Category Archives: Graduate Students

An International Workshop: “The Social Lives of Keywords: Lenses on China”

By: Lina Qu

In January, I participated in the international workshop “The Social Lives of Keywords: Lenses on China” in Hong Kong. The four-day workshop from Jan 9th to 12th was a preparatory meeting to produce the inaugural volume for the Chinese-English Keywords Project (CEKP). As encapsulated by its initiator, Professor Louisa Schein (in Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers), CEKP is “a growing global network of scholars interested in tracking the multivalence, conceptual incommensurabilities, and generative gaps that emerge when key concepts travel between English and Chinese.” The project has garnered substantial interest from transnational academia, and recruited a good many world-known scholars from the United States, Europe, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to contribute to its multivolume publication. The goals are to capture the heterogeneity of keyword meanings as they migrate between sites and social contexts, and to take the “social lives” of keywords as lenses on China.

Since 2016, I have been selected to be one of the core members of the growing project. I moderated at the International Symposium “Conceptualizing Ethnicity—Why China is Different from the U.S.” at Rutgers and shared my work at the two-day workshop “Keywords in Social and Cultural Theory.” I was also included in the roundtable “The Social Life of Keywords: Embracing Conceptual Dynamism between Chinese and English” at the international conference of the Association for Asian Studies in 2017. I was appointed the editor-in-chief of the bilingual newsletter of the Chinese-English Keywords Project. We have produced and circulated the inaugural issue last August.

Sponsored by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Hong Kong workshop followed upon the previous workshop at Rutgers in March 2017, and provided a precious opportunity for global scholars in China studies to convene and discuss key concepts and theories on the theme of “ethnicity (minzu) and nation (guojia).” The fourteen participants were Zhang Yinong of Shanghai University, Naran Bilik of Fudan University, Guan Kai of Minzu University of China, Cheung Siu-woo of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Tim Oakes of University of Colorado, Boulder, Pal Nyiri of Vrije University Amsterdam, Charlene Makley of Reed University, Chen Junjie, Luo Yu of City University of Hong Kong, Megan Steffen of Tsinghua University, Derek Sheridan of Brandeis University, Louisa Schein, Qu Lina, and Kao Ying-chao of Rutgers University. I was honored to be one of only two graduate students invited, the other twelve members including established scholars and senior professors in humanities and social sciences. The workshopping was organized with an innovative methodology: drafts of preliminary entries on one keyword or a pair of keywords were circulated ahead of time, and then, at the workshop, members of participation not only made suggestions to each other but also collectively built the entries. Drawing on their own experience and expertise, respondents offered other meanings, sources, histories, and personal or professional anecdotes to be considered and incorporated into the entries. Each entry was presented by its “curator,” brainstormed with the whole group, and further developed in the breakdown group discussions. The method of outsourcing deployed in the process of developing each entry mirrors the social life of keywords, which derives its momentum from the diversified, contextualized, and even personalized usage of language.

Besides the fourteen participants, local scholars also contributed a great deal to the success of the workshop. In the afternoons of Jan 10th and 11th, Hong Kong professors were invited to the group discussions: Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chen Juchen, Ling Minhua, and Wu Ka-Ming of Chinese University of Hong Kong, Travis Kong of Hong Kong University, and Lucetta Kam of Hong Kong Baptist University. They offered valuable insights on the theoretical framework, publishing strategy, and potential readership of the keywords project, as well as flagged intriguing new keywords in their own fields of study. The brainstorming session in the afternoon of Jan 11th sparked animated discussions and paved the ground for the second volume on the theme of “gender (xingbie) and sexuality (xing).” Working with index cards, all the participants spoke out and wrote down relevant keywords in both Chinese and English, and then categorized them into different but interconnected topical groups.

The workshop was held at the beautiful Royal Park Hotel in Shatin district, with wonderful catering services. As a hub of global cuisine, Hong Kong offered us an amazing range of choices in dining. Whether at the hotel breakfast buffet, the Cantonese restaurant, or the dessert bar, the participants made it a great venue to exchange scholarly insights, as well as to build personal connections. The workshop concluded on a friendly and happy note, with each of the members being rewarded with fruitful new thoughts, unforgettable memories and a durable network of committed colleagues.

On the Importance of Blogging: Things I Learned as a Blog Editor

By: Maria Elizabeth Rodriguez Beltran

As the previous editor for the Comparative Literature Blog at Rutgers and a student who has submitted a few blog posts myself, I want to share with you some of the many benefits of blogging and why I think graduate students should do it more. You should blog,

Because . . . it forces you to write more often: I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, and as the famous saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” For me, writing long pieces or seminar papers can feel overwhelming at times, and article-length drafts are not really something that most people can produce in one sitting. However, because blog posts tend to be short and specific, writing them works as a perfect way to create a daily writing routine. Since we usually have to be juggling many other things at the same time, blogging can be helpful in thinking through ideas in a more compartmentalized manner, without having to spend a long part of one’s day doing so.

