Through the Master of Arts in Cultural Studies curriculum, students integrate diverse content areas and research methods and often participate in community action research and experiential learning.
Here are examples of student research and collaborations.
Storytelling as Disruption – Re/Calibrating the Yoni ki Baat narratives
Savita Krishnamoorthy's research investigates how orality and storytelling are vital methodological tools of disruption for social justice, resistance, community building, and social advocacy within the socio-cultural/political context of the South Asian community in Seattle.
Yoni ki Baat narratives are autobiographical testimonies performed by cisgender female, trans, and gender non-conforming South Asian women presented annually by Seattle nonprofit Tasveer. This study explores how Yoni ki Baat as a woman-centered political project addresses and challenges discourses on female sexuality, gender/sexual identities/fluidity, gendered violence, choice, and grief. You can view Krishnamoorthy's presentation at the 2020 Cultural Studies Research Conference in the video below.
Pamper the Oppression Away: The Reproduction of Individualism in Self Care Discourse
Kirby Stolzoff's critical analysis of discourses surrounding the concept of self-care reveals an underlying principle of responding to structural issues with individual solutions. In 1988, Audre Lorde coined the term “self-care” wherein the concept denoted a political dedication to survival in the face of extreme oppression. Since then, the phrase has become more aligned with pursuits of wellness and self-mastery. While the term has entered into many spheres of discourse, those produced by online Influencers construct a particular and noteworthy self-care rhetoric in a manner in line with the individualism of lifestyle blogs themselves.
The phrase “self-care” has become a popular catch-all for the numerous ways an individual person may attend to their physical, emotional, and social needs. By analyzing USA and UK lifestyle blog posts on self-care from the past five years, this study finds that this genre of writing obscures how economic and structural forces shape the daily lives of readers and how this impacts their ability to care for themselves. Through critical discourse analysis, the blog posts reveal how dominant understandings of self-care construct the practice as a series of rituals to be performed alone. By addressing the individualist mold being applied to self-care, a more intentional, communal self-care can begin to emerge. You can view Stolzoff's presentation at the 2020 Cultural Studies Research Conference in the video below.
Pongo Teen Writing
Vanessa Hooper has been a volunteer mentor and assistant project leader with Pongo Teen Writing for three years. Pongo works within local youth institutions, helping young people understand themselves and build self-esteem through poetry and other forms of personal writing. Teens are asked to speak from the heart openly and honestly about who they are as people, often finding safety in the space to write about their darkest moments. Each week, Vanessa visits King County Juvenile Detention Center as part of a Pongo team, and meets one-on-one with youth to create narrative poetry as a form of writing therapy. Volunteering with Pongo allows Vanessa to interact with individuals who have survived severe trauma, and she finds this a privilege that is deeply rewarding.
While in the Cultural Studies program, Vanessa integrated her work with Pongo with an academic internship. Under the guidance of Professor Dan Berger, Vanessa expanded her understandings of the U.S incarceration system, exploring the historical and societal underpinnings of the industrial prison complex. While the lives and stories of those on the inside provide her greatest teaching, the perspectives afforded by Cultural Studies have caused Vanessa to consider the multitude of social and political issues that perpetuate the carceral state, and therefore, to envision more holistic and effective interventions to build change.
Photojournalism and Whiteness
David Ryder is a Seattle photographer who chose to enter the Cultural Studies program to investigate "whiteness" and its relation to photojournalism. He came to define whiteness as a set of qualities that give privilege to an arbitrary group based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy with white on top. Whiteness is often inscribed through the media, including photojournalism. Photojournalistic whiteness often involves depictions of non-white subjects in passive, powerless roles, while images are sent to Western audiences by Western photojournalists working abroad. In his capstone project David offered two practice-based approaches to intervening in the inscription of whiteness through original photojournalistic work, while reflecting on his successes and failures. The capstone project included a discourse analysis of the institution of photojournalism and the processes that inscribe whiteness. David analyzed mainstream photojournalism practices, major photojournalism contest winners, an iconic photojournalist, and his own practices to show that photojournalistic whiteness is not only a question of oppressive imagery, but also of space and of audience. Especially important was his finding that whiteness manifests through patterns of spatial control of the physical world, as evidenced in his photo essay that explores the mapping and photographing practices of the Google Maps Street View project. Through this photo essay, David demonstrates the ways in which the physical world is depicted as being open for surveillance, cataloging and domination - something that has come to be a part of definitions of whiteness in current scholarly conversations.
