Review, Compositional Subjects, Enfiguring Asian American Women

Review, Compositional Subjects, Enfiguring Asian American Women

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215 JAAS JUNE 2003 • 215—226 © THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS REVIEWS Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women. By Laura Hyun Yi Kang. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. 2002. Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women is an ambitious monograph that urges readers to think more critically about the usefulness of identity as a theoretical framework and the methodological limitations of disciplinarity. Laura Hyun Yi Kang applies her critique to knowledge produced by, about, and for Asian/American women, using the slash as a shorthand reminder of continental (Asian), national (American), and racial-ethnic (Asian American) pressures as they bear on our understanding of this cohort of women. In conversation with Michael Omi, Howard Winant, and Lisa Lowe, Kang describes the category of “Asian/American women” as an “overlapping but also distinct racial gender formation at the nexus of higher education, cultural politics, grassroots and institutional activism, and both national and international policies” (13). Kang bases her Foucauldian critique of identity on three intertwined processes—of visibility, surveillance, and documentation—that together produce intelligible and exploitable human bodies. Visibility refers to a process of naming and the resulting recognition of social identities, while surveillance and documentation ensure a fixing of differences within these categories. Knowledge produced through this trifold mechanism of “encased specification” is intertwined with and supported by powers embedded in academic disciplinarity. Kang warns readers that marginalized groups can claim visibility “under the most insidious compulsions” (18). For her, the creation of disciplined, identity-based scholarship constrains alternative possibilities for identification and knowledge production. While many understand the burgeoning body of scholarship by and “about” Asian and Asian American women as advantageous, Kang urges readers to rethink the “terms and conditions by which Asian/American women have been rendered legible, visible, and intelligible” (17).
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216 JAAS 6:2 Methodologically, Kang employs “trenchant interdisciplinarity” to think more skeptically about producing knowledge around social identities. “Trenchant” here signals an “agnostic but nevertheless situated relation” to existing disciplines and their complicity in contributing to techniques of social control. Kang argues that the prefix “inter” is employed as a spatial term, which implicitly reveals academic disputes over territory and the imbuing of disciplines with a seeming “fixity.” In contrast to this territorial figuration, Compositional Subjects proposes an “in- betweenness” or “being in the midst of” disciplinary knowledge and structures as a productive approach when studying the histories and cultures of Asian American women. By employing trenchant interdisciplinarity, Kang begins her task of
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Review, Compositional Subjects, Enfiguring Asian American Women

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