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Keywords for American Cultural Studies

Keywords for American Cultural Studies

Bruce Burgett
Glenn Hendler
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfg90
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  • Book Info
    Keywords for American Cultural Studies
    Book Description:

    Explore the Keywords Collaborative interactive website at keywords.nyupress.orgAccording to the Oxford English Dictionary, a keyword is a word that is of great importance or significance. On the web, keywords organize vast quantities of complex information. Keywords for American Cultural Studies offers these features and more to its readers, providing indispensable meditations on terms and concepts used in cultural studies, American studies, and beyond.Collaborative in design and execution, Keywords for American Cultural Studies collects sixty-four new essays from interdisciplinary scholars, each on a single term such as America, body, ethnicity, and religion. Alongside community, immigration, queer, 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.Here are 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. Throughout, readers will find clear, challenging, critically engaged thinking and writing. Keywords for American Cultural Studies provides an accessible A-to-Z survey of prevailing academic buzzwords, and a flexible tool for carving out new areas of inquiry. 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.Contributors: Vermonja R. Alston, Lauren Berlant, Mary Pat Brady, Laura Briggs, Bruce Burgett, Christopher Castiglia, Russ Castronovo, Eva Cherniavsky, Krista Comer, Micaela di Leonardo, Brent Hayes Edwards, Robert Fanuzzi, Rod Ferguson, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Elizabeth Freeman, Kevin Gaines, Rosemary Marangoly George, Kirsten Silva Gruesz, Sandra M. Gustafson, Matthew Pratt Guterl, Judith Halberstam, Glenn Hendler, Grace Kyungwon Hong, June Howard, Janet R. Jakobsen, Susan Jeffords, Walter Johnson, Miranda Joseph, Moon-Ho Jung, Carla Kaplan, David Kazanjian, Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, Eric Lott, Lisa Lowe, Eithne Luibhid, Susan Manning, Curtis Marez, Meredith L. McGill, Timothy Mitchell, Fred Moten, Christopher Newfield, Donald E. Pease, Pamela Perry, Carla L. Peterson, Vijay Prashad, Chandan Reddy, Bruce Robbins, David F. Ruccio, Susan M. Ryan, David S. Shields, Caroline Chung Simpson, Nikhil Pal Singh, Siobhan B. Somerville, Amy Dru Stanley, Shelley Streeby, John Kuo Wei Tchen, Paul Thomas, Priscilla Wald, Michael Warner, Robert Warrior, Alys Eve Weinbaum, Henry Yu, George Yudice, and Sandra A. Zagarell.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8989-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Keywords An Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    What is a keyword? TheOxford English Dictionary’s primary definition is “a word serving as a key to a cipher or the like.” In this usage, a keyword solves a puzzle, breaks a code, or unlocks a mystery. Or a keyword may be, in theOED’s secondary definition, “a word or thing that is of great importance or significance,” a term or symbol that organizes knowledge by allowing authors, book indexers, concordance makers, web designers, and database programmers to guide users to significant clusters of meaning. As these usages indicate, keywords are terms of great power and utility. Referred to...

  5. 1 Abolition
    (pp. 7-9)
    Robert Fanuzzi

    “Children are taught that ‘AB’ stands for ‘Abolition,’” fumed the mayor of Boston in 1835, who correctly grasped that abolition meant more than the end of slaveholding (“Mr. Otis’s Speech” 1835). In the popular imagination of the early nineteenth century, abolition named a utopian program of mass reeducation that would indoctrinate its white listeners and readers into a new set of moral beliefs. The fact that even children were addressed by this pedagogy means that abolitionists considered it necessary to alienate future citizens from their allegiance to their government, and to remake the nation from the ground up. The concept...

  6. 2 Aesthetics
    (pp. 10-12)
    Russ Castronovo

    At once universal and specific, transcendent as well as deeply historical, property of individual feeling but also affecting the mass subject, “aesthetics” have been notoriously difficult to define. This imprecision explains why aesthetics have often been invoked as a progressive force that opens new conceptual horizons and just as often derided as a tired elitist dodge that preserves the status quo. The divided and shifting ground upon which matters of beauty, perception, taste, and the sublime stand stems from elemental fissures between art and politics. Such fissures may be more fantasy than actuality, however; when aesthetics are historicized in terms...

  7. 3 African
    (pp. 12-16)
    Kevin 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. Correspondingly, 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...

