My entry into Hemispheric Studies as a critical turn of American Studies happened by way of exploring the theoretical and spatial shifts in Asian American Studies. As an Asian Americanist approaching the field from a comparative race perspective, and particularly with reference to Indigenous communities of the Americas, this entry into Hemispheric Studies seemed a somewhat fluid transition that frames Asian American Studies’ transnational turn within the Western Hemisphere, the location from which Asian American/Immigrant contact and imaginations of Indigenous communities of the Americas is most prominent. From this particular entry, my subsequent task of compiling texts that may fall under the category of Hemispheric American Studies provided me with crucial new insight into the anchoring concerns of the field and some of the new directions it seems to be taking. Yet, situated as I am in a field that is predominantly marginalized in American Studies proper, I came to this bibliographic work with attention to the emerging problematics that such a reframing in American Studies carries with it.
I first approached compiling the bibliography by simply typing manifestations of the keyword “Hemispheric” into the library database. I figured that this will lead me to some more recent articles that will direct me to older articles/books that have thus far informed the current dialogues in the field.The search brought up several interesting articles.Three such pieces I will talk about in further detail: Ralph Bauer’s Hemispheric Studies, Levander and Levine’s introduction to the anthology Hemispheric American Studies, and Janice Radway’s ASA Presidential Speech. Each of these pieces contained overlapping concerns and carried with them similar problematics. I relied heavily on Ralph Bauer’s piece in my construction of the bibliography, as his work had the most lengthy and thorough citation of works. He also categorized the works into relevant sub-fields, which I loosely gesture to in the bibliography. These categories are changeable and could be added on to or reworked if deemed necessary.
Both Bauer and Levander & Levine cite Radway’s speech as a watershed moment in leading American Studies towards a Hemispheric frame of reference. In her speech to the Association of American Studies, Radway calls for the field to move away from a positivist construction of the nation and national identity to one that specifies differences and contingencies in the making (and re-making) of nation. For Radway, this notion of nation as process necessitates a recognition of how the U.S. nation and its diverse inhabitants are constituted by internal (racial) processes. At the same time as we focus on this, Radway asks that we consider how nations, communities, cultures, and identities are constructed by their relationality. This has serious implications for a field that has de facto defined its “objects” within the boundaries of the U.S. nation.
In reading some of the major anthology introductions, articles, and essays that attempt to define the theoretical and political contours of this emerging field I found some overlapping features. Foundationally, Hemispheric Studies reads ‘Nation’ not as a preconceived autonomous entity but, rather, a constructed concept and thereby malleable in its contingency to intersecting, competing, overlapping spatio-temporal imaginations. It examines and registers cultural experiences as inflected by the materiality of these spatio-temporal imaginations, of which the nation plays a significant though not sole part. And furthermore, it seems to highlight race as an organizing rubric for the process of these imaginations. Therein lies what seems to be a central political component of the field (although I would not declare this a whole-sale criterion that all scholars have taken up): Hemispheric Studies broaches a critique of U.S. exceptionalism and recognition of the imperial gesture contained in the co-optation of the term ‘America’ as a stand- in for the U.S.
As such, Hemispheric Studies invokes discussions being forged in fields such as Latin American/Inter-American Studies, Ethnic/Critical Race Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. For Radway, “the complex, increasingly elaborated and refined discussion of the social, political, cultural, and intellectual consequences of both internal and external forms of U.S. imperialism has begun to demand new ways of thinking the relationship among geography, culture, and identity. [Radway] believe[s] that this work of reconceptualization should now be placed at the heart of the field’s agenda and that the association should itself seek ways to foster it through every means possible” (7).” For one, the work of scholars who focus on the U.S. practices of exclusion as that which provides its coherency offers groundwork for a necessary transformation of the field from a positivist construction of the nation and national identity to one that specifies differences and contingencies in the marking (and re-marking) of identity. In addition, work emerging out of Chicana/o Studies and Pacific Rim Studies and its focus on recalibrating the relationship between cultural identity to national geographies can bring to light the discrepancies between the idea of a culture as essentially attached to a concrete geopolitical boundary and the realities of cultural life as marked and consistently changed by the powers operating through the acts of boundary making and/or erasing.
