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. A selected list of my publications appears below, and a full list can be seen on my website.
My current book project, Audibilities: Listening with Documentary, asks how documentary films shape auditory culture, by modeling ways of speaking and listening. Publications related to this project include “Audibilities: Voice and Listening in the Penumbra of Documentary: An Introduction,” my introduction to a journal issue on Documentary Audibilities that I co-edited with Genevieve Yue (Discourse, 2017), “The Skin of the Voice: Acousmatic Illusions, Ventriloquial Listening” (in the 2018 anthology Sound Objects), and “Auditing the Call Center Voice: Accented Speech and Listening in Sonali Gulati’s Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night“ (in the 2018 anthology Vocal Projections).
My teaching spans the areas of media studies and critical theory, with a special focus on documentary and discourses of otherness, such as childhood, ethnicity, animality, and disability. My classes are often organized around a central question or contradiction, such as: “Why does documentary take itself so seriously?” or “Do children need our protection, or do we need protection from children?” I often find that provocations such as these open up revealing insights regarding contemporary media forms and the flows of power in our postmodern climate.
At Amherst College, I regularly teach seminar classes on “The Documentary Impulse,” The Confession,” “The Queerness of Children” (A First Year Seminar) and “Having a Voice.” I also frequently 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. I expect to offer versions of these classes at Amherst, as well as additional courses on sound studies and disability studies in the coming years.
In Fall 2019 I am teaching two 300-level courses: “The Documentary Impulse” and a new course, "Disability Media."
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Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (Duke University Press, June 2017) - 2019 ACLA Harry Levin Best First Book Prize, Finalist, 2018 ASAP Book Prize
“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.
More information, including further publications, honors, forthcoming talks, and curriculum vitae, is available at poojarangan.com.