Appointed As

Feminist Research Institute


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of California, Davis

PhD Field of Study

PhD, American Culture, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Dissertation Abstract

"Politics of Composure: Performing Asian/American Femininities"

Politics of Composure: Performing Asian/American Femininities examines composure as a reoccurring conceit, emotional labor, and performance of feminized racial subjects through the multiethnic literature and cultural production of the post-Civil Rights era. Staging an array of literary and visual readings, from Yoko Ono’s 1965 ‘Cut Piece’ performance where she remained poised in an encounter with sexual harassment, to Anita Hill’s 1991 measured testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee, I see composure as a gender and racial performance defined by control. I argue composure not only denotes a willful agency in the face of misrecognition and threat, but also limns the potential of dis/composure, or the psychic and social costs of risking legibility. Racial femininities seat composure in manners very distinct to the narratives of racial liberalism but are often overlooked and dismissed as expendable emotional labor and object of women of color. While this dissertation focuses on Asian/American women, central to composure is a comparative analysis of literary and visual work by Black women. Through this comparative approach, composure is a capacious analytic which I distill for the dissertation’s focus on how composure both bears and disrupts histories of orientalist, hypercognitive, and capitalistic characterization for Asian/American women in the US. Since composure is defined by restraint and valorized for its seamless labor, my project offers a reorientation through sound and illness as evidence of composure’s conflicted subjection and subjectivity for Asian/American women. Composure may be read as a disturbing racial and ablelist epistemology for Asian/American femininity, and in each chapter, I show that writers, activists, and artists use composure as artifice to signal not only a need for accurate recognition, but also the desire for a politically potent relation to the social. In studying the formal and aesthetic qualities of work by artists like Yoko Ono, Lisa Park, Tina Takemoto, Laura James, and Vivian Bang, and writings by Nami Mun, Cathy Park Hong, Bhanu Kapil, Toni Cade Bambara, and Michiyo Fukaya, I show how they insist on expanding the political sensibilities of racial femininity and destabilizing her alignments with the promise of capital and white affective investment.
Broadly, Politics of Composure offers an original comparative method in critical ethnic studies for studying racial femininities and the implications of composure for the psychic and social. My analytic on composure draws together performance studies, psychoanalysis, women of color feminist theory, and Black and Afro Asian studies on the “composed” visual and sonic registers of the “cool.” Across these fields, the shared interest in the maternal or anti-maternal situate composure as a seminal scene for engaging with styles of survival, attachment, or detachment to the social. By recuperating composure’s relation to the detached “cool” that has been long guarded as the provenance for racial heteromasculinities and nationalisms, I maintain readings of composed racial femininities that go beyond sentimental scripts of valiant suffering or passivity. By framing composure as psychic states and a persistence on revising social relations radically, this dissertation reframes the manners in which women of color strategically relate to and challenge troubling ideologies that inscribe non-white women as extraordinarily insensate, indefatigably resilient, or lacking nervous weakness.