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Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition

Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition

Bruce Burgett
Glenn Hendler
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 2
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition
    Book Description:

    Since its initial publication, scholars and students alike have turned toKeywords for American Cultural Studiesas an invaluable resource for understanding key terms and debates in the fields of American studies and cultural studies. As scholarship has continued to evolve, this revised and expanded second edition offers indispensable meditations on new and developing concepts used in American studies, cultural studies, and beyond. It is equally useful for college students who are trying to understand what their teachers are talking about, for general readers who want to know what's new in scholarly research, and for professors who just want to keep up.

    Designed as a print-digital hybrid publication,Keywordscollects more than 90 essays-30 of which are new to this edition-from interdisciplinary scholars, each on a single term such as "America," "culture," "law," and "religion." Alongside "community," "prison," "queer," "region," and many others, these words are the nodal points in many of today's most dynamic and vexed discussions of political and social life, both inside and outside of the academy. TheKeywordswebsite, which features 33 essays, provides pedagogical tools that engage the entirety of the book, both in print and online.

    The publication brings together essays by scholars working in literary studies and political economy, cultural anthropology and ethnic studies, African American history and performance studies, gender studies and political theory. Some entries are explicitly argumentative; others are more descriptive. All are clear, challenging, and critically engaged. As a whole,Keywords for American Cultural Studiesprovides an accessible A to Z survey of prevailing academic buzzwords and a flexible tool for carving out new areas of inquiry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0849-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-8)
    Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler

    In contemporary usage, the term “keyword” generally refers to a type of data or metadata. TheOxford English Dictionary’sprimary definition is “a word serving as a key to a cipher or code,” one that provides “a solution or explanation” or one that is “of particular importance or significance.” Dating from the mid-eighteenth century, these usages represent keywords as data that unlock mysteries. TheOED’s second definition is a term “chosen to indicate or represent the content of a larger text or record” in an “index, catalogue, or database.” Dating from the early nineteenth century, this usage represents keywords as...

  2. (pp. 13-16)
    Ann Cvetkovich

    “Affect” names a conceptual problem as much as a tangible thing. As such, it is best understood as an umbrella term that includes related, and more familiar, words such as “feeling” and “emotion,” as well as efforts to make distinctions among them. TheOxford English Dictionary (OED)traces the history of the term to the seventeenth century, aligning it with “desire” or “passion” and opposing it to “reason.” Further specifying that “affect” is both a “mental” and a “bodily” disposition, theOEDsets in place a persistent ambiguity that challenges distinctions between mind and body. More technical uses of the...

  3. (pp. 16-20)
    Kevin K. Gaines

    The keyword “African” has been and remains a touchstone for African-descended peoples’ struggle for identity and inclusion, encompassing extremes of racial denigration and vindication in a nation founded on the enslavement of Africans. Both the African presence throughout the Americas and its significance for constructions of national culture in the United States have remained fraught with racialized and exclusionary power relations. In a nation that has traditionally imagined its culture and legislated its polity as “white,” “African” has often provided for African Americans a default basis for identity in direct proportion to their exclusion from national citizenship.

    As scholars ranging...

  4. (pp. 21-25)
    Kirsten Silva Gruesz

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” begins the main body of the Declaration of Independence, and the definition of “America” may likewise seem utterly self-evident: the short form of the nation’s official name. Yet the meaning of this well-worn term becomes more elusive the closer we scrutinize it. Since “America” names the entire hemisphere from the Yukon to Patagonia, its common use as a synonym for the United States of America is technically a misnomer, as Latin Americans and Canadians continually (if resignedly) point out. Given the nearly universal intelligibility of this usage, their objection may seem a small...

  5. (pp. 26-29)
    John Kuo Wei Tchen

    “Orientals are carpets!” is a common Asian American retort today, one that rejects the linkage between objects of desire—whether hand-woven carpets made in central and western Asia or porcelains made in China—and the people who make them. During the late-1960s phase of the civil rights movement, second- and third-generation, college-age, mainly Chinese and Japanese Americans from the United States and Canada protested the term “Oriental,” seeking to replace it with the seemingly less fraught term “Asian.” But as in any debate about naming practices, the names rejected and defended reflect differing points of view, as groups trouble certain...

  6. (pp. 30-34)
    E. Patrick Johnson

    The word “black” has a long and vexed history both inside and outside the United States. Typically used as a neutral reference to the darkest color on the spectrum, the word has also taken on negative cultural and moral meanings. It describes both something that is “soiled,” “stained,” “evil,” or “morally vapid” and people of a darker hue. TheAmerican Heritage Dictionaryprovides a typical example of this dual usage. One of the entries under “black” as an adjective is “gloomy, pessimistic, dismal,” while another is “of or belonging to a racial group having brown to black skin, especially one...

