In November of 2015 I presented my research on Berkeley’s People’s Park at SACRPH – The Society for American City and Regional Planning History. Because the conference was based in LA, many panels that put theorists, practitioners, and historians in conversation addressed local concerns over the right of the masses to the city. One of the most engaging panels included presentations by Cathy Gudis and Eric Avila who, in different ways, evidenced a public visual culture “from below” with rich examples of people staking claim to urban space in LA.
Eric showed his own photographs of The Great Wall – a mural painted on a concrete barrier trailing 2754 feet on Canyon Ave by artist Judy Baca – which offers vivid snapshots in America’s history and experiences of communities of color. More than just acknowledging their existence, the mural captures struggles over power embedded in urban space, such as this segment that portrays how local and state governments backed with federal funding seized land owned by people of color to build highways, universities, and more. This segment shows how the state demolished Chavez Ravine, a Mexican American neighborhood in LA, to make way for a new highway and the Dodger’s Stadium that divided the barrios and fragmented the Mexican American community.
Offering a contemporary lens, Cathy shared her own experiences working with the bi-annual Walk the Talk parade held by the LAPD (LA Poverty Department) in Skid Row – home to the largest homeless population in the US. My own experience staying in Skid Row for the SACRPH conference was eye-opening. I was absolutely stunned at how many people were living on the street in clumped tent cities.
The parade functions as an affront to cultural norms and policies discouraging citizens and tourists from venturing into Skid Row and talking with its itinerant residents. Marchers carrying musical instruments and posters showing the faces of dead and still surviving homeless residents process through the neighborhood. The parade is part of a series of events facilitated by the LAPD that engages the community in discussions to identify initiatives and people who have made positive contributions to Skid Row.
What events and places in your community highlight the experiences of people of color in American past and present?
Panels at conferences often feel like a hastily assembled mishmash of different things, like a fruit salad made by Mr. Magoo. Scholars who do not know each other and know less about each other’s research work together over email to try to slap together panel proposals that seem just plausible enough to pass muster with weary conference organizers, who have papers to grade, toddlers with runny noses, and annoying emails from students to answer. (In my best John Oliver voice: If the reading is listed next to the class date on the syllabus, you read it BEFORE CLASS on that day Jeremy!)
But occasionally you get to see a panel where all the papers interlock in meaningful and intellectually intelligible ways. In just this fashion, the session “The Unplanned City: Occupation and Creative Reuse” at last week’s SACRPH conference in Los Angeles offered an invigorating and rich perspective on different approaches…
The central thread through all of my research is my analysis of the relationship between identity and citizenship — or how we know who we are and how that who we are is regulated. In my dissertation I research how postwar activists understood this relationship as rooted in practices of police violence and urban renewal and histories of colonialism.
Two undergraduate courses I’ve taught in American Studies focus on this relationship between identity and citizenship. My spring 2015 course “Blood, Bones, and Brains” examined twentieth century US history through the lens of the body, and focused on how the body became a canvas for self-definition and regulation. My summer 2015 online course “Youth Cultures” used Tumblr to facilitate discussion about how American youth identity is continually constructed as both youthfully beautiful and immaturely undeveloped.
Additionally, I’ve conducted research on the high school women’s liberation movement between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. My paper, “Girls Are Equal Too: Education, Body Politics, and the Making of Teenage Feminism,” published in the academic journal Gender Issues, analyzes how teenage girls began to articulate how their age shaped their unique experience with sexual discrimination. Another version of the article was published in Black Perspectives, the online journal of the African American Intellectual Historical Society.
In particular, in this paper I focus on how teenage girls articulated feminism through their own perspectives and bodies. Letters and essays written by teenage girls during this time demonstrate how girls saw feminism as a tool to challenge gender role socialization and build a supportive and collaborative community of girl activists within this revolutionary context. Ultimately, by challenging age divisions between the adult-dominated face of the Second Wave and the girl-focused Third Wave, this paper uses the voices of teenage girls to shed light on an earlier movement of “girl power” that has yet to be excavated.
As an extension of my dissertation research, my project proposal for the 2015-2016 National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fulbright, awarded semi-finalist, focuses on the relationship between space and power. The project, titled “Grass/Roots,” compares and maps spatial and environmental power by analyzing how people occupy, reclaim, and create public green spaces in South Africa, New Zealand, and the UK. The project combines ethnographic interviews, site and event documentations, weekly self-produced informational graphics, and a cumulative cultural atlas illuminating connections among my case studies and their intertwined colonial histories.
