Dissertation Awards Support Promising Projects

The Program in Critical Theory will support four Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2017-2018. William Callison and Stephen McIsaac will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Lawrence Yang and Tasha Hauff have won, respectively, a summer grant and a travel award.

Fellowships are awarded to Critical Theory Designated Emphasis students with records of achievement and promising dissertation projects. Support for this year’s fellows is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, through the UC Berkeley College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Arts and Humanities.

William Callison is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation “The Irrational Rationality of Neoliberalism: Weberian Legacies in Critical Theory and Political Economy” examines approaches to critique and scientificity that evolved out of Marxian, Weberian and related theoretical paradigms from the inter- and postwar eras. The dissertation traces how pre-Cold War discourses of rationality and rationalization became central to both the critique and justification of capitalism and socialism as “ideal typical” orders of market exchange and state planning. Callison offers a critical account of ascendent governmental practices and “forms of rationality” in relation to the descriptive and prescriptive categories of neoliberal political economy and Frankfurt School critical theory—both of which, he suggests, participated in conceptual and material displacements of politics (narrowly understood as techne) consistent with a postwar technocratic imaginary. In turning to the present, the dissertation draws on Foucault and other theorists to redress the political deficit in critical theory and to theorize political rationality in and beyond neoliberalism.

Stephen McIsaac is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His dissertation, “Impasse of Legibility: Violence, Psychiatry, and Generation in South Africa,” explores how the effects of postcolonial violence are rendered intelligible across different fields of inquiry, forms of life, and generations in contemporary South Africa. Taking psychiatric practice in one of the largest townships in South Africa as his primary field, he explores how violence becomes known as an object and a practice between and within psychiatric and ordinary worlds, considering how different forms of knowledge structure the demands, limits, and possibilities violence places on people and collectives. Drawing on a year and half of fieldwork, he examines how the shifting terrains of the therapist, the parent, and the child clash, creating an impasse in the legibility of violence and its effects, and ultimately puts in question when violence demands a response, and what form that response should take.

Because of a generous contribution to Critical Theory, the Program is also able to support Lawrence Yang and Tasha Hauff’s projects with, respectively, a summer grant and a travel award.

Lawrence Zi-Qiao Yang is a Ph.D. candidate in East Asian Languages and Cultures with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Tentatively titled “Speculative Statecraft: Logistical Media and the Transnational Chinese Cold War,” his dissertation retraces the propaganda media technologies and genres in Maoist China, Nationalist Taiwan, and Colonial Hong Kong from the 1940s to the 1970s. With a focus on the media aesthetics mobilized for state-formation through the representations of technical objects, built environment, and the organizational designs of logistics, his project is at once a media archaeology and a critical genealogy of the neoliberalism of the Sinophone sovereignties before the 1970s.

Tasha Hauff is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnic Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Her dissertation, entitled “Lakȟótiyapi kiŋ uŋglúkinipi (We revitalize our Lakota Language): Indigenous Language Revitalization at Standing Rock,” examines the ways Lakota language activists who live on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation work within Euro-American language, epistemologies, and institutions to revitalize Lakota language, epistemology, and institutions. Using data from participant observation and in-depth interviews, her dissertation maintains that both the translatability and untranslatability of indigenous languages into English can have significant implications for how indigenous people understand their own identities, histories, and interactions with colonialism. Furthermore, it sustains that an examination of the indigenous language revitalization translations must account for the ways indigenous groups work to revitalize their languages within the settler colonial entities that once sought to eradicate those indigenous languages.

Congratulations to William, Stephen, Lawrence and Tasha!