  7. (pp. 34-37)
    Mary Pat Brady

    Were we to imagine an earlier iteration of this keywords project—one published around, say, 1989—“border” would most likely have been left off the list entirely, though “margin” or maybe “minor” might well have been included. In the intervening years, as violent border conflicts erupted across the world and as the U.S. government heavily militarized its border with Mexico, the term has become prominent in academic work. Accounting for this shift—understanding the concept’s fortunes, as it were—entails movement among academic concerns, theoretical conversations, and sociopolitical and economic developments over the last quarter of the twentieth century and...

  8. (pp. 37-40)
    David F. Ruccio

    While the capitalist system is generally celebrated by mainstream economists, American studies and cultural studies scholars will search in vain through their writings for actual discussions of the term “capitalism.” Instead, neoclassical and Keynesian economists refer to the “market economy” (in which individuals and private firms make decisions in decentralized markets) or just “the economy” (defined by scarce means and unlimited desires, the correct balancing of which is said to characterize all societies) (Stiglitz and Walsh 2002; Bhagwati 2003; Krugman and Wells 2004; Samuelson and Nordhaus 2004).

    In contrast, discussions of the term “capitalism” have long occupied a central position...

  9. (pp. 41-45)
    Lauren Berlant

    Although we tend to think of citizenship as something national, originally the citizen was simply a certain kind of someone who lived in a Greek city: a member of an elite class who was said to be capable of self-governance and therefore of the legal and military governance of the city. But the ancient history of the term tells us little about the constellation of rights, laws, obligations, interests, fantasies, and expectations that shape the modern scene of citizenship, which is generally said to have been initiated by the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century (B. Anderson 1991; B. Turner...

  10. (pp. 45-48)
    Eric Lott

    As an analytical tool and historiographical category, “class” has an important place in American studies and cultural studies, if only because so many people have thought it irrelevant to the study of the United States. Unlike Europe’s old countries, with their feudal pasts and monarchical legacies, the United States, it has often been said, is a land of unlimited economic and geographical mobility. Abraham Lincoln was only one of the most notable believers in “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States, uniquely among the globe’s nations, assigned its citizens no fixed class definition and afforded boundless opportunity to those...

  11. (pp. 48-53)
    David Kazanjian

    “Colonial” has very old roots. The Latin wordcoloniawas used during the Roman Empire to mean a settlement of Roman citizens in a newly conquered territory. Often these citizens were retired soldiers who received land as a reward for their service and as a display of Roman authority to the conquered inhabitants. For Roman writers,coloniatranslated the Greek wordapoikia,which meant a settlement away from one’s home state, as opposed to thepolis,meaning one’s own city or country as well as a community of citizens, or themetropolis,literally one’s mother city or mother country.


  12. (pp. 53-56)
    Miranda Joseph

    In the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century United States, the term “community” is used so pervasively that it would appear to be nearly meaningless. The term is often deployed more for its performative effect of being “warmly persuasive” than for any descriptive work it accomplishes (Raymond Williams 1976/1983, 76). Carrying only positive connotations—a sense of belonging, understanding, caring, cooperation, equality—“community” is deployed to mobilize support not only for a huge variety of causes but also for the speaker using the term. It functions this way for companies such as Starbucks and Target, which have programs and pamphlets in...

  13. (pp. 56-59)
    Amy Dru Stanley

    “Contract” is at least as old as the Old Testament and as new as the market transactions of the moment—local, national, and global. It encompasses the provinces of religion and commodities, state and civil society, public and private exchange, the rights of persons and the rights to property. Puritan theology speaks of covenants, Enlightenment liberalism of social contracts, political economy of commercial contracts, the law of liberty of contract. Informed by those traditions, U.S. culture has long been infused by contract. Just after the Civil War, a primer handed out by Yankee liberators to former slaves testified to contract’s...

  14. (pp. 60-63)
    Kembrew McLeod

    Embedded within the word “copyright” is a simple and succinct self-definition. It means, quite literally, the right to copy. Unlike “intellectual property,” a term that did not come into common usage until the mid-twentieth century, “copyright” has been used for centuries, dating from 1735. The term accurately describes what this legal doctrine is and how it functions. Often understood as a synonym for “copyright,” “intellectual property” is actually a deceptive neologism. That is because copyrighted, patented, and trademarked works are not in factproperty—they are instead protected by government-granted rights that are limited in how they can be enforced....

