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, visibility, and the human.
I am currently completing a book titled “Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary” (forthcoming, Duke University Press). 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 slum children in India to Katrina survivors, autistic individuals, and even 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.
Recently, I have begun work on a new research project that explores how the concept of the voice has shaped documentary—and what it would mean for documentary if we abandoned our preconceived notions regarding voicing. The book is tentatively titled In Defense of Voicelessness. A sneak preview of this work is forthcoming this summer as an article in the journal Feminist Media Histories.
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.
Before coming to Amherst, I taught at the New School in New York, where I developed classes on topics such as humanitarian intervention, ethnographic film, confessional media, the sexuality of children, and the documentary impulse. I will be offering versions of these classes at Amherst, as well as new classes on topics such as the voice in documentary, and the usefulness of Michel Foucault’s work for thinking about media and technology. I welcome thesis proposals on any of these topics.
“For a Critique of the Documentary Logic of Sobriety,” World Picture 9, Special issue on Seriousness (July 2014).
“Race, Racism, and Postcoloniality,” Co-authored with Rey Chow, The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies, ed. Graham Huggan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
“Humane-itarian Interventions,” differences 24.1 (2013): 104–136.
“Immaterial Child Labor: Media Advocacy, Autoethnography, and the Case of Born Into Brothels,” Camera Obscura 25.3 75 (2011): 142–177.
More information, including further publications, honors, forthcoming talks, and curriculum vitae, is available at poojarangan.com.