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Asian American Narratives of Building and Unbuilding: An Exploration of Infrastructural Method


This dissertation examines the ways in which Asian American writers situate infrastructure as the locus for narratives of cultural, political, and social conflict. In adopting an infrastructural framework, my dissertation shows how an attention to the built environment can bridge the conceptual and methodological schisms between Asian American studies and post-humanist strains of ecocriticism by exploring how material technologies, sociotechnical and legal processes, as well as the natural environment produce the real and imagined spaces of US empire through which Asian immigrants and their American-born descendants migrate. I argue that recurrent descriptions of environmental matter in literary works, archival documents, and multimedia texts render visible the ways in which Asian American subjugation, including contract labor and internment, is intimately linked to the reshaping of the US built environment through the development of critical infrastructures across the American West and the Pacific. Because infrastructure can facilitate the transformation of distant, foreign, or hostile environments for resource extraction or ruination, it has often served the project of US settler colonialism and imperialist expansion by privileging specific populations and places for (re)production. To this end, I organize my dissertation around entangled sites of environmental and social injustice that highlight the unequal provisioning and differentiated citizenship of Asian immigrants and their descendants: the incarceration of Japanese Americans at Manzanar War Relocation Center during WWII; the importation of Asian contract labor to Hawai‘i in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and the enrollment of Asian care labor in emerging biotechnological industries predicated on the reproduction of flesh. In making legible the violence of infrastructure, my project gestures towards an alternative vision of and approach to infrastructure that includes the embodied beliefs and practices of ethnic, Indigenous, and non-Western communities.

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