In 2014 I was awarded a $10,000 exploratory research grant to study transnational American food studies at the World Expo in Milan Italy in May of 2015. As part of this grant I worked with Dr. Simone Cinotto at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, before organizing a symposium with him as keynote at Purdue University in October of 2015. The symposium, called “Global Food: Local Perspectives,” offers an investigative look into how food production and consumption is transnational — even in West Lafayette, Indiana. Since then, I have integrated food studies into my dissertation and teaching.
The culmination of each class I’ve taught includes 2 connected assignments: the creation of a mind map in which you rethink the topics and organization of the course and a 1-2 page essay unpacking the argument and significance of your map.
(side note: You can check out the course syllabus for AMST 201: Conformity and Rebellion in American Youth Culture on my Academia.edu page here. This 8-week online course was offered at Purdue University in the summer of 2015, and had 12 undergraduate students and 1 Masters student. Most interestingly, it includes the list of readings and films assigned for the course, although I’m always on the lookout for more amazing assignments. Send your ideas my way!)
This visual exercise frequently stumps my students who have never had to create an assignment like this. How can you grade it? What’s the right answer? How will I know if I’m wrong? And all I can say is this: “I want you to be brilliantly original and brief. Show me critical thinking and show me that you engaged with assigned material and discussion topics over the course of this semester.” It’s a lofty goal, but most of the time it really gets students thinking about how to put all of the puzzle pieces back together. It encourages students to think about the significance of juxtaposing these ideas, as well as initiates thinking about what topics or perspectives were left out.
For this course, students were asked to create a mind map on American youth culture and write an accompanying explanatory mind map. I encourage you to check out all of the mind maps on Tumblr by searching for our shared class hashtag #amst201youth. Here are a few of my favorites as well as my own mind map of youth culture.
In his mind map, Tylor broke down the course chronologically by generations (which offered an interesting counterpoint to the course which was organized thematically and jumped from past to present). Readings or films on each generation indicated distinct characteristics. He argued that Generation X was ethnically diverse, educated, and “their generation worked to live, and they didn’t live to work.
This generation was the first to not have to live through the segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.” Generation Y is family oriented, ambitious, and desires to make a difference. He adds: “This generation is the generation that are into tech, like the software developed today, is the result of this generation, their ambition and desire to make a difference. This was also the generation that experienced the zoot culture. This culture was a good topic in this class, because it showed how different cultures were adopted by teens in order to make themselves more comfortable.”
Finally, Generation Z is focused on technology and entrepreneurship: “Today’s youth are the ones we see with all the new iphones, ipads and all the social media account, such as Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat. We don’t know everything about this generation, but it’s gonna be something exciting for us to experience.”
Destiny chose Prezi as the medium for her mind map, so I encourage you to check it out in order to see it in a better quality. Destiny chose to construct her mind map on four stages of being in youth culture as seen through the eyes of youth. In her explanatory essay, she writes about the different sections:
“WE ARE GROWING represents the things that youths develop as a result of the environment they are placed in. Like the LA/Salvador, and Dummy Smart articles, youths grow, usually against the grain, and begin to develop their own identities based on the geographic and social location they are in. Usually, they develop a culture and a lifestyle that they can fit themselves in after being rejected by ‘normal’ society.
WE ARE CHANGING meant to represent the different paths that demographically diverse youths take. Some allow themselves to fall into the socially constructed system, while other don’t. Like the podcast on Hispanic youth and the documentary Teenage, new communities, identities, cultures, and social norms can arise when enough regulative pressure is applied to youth populations.”
See more of Destiny’s excellent work at her Tumblr site here.
Ariel’s mind map is broken into four poles: norms, power, identity, and gender (nearly every one of Ariel’s posts offered a thoughtful feminist analysis of gender, so check out her work here). She gives a spectacular analysis, but I’m going to only focus on one of her points to give you an incentive to check out her full essay on her Tumblr. Ariel argued in her essay that visible aspects of one’s identity (like gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity) shape how the individual is perceived as connected to power and expectations of conformity.
