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Spring 2006 Abstracts

Connor Barry
La Empleada: Invisible Labor

Latin American domestic workers live in isolation, an utterly limited world populated by one family. These live-in workers, known as empleadas, are strictly female and derive mostly from impoverished areas far outside the urban metropolis. Although they reserve the right to end their employment whenever they desire, societal restrictions and rampant unemployment make it nearly impossible.  An empleada answers directly to the female head of the household, known as the patrona, in charge of assigning tasks and giving orders.  In society as well as within the home, these women are subject to a great deal of racial discrimination, evidenced by a lack of trust and constant surveillance.  Based on research collected in Argentina and Peru, Conor Barry discusses the social life of the empleada within the household in regards to duty and expectation. In addition, focusing on domestic spaces such as the kitchen, Barry examines how issues of power and gender are manifest in the relationship between the empleada and the patrona. 

Tiffiney Conaway
Callin' Mr. Welfare

Popular culture helps to mold the ideas and opinions of the masses.  Often, these are based on stereotypical information.  Without any meaningful analysis, the public swallows the shallow information often provided by the media and popular culture. The consumers of pop culture then proceed to form ideas around this information. Tiffiney Conaway’s research project focuses on one such idea—“welfare”—and one medium of pop culture—rap music.  “Welfare” has become a cultural signifier: it is now a derogatory term that has come to be associated with a particular demographic within the US society, African-American women.  The paper provides an overview of welfare as it was originally conceived and as it has evolved, and explores how rap has contributed to the negative connotation of “welfare” by analyzing lyrics of popular rap songs.

David Davison
Our Invisible Spacemen: An Investigation into the Work of Street Artist ARD

Across the globe, a new generation of artists are bypassing canvasses and galleries altogether and taking art into the street. In recent years, public art has evolved into an inventive form that not only critiques contemporary art and politics, but does so outside of the gallery, making its viewing audience significantly larger.  David Davison examines the growing genre of street art through Chicago artist ARD’s Our Fallen Spacemen project. In an attempt to honor those who have achieved greatness but have been forgotten by much of society, ARD has chosen Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown line train as the venue for his ad-like prints of astronauts killed in the American space program. Using a unique process that allows him to mass produce these images, ARD prints on overturned advertisements within the train, hoping to inspire commuters to reflect on history at the societal and personal levels.

Kristin DeFrancisco
The Religious Iconography of La Santa Muerte: Mexico’s ‘Outlaw’ Saint of Holy Death

Death in Mexican culture has taken form as an "outlaw" angel of mercy. La Santa Muerte, the controversial saint image, meaning 'Holy Death,' has attracted a notorious cult-following of criminals and those living on the margins of urban society, both in Mexico and in the United States. Often portrayed as a grinning skeletal figure, clutching a long scythe, draped in a sequined gown and crowned with a glittering tiara, the image of La Santa Muerte may resemble, to the unacquainted, a drag-queen rendition of the grim reaper, yet to many of her devotees, she is worshipped as a divine intercessor granting power and protection. The project is Kristin DeFrancisco’s journey into the iconic representations of La Santa Muerte within the cultural space of the botanica leading to an analysis on the cultural dynamics linking ritual objects, saint worship, and religious identity.

Lindsay Dusseau
The "Real" Identity

Lindsay Dusseau is studying the effect of MTV's "The Real World" on the female body image. By analyzing texts and certain episodes, Dusseau brings a greater sense and understanding to how the show's portrayal of its female cast members has an effect on the viewing audiences’ own body image. In addition, through a focus group of high school girls who viewed selected clips of the show, Dusseau investigated how young girls are relating to the behavior on the show and to their own personal body images. Dusseau chose MTV's "The Real World" because it is one of the oldest and longest running reality television shows on air.

Jessica Forrest-Johnson
Apartheid: A Rainbow Road to Reconciliation

Apartheid in South Africa was a cultural, social, and political system that affected the lives and livelihoods of everyone in the nation.  This research focuses on the nuances of the Apartheid era and people’s creative – and often painful – struggles with racial separation in their society.  Jessica Forrest-Johnson traveled to South Africa in January 2006, and through participant observation and formal interviews, she gathered information about the methods used by individuals to cope with Apartheid.  Jessica discusses those persons who acted as agents of change as well as emerging strategies toward freedom being used by individuals and the government.  Included in the essay is a study of the background of Apartheid and the rising culture of change in a country that proudly refers to itself as “The Rainbow Nation.”

Cortney Hicks
Black Music as Black Life

Cortney Hicks's project explores the evolution of black music as a manifestation of black culture and as a mode of resistance against racial hegemony. Hicks’s project illustrates how soul music became a voice and an expression of black life evidenced in the lyrics of such artists as James Brown and Marvin Gaye. As the civil rights movements forged ahead in the 1960s and early 1970s, soul music was used as a counter-hegemonic weapon to undermine oppression and to encourage black pride. The project also explores the relevance of soul music and its importance across generations of African Americans through one-on-one interviews and suggests ways of preserving the unique purpose soul music has had in and outside of the black community.

Courtney Hooper
Mining the Meaning of Collective Memory and Imagination: The Construction of Identity in the Puerto Rican Diaspora

Courtney Hooper’s project illuminates the relationship between cultural resistance, cultural production, and cultural identity in the poetry of Puerto Ricans in New York (“Nuyoricans”). Through textual analysis, informal interviews, and participant observation conducted in the South Bronx, this project is interested in how the descriptions of the island as “home” are used to mediate a cultural or ethnic identity, particularly amongst a people who do not live there, or perhaps never have. While the construction of an ethnic identity and a conceptual homeland in a diasporic community has been studied in past research, the intention here is to elaborate upon the themes that previous studies have noted and to add an element that is essential: that of the subject’s voice.