  8. 4 America
    (pp. 16-22)
    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...

  9. 5 Asian
    (pp. 22-26)
    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...

  10. 6 Body
    (pp. 26-29)
    Eva Cherniavsky

    As a term that designates the physical or material frame of human and other living beings, “body” has a long career in the language and a relatively brief one as a focus of critical engagement in the study of culture. For Christian theology as for speculative philosophy in the West, the body figures as the devalued term in a structuring dualism of body/soul (in sacred thought) and body/mind (in secular traditions). These dualisms apprehend the body as a material substrate of human life that is fundamentally distinct from and subordinated to the privileged term in the dichotomy (mind, soul), which...

  11. 7 Border
    (pp. 29-32)
    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 have erupted across the world and as the U.S. government has prepared to militarize 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 socio-political and economic developments over the last quarter of the...

  12. 8 Capitalism
    (pp. 32-36)
    David F. Ruccio

    While the capitalist system is generally celebrated within mainstream economic research, American cultural studies scholars will search in vain through those writings for actual discussions of the term “capitalism.” Instead, neoclassical and Keynesian economists take as their object a system that is variously referred to as the “market economy” (in which individuals and private firms make decisions about consumption and production in decentralized markets), a “mixed economy” (in which marketplace activities are mixed with government “commands”), or just “the economy” (defined by scarce means and unlimited desires, the correct balancing of which is said to characterize all societies) (Stiglitz and...

  13. 9 Citizenship
    (pp. 37-42)
    Lauren Berlant

    Although we tend to think of citizenship as something national, originally thecitizenwas simply a certain kind of someone who lived in a Greekcity: 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...

  14. 10 City
    (pp. 42-44)
    Micaela di Leonardo

    Raymond Williams (1973) demonstrated the overarching significance of the keywords “city” and “country,” establishing the simultaneously positive and negative inflections of urbanity. On the positive side were the values of learning, light, progress, civilization, cosmopolitanism, tolerance and civil liberties, excitement and sophistication; on the negative lay the countervalues of sin, darkness and noise, corruption and devolution, danger and violence, irreligion, mob rule, and anomie. In short, urban modernity and its discontents.

    As Williams noted, these city/country oppositions are always invoked in the service of political interests. Diverse social actors described European and, later, U.S. urban life in ways that shifted...

  15. 11 Civilization
    (pp. 44-49)
    David S. Shields

    “Civilization” refers to an ideal perpetually contested, a condition perpetually threatened, and a practice perpetually prescribed. It is a term employed by academics and cultural theorists, policy pundits, and government officials in the United States and around the world. In the view of G. R. Collingwood (1971) and a host of lesser defenders of “Western heritage,” it is the political order and cultural treasure of the West threatened by totalitarian, proletarian, and jihadist barbarities. It is the globally exportable condition of social development promoted by the United Nations Civil Society Organizations and Participation Programme. It is the seductive discipline of...

  16. 12 Class
    (pp. 49-52)
    Eric Lott

    As an analytical tool and historiographical category, class has an important place in American cultural studies, if only because so many 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 who would only...

  17. 13 Colonial
    (pp. 52-56)
    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.

    Though it has...

  18. 14 Community
    (pp. 57-60)
    Miranda Joseph

    In the contemporary United States, the term “community” is used so pervasively it would appear to be nearly meaningless. And in fact the term is often deployed more for its performative effect of being “warmly persuasive” than for any descriptive work it accomplishes (R. Williams 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 in this way for Starbucks and McDonald’s, both of which display pamphlets in their stores proclaiming their...

  19. 15 Contract
    (pp. 60-64)
    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...

  20. 16 Coolie
    (pp. 64-66)
    Moon-Ho Jung

    The word “coolie” is first and foremost a product of European expansion into Asia and the Americas. Of Tamil, Chinese, or other origin, it was popularized by Portuguese sailors and merchants across Asia beginning in the sixteenth century and later adopted by fellow European traders on the high seas and in port cities. By the eighteenth century, “coolie” referred to a laborer of India or China, hired locally or shipped abroad. The word took on a new significance in the nineteenth century, as the beginnings of abolition remade “coolies” into indentured laborers in high demand across the world, particularly in...

  21. 17 Corporation
    (pp. 66-71)
    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...

  22. 18 Culture
    (pp. 71-76)
    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 rootcolere, which also included in its original meanings “inhabit” (as in colonize), “protect,” and “honor with worship” (as in cult). According to Raymond Williams (1976), 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 artistic activity...