She writes: “As discussed in numerous articles, a person’s race/ethnicity are often a source of power imbalance. As is seen not only in the articles but in everyday life, if you are a part of the mainstream society you tend to have more power in general while being a member of a minority group automatically grants you less power. From this imbalance of power stems the concepts of conformity and rebellion.
There are those who though they do not necessarily agree with the imbalance of power, go along with or conform. Then there are those who rebel against the power imbalance in whatever way they can.” Ultimately, you can never resist both forces of power and identity, the visibility of your identity (race, gender, sexuality, and even class) and the cultural norms granting certain identities more power. These forces exist together in an electrified web.
I pick up Ariel’s argument in my own mind map for the course. In thinking about how to visualize the theme of youth culture I couldn’t get away from the course’s initial organization around two oppositional yet overlapping poles: conformity and rebellion.
This course really interested me over time because it revealed how the central themes of youth culture revolved around how teenagers exist in a liminal state – youths are celebrated as beautiful, idealistic, pure, adventurous, and youthful, while they are also denigrated as naive, self-absorbed, dangerous, vulnerable, and juvenile. Youth culture holds so much power and yet youths are given very little citizenship except for the right to (and expectation to) consume.
Conformity and rebellion are shaped by social and cultural norms, individual wants and experiences, family dynamics (and I would add, historical context), shape behaviors and identities of American youths. These two tensions between conformity and rebellion shape the essential relationship between identity (who am I and what does that mean?) and citizenship (what power do I have and how are my rights valued in society?). Nearly every example we encountered in the readings or films demonstrated how youths in ways that both conformed and rebelled.
Miss Representation demonstrated many girls conformed to cultural norms of female sexualization and infantalization by sexualizing themselves. To engage in this self-sexualization is an act of conforming to norms of women’s sexualization in such a way that presents this self-sexualization as an act of rebellion. Likewise, in the chapter “Dummy Smart” from Victor Rios’s book Punished, Rios argues that young black and Latino boys engage in practices of creating organic capital in an attempt to define their own identity in positive ways that both conforms and rebels – such as wearing expensive tennis shoes to a job interview. These attempts, however, are frequently misrecognized as being lazy or disrespectful that, in turn, further reinforce negative stereotypes about youths of color.
Don’t forget to check out the syllabus on my Academia.edu page or check out amstyouthculture.tumblr.com to see more of our discussions throughout this extremely brief yet fun course on youth culture.
This graphic by Daniel Touchet interestingly connects practices of consuming food (growing it, cooking it, and talking about it) with emotions, arguing that fast food is not only more anonymous but mindless and alone. I don’t know if I agree with this, having enjoyed much family time at fast food restaurants over the years, but I do agree that a faster food lifestyle is more detached from the complexity of global connections that food has to offer.
Yet what are the local impacts of Slow Food? How does it affect me living in Indiana?
This is a really interesting infographic produced by Oliver Uberti using pills to visualize a fish. As a warning about water quality downstream from sewage treatment plants, the pills represent the four main types and percentages of pharmaceutical drugs found in fish pulled from Chicago’s North Shore Channel. Since I take a Benadryl every night to sleep, the image really resonated with me, making me think about the potential harms of the toxins I consume. This image implicitly advocates for slow food by illuminating the importance of knowing where you get your food, how it was grown, and what the harms are on your body and on the environment.
Another favorite visualization of slow food is this series by Douglas Gayeton who combines portrait photography with an overlaying sketched mind map. Each visual centers the slow food advocate in a graphic that aims to unpack the complexity of the food system by visualizing connections, explanations, and processes. In this graphic Elaine Ingham translates soil science and microbiology through simple sketched graphics.
More than a construction actually, these images are a deconstruction of ideas, reducing them to their essence, then trying to find a way to graphically represent them. Somebody once wrote that one of the interesting thing about the work is that it works the way a mind works: If I were to simply give you a piece of paper with a lot of writing on it, you might skim over it; but if I were to take a bunch of ideas and place them on an image, then you are suddenly active in the idea. You’re active in the appreciation of the idea. That activity creates a narrative and makes it easier to retain information. You have more of a deeper connection…. It’s not a passive experience. The active experience of turning the reading of something into it’s almost a game-like quality, I think it allows people to connect more intimately with the ideas and images.