  15. (pp. 63-68)
    Christopher Newfield

    In current usage, the keyword “corporation” is synonymous with “business corporation,” generally referring to a for-profit organization that can operate at the discretion of its owners and managers free of social and legislative control. The term is derived from the Latincorporatus,the present participle ofcorporare,which means “form into a body,” and appeared in English by 1530. A business corporation can own property; buy, sell, and control assets, including other corporations; pay or avoid taxes; write or break contracts; make and market products; and engage in every kind of economic activity. At the same time, the persons involved...

  16. (pp. 68-72)
    George Yúdice

    The concept of culture has had widespread use since the late eighteenth century, when it was synonymous with civilization and still indicated a sense of cultivation and growth derived from its Latin root,colere,which also included in its original meanings “inhabit” (as in “colonize”), “protect,” and “honor with worship” (as in “cult”). According to Raymond Williams (1976/1983, 87–93), the noun form took, by extension, three inflections that encompass most of its modern uses: intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; the way of life of a people, group, or humanity in general; and the works and practices of intellectual and...

  17. (pp. 73-75)
    Fred Moten

    Democracy is the name that has been assigned to a dream as well as to certain already existing realities that are lived, by many people, as a nightmare. The dream is of government by the people, government in which the common people hold sway, in which the dispensation of the commons—“the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc., created through universal exchange” that Karl Marx called wealth—is collectively determined, in which the trace of any enclosure of the commons whatever is an object of the severest vigilance since such dispensation will have been understood as ending...

  18. (pp. 76-78)
    Brent Hayes Edwards

    Until only a few decades ago, “diaspora” was a relatively esoteric word restricted in meaning to the historical dispersion of particular communities around the Mediterranean basin. Since then, it has become a privileged term of reference in scholarship, journalism, and popular discourse, used broadly and at times indiscriminately to denote a number of different kinds of movement and situations of mobility among human populations.Diasporais a Greek word, a combination of the prefixdia- (meaning “through”) and the verbsperein(meaning “to sow” or “to scatter”). It was used in the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Torah prepared...

  19. (pp. 79-80)
    Tara McPherson

    In the twenty-first century, we tend to associate the word “digital” with computation, but its origins hark back to ancient times. The term derives fromdigitusin classical Latin, meaning “finger,” and, later, fromdigit,which refers both to whole numbers less than ten and to fingers or toes. Digital procedures long predate the development of electronic computers, and we might understand a number of earlier devices or systems to operate by digital principles. For instance, the abacus is a simple digital calculator dating from 300 BC, while Morse code and Braille represent more recent digital practices. What each of...

  20. (pp. 81-84)
    Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren

    As a keyword in American studies and cultural studies, the site of a political movement, and the name of an interdisciplinary field, “disability” articulates vital connections across the many communities of people with disabilities, their public histories, and a range of cultural theories and practices. People with disabilities have too often been rendered invisible and powerless because of a mainstream tendency to valorize the normal body. As a result of disability activist work emerging from the civil rights movement, legal reforms, and grassroots activist work, the framing of disability has shifted from an emphasis on “disability” as a medical term...

  21. (pp. 84-88)
    Jodi Melamed

    What is the best way to manage unlike human capacities in the name of human progress and improvement? This deceptively simple question has preoccupied Western political modernity, especially in the United States. The positive connotations often adhering to the keyword “diversity”—a term commonly used to reference human differences broadly considered—arise from its importance in high-status discourses that have sought to discern the best management of human differences, including eighteenth-century liberal political philosophy, nineteenth-and twentieth-century natural science (especially the so-called race sciences), and twentieth and twenty-first-century law and education policy. contrast, research in American studies and cultural studies has...

  22. (pp. 89-92)
    Rosemary Marangoly George

    The keyword “domestic” conjures up several different yet linked meanings. It evokes the private home and its accouterments and, in a secondary fashion, household help. It also refers to the “national” opposed to the “foreign” and to the “tame” as opposed to the “natural” or “wild.” American studies cultural studies scholarship has only recently begun think through the connections among these usages the term and to make visible the racial and class bias much of the scholarship on domesticity in relation the United States.

    Theorizing the domestic has been integral to many academic disciplines: architecture design, anthropology, sociology, history, economics,...

  23. (pp. 92-95)
    Timothy Mitchell

    The term “economy” in its contemporary sense came into use only quite recently. It is often assumed that the idea of the economy, defined as the relations of material production and exchange in a given territory and understood as an object of expert knowledge and government administration, was introduced by political economists such as William Petty, François Quesnay, and Adam Smith in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or even by Aristotle. In fact, however, this use of the term developed only in the 1930s and 1940s and was well established only by the 1950s (T. Mitchell 2005).