Lora Koycheva
Genders Beyond Positivism: Choices of Avatars, Choices of Selves

Lora Koycheva inquires whether playing a computer game character which has a gender different than the player’s self identified gender is not a sign for a psychological androgyny. Examining the context of the virtual play space domain, her research brings forth the idea that the praxis of young adult gamers points not only at a self which practices its own metamorphosis as a way of negotiating ‘virtual’ and ‘real,’ but is also a harbinger of a shift in paradigm in US culture. Koycheva’s paper suggests that the metamorphic self re/writes and re/views itself during game play, thus experiencing a different psychological reality. Finally, the paper examines whether such a praxis of moving beyond positivist equating of male with masculine and female with feminine is not symptomatic of moving beyond positivism on a larger scale.

Dawn Maria Kusley
"Nothin' but hips, tits, and ass": How the Video Girls became Hottentot Venuses

Dawn Maria Kusley critiques the representation and the essentialization of women in music videos, analyzing the positions of power and the impact on society apparent in these images and representations. The representations of black women from screen to society have seemed to support and build upon the hegemonic structure that exists in American society today. This is evident with the video girls who are now prominent and visible throughout mainstream media, whose images are being replicated and consumed in great numbers. Kusley’s research reflects on the black female representation of the Hottentot Venus, and the former video girl, Karrine Steffans.

Leigh Novak
Starbucks Coffee in America: Consuming the Simulated Sub-Culture of the Siren 

Starbucks Coffee Company has reshaped and redefined coffee as a commodity, as well as the social space of a fast food restaurant. Drawing upon her years of experience as a barista, Leigh Novak explores Starbucks as the "simulated sub-culture of the siren," and brings an insider's perspective to the examination of the familiar world of Starbucks. Citing theorists such as Roland Barthes, Sidney Mintz, and Jean Baudrillard, Novak analyzes the behemoth influence of Starbucks in America and argues that Starbucks is a simulated replica of Italian cafes - successful by marketing the exotic in an undenialbly American backdrop of capitalism, corporatism, and homogenization.

Naomi Prescott
Frank's Place: Conversation as Communion

In May 2005, Puerto Rican merchant Frank DeLeon retired as owner of Frank’s Place, a locally owned corner store in Humboldt Park. Once plagued as one of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago, a rapid increase in economic development triggered a clash of cultures and values among the people living there. Naomi Prescott delves into how the DeLeon family and Frank’s Place created for 36 years a space that inspired dialogue and provided support among people from all different walks of life. But when Frank sold the building to a local Christian Evangelical church, there was a great sense of loss for a place that was the essence of this community’s identity. Prescott’s collected testimonies document the DeLeon family’s uniqueness in strengthening this neighborhood’s sense of community and the complex issues surrounding the church’s attempts to establish the same relevance in the community today.

Michelle Okla
From Kakuma to Rogers Park: The Making of An International Refugee

Michelle Okla analyzes the group of Sudanese young men, residing in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, and their status as refugees in the United States.  These war-displaced young men, referred to as the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, have become the poster children for the identity of an international refugee in the U.S.  The intersections of race, gender, and religion within their narratives of displacement and resettlement greatly contribute to refugee international migration studies.  The experience of the Lost Boys clearly addresses the misconceptions of immigrants and refugee differentiation and the stories and factors that lead to offers of asylum.  This paper analyzes the concept of a refugee, and whether or not they are considered viable immigrants or innocent victims of human rights violations.

Derek Riddle
Filling in the ________ & “Putting it to Word:” The Process of Naming in Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Does language shape and inform meaning, or are the words we use just crude place-markers to describe what otherwise is truly ineffable? What about words that describe emotions? Is there some correlation between the number of words an individual has for emotions and their mental health? Can a catharsis of alienation happen when only ‘sad’ is used to describe that state of feeling? How much is gained from putting feelings to any words, with or without a complex emotional vocabulary? How do therapeutic schools for teenagers deal with these questions? Do they think of them at all? Derek Riddle reflects on his experience at one of these schools, and in the process of reflecting on that experience tackles through language theory the philosophical motif of ‘the godly act of naming:’ does something become “real” when given a name?

Blythe Roza
Face It

Have women set their own beauty standards? Have they been able to move past the "housewife" stereotype? Blythe Roza explores the relationships women have developed with makeup today. In addition to providing a brief history of the cosmetic industry, the project looks at the data collected in a survey taken by a 100 college age women. The survey inquires into women’s idea of beauty, their relationship to makeup—both the act of applying it and the objects themselves—and the connections between different social and private spaces and makeup. Makeup, Roza argues, seems to be a part of many women’s identity: it represents moods and conveys desires. The survey seems to indicate that makeup is a conscious choice for women, worn out of desire, not social pressures. 

Seth Stauffer
Fabricating History: Analysis of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Award

Seth Stauffer’s essay questions power by analyzing Time magazine’s Person of the Year Award. This project reveals how Time oversteps its bounds as a news agency by giving the award and that by granting it skews the cultural significance of the recipients.  Time magazine uses its status as a news organization to construct an image of historical significance and presents this image as an annual award.  This essay is a textual analysis and examines the message Time is sending through the article that depicts the 2005 Person of the Year. Stauffer argues that presenting a biased interpretation of historical events undermines an individual person’s ability to critically evaluate the world, and his paper is one more step in the dialogue stressing the importance of critically engaging with media.