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Intimacies Between Empires: New Directions in Critical and Comparative Ethnic Studies

From: College Literature
Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2014
pp. 188-194 | 10.1353/lit.2014.0011

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The notion of intimacy has been solidly linked to the study of empire since the 1990s owing to the groundbreaking work of feminist and postcolonial scholars, including Anne McClintock, Amy Kaplan, and Ann L. Stoler. Indeed, by 2001, Stoler remarks that “among students of colonialisms in the last decade, the intimacies of empire have been a rich and well-articulated research domain” (2001, 831). The intimacies of empire most often evoke ways that empire exerts and reveals itself through “intimate domains—sex, sentiment, domestic arrangement, and child rearing” (829). At the same time, as Stoler continues to suggest in her now-canonical essay “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies,” the densely imbricated structures of global imperialism—including ways of producing and circulating knowledge within colonial systems, and ways of constituting and managing racialized and colonial subjectivities—also belie a level of intimacy between empires.

Two recent anthologies develop this argument about the intimate connections between empires, focusing on the complicated legacies of overlapping colonialisms on gendered, racialized subjects in the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Showcasing the work of emerging and established scholars working in the interstices of American studies, ethnic studies, and post–Cold War area studies, Militarized Currents: Towards a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific (2010) and Transnational Crossroads: Remapping the Americas and the Pacific (2012) both enact critiques of US empire and exceptionalism through intersectional and comparative analyses drawn across multiple disciplinary sites and geographic spaces. Taken together, Militarized Currents and Transnational Crossroads model what might be called the “new ethnic studies,” critical interventions that seek to challenge a more traditional, US-centric “four groups” framework of ethnic studies by foregrounding issues of transnationalism, indigeneity, racialized gender, and global imperialism.

Edited by Setsu Shigematsu and Keith L. Camacho, Militarized Currents “examines how militarization has constituted a structuring force that connects the histories of the Japanese and US empires across the regions of Asia and the Pacific” (2010, xv). The anthology’s thirteen essays illuminate the ongoing effects of militarism that have resulted from nearly a century of US and Japanese influence and activity in the Asia-Pacific region. Locating its argument within a broader context of US militarism, alluding especially to imminent and visible cases of US involvement in Iraq and the Middle East, Militarized Currents offers perspectives on the ongoing cultural and ideological effects of sustained imperialist militarism on both US subjects and those touched by US military presence abroad. At the same time, the anthology complicates the usual critiques of US empire by including works that interrogate the dynamic tensions between Japanese and US empire-building ambitions and actions in Asia and the Pacific. As a whole, the essays in Militarized Currents reveal the ambivalent effects of militarism on colonial subjects, whose identities and political agency have been intimately tied to the cultures, processes, and structures created and sustained by what Cynthia Enloe refers to as “militarized imperial action” (Shigematsu and Camacho 2010, vii).

The first section of Militarized Currents, “Militarized Bodies of Memory,” includes essays by Jon Kamakawiwo’ole Osorio, Teresia K. Teaiwa, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez that examine specific sites of cultural memory and how these function to circulate sympathetic narratives of colonial servitude and at the same time elide brutal narratives of colonial violence. The second section, “Militarized Movements,” looks at instances of gendered, racialized, and decolonial activism sparked by the experiences of colonized subjects involved in militarized sex work and serving in the US military in Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, and San Diego. Featuring essays by Wesley Iwao Uenten, Katharine H. S. Moon, Keith L. Camacho, and Laurel A. Monnig, and Theresa Cenidoza Suarez, the works in this section reveal complicated affinities and tensions among politicized subjects resisting colonial power structures within militarized spaces. In the third section of the anthology, essays by Naoki Sakai, Insook Kwon, Fumika Sato, and Patti Duncan analyze normative ideologies of gender and sexuality that support militarized heteronationalism and sustain racial and gendered violence. Finally, Walden Bello’s essay, which concludes the anthology, considers how the US has used its military to secure neo-imperialist hegemony over the Asia...

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