    In earlier periods...

  24. (pp. 95-100)
    Shelley Streeby

    For most of the twentieth century, the intellectual and political leaders of the United States denied that the nation was an empire. Then around 1994, things began to change, with the neoconservatives aligned with the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) openly embracing the idea of an American empire capable of ruling the post–Cold War world. This shift is a good example of the process Raymond Williams describes inKeywords(1976/1983, 11–26), whereby changes in the significance of words occur rapidly at times of crisis. For Williams, World War II decisively shaped the remarkable transformations in the...

  25. (pp. 100-104)
    Henry Yu

    The term “ethnicity” gained widespread currency in the mid- to late twentieth century, naming a process by which individuals or groups came to be understood, or to understand themselves, as separate or different from others. This meaning of “ethnicity” commonly referred to the consciousness of exclusion or subordination, though it also indexed social practices—language, religion, rituals, and other patterns of behavior—that define the content of a group’s culture. The spread of this theory of ethnic culture created two mutually exclusive, analytically separate categories: “ethnicity,” defined as cultural traits, was utterly divorced from the workings of the physical body,...

  26. (pp. 104-106)
    Thuy Linh Tu

    What is “fashion”? In contrast to “clothing” and “garments” (words that name the materials that are basis of fashion) or sewing and tailoring (the processes that produce those materials), “fashion” names relatively new cultural form. The term originated in the fourteenth century, derived from the Frenchfacon(meaning “manner, mode, or appearance”) and the Latinfactionem(“making or doing”). In its etymological origin, “fashion” referred to the acts of making and of displaying—to both object and labor—but this relationship has become increasingly obscured the term’s contemporary usage. A word that once implied both the object produced and the...

  27. (pp. 106-110)
    Randy Martin

    Finance today signals a whole range of ways in which culture, economy, and polity—the very fabric of material and symbolic life—have become interwoven. It maps a terrain where expert knowledge jostles uneasily with tacit understandings of the world, where enormous wealth becomes entangled with everyday poverty, where the future mingles with the present and the faraway with the very near. “Finance,” as a noun or verb, along with “financialization” as a name for the process by which financial habits of thought have become prevalent across a wide array of fields and activities, has meanings and applications that shift...

  28. (pp. 111-115)
    Stephanie Smallwood

    “Freedom” is a keyword with a genealogy and range of meanings that extend far beyond the history and geographical boundaries of the United States, even as it names values that are at the core of U.S. national history and identity. From the Declaration Independence to Operation Enduring Freedom (the name given to the post-9/11 U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan), the term is at the root of U.S. claims to being not only exceptional among the world’s nations but a model that others should follow. TheOxford English Dictionarydefines “freedom” in abstract terms as “the state or fact of being...

  29. (pp. 116-118)
    Jack Halberstam

    In American studies and cultural studies, as in the humanities more broadly, scholars use the term “gender” when they wish to expose a seemingly neutral analysis as male oriented and when they wish to turn critical attention from men to women. In this way a gender analysis exposes the false universalization of male subjectivity and remarks on the differences produced by the social marking we call “sex” or “sexual difference.” Poststructuralist feminist theory queries this common usage by suggesting that the critique of male bias or gender neutrality comes with its own of problems: namely, a premature and problematic stabilization...

  30. (pp. 119-122)
    Lisa Lowe

    “Globalization” is a contemporary term used in academic and nonacademic contexts to describe a twentieth-and early twenty-first-century condition of economic, social, and political interdependence across cultures, societies, nations, and regions has been precipitated by an unprecedented expansion of capitalism on a global scale. One problem this usage is that it obscures a much longer history global contacts and connections. In the ancient there were empires, conquests, slavery, and diasporas; in medieval and early modern times, Asian, Arab, European civilizations mingled through trade, and settlement. Only with European colonial expansion, beginning in the sixteenth century and reaching height in the nineteenth,...

  31. (pp. 122-125)
    Leerom Medovoi

    In common usage, the word “government” often refers to the individuals or parties that operate the state (as in “I support this government”). But it can equally refer to the institutional features of the state (as in a “constitutional” or “aristocratic” form of government). One result of this dual usage is that the practices of governance and the institution of the state are often treated as the same thing, even though their implications are quite different. The modern state, as a form of governance, is typically bound to the idea of the nation and its popular sovereignty. By contrast, government...