These graphics are part of Gayeton’s project The Lexicon of Sustainability that has created information artworks on food and farming, water, and energy. Here’s another graphic illustrating the 100 mile diet that’s coupled on the site with definitions and links to the farmer’s website and local resources for pursuing slow, close food.
This style of infographic would work best for me to visualize slow food, with a recipe for my grandmother’s pound cake overlaying a photograph of my family at her house during the summer months when her front porch table is covered in home grown tomatoes, her yard groomed by wandering chickens, her basement shelves full of home canned meals ready to be transported to Muncie where I live. When I eat her jars of pork stew, orange marmalade, and fig preserves I’m transported back to her home in Hahira, Ga where the heat and humidity make life and conversations slow and happy.
Having recently read Kyra Gaunt‘s essay in Generations of Youth, “The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip Hop” as part of our unit on “youth and place” in the American Studies undergraduate course I am teaching this summer, I watched clips from a 1985 PBS documentary on double dutch called Black Magic that BLEW MY MIND. Watch the video on my other blog here. And now I really want to figure out a way to translate their routines via infographics. Mainly so I can break it down for myself, but also because I know how important it is to positive represent black girls’ athleticism, aesthetics, and power over space – especially via infographics since they’re really hard to find.
By research on how to do this began with Wikihow which breaks down everything from growing tomatoes to parkour. Wikihow fails epicly at conveying visually how to double dutch. They read like Ikea instructions.
The awesome epicness of this routine and Wikihow’s visual failure to make it any easier for me got me wondering – how could you visualize space within the realm of double dutch? Surprisingly a quick Google search of “double dutch routine” revealed nothing other than videos and images, with no step by step instructions. Despite the globalization and institutionalization of this once-street sport, the 411 breaking down double dutch is still hard to come by. You just have to watch videos or learn from a friend.
But what about dance routines? Could I use visualizations of dance routines to rethink how to visual space utilized during double dutch? This begins my exploration of dance visualizations, which ultimately offers an intense look of key dance components, processes, and the spatial meanings of dance.
These are the rules of dance club:
1) Dancing is all about where your feet are – in what direction they’re going, and which foot goes where first. From this viewpoint, your feet are always parallel with the floor. You just move your feet like you move fingers across a keyboard. Super simple.
Only it’s not so simple. Still a little lost? Me too. Here’s another version using a few more details regarding time to make it a little easier. These visuals excel for self-taught dancers because they’re only from the perspective of the dancer looking down. But where’s the rest of your body go?
2) Dancing is moving through space above the ground plane. With these side views, learning dance moves like the cartwheel (which would have previously looked like two feet print over there and two feet print over here) becomes much easier. These visuals define dance by what it looks like from the spectator. You now know how high to be above the ground, how far to move across the floor with a foot suspended, and necessary body angles.
Neither of these visuals capture what dancing feels like. In these visuals, dancing is going to get the mail. It’s loading the dishwasher or bending down to put on shoes. But how can we visualize what space feels like for dance?
3) Dancing is all about getting in a good mood. This visual breaks down steps into stages, connects those steps with feet routines and song lyrics, AND connects it all together with intense facial expressions. You cannot Gangnam Style and not finish with a cool pose, otherwise go home and practice the Mambo. Lots of arrows.
4) Dancing is about articulating your identity. Who are you? Because most likely, you dance how you want others to see you or how you see yourself. Are you a straight white man and want to remind your mate of your incredible microwaving skills? Want to look ridiculous and have fun doing it? Then Killer Infographics says dancing is your chance!
But there are just single moves. So far we’ve only seen bits and pieces of dances. Could you visualize a ballet on a side-view X/Y axis that charts momentum and energy throughout the entire performance? I think so.
5) Dancing is fluid. When you dance your body should seamlessly glide across the floor. You are one with the ground plane, your body, the space, the music or your mood or identity, and your partner (or spectator). When you moonwalk, you are not alone – you are one with MJ.
Here’s a final infographic for all you all out there still don’t know how to dance that breaks down your body into zones of appropriateness:
Don’t forget to follow Kyra Gaunt at her blog here.
I’m teaching an American Studies course this summer on conformity and rebellion in youth culture. A major component of youth culture in America over the past century has been the near constant creation of new toys.
An assignment for the course was an investigation of America’s toy culture, and included two parts. Part 1 asked students to dive into an experiential analysis of a chosen toy by thinking about what the toy means for youths in our culture:
Toy Paper: Toys are an essential component of youth culture in modern America and, as argued by Roland Barthes, “toys always mean something, and this is always entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life.”
