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The Construction of Race and Space in Thomas Dooley’s Writings: “What kind of place was Laos?”


This article examines narratives on Laos published between the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962 because this period saw the most aid workers, missionaries, diplomats, journalists, and educators in Laos, and provided Americans the most detailed knowledge of the country. Attentive to imperialist ideology and close readings of Thomas Dooley’s nonfiction account of his humanitarian journey in The Edge of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned the Mountain, I analyze the languages and tropes that enabled Dooley to conceive of Laos and Laotians as stagnant, backward and without progress, characteristics that allegedly would make them more susceptible to communism. In particular, I read Dooley’s nonfiction novels as an imperial discourse that racializes Laos’ landscape as “empty land,” which I suggest contributed to America’s eventual treatment of Laos as a military wasteland during the US air war from 1964 to 1973. Situating my work in transnational American studies, ethnic studies and cultural studies, I offer a critical analysis of Dooley’s construction of race and space in Laos, which I argue can reveal another form of America’s racial knowledge of Asia(ns) that reinforced US intervention in the region.

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