  32. (pp. 125-129)
    Eithne Luibhéid

    Immigration is one of the most frequently discussed and multivalent concepts in scholarship on the U.S. experience. A subcategory within studies of “migration,” “immigration” refers in theAmerican Heritage Dictionaryto the activity of “enter[ing] and settl[ing] in a region or country to which one is not native.” The usage note at “migrate” adds, “Migrate, which is used of people or animals, sometimes implies a lack of permanent settlement, especially as a result of seasonal or periodic movement.Emigrateandimmigrateare used only of people and imply a permanent move, generally across a political boundary.” As this definition indicates,...

  33. (pp. 130-132)
    Robert Warrior

    “Indian” is a world that has deep and conflicting roots in the history of the Western Hemisphere and in contemporary imaginations and attitudes of those who live in the Americas. The issue of the proper usage of this term and those related to it (“Native American,” “American Indian,” “Amerindian,” “Native,” “Indigenous,” and “First Nations,” among others) can be frustrating since the question is so basic; is, it does little to open up the depths of historical or contemporary indigenous experiences. But it also a way of beginning a discussion of what students and practitioners of American studies and cultural studies...

  34. (pp. 133-137)
    J. Kēhaulani Kauanui

    The keyword “indigenous” has varied generalogies in the fields of American studies and cultural studies. American studies scholarship has tended to use the “Indian” and “Native” to refer to indigenous peoples of North America, whereas the field of cultural studies has typically used the terms “Native,” “Indigenous,” and, in some contexts, “Aboriginal” interchangeably. “Indigenous” peoples in what is regarded by most people as the United States (although the very boundaries the nation-state are contested by enduring indigenous presence and assertions of sovereignty) include American Indians and Alaska Natives (including and Aleutians) who constitute 566 federally recognized tribal nations and villages...

  35. (pp. 137-141)
    Brian T. Edwards

    The arrival of Islam as a religion in the United Stats is far from new, yet neither the religion nor its adherents received much attention in American studies cultural studies until Islam became a media and popular fixation, especially after September 11, 2001. In this sense, scholarly interest in Islam has responded to the obsessions of the U.S. public sphere, where the religion is poorly understood and often defined imprecise or fallacious ways, resulting in inaccurate references to and representations of both Islam and the “Muslim” or “Arab” worlds. Locating “Islam” a keyword for American studies and cultural studies thus...

  36. (pp. 142-145)
    Marc Bousquet

    In April 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while organizing mass protests in support of an illegal strike by Memphis sanitation workers. Like many activists of his day, he saw a series of connections among discrimination by race, sex, and workplace exploitation. He asked, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?” (1968). In response to intersecting modes of oppression, and others believed that liberatory social movements needed to pursue shared goals. The long tradition such intersectional...

  37. (pp. 146-149)
    Juana María Rodríguez

    The oldest and most conventional of this keyword’s variants, “Latino,” is commonly used as an ethnic designation that distinguishes Latin Americans living in the United States from those living in their countries of origin. Even this seemingly straightforward variant sustains a hefty set of internal contradictions and has a decidedly blurry genealogy. While commonly used as an adjective modifying everything from voting blocs to musical categories, neighborhoods, and foodways, the exact referent of the term remains indeterminate even as it seems to imply specific populations, geographies, histories, colonialisms, languages, and cultural practices. The problem is that each of these potential...

  38. (pp. 149-153)
    Dean Spade

    The world “law” is most commonly used with reference what theOxford English Dictionarycalls “the body of rules . . . which a particular state or community recognizes as binding on its members.” It also refers to statements of fact or truth that are based on observable patterns of physical behavior, as in the “law of gravity” and other “scientific laws.” These two uses of the term—a body of rules and an established scientific truth—are related. Liberal legal systems, including U.S. law, claim to be grounded in universal truths, even as they create bodies of rules specific...

  39. (pp. 153-158)
    Nikhil Pal Singh

    “Liberalism” is one of the most important terms in Anglo-American and, more broadly, Euro-American political and philosophical discourse. It derives from the English term “liberal,” which initially referred to a class of “free men” as opposed to the unfree—that people embedded within or bound by one or another form of socially restrictive hierarchy (Raymond Williams 1976/1983 , 179–81). “Liberalism” has never shed the class meanings and elitist connotations at its root and origin, in large part because it indexes tensions and ambiguities at the heart of what are now referred to as liberal-democratic nation-states. At the same...

