Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

GRAD WORKSHOP - Making the Self: Memory, Economy, and the Mask of the Private Sphere

Wednesday, October 18, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

133 S. 36th Street, Room 335
Hybrid: In-person and online. Link and papers sent to registered attendees.

Conceptualizing Diaspora: Women's Memory Work in the Public Sphere

Mira Phillips (School of Social Policy & Practice, Penn)

THE PROCESS OF MEMORY WORK AMONGST DIASPORA COMMUNITIES is intimately connected to the circumstances that surround their displacement. Prior research has focused on how these processes play out in the public and the obstacles that limit them. For diasporas affected by civil conflict, such as the Tamil diaspora in Canada, engaging in memory work to establish collective memories and memorialize their histories is complicated by residual trauma, tensions with individuals, the state in their home country, and non-supportive networks in their new country. From a gender perspective, feminist scholars argue that these activities are doubly difficult for diaspora women due to their relegation to the private sphere, and the privileging of “louder” (often male) voices, who act as the arbiters of collective memory and public acts of memorialization. As their experiences with inequality, violence, migration, and resettlement differ from men's, their absence leaves researchers without important nuances and perspectives when engaging with diaspora memory work.  However, while understanding and critiquing public memory work and diaspora women’s exclusion is important, this preoccupation also serves to background the memory work women do in the private sphere via social reproduction, or the activities involved in rearing the family. Using scholarship on gendered space, social reproduction, and diaspora and memory, MIRA PHILLIPS engages in a conceptual discussion to 1) understand the connection between the domestic sphere, social reproduction, and memory work; 2) critique the preoccupation with the domestic sphere as a site of oppression, while ignoring opportunities for resistance; 3) interrogate the over-emphasis on collective memory, public memory work and memorialization amongst diaspora communities; and 4) consider the implications of memory work done in the private sphere for diasporas' public memory. 

A Lesson in Risk: Life Insurance and A New Economic Citizenship in Late 19th Century United States

Michael Ortiz-Castro (American Studies, Harvard)

FACING EXPLOSIVE GROWTH AND UNPRECEDENTED COMPETITION in the latter decades of the 19th century, life insurance companies across the United States sought to integrate their business into everyday American life. This took the form of a variety of publications — from short stories and poems to ads and holiday gifts for consumers. Looking at these objects, MICHAEL ORTIZ-CASTRO analyzes their work as pedagogical tools, arguing that what the documents reveal are a persistent focus on the question of the proper economic subject and the bonds (pun intended) that bound them to a proper polity. These documents integrated themselves into their customers’ psyche — thus legitimizing the business in human life — by appealing to emergent ideas of the autonomous economic subject. This was a new development, for, as historians have noted, new ideas of entrepreneurial subjectivity became dominant with the rise of financial capitalism. However, rather than simply speak of the autonomous, atomized subject, the documents sought to clarify what the relationship between the insured subject and his larger community was (or, perhaps, should be), in this way introducing new ideas of the “economic community” into everyday American life. Clarifying this tandem approach makes clear that the question of citizenship — the belonging in a polity — is inextricable from the defining of a political public. This cultural studies approach to the history of life insurance, capitalism, and the subject offers a mode of analysis that brings to light the complicated discursive forms through which citizenship and political belonging are contested, and their deep connections to idea of health, wellness, and community.