Current Junior Faculty Fellows
Assistant Professor, Anthropology
Sacred Rice: Identity, Environment, & Development in Rural West Africa
“We used to be able to do this,” many Diola villagers in Guinea-Bissau told me, referring to the complex technical, social, and ritual system through which Diola produce, consume, and revere rice. “Now we cannot.” On the frontlines of global climate change, rural Diola in Guinea-Bissau are no longer able to maintain a livelihood that has defined them for centuries. But this is far beyond a problem of sustenance. Rice is omnipresent in Diola economic, social, and symbolic life. Diola see rice as part of a covenant with their supreme deity, Emitai, in which they work hard to cultivate the crop and Emitai sends rain to nourish it.
Sacred Rice tells the story of a people’s confrontation with an altered physical, social, and religious landscape and its efforts to reinvent itself within these circumstances. Through detailed life histories it explores how Diola villagers in Guinea-Bissau bring their cultural imaginations to bear on the current circumstances of environmental change that challenge not only their longstanding livelihood practices, but the ways in which these practices are linked to their identity, their values, and their ideas about the past, present, and future. In this way, it offers an understanding of the implications of climate change beyond its narrow dimensions as an environmental problem linked to livelihood and economy. It shows how a desiccating climate reaches into the very life-ways, rhythms, ideals, and ideologies of an agrarian society.
Assistant Professor, Modern Languages and Comparative Literature
From Domestic Women to Sentimental Youths: The Rise of Modern Korean Literature, 1906–1917
My book From Domestic Women to Sentimental Youths: The Rise of Modern Korean Fiction, 1906–1917 aims to show the intricate historical and cultural route through which the modern individual–understood as a character whose incipient psychological interiority renders him or her capable of disengagement from social expectations attached to traditional social status—became the dominant figure in modern Korean literature. From a gender-conscious, post-colonial, and comparative standpoint, my research sheds new light on two major moments in the evolution of early twentieth-century Korean fiction: the rise of the so-called New Fiction in the mid-1900s, and the appearance of individualized figures with inwardness, angst, and uncertainty in sentimental short stories of the 1910s. Written by male reformist writers who strove to strengthen the nation by bringing people’s mores on a par with those of the supposedly more “civilized” part of the world, New Fiction revolves around domestic women whose identities are still rooted in their relationships to family, not in their distinctive inner-self. For this reason scholars often hesitate to grant the adjective “modern” to New Fiction, assuming that it was only meant to cater to the vulgar tastes of old-fashioned women. I intervene in this scholarly tendency by proposing that, by centering narratives on the figures of domestic women, the Korean New Fiction provided a testing ground for Western-influenced domestic norms—especially those involving conjugal practices, kinship relations, and womanhood—and, in doing so, facilitated an epoch-making transition from a family-bound, class-divided society to an imagined national community, a transition instrumental to the rise of the individual. Inflected by the influence of turn of the century Chinese and Japanese political novels, New Fiction often presented domestic women as the vanguard of the “civilization and enlightenment” movement in place of male activists because Korean reformist writers, unlike their Chinese and Japanese counterparts, became wary of giving the usual male avatars of their political aspirations prominent roles under the encroaching pressure of Japanese colonialism. As imaginary vehicles of a transition to the modern era, domestic women in New Fiction paved the way for the appearance of the individual in 1910s sentimental short stories written by fledgling young writers who had come of age during the turn-of-the-century reform movement. By emphasizing the impact of the figures of domestic women on those of sentimental youths, this book will offer a strong critique of the attitude prevalent in modern literary scholarship on East Asia that views the rise of modern fiction simply as a triumph of Western cultural hegemony and an irrevocable break from the past.