First, read this excerpt from Roland Barthes’s Mythologies on toys.Choose a toy from TIME Magazine’s “100 Greatest Toys” list released prior to the 1990s, and write a 250-word paper in which you put that toy into conversation with Barthes’s argument. Visually analyze the toy – how it looks, how it moves, what it says, the target audience, marketing strategies, etc. Describe the experience of playing with that toy and the meanings and myths it reinforces (you might want to visit your local toy aisle and make a purchase). Post your response along with a Youtube video or image of an advertisement for that toy on your Tumblr. This advertisement should be a primary source and not a secondary source. Hashtag it #amst201youth #amstpurdue #amstproject
Second, students were asked to jump to current day to investigate the labor behind the toy. How does these toys, mere material objects, claim space in hidden, global ways?
Students are asked to choose any toy out on shelves today and investigate how the toy is constructed. Where is the toy made? What is its path to arrive in a store in the US? How is the toy made? What is the experience like for workers making this toy? Post your 250-word paper along with at least 2 sources (not Wikipedia), and a photo or video depicting a worker constructing/holding the prepackaged toy on your Tumblr using the correct hashtags.
Because most Americans never realize the often multi-thousand mile journey a toy has to make before it is gender-segregated on WalMart’s toy shelves, I had hoped that students would particularly reveal transnational trade routes. And I was thrilled with the response! To visualize this, I composed a Google Map with markers and paths from their factory locations to Purdue University, where the class is offered. Take a look:
What’s your favorite toy and where does it come from? How can we learn about our global patterns of consumerism by tracing the factory-to-store paths of our most treasured toys? My sister’s childhood favorite was the the troll:
I teach an online undergraduate course in American Studies at Purdue University, and today we’re reading a chapter from Julie Elman’s book Chronic Youth on teen brains. Elman argues that even though we’ve always talked about teen behavior craziness since about the 1890s when the concept of adolescence emerges, in the 1980s and 1990s a shift happens due to the advancement of neuroscience technology in which brain scans of teenagers are used to “prove” teenage craziness and/or normalcy.
During this historical context, brain scans were used to portray teenage brains as under developed, or “disabled” – often distorting the “collective care” rhetoric and principles of the national disability movement and reducing them to anecdotes of teenage emotional spazzes. In looking at visualizing information, Elman evidences how brain scans are called in to “prove” teenage insanity in the Columbine and other school shooting trials, while general racism is used to “prove” juvenile delinquency in youths of color. The problem, Elman argues, is that this seemingly objective science is used to reinforce racial, class, and gender stereotypes.
Since my students and I are having a fun conversation about teenage crisis, you should check out their findings by following the #amst201youth hashtag on Tumblr or by following my Tumblr blog here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/
In anticipation of their reading responses, I did a quick Google search for “teenage brain infographic,” and boy did I find a crap-ton of visuals arguing different things. Let’s see what we find.
According to this graphic, teenage brains are under construction, with lots of confidence, little judgement, and not enough consideration of their fellow teenage swimmers. Ya drowned, Bieber.
Teenagers are “obese,” “suffering” from back pain, and love “attention-stealing” devices. They will undoubtedly, as this infographic demonstrates, be prone to arthritis and old age blindness due to all the time they spent looking at screens. Ya blind, Taylor Swift.
And the New Yorker thinks kids are consumed with social media, rap, and hot white actresses (no offense Scarlet).
And there are more! Do your own Google search for “teenage brain infographic” or check out some images I posted to my Tumblr here: http://amstyouthculture.tumblr.com/. There are tongs of different ways that teenage brains are being used to “prove” that teenagers are violent, narcissistic, technology-driven, and prone to dangerous behavior despite tons of examples of teens on the ground demonstrating their eagerness to help others, advocate for political change, and promote positive consumption. How can we visualize those teens’ brains? And what does it mean to visualize teenage brain “normalcy”? If you visualized your brain, what would you find? Obsessions, habits, fears, drives, and memories? My brain scan would probably reveal a pie chart similar to this:
Make your own brain pie chart at https://www.meta-chart.com/pie. My husband also decided that he would make a pie chart of his brain after reading this post. Eye roll.