The ASCA Awards Committee—Barbara Titus Divya Nadkarni, Leonie Schmidt, and Barbara Titus—gave the 2019 ASCA Awards to meLê Yamomo, Alejandra Espinosa and Sruti Bala.
ASCA Article Award: meLê Yamomo
In this article Melê offers an insightful and rare glimpse into how the 1852 novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, travelled across colonial South East Asia shaping and transforming imperial racial imaginaries and “knowledge formation(s)”. The paper embarks on a rich archival analysis of how 20th century print and entertainment media enabled the novel to cross national, generic and formal boundaries, both helping the spread of colonial ideologies on the one hand, and on the other getting appropriated by anticolonial nationalist movements in the late stages of colonialism.
The article presents a compelling account of the mutability of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on both the theoretical and the archival fronts. Theoretically, it drives home the point about how media constructions were fundamentally constitutive of the imperial imaginaries, hierarchies and discourses of the time. It plays on the word ‘medialization’ to not only mean that which is taken up by and becomes media, but also to refer to how the colonial ideologies were neutralized by the easy availability and widely reiterated performance of the novel. As archival research it takes into account a number of media – newspapers, music, theatre, minstrel shows and circus performances – covering half a century from the time of the book’s publication until the heydays of the anticolonial movements in South East Asia. The article thus offers a compelling double-sided analysis of the novel’s hold on the public imagination and its undeniable hand in forging new “epistemologies of race”. From referring to the ‘proper’ colonial subject as an ‘Uncle Tom’ to demonizing every plantation owner as a ‘Legree’, the paper traces the vast number of ways in which the novel was interpreted, and accounts, materially, for the socio-political impact a literary text can have.
By taking the reader on a trip from the airport in Quito to the Millennium Communities in the Amazonian region; to a technological hub located in the north of the country; and, finally, to a Tuna Fish and Ice Cream monument on the northern coast, this fascinating dissertation shows how Ecuadorian public construction is entangled with notions of globalization and modernity.
The selection of the case studies is clear, and the dissertation draws on a wide array of materials. Each of the case studies is approached through a very thorough close reading of city planning documents, news coverage and interviews with key actors, and a fieldwork-based analysis of the projects’ spatial situation and use. The detailed and sharp analysis shows how the authorities adapt their projects to what they perceive as a modern and globalized context. Particularly praiseworthy is Alejandra’s detailed and balanced argumentation, which shows how government-led directed urban changes are driven by utopian ambitions that ignore the contradictions of everyday life, yet that also shows how urban change and city branding is never a clear cut and unidirectional process.
The writing is in this dissertation carries an enormous amount of research very lightly. And this really is the highest compliment I can give to anyone’s writing. It is accessible, yet convincingly reveals the complexities of the studied phenomena. Alejandra’s dissertation is written across disciplines and forms an important contribution to urban studies and to the development of critical urbanism from a transdisciplinary perspective.
There is immense public debate about the calls for participation in current neo-liberal, almost post-wellfare-state societies. But the political premises that underly these calls for participation are still in great need of being scrutinized critically. This is exactly what Sruti Bala’s new monograph does. It studies the aesthetic reimagination and interrogation of these political premises, in community-based and immersive performance and in contemporary visual art, with particular attention for the unscripted, unexpected and contingent aspects and roles of participation.
In Bala’s own words she argues “that participatory practices are best appreciated in the register of the gestural. As a unit of theatrical or performative action, the gesture is simultaneously an expression of an inner attitude as well as a social habitude. It extends beyond the [theatre] stage […] into the sphere of civic life. It therefore offers a possibility for critically linking the […] aesthetic debates on participatory art to larger issues of citizenship, democratic praxis, collective action and social justice.” (15).
According to the ASCA Award Committee, consisting of Divya Nadkarni, Leonie Schmidt and myself, it is this kind of critical approach that demonstrates the relevance of humanities scholarship at large. Bala’s monograph provides insight into the dynamics of social participation deriving the critical analytical tools from artistic practice. Her combination of methods ranging from literature study to participant observation is particularly apt in this context. The writing style of the book is elegant and lucid; transmitting complex issues without being difficult.
In doing so, the book manages to challenge existing convictions about the concept as well as the praxis of participation with a large potential impact on various disciplines, and opening up avenues for further interdisciplinary research.