  40. (pp. 158-161)
    Sandra M. Gustafson

    Derived from the Latinlittera,or “letter,” “literature” for many centuries referred to a personal quality (“having literature”) that meant possessing polite learning through reading. To call someone “illiterate” in seventeenth century did not mean that the person could not read; it meant that the individual was not possessed of learning, notably knowledge of the classics. Any formal written work—for instance, a scientific treatise, a sermon text, a work of philosophy, or an ethnographic narrative—counted as “literature.” Then around 1750, the historical associations of literature with literacy and polite learning began to change. Literacy rates rose, printing presses...

  41. (pp. 162-164)
    Elizabeth Freeman

    Marriage seems to be an ordinary fact of life, not a contested concept. In U.S. culture, however, term “marriage” has pointed to two simultaneous but incompatible functions. As a component of U.S. kinship law, marriage sanctions particular sexual alliances, from which property relations are determined. It thereby defines a sphere of protected sexual economic interests, whose exterior is marked by sexual “deviants.” Yet as an aspect of modern emotional in the United States, marriage is also the ideological linchpin of intimacy—the most elevated form chosen interpersonal relationship. At the core political debate and much critical debate in American studies...

  42. (pp. 165-168)
    Lisa Nakamura

    “Media” is a word with unusual weight in the United States. It appears in the name of a discipline—media studies—as well as numerous subfields, such as media industry studies, feminist media studies, comparative and transnational media studies, and most recently, digital media studies. “Participatory media,” “interactive media,” and “social media” are all relatively new terms that describe the production and consumption digital texts, images, and sounds through the World Wide Web and mobile applications that use social networks such as YouTube, Pandora, Facebook, and Twitter. The quick uptake and incorporation of these new media into everyday life in...

  43. (pp. 168-171)
    Alyshia Gálvez

    “Migration” was initially used in early sixteenth-century French to refer to human movement across space. These early usages date to the initial period of European conquest and colonization of the Americas, arguably the first phase of what is today referred to as globalization (Wolf 1982). The contexts of these usages were largely historical and literary, referring to the expulsion of Adam from Eden or the travel of a person from one town to another. A century later, “migration” was deployed by natural scientists in reference to the migration of birds, salmon, and butterflies. This naturalistic use of the term predominated...

  44. (pp. 171-175)
    Chandan Reddy

    “Modern” is among the most difficult words in our critical vocabulary either to define or to abandon. Within different disciplinary contexts, both the origins and the features of the modern are differently inscribed. Philosophy locates the onset of the modern in the eighteenth-century secularization of knowledge about the human and material world, while history and political science periodize it alongside the generalization of the sovereign nation-state after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the emergence of the citizen-subject after the French Revolution of 1789. For economics, the modern began with the emergence of capitalist market economies following the British...

  45. (pp. 175-180)
    Alys Eve Weinbaum

    “Nation” has been in use in the English language since the fourteenth century, when it was first deployed to designate groups and populations. Although the concept of “race” was not well defined in this period, theOxford English Dictionary(OED) retrospectively refers to such groups and populations as “racial” in character. In the modern period, theOEDcontinues, the meaning of “nation” came to refer to large aggregates of people closely associated through a combination of additional factors, including common language, politics, culture, history, and occupation of the same territory. Though it appears that an initial racial connection among the...

  46. (pp. 181-183)
    Lisa Duggan

    The word “neoliberalism,” first used during the 1930s, came into widespread circulation in the 1990s to name a utopian ideology of “free markets” and minimal state interference, a set of policies slashing state social services and supporting global corporate interests, a process (neoliberalization) proceeding in company with procorporate globalization and financialization, and a cultural project of building consent for the upward redistributions of wealth and power that have occurred since the 1970s. But neoliberalism might best be understood as a global social movement encompassing all of these political goals. In American studies and cultural studies, the concept has gathered force...

  47. (pp. 184-187)
    Robert McRuer

    “Normal,” because of its easy associations with typical, ordinary, or unremarkable, appears to many people as a benign word, nothing more than a neutral descriptor of certain groups, bodies, or behaviors that are more common than others. Yet more than almost any other keyword in American studies and cultural studies, “normal” carries with it a history of discursive and literal violence against those who could never hope to be described by the term. Sexual minorities, disabled people, racialized populations, immigrants, and many others have at times found themselves among the motley group that the Chicana lesbian feminist Gloria Anzaldúa terms...

  48. (pp. 187-190)
    Vijay Prashad

    In 1849, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Behold the difference between the Oriental and the Occidental. The former has nothing to do in this world; the latter is full of activity. The one looks in the sun till his eyes are put out; the other follows him prone in his westward course” (1849/1985, 120). Thoreau’s “Orientals” included the people of India and China, although his contemporaries often added the people of the Arab world. At the same time, Thoreau and other Boston Brahmins used the even more vaguely defined term “Occidental” to refer to Anglo-Protestant civilization (and only rarely included Catholics...

