Research by PhD Candidates

Mohammad Mozumder

My research with the followers of Fakir Lalon Shah (1174-1890)— the greatest “mystic minstrel”—in Bangladesh shows how bodily practices foster an ethico-political subjectivity that combats caste prejudice, misogyny, bigotry, hedonism, and social injustice. I explain how the corporal body acts as the means of both spiritual cultivation and socio-cultural transformations. Social theorists of embodiment emphasize how the body mimics, internalizes, and complies with the dominant cultural codes and power. In contrast, I show that Fakirs educate the body (e.g., combat the vices and cultivate selfless love and devotion) and hone its dormant energies to nurture a non-conformist subjectivity. I also find that the acts of educating the body are simultaneously ethical and political. Fakirs manage desire in ways that escape Freudian-Foucauldian binary gridlock. Fakirs neither indulge nor suppress desire. Instead, they sanctify it. The initiates equally condemn “copulation for procreation only” and celibacy. Yet they glorify both the “flesh,” and this-world. By sanctifying desire, Fakirs cultivate an ethical relationship to the self to avert the defining dilemma of modern subjects—simultaneously fulfilling egoistic desires and restraining them for the sake of society. Fakirs’ sanctified desire strives to annihilate egoism and cherishes the indivisibility of human beings that constitute the enduring fabric of a counter-egoistic, ethical sociality.               

DaShanne Stokes

Politicians, researchers, and activists often advocate for the recognition of groups as "nations" to secure citizen rights, open trade relations, forge political alliances, and foster national security and membership in the United Nations. Political recognition, whereby governments forge government-to-government relations and use various criteria and means to politically identify and classify groups as different types of nations, may be seen as the first and most critical step in the process of obtaining these benefits, but we have a limited understanding of the factors predicting recognition as well as how the opportunities, constraints, processes, and mechanisms involved might operate as part of what I call an "Opportunity Structure for Recognition" (OSR).

My work attempts explain and assess the processes and mechanisms by which the political recognition of different groups as nations may operate as part of a larger political structure that produces different recognition outcomes over time and in different contexts. Emerging from my earlier work on the recognition of Native American tribes, in which political recognition has been shown to pattern tribal and state relations and to substantially limit tribal resources, opportunities, and citizen rights, this project holds intellectual merit as the first large-scale, cross-national investigation of the recognition of different types of nations. The proposed research also goes well beyond the production of data to predict and explain the recognition of nations globally. The empirical analyses will contribute theoretically to the bodies of research on the nation, recognition, and boundaries as well as to building a space for comparative research on different types of nations.

Jeff Tienes

Many studies have investigated rap music through content analyses of the cultural objects (song lyrics, music videos, etc.) and listener attitudes (misogyny, political rage, etc.) it produces. Depending on who is analyzing what material, content analysis leads to researchers’ finding that rap music is both helpful and harmful. My research focuses less on what messages exist in rap music, and turning instead to the micro- and macro-level forces that explain why these messages persist and what they mean to artists and audiences. My dissertation explains a system of accountability built around the rap music credo of “keeping it real.” This system influences the decisions and behaviors of aspiring rappers through their interactions with one another and with perceived cultural expectations. Artists believe that in order to “make it,” or make a good living by working full-time in the rap music industry, they must present themselves in a “proper” way to fans, other artists, and potential employers. Using ethnographic methods, my dissertation analyzes artists as they attempt to develop a hip-hop scene in Pittsburgh, create a persona, and try to make it big in the rap music industry. Many artists struggle to “make it big” not because they lack talent or shirk the hard work of artistic development. Rather, they find themselves caught between the rock of “keeping it real,” or presenting themselves honestly in their music, and the hard place of stereotypical expectations of what it culturally means to “do hip-hop.”