Hemispheric regionalism: border discourse and the boundaries of American studies

Bailey, Caleb (2017) Hemispheric regionalism: border discourse and the boundaries of American studies. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis engages with and intervenes in a number of insurgent, emergent, and re-emergent, pedagogies and theoretical frameworks of increasing relevance to area studies and, more broadly, challenges the discipline of American Studies to expand its theoretical and textual bases. Here the challenges of transnationalism (as a concern which all area studies need to address) and hemispherism (a concern more specifically related to American Studies) are the key motivating factors for the proposed reconfiguration of the discipline outlined in the thesis. These are pervasive and important strands of political, economic, social, cultural, and academic life, but which the discipline of American Studies has been slow to recognise and incorporate in any meaningful way. The problem here lies in the fact that for American Studies the nation remains an unquestioned and seemingly immoveable priority: studies of the U.S. become as exceptionalist as the object of their study. This project proposes that this subservience to the centre (the nation-state) at the expense of the periphery (the nation’s borders) can be redressed by returning to a much narrower sphere of experience: the region. Paradoxically, this will allow for an expansion of the purview of American Studies, enabling centrifugal readings of American (in its continental sense) culture to develop, rather than the centripetal analyses which have been the subject of much vexed discussion amongst scholars over recent years. By focusing on borders – regions which are always already transnational – this thesis aims to demonstrate that in shifting our focus only slightly beyond national boundaries, new critical techniques might be developed which can revitalise American Studies.

The study’s introductory chapter contextualises the theoretical framework from which the entire thesis proceeds, and develops and articulates the broader challenge to the discipline of American Studies which motivates the research. U.S. regionalism is introduced and interrogated through short case studies of New Mexico (the region considered the capital of early twentieth-century regionalism) and The Federal Writers Project (the New Deal venture that sought to tap into the potential of regionalism). Herein, regionalism is demonstrated to be far from autonomous of nation and nationalism. Woven alongside these studies is an overview of the founding principles of American Studies, demonstrating how the concept of region always collapses into the broader concept of nation in both regionalism and American Studies itself. In counterpoint to these homogenising moves, the real-and-imagined cross-border North American territories of Cascadia and Aztlán are introduced and make way for an examination of the concept and practise of regionalism in both Canada and Mexico, revealing its manifestations in these territories to be much closer to the supposedly oppositional stance which U.S. regionalism originally suggests as its primary intention.

With this potential oppositional regionalism outlined, the thesis moves to answer the various calls for new critical vocabularies to articulate the heterogeneous cultural life of North America and finds such a language in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Taking their concepts of the rhizome, nomadism and minor literature – as ideas that are designed with the task of challenging binary and hierarchical theorising specifically in mind – the thesis demonstrates that such concepts are immanent in a number of literary texts that emerge from and engage with North America’s borders. Works by Américo Paredes, Laurie Ricou and Guillermo Verdecchia are thus positioned as texts that simultaneously produce and enact narrative strategies that give voice to alternative identities that are not beholden to singular national identities. Having thus dislodged the nation-state as the predominant determiner of identity and ideology the thesis, via an in-depth discussion of nomadism, then seeks to draw an alternative critical cartography through which the Mexican and Canadian borders with the U.S. can enter into dialogue with one another in ways that disrupt the privileged subjectivity that U.S. ideology holds over representations of these sites. Tracing the shared histories of the trickster Coyote, and coyote the people smuggler, the thesis gestures towards ways in which critics can subvert (in the manner of Coyote) understandings of border regions, and smuggle new perspectives on region into view (in the manner of the coyote).

Finally the thesis moves to answer its key hypothesis: whether canonical material can be opened up to new avenues of interpretation if it is considered from a borderlands position and, relatedly, whether crossing the borders of North America can allow more marginal material to speak more loudly within the field of American Studies. Studying the music of Bruce Springsteen and The Band, the thesis argues that, in so doing, a multitude of alternative understandings of nation and unconventional regional affiliations can be uncovered. This has much to offer, in particular, to recently re-emergent considerations of Indigenous sovereignty in North America and the thesis concludes by gesturing towards possible further avenues of research that place regional considerations above those of nations.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Lewthwaite, Stephanie
Roberts, Gillian
Keywords: american studies, boundaries, borders, regionalism, north america, usa, canada, mexico
Subjects: E History - America > E11 America (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
Item ID: 43398
Depositing User: Bailey, Caleb
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 00:14
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/43398

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