  23. 19 Democracy
    (pp. 76-79)
    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, 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 not...

  24. 20 Dialect
    (pp. 80-81)
    Shelley Fisher Fishkin

    It is probably both fortuitous and overdetermined that the critic most responsible for the view of dialect writing that American cultural studies critics are challenging today was a man by the name of Krapp. Writing in the 1920s, George Philip Krapp (1925, 1926) insisted that dialect writing was a highbrow literary convention that always involved a patronizing class-based condescension. Krapp’s view came to dominate scholarship on the topic through much of the twentieth century. Indeed, it is echoed in the ten-volumeEncyclopedia of Language and Linguisticspublished in 1994, which avers that dialect speakers in literature are usually presented as...

  25. 21 Diaspora
    (pp. 81-84)
    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...

  26. 22 Disability
    (pp. 85-88)
    Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren

    As a keyword in American studies and cultural studies, the site of a political movement, and the name of an emergent interdisciplinary field, “disability” articulates vital connections among public histories, the many communities formed by people with disabilities, and various modes of cultural theory. The term by necessity foregrounds the social construction of disability and the way the disabled are all too often rendered invisible and powerless due to the mainstream tendency to valorize the normal body. Legal changes, as well as concomitant activist work at the grassroots level, shifted the emphasis on disability as a set of medical conditions...

  27. 23 Domestic
    (pp. 88-92)
    Rosemary Marangoly George

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

    Theorizing the domestic has been integral to many academic disciplines:...

  28. 24 Economy
    (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 (Mitchell 2005).

    In earlier periods, “economy”...

  29. 25 Empire
    (pp. 95-101)
    Shelley Streeby

    In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, it was often observed that the word “empire” was becoming increasingly popular as a way to describe the current form of U.S. power in the world. Many commentators noted that while the meanings of the word had previously been overwhelmingly negative, a host of best-selling books, policy statements, newspaper editorials, and other sources promoted the idea of an American empire. One example among many was Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2003 Christmas card, which contained the following quotation, attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground...

  30. 26 Environment
    (pp. 101-103)
    Vermonja R. Alston

    In its broadest sense, the term “environment” indexes contested terrains located at the intersections of political, social, cultural, and ecological economies. In its narrowest sense, it refers to the place of nature in human history. In each of these usages, representations of the natural world are understood as having decisive force in shaping environmental policy and the environmental imagination. Conservation politics were inspired by interpretations of particular places as untouched by the industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century, while much contemporary ecocriticism has continued the mainstream preoccupation with wilderness traditions, pastoralism, and the Romantic impulse of nature writing. Environmental justice...

  31. 27 Ethnicity
    (pp. 103-108)
    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,...

  32. 28 Exceptionalism
    (pp. 108-112)
    Donald E. Pease

    Given the significance of the keyword “exceptionalism” within the field of American studies, it is ironic that the word is not originally an “American” coinage. Joseph Stalin devised the phrase “the heresy of American Exceptionalism” in 1929 to justify his excommunication of the Lovestoneites from the ranks of the Communist International (J. Alexander 1981; Tyrell 1991). The Lovestoneites were a faction whose leader, Jay Lovestone, had already broken with the American Communist Party over what was then referred to as the national question, specifically the question of whether and how to work with established U.S. trade unions. The Lovestoneites provoked...

  33. 29 Family
    (pp. 112-116)
    Carla L. Peterson

    “Family” is one of the most widely invoked words today. Friends and colleagues talk about family. It is a central topic in biography, autobiography, and fiction. TV sitcoms, theater, and film regularly portray families in their many variegated forms. In addition, family is a significant point of reference in public policy, whether in debates over welfare, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), immigration laws, or, most recently, “family values.” The word has of course a long history in U.S. culture. In 1869, for example, Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe began their bookThe American Woman’s Homeby posing...

  34. 30 Gender
    (pp. 116-120)
    Judith 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 upon the differences produced by the social marking we call “sex” or “sexual difference.” Post-structuralist feminist theory queries this common usage by suggesting that the critique of male bias or gender neutrality comes with its own set of problems: namely, a premature and problematic...