UWB Women of Color Collective
Cultural Studies students often collaborate around shared interests and experiences. In the past, students have organized around the areas of film studies, gender and sexuality, and cultural politics. Four members of the 2009-11 cohort, Priya Frank, Theryn Kigvamasud’Vashti, Mona Halcomb, and Amanda Martin Sandino, formed the UW Bothell Graduate Women of Color Collective as a safe space to discuss current issues that graduate students of color, particularly women of color, face in academia. One output of this endeavor was the UWB Graduate Women of Color Collective blog. Of this experience, the collective writes:
“This blog was an accessible way of displaying a collaborative effort amongst the women that started it. Though our experiences in graduate school were different, and our ideologies varied, the blog was a place where we could all come together and voice successes, frustrations, concerns, and interests. In a program that did not often include speakers that reflected our own ethnic backgrounds or experiences, that kind of support was invaluable, and even the process of creating the blog became a source of encouragement and strength. As Theryn, a founding member of the blog expressed, at times it was an “underground railroad” to find ways of coping and supporting one another. This space filled a gap that existed in the program and our friendships created a new community of support. On a level of human agency, we could connect and make meaning of our experiences collectively. Having recently presented together at the UW Women of Color Collective Conference, we plan to continue utilizing this network both professionally and personally through a mentorship program, scholarships, and other community-building efforts.”
Araçuaí, Brazil Documentary Film
Angelica Macklin began production on a collaborative documentary film in Brazil as part of her final capstone research project. The film investigates how certain members of the community of Araçuaí have historically organized citizens toward civic engagement and how their work laid the foundation for the social and political change between 1960 and 2009. The project seeks to understand how and where education, artisan production, and civic engagement intersect, and the role that every-day people play in cultural production, consciousness building, and identity changing politics. This documentary will highlight the early liberation work of Frei Xico, who was appointed by the Catholic Church as cleric of the town between 1969 and 1989, Maria Lira, an artist, researcher and founder of the Araçuaí Workers Party in 1983, and Geralda Soares, an activist who works primarily with indigenous movements around Araçuaí concerning issues of land rights and sustainability. The film will follow their roles and actions in the 1980s and 1990s that led to the election of Worker Party Mayor Caca-Maria do Carmo Ferreira da Silva in 1997. She was the first female mayor and first Black mayor of the town and played a significant role in policy reform. She was also instrumental in bringing in Tiao Rocha, director of the Center for Popular Culture and Development, who has spent the past few years developing the town’s public education system, agricultural projects, and economic growth.
Mixed-Race LGBTQ Families
Joy MacTavish-Unten’s capstone research project was a pilot study focusing on the question of how mixed‐race LGBTQ families within the Seattle metropolitan area develop strategies and support systems. In recent years there has been an increase in the academic and community‐based work on the topics of LGBTQ families and mixed‐race families, but not always on the intersection of the two.
Using a feminist cultural studies analysis of textual materials and ethnographic interviews with adult members of mixed‐race and LGBTQ families, Joy sought to gain a greater understanding of how the decision‐making and experiences of mixed‐race LGBTQ are tied to anti‐oppressive strategies and support systems. Her inquiry found that each family develops unique strategies and support systems based on their needs and experiences. Many participants shared that the Seattle area offers many opportunities to connect with other mixed-race LGBTQ families and that overall they felt supported by family, community groups and schools as they strive to raise happy and well-adjusted children.
Imagine Children's Museum
Imagine Children's Museum invited Faith Simonelli to evaluate their summer enrichment program for Hispanic/Latino children. Called “Imaginate,” the program targets bilingual children with the goal of increasing their sense of belonging to the community as well as their English language retention over the summer.
Through the Cultural Studies program, Faith received training in various research methodologies. She immersed herself in the three-week day camp program, and her activities involved participatory observation and surveying “campers,” their parents, and elementary school educators. Faith will analyze the data and hopes her findings will broaden dialogue around the needs of bi-lingual children while enhancing the museum’s cultural programming. The experience confirmed Faith’s commitment to elevating the needs of minority communities and solidified her desire to pursue a career addressing local diversity issues. In addition to her work with Imagine, Faith serves as a member of Everett’s Cultural Arts Commission.