  49. (pp. 190-193)
    Susan Manning

    In many studies of the arts, “performance” is defined as the set of artistic choices an actor, dancer, or musician makes in realizing a preexistent text—whether that text is a dramatic script, a choreographic design, or a musical score. Over the past few decades, however, some scholars in American studies and cultural studies have redefined “performance” as a mode of cultural production composed of events bound in time and framed in space. Whereas the traditional usage of the noun “performance” implies an opposition to “text,” the new usage understands it as a framed event that may well deploy textual...

  50. (pp. 193-196)
    Kandice Chuh

    “Politics,” in its most common usage, refers to the activities of governance, including efforts to attain or retain the power to control those activities. In this sense, the term refers to an interest in how the state (the regulating structures and governing practices of the nation) works and under what or whose authority. This understanding of “politics” is clearly present in both American studies and cultural studies, most markedly in the work of political scientists and legal scholars. However, both fields have long had a broader interest in how and with what consequences the power to govern operates. How and...

  51. (pp. 196-199)
    Caleb Smith

    The United States now incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, both as a percentage of its own population and in absolute numbers. The federal government operates a far-reaching network of immigrant detention centers and war prisons, including the notorious camp at Guantلnamo Bay. Like the domestic warehouses of mass incarceration, these are spaces where the boundaries of legal personhood and cultural identity are contested. While prisons have been expanding, many other public institutions have disappeared or withered; those that remain, such as schools and housing projects, seem increasingly prisonlike. Critics have described the United States as...

  52. (pp. 200-203)
    Bruce Robbins

    According to theOxford English Dictionary, “public” originated from the Latinpopulus, or “people,” apparently under the influence of the wordpubes, or “adult men.” The term’s considerable authority, based on its claim to represent the social whole, has continued to bump up against evidence that large classes of people have been omitted from it, as women and children are omitted frompubes. In American studies, relevant debates have focused on the continuing applicability of this ancient notion within a specialized modern division of labor in which no one has knowledge of the whole (Dewey 1927; Lippman 1927); on whether...

  53. (pp. 203-207)
    Siobhan B. Somerville

    “Queer” causes confusion, perhaps because two of its current meanings seem to be at odds. In both popular and academic usage in the United States, “queer” is sometimes used interchangeably with the terms “gay” and “lesbian” and occasionally “transgender” and “bisexual.” In this sense of the word, “queer” is understood as an umbrella term that refers to a range of sexual identities that are “not straight.” In other political and academic contexts, “queer” is used in a very different way: as a term that calls into question the stability of any such categories of identity based on sexual orientation. In...

  54. (pp. 207-211)
    Roderick A. Ferguson

    The study of race incorporates a set of wide-ranging analyses of freedom and power. The scope of those analyses has much to do with the broad application of racial difference to academic and popular notions of epistemology, community, identity, and the body. With regard to economic and political formations, race has shaped the meaning and profile of citizenship and labor. In relation to corporeality, race has rendered the body into a text on which histories of racial differentiation, exclusion, and violence are inscribed. Analyzed in terms of subjectivity, race helps to locate the ways in which identities are constituted.


  55. (pp. 212-214)
    Daniel Martinez HoSang and Oneka LaBennett

    In contrast to keywords such as “race” and “racist,” “racialization” is relatively new to American studies and cultural studies. The term has a diverse lineage but is most often associated with the work of Michael Omi and Howard Winant (1986/1994), who helped make the concept of racialization a central analytic within both fields. Omi and Winant utilize the term to “signify the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice or group. Racialization is an ideological process, an historically specific one” (64). In contrast to static understandings of race as a universal category of analysis, racialization...

  56. (pp. 215-217)
    Janet R. Jakobsen

    The keyword “religion” names one side of a pair of terms—“religion” and “secularism”—each of which is defined by its opposition to the other. In this relational definition, religion is that which is not secular, is associated with the sacred rather than the profane, and is aligned with dogma rather than reason. As delineated through this series of oppositions, the concept of religion draws together a wide range of practices across cultures that may not have much in common with one another. The conflation of various practices under the sign of religion has its origins in the thought of...

  57. (pp. 217-220)
    Scott Herring

    The simple life often evoked by the keyword “rural” belies its extraordinary complexity. Across the centuries, many hands have wielded this term for contradictory purposes: to exalt and exhaust the nation’s natural resources, to malign and glorify nonurban citizens, and to incite and squelch revolutions. As a word that invites and resists reduction, “rural” can signal a pastoral landscape on one hand and neglect the labor that cultivates it on the other. It can conjure a bucolic retreat at odds with dynamic histories of political, socioeconomic, and racial conflict. It can appear outdated in our postindustrial era of globalization and...