  35. 31 Globalization
    (pp. 120-123)
    Lisa Lowe

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

  36. 32 Identity
    (pp. 123-127)
    Carla Kaplan

    One of our most common terms, “identity” is rarely defined. In everyday language, its most common usages—“personal identity” and “social identity”—designate meanings not only distinct from one another but also hierarchically related. Personal identity is often assumed to mediate between social identities and make sense of them. Whereas our social identities shift throughout the day, what allows us to move coherently from one to another is often imagined to be our personal identity, or “who we are”—our constant.

    Hence, personal identity conventionally arbitrates taste and lifestyle. “It’s just not me,” a potential homebuyer says to her realtor....

  37. 33 Immigration
    (pp. 127-131)
    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 Dictionary(4th ed.) to 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.Emigrate and immigrateare used only of people and imply a permanent move, generally across a political boundary.” As this...

  38. 34 Indian
    (pp. 132-135)
    Robert Warrior

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

  39. 35 Interiority
    (pp. 135-137)
    Christopher Castiglia

    An amorphous space located somewhere “inside” the human body, generating conviction (“that’s just how I feel inside”), satisfaction (“I felt all warm inside”), and even identity (“I have to be who I am inside”), “interiority” has preoccupied recent work in American cultural studies. This preoccupation arguably stems from the influence of Michel Foucault’s (1975) analysis of the institutional discourses shaping, implementing, and managing subjectivity and will. “Interiority,” in these contexts, is the precondition and outcome of power as new knowledge regimes (pedagogical, medical, and penal) have shifted social control from forces exertedonthe body (punishment) to institutional incentives to...

  40. 36 Internment
    (pp. 137-139)
    Caroline Chung Simpson

    For many American studies scholars, “internment” identifies the specific process of relocation and resettlement of Japanese Americans during the early years of World War II. Indeed, theOxford English Dictionary’s definition of “intern,” the verb form on which “internment” is based, as “to confine as a prisoner” is an obvious and essential starting point for the discussion of internment. Yet a further investigation of the significance of internment as a keyword in American studies also requires an understanding of internment not simply as an unusual act of confining or imprisoning citizens in a racial democracy, but as typical of U.S....

  41. 37 Liberalism
    (pp. 139-145)
    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 is, people embedded within or bound by one or another form of socially restrictive hierarchy (Williams 1976). 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 time, the term “liberal”...

  42. 38 Literature
    (pp. 145-148)
    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 the 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 historic associations of literature with literacy and polite learning began to change. Literacy rates rose, printing...

  43. 39 Market
    (pp. 149-152)
    Meredith L. McGill

    References to “the market” abound in contemporary American cultural studies scholarship, but historians and critics who use this term are not always referring to the same thing. As an abstract noun, “market” can refer to the potential demand for a commodity or service, or to the actual state of trade at any one moment; it can refer to the trading network for a particular commodity, or, more generally, to the business of buying and selling. The phrases “market society” and “market culture” are frequently used to invoke the promises and constraints of a capitalist economy, even though the buying and...

  44. 40 Marriage
    (pp. 152-156)
    Elizabeth Freeman

    Marriage seems to be an ordinary fact of life, not a contested concept. In U.S. culture, however, the 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 and economic interests, whose exterior is marked by sexual “deviants.” Yet as an aspect of modern emotional life in the United States, marriage is the ideological linchpin of intimacy—the most elevated form of chosen interpersonal relationship. At the core of political debate and much critical...

  45. 41 Mestizo/a
    (pp. 156-160)
    Curtis Marez

    The terms “mestizo” (masculine) and “mestiza” (feminine) come from sixteenth-century Portuguese and Spanish, but over the past few hundred years they have been incorporated into U.S. English. In general, mestizo/a refers to racial and cultural mixing among Europeans, Indians, and Africans. As nouns, “mestizo” and “mestiza” refer to a mixed man and woman, respectively, but the word may also be used as an adjective, as in “the mestiza writer” or “a mestizo nation.” The process of such mixing is called “mestizaje.” These words have long and complex histories in diverse parts of the world, including Asia and the Americas, but...

  46. 42 Modern
    (pp. 160-164)
    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...

  47. 43 Nation
    (pp. 164-170)
    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. Although it appears that an initial racial connection among nationals...

