Modern Culture and Media, Brown University (2012), Ph.D.
Modern Culture and Media, Brown University (2008), M.A.
Oberlin College (2006), B.A.
My research begins with documentary, but opens onto larger questions regarding power, difference, and the human.
I am the author of Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke University Press, 2017), which won the 2019 Harry Levin Prize for Best First Book from the American Comparative Literature Association. This book uses participatory documentary to tease out the implications of documentary’s founding humanitarian ethic: giving a voice to the voiceless. I focus on contemporary instances in which documentary serves as a humanizing prosthesis for marginalized subjects, from children of sex workers in India to Katrina survivors, autistic individuals, and endangered animals. The book asks how fantasies of humanity and alterity fuel the humanitarian impulse in documentary, and particularly its investments in the rhetoric of immediacy.
I have also written about topics such as racism and postcoloniality, immaterial child labor, animal art, seriousness in documentary, and Indian cinema in a number of journals, books, and anthologies such as Camera Obscura, differences, World Picture, and Film Quarterly. Some of my recent publications appear below, and a full list can be seen on poojarangan.com.
My current book project, On Documentary Listening, is about how documentaries audit the world, and the values they endorse when they hold themselves and others to account. Publications related to this project include “Audibilities,” my introduction to a journal issue that I co-edited with Genevieve Yue (Discourse, 2017), “The Skin of the Voice” (in the 2019 anthology Sound Objects), and “Auditing the Call Center Voice“ (in the 2018 anthology Vocal Projections).
I am also at work on two collaborative projects. The first is an anthology of essays titled Thinking with an Accent emerging from an online conference that I organized in May 2020, with contributions by myself and my co-editors Akshya Saxena, Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, and Pavitra Sundar and other leading scholars and practitioners of media, literature, law, linguistics, politics, and music. Thinking with an Accent will be out from UC Press in early 2023.
The second is Abolition Documentary, a collaboration with Brett Story, director of the award-winning documentary films The Prison in Twelve Landscapes and The Hottest August. We explore the role of documentary in the history and contemporary practice of prison abolition by tracking the parallel expansion of the documentary and the prison as fixes for social crises. You can read our essay “Four Propositions on True Crime and Abolition” HERE (click HERE for an accessible pdf).
My teaching spans the areas of media studies and critical theory, with a special focus on documentary culture, as it intersects with and opens onto questions of voice, listening, accent, carcerality, and disability. My classes are often organized around a central question or contradiction, such as: “Why does documentary take itself so seriously?” or “What needs to be abolished—not just canceled—in our media environment in order for us to imagine a world without prisons?” I often find that provocations such as these open up revealing insights regarding contemporary media forms and the flows of power in neoliberal times.
Some of the seminar classes that I teach regularly include “The Documentary Impulse,” “The Confession,” “The Queerness of Children” (First Year Seminar), and “Disability Media.” I regularly teach “Coming to Terms: Media” (a course introducing critical keywords and frameworks for the study of media) and co-teach integrated theory-practice courses with my colleagues in Film and Media Studies. Before coming to Amherst, I taught at the New School in New York, where, in addition to courses on confessional media and documentary, I developed classes on topics such as humanitarian intervention, ethnographic film, and critical methods in cultural studies. These remain persistent themes in the courses I teach at Amherst.
In Spring 2022 I will be teaching “Coming to Terms: Media” and a new course: "After COPS: Police, Media, and Prison Abolition" and in Fall 2023 I will offer "The Confession" (FAMS 455/ENGL 477) and "True Crime: Unlearning Media" (a new 100-level FAMS/ENGL course)
Please click here if you are thinking of requesting a letter of recommendation. The form will ask you a series of questions that will help you assess if I am the best writer for you, and your answers to the questions will help me draft a strong letter. I require at least 3 weeks (ideally a month) of lead time to write a letter and am unable to write letters on short notice.
Recent Publications (Selected)
“Four Propositions on True Crime and Abolition,” co-authored with Brett Story, World Records (2021); Click HERE for accessible PDF.
Dossier on “Documentary (Adj.),” Millennium Film Journal 74 (Fall 2021), co-organized with Paige Sarlin and Toby Lee
“Inaudible Evidence: Counterforensic Listening in Contemporary Documentary Art,” in Deep Mediations, edited by Karen Redrobe and Jeff Scheible (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021)
“Auditing the Call Center Voice: Accented Speech and Listening in Sonali Gulati’s Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night (2005),” in Vocal Projections: Voices in Documentary, edited by Annabelle Honess Roe and Maria Pramaggiore (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), 29-44.
“Audibilities: Voice and Listening in the Penumbra of Documentary: An Introduction,” Discourse 39, no. 3, Special Issue on Documentary Audibilities, edited by Pooja Rangan and Genevieve Yue (Fall 2017): 279-291.
Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke University Press, June 2017) - 2019 ACLA Harry Levin Best First Book Prize, Finalist, 2018 ASAP Book Prize