Because . . . it helps you learn how to write in a different way: As academics, depending on our fields, we are used to writing in specific ways and using a particular jargon that is comprehensible to others mainly within our disciplines. Yet, given the length and style of a blog post, we have to rethink how to make our work more accessible and clear not only for academics in other fields, but for nonacademics as well. Presenting your work to others in a language and genre that may be different to the one you are used to writing on will help you rethink your work in other ways, and as a consequence, expand the reach of your scholarship.

Because . . . it helps you to reach a different audience: Evidently the main benefit of blogging is that it allows you to share your work and ideas with others. In addition to reaching those within your program and/or field, and allowing them to learn more about your research (and the events you attend or organize), blogging allows your ideas to reach a wider audience that may not be in your current academic circle; and having an audience that will more publicly interact with your writing will thus make you a more confident writer.

Because . . . it can be fun and it looks good on your CV/resume: Many (if not all!) of us can attest to the fact that writing becomes much easier when you are passionate or interested in the topic that you are writing about. Blogging about an interesting event, talk, or research topic can be fun, and it can also give you exposure for others to get to know you and your work. Besides, publicly blogging is always a great addition to your CV, as professional organizations and institutions are looking for people who have demonstrated the ability to write and teach through mediums that are accessible beyond the academic space.

Thanks to the program’s blog, I had the opportunity to read and learn about what other graduate students were working on and many of the events happening on and outside of campus. I hope some of these points inspire you to write and share more blog posts so that we can learn more from each other.

For more information on blogging while in graduate school:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/literally-psyched/why-grad-schools-should-require-students-to-blog/

http://drewconway.com/zia/2013/3/27/ten-reasons-why-grad-students-should-blog

Presenting at the MLA 2018

By: Shawn González

The 133rd MLA Annual Convention, on the theme of States of Insecurity, was held on 4–7 January, 2018, in New York. One of our recent PhDs, Shawn González, presented on her current work at the conference. The Comp Lit Blog editors interviewed Shawn about her experience:

Could you tell us a bit about the panel you were involved in and the work you presented on?

I presented on a panel called “Teaching, Theorizing, and Reading Caribbean Texts,” sponsored by the MLA’s Graduate Student Caucus. The panel topic was unique, because it incorporated both literary criticism and pedagogy, which sparked some unexpected questions about genre and audience.

My paper “Theorizing Caribbean Multilingualism in the Classroom” emerged from my experience teaching the bilingual Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera in Latino and Caribbean Cultural Studies, a course cross-listed in Comparative Literature and Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers. I argued that Rutgers students who approached Laviera’s poetry from a variety of linguistic backgrounds offered an opportunity to rethink questions of ideal readership from the perspective of a multilingual community with a range of linguistic proficiencies. It is evident that the presence of bilingual students can enrich the reading experiences of monolingual students who could not otherwise understand Laviera’s Spanish-dominant poems. However, based on my observations of student discussions, I proposed that the presence of monolingual students was similarly productive as it prompted bilingual students to consider which portions of Laviera’s text were accessible or inaccessible to a monolingual readership. This paper is part of my developing interest in how undergraduate literature classrooms can be harnessed to consider issues of accessibility and readership in multilingual literature. My thinking on these topics was productively challenged through conversation with other presenters, both those who focused on pedagogy and those who focused on literary analysis.

Did you attend any other panels that were particularly interesting?

My favorite panel was “The Rise of Latinx Literature for Youth” moderated by Marilisa Jiménez García with presentations by Cristina Rhodes, Ashley Perez, and Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez. The panelists considered texts for young people ranging from Gloria Anzaldúa’s bilingual picture books to contemporary young adult novels. Each presentation posed questions about how authors represent the agency of young Latinx characters as they navigate difficult situations that might be considered age-inappropriate in mainstream children’s literature. The presentations were followed by a vibrant discussion that considered the role of the supernatural, authority figures, and the convention of happy endings. I left the panel with a list of new writers whose work I’ve been enjoying since the conference.

Are there other aspects of the conference that might be of interest to graduate students?

In addition to literary criticism panels, the MLA includes presentations about pedagogy, professionalization, and public humanities issues. MLA Connected Academics also hosts a variety of events at MLA including a career fair.

Finally, any advice for first-time MLA attendees?

Look out for the CFP from the Graduate Student Caucus. Their panels can be a welcoming forum to present at the MLA for the first time.