  48. 44 Naturalization
    (pp. 170-174)
    Priscilla Wald

    “Naturalization” evolved as a keyword along with the modern conceptions of political belonging that we have come to associate with the nation. The term appeared first in Middle French to describe the conferral of the rights and privileges of a native-born subject on a foreigner. While the noun form dates from the late sixteenth century, the verb “naturalize” preceded it by a century. Usage of “naturalize” spread quickly throughout Western Europe in the sixteenth century, expanding to include the conversion of something foreign—words and phrases, beliefs and practices—into something familiar or native. With their roots in the Renaissance,...

  49. 45 Orientalism
    (pp. 174-177)
    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” (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 and...

  50. 46 Performance
    (pp. 177-180)
    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 comprises a dramatic script, choreographic design, or musical score. Over the last few decades, however, some scholars in American 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 elements, but cannot be...

  51. 47 Property
    (pp. 180-183)
    Grace Kyungwon Hong

    Property is as central to discussions of culture as culture is to discussions of property. Property not only references the things that are owned, as in common usage, but also a social system in which the right and ability to own are protected by the state. Property is commonly discussed as a universal state of being, and the U.S. nation-state is predicated on the notion that all citizens have equal rights to property. Yet in U.S. history, property relations have grown out of and secured class, racial, and gender hierarchies. The keyword “property” thus indexes a contradiction between the ostensibly...

  52. 48 Public
    (pp. 183-187)
    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 where no one has knowledge of the whole (Dewey 1927; Lippman 1927); on whether the...

  53. 49 Queer
    (pp. 187-191)
    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” or occasionally “transgender” and “bisexual.” In this sense, it is understood as an umbrella term that refers to a range of sexual identities that are “not straight.” But in some political and theoretical contexts, “queer” is used in a seemingly contradictory way: as a term that calls into question the stability of any categories of identity based on sexual orientation. In this second sense,...

  54. 50 Race
    (pp. 191-196)
    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 upon 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.

    Many...

  55. 51 Reform
    (pp. 196-199)
    Susan M. Ryan

    Embedded in the term “reform” is a tension between constraint and possibility. The prefixre- suggests familiarity, boundedness, and recursion, just as the rootformdenotes structure, whether institutional or ideological. And yet reform also conveys a sense of movement and potential. As Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in “Man the Reformer,” reform entails “the conviction that there is an infinite worthiness in man which will appear at the call of worth” (1983, 146). This optimistic undercurrent requires that reformers not simply deride the existing order but propose alternatives—that they must, in short,formsomething. And, to the extent that...

  56. 52 Region
    (pp. 199-201)
    Sandra A. Zagarell

    The keyword “region” may seem self-evidently placebased, both culturally and economically. But this commonplace understanding of regions as natural effects of a stable geography misses a central paradox; historical processes of modernization have created “places” that then appear to preexist or be peripheral to the modern. TheAmerican Heritage Dictionarydefines a region as a large segment of a surface or space, especially on the earth, or a specified district or territory; it thus registers, albeit implicitly, that regions are relational—a region is part of something beyond itself. Only the fourth definition, “an area of interest or activity, a...

  57. 53 Religion
    (pp. 201-204)
    Janet R. Jakobsen

    The keyword “religion” names that which is not secular, is associated with the sacred rather than the profane, and is aligned with dogma rather than reason. This series of oppositions 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 Enlightenment writers such as David Hume, for whom religion named the universal experience that marked the unity of human beings, even as it served to distinguish among humans on the basis of their different...

  58. 54 Science
    (pp. 205-208)
    Laura Briggs

    To speak of “science” is to deploy a deceptively simple word whose use confers the mantle of authority. As Raymond Williams (1976, 276–80) and theOxford English Dictionarytell us, the word came into English from the Latinscientia, meaning simply “knowledge.” In the fourteenth century, it was distinguished from conscience, with science signifying theoretical knowledge, as opposed to knowing something with conviction and passion. In the seventeenth century, it began to denote that which was learned through theoretical—as opposed to practical—knowledge. Already, the term “science” made hierarchical distinctions in kinds of learning, favoring the abstract and...

  59. 55 Secularism
    (pp. 209-213)
    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...

  60. 56 Sentiment
    (pp. 213-217)
    June Howard

    The term “sentiment” marks the recognition that emotions are social and historical. Feelings seem personal and interior—yet it is often easy to see that they are structured and shared. “Sentiment,” “sentimental,” and “sentimentality” are used at moments when the entanglement of the subjective and the public is implicitly or explicitly acknowledged. This entanglement makes them vexed and value-laden categories. They have a complex range of uses in everyday language, and have been the focus of much debate in American cultural studies.

