killed a white man, Beau Boutan, in self-defense.  The story centers not around justice, but against the threat of violence against African American men who dared to defend their bodies and their lives against violent social control.  After discussing the direction of my research with Dr. Phillips we talked about centering my research around a literary text (for example, “A Gathering of Old Men”), pulling in a correlative cultural artifact (the television show “Cops”), and finishing with a legal case or legal topic that ties everything together.  These things, the texts (and the forces that lead to their creation), the cultural artifacts, and the law will be my objects of study.

All of these perspective address the Major Questions of CRT and African American literature because it reinforces the fact that CRT is interdisciplinary, that there is no one way to address race and racism, and that objects of study are wide-ranging.  Additionally, areas of study may splinter, combine, or be discarded without threatening the tenets of CRT because the tenets are fluid.   I, however, have narrowed my research to the law as social control through the way it defines and creates race, racialization of black bodies, and the creation of texts as well as the text themselves.


Works Cited

Hatch, Anthony Ryan. Critical Race Theory. Ed. George Ritzer. N.p.: Blackwell Reference Online, 2007. PDF.

Phillips, Delores.  Personal Interview.  14 October 2014.

Graham, Maryemma, and Jerry W. Ward, Jr.  Introduction. “Cambridge History of African American Literature.”  Cambridge University Press, 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. PDF.


October 21, 2014 · 5:26 pm

PAB #3 Race, Racism, and Objects of Study

Objects of Study & Critical Race Theory

Anthony Ryan Hatch, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University, writes that Critical Race Theory is comprised of a larger body of thought than simply an offshoot of Critical Legal Studies in the 1970s and 1980 that examines how race and racism are created and perpetuated by the law (Hatch).  Hatch states that while it may not have had a formal name, the work of writers and activists like Frederick Douglass, Ida Well-Barnett, and W.E.B. DuBois established the foundation upon which modern Critical Race Theory “interrogate[s] the discourses, ideologies, and social structures that produce and maintain conditions of racial injustice” (Hatch).  Hatch describes the framework of this historical and contemporary movement against racism as “intellectual activism” (Hatch).

Hatch states that there are core themes that unite this wide-ranging body of work.  The first core theme he addresses are the objects of study, race and racism.  Using the historical framework, Hatch states that since the seventeenth-century, the social construction of race and the racism that accompanies it are essential to the administration of social systems, the rise of capitalism, and science and medicine from the 1700s through today (Hatch). His nod to contemporary approaches to Critical Race Theory includes institutionalized racism as coming under the umbrella of the race and racism objects of study.

What is race?

What is race?

Although I had never considered the historical perspective of activists and anti-racist work as part of Critical Race Theory, I can see how Hatch and other scholars connect a historical lens to contemporary discourses on race and racism. Additionally, I do not disagree with Hatch’s assessment of race and racism as objects, of study, but I think his statement is too vague.  What does it mean to study race and racism?  The answer is found in Hatch’s discussion of additional core themes of critical race study.  Although he creates them as individual themes, they provide greater context and understanding of what studying race and racism entails – their objects of study.

The additional core themes are lived experiences, an interdisciplinary approach, a variety of methodologies, and science.  Hatch also writes of American mythos of democracy and meritocracy, the emergence of colorblind racism, and contemporary proposals to undo systemic racism.  The potential focus of objects of study under these core themes is vast.  For example, as discussed in prior papers, lived experiences and narratives/story telling are essential to modern critical race theory that seeks to give voice to marginalized peoples.  An object of study from an interdisciplinary approach would be determined by the discipline.  If utilizing CRT in the study of anthropology, one could examine bones and teeth to determine health and other physical characteristics of minority peoples in a certain period of time or geographic location and provide information about social status or even genetics.  A modern approach to CRT would use the law and legal institutions (as discussed in prior posts) but also, social media such as dating sites or (Online Dating, An Uneven Playing Field for Black Women) even tumblr  (Microaggressions, Power, Privilege and Everyday Life) for information about race and racism in modern institutions.

In my view, any limits on objects of study in Critical Race Theory would be artificial given that CRT is almost limitless in its interdisciplinary, social, and cultural approach to examining the broad category of race and racism.

 Works Cited

Hatch, Anthony Ryan. Critical Race Theory. Ed. George Ritzer. n.p.: Blackwell Reference Online, 2007. PDF.


African American Literature — A different approach to Objects of Study

Because I am interested in Critical Race Theory as a lens through which to approach African American literature, I looked at objects of study for literary studies, knowing that there had to be more than just “look at the books.”  Maryemma Graham and Jerry W. Ward, Jr.  address one way to approach the study of African American literature and objects of study in the Introduction to the Cambridge History of African American Literature.  Graham and Ward state that literary historians approach the study of literature through “shaping stories about texts and contexts (3). They site Mario J. Valdes and Linda Hutcheon’s Rethinking Literary History:  A Dialog on Theory (2002) as placing a focus not just on the writing produced, but the forces that helped create the writing and the literary history (3).

Although a literary historicist approach to African American literature looks at African American literature as it is:

  • Related to the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the United States.
  • The creation of African American identity through the amalgamation of various African ethnic groups.
  • Contact between African, native, and European groups that created new forms of oratory and expression.
  • The struggle for freedom, education, and literacy.
  • The social dynamics of race.
  • American democracy and its ideologies. (4)

While I think these points are important in understanding the creation of African American identity, I will need to read further to see how several of these points influenced

Classics written by African American authors.  Where should they be shelved?

Classics written by African American authors. Where should they be shelved?

African American texts.  I am more intrigued by their statement that “writers are not the sole shapers of literature” (4).  They state that the “roles of publishers, editors, academic critics, common readers, and mass media reviewers” shape texts and tastes.  To me, these should be considered objects of study when it comes to analyzing and interpreting African American literature.

For example, I’m thinking of the limited range of exposure African American authors get in mainstream literary recognition.  Everything from African American-centric  novels being segregated from mainstream (read “White”) novels in bookstores and libraries, to white female authors achieving recognition for writing about African American women’s experiences while African American female authors struggle for recognition.  These forces can’t help but shape what African American authors write and what African American readers read, and are just as important to studying African American literature as the actual texts themselves.

While this article doesn’t directly address the objects of study I had intended to investigate (how race and racism is interrogated in African American literature), it opens up ways to examine how race and racism in the production of African American literature influences African American texts.

 Works Cited

Graham, Maryemma, and Jerry W. Ward, Jr.  Introduction. “Cambridge History of African American Literature.”  Cambridge University Press, 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. PDF.



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