  58. (pp. 220-224)
    Michael Warner

    “Secularism” is a late coinage in English, dating from the 1850s, when it was adopted by reformers who regarded the church and capital as the joint enemies of the worker (Holyoake 1854). But because the word is used by cultural critics in many antithetical senses, it occasions great confusion. The United States is sometimes held to be the model of secular democracy and sometimes the most religious of all major modern democracies. Can both be true?

    The root “secular” derives from the Latin for “the age”; in the Christian tradition, the secular is the temporal or the worldly. The spiritual/secular...

  59. (pp. 224-227)
    Walter Johnson

    “Slavery has never been represented, slavery never can be represented,” said the novelist, antislavery lecturer, and former slave William Wells Brown in 1847 (1847/1969, 82). Brown referred, in the first instance, to the world-making violence of the system of kidnapping, dispossession, and labor extraction that emerged in the fifteenth century and persisted almost to the dawn of the twentieth. But he referred in the second instance to a sort of epistemological violence, a murderous, forcible forgetting of the history of slavery. Only slavery’s victims—if it is possible to use the word “only” in the context of so many millions...

  60. (pp. 227-231)
    George Lipsitz

    In order for history to take place, it takes places. American studies and cultural studies scholars have drawn on the ideas and insights of critical geographers Henri Lefebvre (1991), David Harvey (2000), Yi-fu Tuan (1977), Cindy Katz (2004), Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2007), Laura Pulido (1996), and many others to explore the creative possibilities and the moral meanings attributed to particular spaces and places. The politics and poetics of space permeate the culture of the United States as a nation through moral values that get attached to the open ranges of the western frontier and the far reaches of empire overseas;...

  61. (pp. 231-235)
    Tavia Nyong’o

    Hey you! Yes . . . you! Now that I have your attention, let me ask you a question. How did you know it was you I was addressing? I didn’t call you by your name, after all. In fact, I don’t know your name or any other distinguishing characteristic. Nonetheless, I called out, and you turned your attention to me. There is a lot of power in what just happened, more than you might initially suspect. Or maybe youdoalready suspect. Perhaps you are already conscious of the coercion in my addressing you in this abrupt and unceremonious...

  62. (pp. 235-239)
    Jentery Sayers

    When used in everyday speech today, the keyword “technology” refers primarily to physical devices. Yet this usage was not common until the second half of the twentieth century. During the seventeenth century, “technology” was either a systematic study of the arts or the specific terminology of an art (Casaubon 1612; Bentham 1827; Carlyle 1858). An encyclopedia, dictionary, or publication likeKeywords for American Cultural Studieswould have been called a technology. Related terms such as “tool,” “instrument,” and “machine” described physical devices (Sutherland 1717; Hanway 1753). In the nineteenth century, “technology” became the practical application of science, a system of...

  63. (pp. 239-242)
    Junaid Rana

    “Terror” is a complex word that refers both to physical violence and to the emotional response produced by that violence. While this dual meaning has persisted for centuries, the term’s connotations have shifted in the modern era in relation to the perceived source of such force. In contrast to earlier usages that reference punitive measures of the state, such as political violence and persecution, terror is now used to name threats posed by nonstate actors. Though amplified in the United States after 9/11, this shift began in the context of conflict with militant left and liberation struggles throughout the nineteenth...

  64. (pp. 242-245)
    Valerie Rohy

    A child can learn to “tell time,” but telling time in American studies and cultural studies is anything but simple—not least because time is crucial to the act of telling, the work of narration. TheOxford English Dictionarydefines “time” tautologically, as “a space or extent of time” and “a system of measuring or reckoning the passage of time.” It eventually suggests that “time” can signify a “period or duration,” but after a lengthy entry including “time out” and “time after time,” theconceptof time remains unspecified. As these circular definitions indicate, time often seems self-evident—it either...

  65. (pp. 245-248)
    Sunaina Maira

    The keyword “youth” bears a potent and overdetermined symbolism that has made it both central to cultural studies and significant, if relatively marginal, in American studies. Critical conversations about youth span anthropology, sociology, psychology, education, history, and geography and cross over into interdisciplinary areas such as cultural studies, American studies, feminist studies, queer studies, and ethnic studies. Across these fields, the word “youth” is used in myriad ways, generally as a signifier of a developmental stage, a transition to adulthood, or a moment of socialization into or rejection of social norms. A universalizing notion of youth as a period of...