    Discussions of sentiment always depend upon concepts of emotion—itself a poorly understood phenomenon. When I am moved,...

  61. 57 Sex
    (pp. 217-221)
    Bruce Burgett

    In common usage, the keyword “sex” names something an individual either is or has. It refers to both the material foundation (male or female) of binary gender difference (masculine or feminine), and the real and imagined acts that ground various sexual identities (homosexual, heterosexual, fetishist, sadomasochist, and so on). TheOxford English Dictionary(OED) dates the first sense of “sex” as male or female from the fourteenth century, though it also notes a more pluralized usage from the sixteenth century (“so are all sexes and sorts of people called upon”), a singular usage from the same period (“I am called...

  62. 58 Slavery
    (pp. 221-224)
    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 (18). Brown referred, in the first instance, to the worldmaking 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 of...

  63. 59 Society
    (pp. 225-230)
    Glenn Hendler

    “Society” is a keyword used in both academia and everyday life to refer to forms of human collectivity and association. These forms may be organizations with specific agendas (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; the Society for Creative Anachronism) or they may be delimited by an ascribed characteristic such as national affiliation or social class (American society; high society). High school students discuss society in social studies classes; colleges offer majors in sociology; and many universities organize their faculties into social science, natural science, and arts and humanities divisions. In political discourse, “civil society” is distinct...

  64. 60 South
    (pp. 230-233)
    Matthew Pratt Guterl

    To use the keyword “South” is to invoke, above all else, the importance of place and history. “South” is an imagined location, an inherently unstable unit of space, and yet most people in the United States feel they know exactly where it is: just below the Mason-Dixon line and just above the Gulf of Mexico. One needs only a compass and an atlas to find it. But the phrase “South” defies such directional certainty; it has multiple meanings, competing positions, and different personalities. “South,” of course, is not the same thing, or place, or concept, as “theSouth,” or “Souths,”...

  65. 61 State
    (pp. 233-236)
    Paul Thomas

    Gore Vidal (2004) recently observed that we no longer live in a state; we live in a Homeland. The Cold War is over, but the U.S. national security state (supposedly called forth by the Cold War) is alive and well, fortified—now that the State Department is no longer sufficient—by its Department of Homeland Security. The rhetorical sleight-of-hand involved in this transposition of “state” into “Homeland” is not without precedent, and the 2001 Patriot Act is but the latest incident in a long history of state-sponsored counter-subversion that long predated the Cold War (Rogin 1987). Euphemisms for “state” (“Motherland,”...

  66. 62 War
    (pp. 236-238)
    Susan Jeffords

    “Tug of war.” “Cold War.” “World War II.” “Make love, not war.” “War Games.” “War on poverty.” “Prisoner of war.” “War of the Worlds.” “Iraq War.” “War on drugs.” “Antiwar.” “All’s fair in love and war.” It is difficult today to open a newspaper or magazine, turn on a television, or go to a movie theater anywhere in the United States without encountering a verbal or a visual reference to “war.” Whether through reports of wars around the globe; declarations of “war on” a variety of social issues, from AIDS to poverty to crime; reportedly cheaper costs brought on by...

  67. 63 West
    (pp. 238-242)
    Krista Comer

    One power of the keyword “west” is its ability to conflate the geopolitical entity and physical topography currently referred to as “the American West” with matters of identity, style, and cultural belonging. “Western-ness” is highly mobile. If the term typically invokes conventional forms of masculinity, a good deal of its social force and moral credibility owes to a suppressed but sustained dialogue with that “other” West: “Western civilization.” Together these connotations map flexible investments in both masculine individualism, including “wild western” bohemianism, and Western civilization’s grandest claims. Since the late eighteenth century, Western forms of cultural belonging and style have...

  68. 64 White
    (pp. 242-246)
    Pamela Perry

    For U.S. census purposes, “white” is currently defined as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa.”Webster’s Dictionarydiffers somewhat, defining it as “being a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin.” Scholarship in American studies, cultural studies, and critical versions of “whiteness studies” has deconstructed and redeployed “white” in ways that have taken its meanings far beyond geographical origin and skin color. Specifically, scholars have examined the social-historical meanings of “white” identity and revealed its mutable, socially constructed, and ideological character. Others...

  69. Works Cited
    (pp. 247-282)
  70. About the Contributors
    (pp. 283-288)
  71. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)