Administering the Nation: Bureaucratic Governance, Comparative Racialization, and American Literature, 1870-1930 (working title)
Jasper Verlinden

Studies of nineteenth-century American literature and culture often thematize the massive shifts in demographics that occurred throughout the century and especially in the period after the civil war.  One premise of the research group is that these shifts—whether due to industrialization and urbanization, the abolition of slavery, the importation of labor from Asia, mass immigration, or imperial expansion—went hand in hand with the rise of a managerial culture that sought to aid the “search for order” (Robert Wiebe) at the turn of the twentieth century.  Taking a broad approach to management, this dissertation focuses less on management as a business paradigm, but rather on management as a collection of state practices that aim at managing society, or the nation as an imagined community, particularly through the organization and regulation of the population.

There are two broad lines of inquiry that organize this project.  Firstly, I aim to analyze these state practices—by which I mean specifically bureaucratic and administrative practices of documentation, classification, and standardization—and their involvement in processes of racialization.  As is attested by policies as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the legal contestations over the category of whiteness, or by the diversification of racial markers in such bureaucratic documentation as birth certificates, passports, or the surveys of the US Census Bureau, race is a fundamental structuring component in the legal and administrative landscape of the nineteenth century.  Thinking of administration as a means of administering to the presumed needs of the nation, I contend that the administrative preoccupation with the registration, quantification, and delimiting of racial and ethnic difference is part of a state-organized biopolitical program intended to restrict and regulate the labor, mobility, and access to civic entitlements of certain racialized groups as a response to the cultural anxiety over ethnic proliferation and racial purity on the eve of the eugenics movement.  Whereas this project certainly benefits from and builds on the significant work that has already been done on the intersections between law and literature, the focus on administration necessitates a shift in emphasis from legal discourses and court decisions to the ways in which the laws were implemented and how they affected people’s everyday movements.  As such, this project also requires an intersectional approach.  Special attention will be paid to the constructions of gender, sexuality, and dis/ability that inform processes of racialization.

The second line of inquiry looks at the ways in which racialized minorities responded to the regulatory practices of administrative governance.  Biopolitics is not only a matter of the “numerical manipulations of the body politic” (Ian Hacking), it also depends on the regulation of affect.  Thus, rather than simply tracing the administrative discourses, my project also aims to map out their affective dimensions, the emerging “structures of feeling” (Raymond Williams), through an examination of literature and life writing by Chinese American authors such as Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna (Edith and Winnifred Eaton) and Native American authors such as Sarah Winnemucca and Alice Callahan.  Additionally, I will look at racial quantification and the ethics and aesthetics of statistics and diagrammatics in the sociological writings of W.E.B. Du Bois.  Taking a comparative perspective between Asian American, Native American, and African American writings will allow me to investigate how these different racialized subjectivities are mutually constitutive and/or established in contestation with each other.