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The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies

Autonomy and Representation in the University

Mark Chiang

Publication Year: 2009

Originating in the 1968 student-led strike at San Francisco State University, Asian American Studies was founded as a result of student and community protests that sought to make education more accessible and relevant. While members of the Asian American communities initially served on the departmental advisory boards, planning and developing areas of the curriculum, university pressures eventually dictated their expulsion. At that moment in history, the intellectual work of the field was split off from its relation to the community at large, giving rise to the entire problematic of representation in the academic sphere.

Even as the original objectives of the field have remained elusive, Asian American studies has nevertheless managed to establish itself in the university. Mark Chiang argues that the fundamental precondition of institutionalization within the university is the production of cultural capital, and that in the case of Asian American Studies (as well as other fields of minority studies), the accumulation of cultural capital has come primarily from the conversion of political capital. In this way, the definition of cultural capital becomes the primary terrain of political struggle in the university, and outlines the very conditions of possibility for political work within the academy. Beginning with the theoretical debates over identity politics and cultural nationalism, and working through the origins of ethnic studies in the Third World Strike, the formation of the Asian American literary field, and the Blu's Hanging controversy, The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies articulates a new and innovative model of cultural and academic politics, illuminating the position of ethnic studies within the American university.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Institutionalization and the Crisis of Representation

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pp. 1-21

The development of Asian American studies as an academic field offers an intriguing case study in the history of the American university over the last three decades of the twentieth century. Emerging from the mass movements of the 1960s, Asian American studies has undergone...

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1. From Cultural Politics to Cultural Capital

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pp. 23-56

in order to describe the struggles that take place in the disparate fields of culture, politics, and the academy, we must specify the particular forms of capital at stake in each field, as well as the ratios of exchange by which the specific capital of one field can be transferred to another. ...

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2. Contradictions in the Emergence of Ethnic Studies

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pp. 57-92

This chapter returns to the founding of ethnic studies at San Francisco State College in order to investigate the competing ideas of autonomy expressed in students’ demands and how they shaped the development of the field. My analysis centers on keywords in the student discourse...

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3. Disciplinarity and the Political Identity of Asian American Studies

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pp. 93-137

in 1996, the journal Social Text published physicist Alan Sokal’s article on the “transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity,” which ignited a public debate over the place of theory in the academy until Sokal’s hoax was revealed. Shortly afterward, in 1998 the...

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4. The Political Economy of Minority Literature

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pp. 139-171

“Asian American literature” as such can come into being only when there is a socially recognized category of identity and an institutionally defined literary field. As a subcomponent of the general field of Asian American identity, the Asian American literary field was formed amid...

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5. Asian American Cultural Capital and the Crisis of Legitimation

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pp. 173-211

At its annual convention in 1998, held in Honolulu, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) presented a fiction award to Lois-Ann Yamanaka for her novel Blu’s Hanging. Immediately following the presentation, a resolution was introduced to rescind...


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pp. 213-233


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pp. 235-244


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pp. 245-249

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About the Author

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p. 251

Mark Chiang is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790014
E-ISBN-10: 0814790011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814717004
Print-ISBN-10: 0814717004

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 794701153
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Cultural Capital of Asian American Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Education, Higher -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Asian Americans -- Study and teaching (Higher).
  • Minorities -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Ethnology -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Asian Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • Ethnicity -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Autonomy.
  • Asian Americans -- Politics and government
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