Interestingly, despite the political grounding posited by Radway and others, Hemispheric Studies seems to be in overlapping contentious relationship with Latin American and Inter-American Studies. The domain of Latin American Studies has consistently looked beyond the nation and in critical opposition to the United States as general basis for its field of study. As such, scholars within its domain have issued very real concerns for the ways in which the Hemispheric may in fact iterate a U.S. academic imperialism that enacts the very power relations that it simultaneously attempts to dispel. Bauer cites Sophia McClennen’s critique of Radway in order to elucidate this charge: “Radway’s proposition assumes that inter-American Studies does not already exist, that it is a field available for exploration and development and that members of the American Studies Association could simply rename themselves inter-Americanists…. What would an inter-American studies housed in English and History department in the United States and taught by monolingual faculty be, if not an example of US intellectual expansionism?” (Bauer citing McClennen, 237). In what seems to be an indirect response to McClennen’s charge, Levander & Levine suggest that Hemispheric Studies can potentially avoid the trappings of the older models of Area Studies in ways that can disrupt power asymmetries. Although Area Studies in its general sense tends to take the geographic boundaries of the nation (and the histories it contains within) as a given, Levander and Levine recognize how strands of Latin American Studies have “organized around rubrics other than the nation. Border studies, for example, have focused on the particular locales that spring up at the crossroads of national cultures” (6). Levander & Levine seem to read these particular approaches to the nation as simply the opposite side of the binary of nation/not nation which, they suggest, ironically consolidates the preeminence of the nation-state. They posit Hemispheric Studies as potentially dismantling these binaries in its confrontation with the materiality of the nation and yet with a necessary “recognition of the processes through which nations are embedded in and develop gradually out of local and transnational circumstances. In short, by attending to multiple and sometimes competing conceptions of geography and chronology, [they recognize the hemispheric approach as illuminating how] the idea of a national literature and culture emerges out of a series of subordinations, alliances, and cross-fertilizations that make the nation a richly suggestive but hardly autonomous entity” (6). As Levander and Levine read Latin American Studies as perhaps too easily eliding the work of the nation, Bauer seemingly contradictorily reads this very field as upholding the solidity of national boundaries. He writes that Latin Americanists critique Hemispheric Studies’ impulse as part and parcel of the U.S.’s (and its scholars’) need to do away with the Nation at the very moment that Nation itself can be a form of ultimate protection against neo-imperial encroachment.
Such unclear delineations between Hemispheric Studies and Latin American Studies proved a major challenge for me as I compiled the bibliography. I stopped to ask myself, often, whether compiling a set of work in Hemispheric Studies necessitates inclusion of all works stemming from Latin American and Inter-American Studies? And, for that matter, Chicana/o Studies? Where does the line get drawn, and what are the implications of drawing the line in one place and not another? In addition, deeply situated as I am in Ethnic/ Comparative Race Studies, I recognized how the theoretical anchorings in Hemispheric American Studies are being articulated in multiple manifestations in fields such as Indigenous/Native American Studies. For instance, Hemispheric Studies’ interrogation of national boundaries and focus on multiple processes of spatialization as important to constructions of cultural identity has been a major focus of Indigenous/Native American critical work. In fact, although Bauer rightfully recognizes the invocation of nationalism in Native American claims of sovereignty, its very contention within the field itself bespeaks this kind of active dismantling of nation as an a priori condition. Because of this, I continued to ask: might I include most if not all critical works in Indigenous / Native American Studies? And if I do not, what are the power implications of that decision?
In that light, the bibliography that follows does not pretend to be exhaustive. It feels more like an entry point, a whisper of a suggestion of the path we might go. Yet, there should also be this acknowledgement that certain paths have already been treaded, and called other names. To not acknowledge (and pay due respect) would be to fully miss the potential of Hemispheric American Studies.
By Nhu Le, UCSB, 2010