Dissertation Awards Support Graduate Research

The Program in Critical Theory will support six Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2020-2021. Jessica Ruffin and Elisa Russian will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Phillip Campanile, Aaron Eldridge, Donna Honarpisheh, and Jaeyoon Park will receive Critical Theory Research Grants.

Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, and the Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science.

Jessica Ruffin is a PhD candidate in Film & Media, with Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She holds an MA in German Literature and Culture from UC Berkeley (2018) as well as an MA in Humanities from University of Chicago (2008). Her interdisciplinary research brings together aesthetic philosophy, media theory, spectatorial theory, and media archaeology towards inquiry into ethical relation and aesthetic experience. Her dissertation, “A World Divided: Schopenhauer, Aesthetics, and Cinematic Experience,” draws upon the aesthetics and ethics of Arthur Schopenhauer in order to reframe the early stages of German-language media and cultural theory and to reimagine their figures of ethical relation in light of feminist and critical race theories.

Jessica has published work in Millennium Film JournalTRANSIT and Qui Parle. She has presented in panels and seminars at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies annual conference, World Picture, the Princeton-Weimar and Berkeley-Köln Summer Schools, and the University of Chicago Cinema and Media Graduate Conference. She is former editor of Millennium Film Journal (2008-2013) and Qui Parle (2018-2019) and currently serves on the board of Aubin Pictures, a nonprofit social justice media company based in New York City.

Elisa Russian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Italian Studies. Before coming to Berkeley in 2014, she received her laurea magistrale (MA) in Modern Literature from the Università degli Studi di Siena, Italy. In her current research, she explores the intersections among literature, philosophy, and sociology in twentieth- and twenty-first-century France and Italy.

Elisa’s dissertation, titled “The Autobiographer as Social Critic,” examines French and Italian first-person narratives that broadly address the relationship between individuals and groups. Using a comparatist and interdisciplinary perspective, she investigates the ways in which autobiographical texts redefined notions of personal identity in the second half of the twentieth century. In particular, her project traces how Jean-Paul Sartre’s theoretical and literary model influenced writers such as Annie Ernaux, Luisa Passerini, Walter Siti, and Edoardo Albinati, who, in their “collective autobiographies,” critically reflect on society starting from their own experiences.

For her studies, Elisa has been awarded the Doreen B. Townsend Center Dissertation Fellowship, the Norman Jacobson Memorial Teaching Award, and travel grants from the American Comparative Literature Association and the Modern Language Association. From September 2017 to June 2018, she was a visiting scholar at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, where she worked closely with Barbara Carnevali. Her recent publications include an interview with sociologist Eva Illouz, titled “What Is Critique?,” which appeared in the June 2019 issue of Qui Parle.

Phillip Campanile addresses the historical co-constitution of geology and political economy to demonstrate how conceptions of “earth” and “land” shape a number of contemporary imperial practices but especially – and perhaps unsuspectingly – contemporary climate change treaties. By deconstructing the underlying conceptual framework of programs such as REDD+, he seeks to demonstrate how traditional global powers look to ensure geopolitical dominance through climate change politics, not despite of them. With this in mind, he analyzes contemporary – and often problematic – calls to re-situate our thinking about the earth, whether by re-framing the earth’s history as Anthropocene or by re-mythologizing it as Gaia.

Interests include: critical theory, history of science, post-colonial theory, Romantic critique of the Enlightenment and technology, reason and myth, agrarian transition, Marxism, mimesis, landscape and representation, aesthesis, phenomenology.

Aaron Eldridge is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. He holds a BA (University of Alberta) in Anthropology and a MS (University of Oxford) in Social Anthropology. His work addresses Eastern Christian traditions, focusing on their post-colonial iterations in the Mediterranean through an emphasis on temporality, poetics, and the psyche.

Supported by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), his dissertation focuses on the return of Orthodox monasticism in contemporary Lebanon. The endurance of monastic life—from its weakened form during the civil war (1975-1990), to its vibrant return in the post-war period, to its staging in the time of the Syrian war and Lebanon’s economic and political antagonisms—evinces a temporality that cannot be easily captured within the paradigm of the nation-state or its crisis-time. This dissertation, as an ethnography of Orthodox Christianity in a time of destruction, lingers with the monastics’ dispossessive gesture of withdrawal (askēsis). Ascetic practices insist on the ambivalence of worldly destruction and its historical dialectics, which still yields the possibility of spiritual transformation and of divine disclosure (al-tajallī).

Donna Honarpisheh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She holds an MA in Near Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley (2016). Her interdisciplinary interests include: aesthetics, postcolonial studies, transregional modernisms, cultural studies, and visual culture. Her dissertation “Disordering Modernism: Madness and Aesthetics in 20th Century Iran,” examines late twentieth-century Iranian modernist practices in a variety of media—fiction, film, and painting—to illuminate how they express forms of psychic disorder in the face of modernity’s ordering principles. Examining artistic and literary productions between 1950-1985, her work oscillates between Iran’s particular historical-political conditions—two major revolutions, a foreign-imposed coup, colonial occupation—and aesthetic theories that draw both from local traditions and from circuits of global modernism.

Donna has published work in Symploke, Qui Parle, IranNamag Journal of Iranian Studies, Jadaliyya, and the University of London’s Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies. She recently edited and introduced a special issue of Qui Parle published in the fall of 2019 on “Trajectories in Race and Diaspora: Entangled Histories and Affinities of Transgression.” She also edited a dossier entitled “Global Student Struggles In and Against the University” forthcoming in Critical Times.

Jaeyoon Park is a PhD candidate in Political Science with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation charts the transformation of scholarly and popular discourses on addiction in the United States over the past half century. Working with texts ranging from scientific articles and diagnostic manuals to 12-step handbooks, it explores how addiction has been reimagined as a normal feature of human experience in our time. It reads this discursive shift as a reflection of broader tendencies in contemporary U.S. political culture, and as a window into the constitution of the late-modern subject.