Theories of Identity, Difference, and Power





  • Consider how identities are constituted, where agency resides, and how mechanisms of identification shift within cultural and historical contexts

The politics of identity continues to be a compelling and hotly debated topic in visual culture. This seminar explores the construction, negotiation, and contestation of identity and difference in visual studies and criticism. The theoretical scope of the syllabus encompasses postcolonial theory, race theory, gender studies, and whiteness studies. Students investigate how theorists and artists address the complex intersections of race, sexuality, gender, class, health, and nationality in light of such subjects as immigration, transnational media, diasporic communities, disidentification, belonging, and desire. Special attention is given to critical and visual perspectives that challenge monolithic views of identity. We privilege diverse, multiple, and intersectional approaches that connect lived experience, social critique, and artistic practice. Focuses include cultural diversity, critical analysis, and visual literacy. Students also sharpen their research, verbal communication, and writing skills. Students will develop a general understanding of visual and critical studies in relation to theories of identity and difference, hone skills for analyzing culture from a visual and critical perspective, and focus on a final research project and class presentation using principles of visual and critical studies.

Selected Readings:

• Sara Ahmed, “Recognizing Strangers,” Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (London: Routledge, 2000), 21-37.

• Martin A. Berger, “Introduction: White Like Me,” and “Museum Architecture and the Imperialism of Whiteness,” Sight Unseen: Whiteness and American Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 1-8, 81-121.

• Homi K. Bhabha, “Introduction: Locations of Culture,” and “The Commitment to Theory,” The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 1-39.

• Judith Butler, “Introduction: Acting in Concert” and “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy,” Undoing Gender (NY: Routledge, 2004), 1-39.

• James Clifford, “On Collecting Art and Culture,” Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Culture, ed. R. Ferguson, et al. (Cambridge: MIT, 1992), 141-169.

• Brent Hayes Edwards, "The Uses of Diaspora," Social Text no. 66 (Spring 2001): 45-73.

• Frantz Fanon, “The Fact of Blackness,” Black Skin, White Masks, trans. C. Markmann (New York: Grove, 1967), 109-140.

• Coco Fusco, “The Other History of Intercultural Performance,” English Is Broken Here: Notes on the Cultural Fusion in the Americas (NY: New Press, 1995), 37-77.

• José Esteban Muñoz, “Performing Disidentifications,” Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 1-34.

• Gayatri Spivak, "Explanation and Culture," Marginalia," In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (NY: Routledge, 1987), 103-117.

• Trinh Minh-ha, "Difference: 'A Special Third World Women Issue,'" Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989), 79-116.

• James Young, “Art Spiegelman’s Maus and the After-Images of History,” At Memory’s Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art & Architecture (New Haven: Yale UP, 2000), 12-41.