- UC Santa Cruz
- Visual Studies PhD
My work explores the role played by the visual arts in identity formation. Making use of an eclectic assortment of primary evidence, including painting, photography, architecture, film and literature, I analyze how Americans both resist and embrace dominant norms of identity. While specifically concerned with the impact of identity formation on disempowered peoples, my scholarship consistently addresses the role of art in representing the identities of our society's most privileged members. In other words, instead of focusing on how images impact our sense of what it means to be "feminine" or "black," I explore how they condition our understanding of being "masculine" and "white."
Concerned that the historical emphasis of scholars on representations of disempowered peoples has inadvertently reinforced the perception that empowered identities are fixed, or even natural, I illuminate their constructed and fluid nature. Because the identity of blacks, for example, has long been defined in opposition to that of whites, it is clear that privileged racial categories must play a significant role in impacting the lived experiences of people of color. People of color are ultimately harmed by racial norms and expectations that disadvantage them, but also by racial values that confer unearned advantages to whites.
My 2005 book, Sight Unseen, explores how racial identity guides the interpretation of the visual world. Through a careful analysis of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paintings, photographs, museums, and early motion pictures, I illustrate how a shared investment in whiteness invisibly guides what European-Americans see, what they accept as true, and ultimately, what legal, social, and economic policies they enact.
University of California at Santa Cruz
Porter Faculty Services
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
I teach a range of thematic courses on U.S. and European art and culture, which loosely mirror my research interests. Particular courses examine the construction of gender, race, class, sexuality, consumer culture and nationalism. Little concerned with students mastering a particular canon of art, I work instead to provide them with new conceptual frameworks for understanding the links between representation and social power.