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Elisabeth Chavez


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Beyond Diasporas: Transcultural/Transnational Issues in Recent South Asian – North American Texts

Dissertation in Literature

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Winfried Fluck
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Heinz Ickstadt

My PhD project takes its departure from the question “What happens, when ‘ethnic literature’ stops being ‘ethnic’?” That is to say, I want to investigate and analyze a recent shift in ‘ethnic’ fiction, in particular by South Asian – North American writers, away from a preoccupation with ethnic differences, collective identities, and issues of acculturation and mis-representation.

The basis of this study is a body of recent texts, which are marked by the ‘ordinariness’ of their stories of individual’s everyday life. That is to say, these texts neither focus on political struggles for power in a postcolonial setting, nor are their characters exclusively South Asians or to be read as representative for any (ethnic) group. This, however, does not imply that this recent literature is apolitical, quite on the contrary; but, the texts are concerned with more general issues and the precariousness of life.

This shift in recent South Asian North American literature is brought about by social changes due to globalization, which I will analyze in the contexts of transculturalism, as cultural ex/changes within a region, transnationalism in terms of social networks beyond borders, and transmigration as a changed set of mind that regards migration no longer in a departure-arrival dichotomy but rather in terms of opportunities and as multiple journeys. Using these three concepts, I will investigate how recent texts address issues of cultural mis-representation and exoticization, how they challenge national frames of reference and how and why migration is no longer linked to epic narratives or trauma experiences. The common themes that emerge in this body of texts are an increased individualization and aesthetic negotiations of the precariousness of life.

Authors central to my analysis are Jhumpa Lahiri, Anita Rau Badami, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Samina Ali, Mary Anne Mohanraj or Saleema Nawaz to name only a few of the most prolific and of the most recent voices to emerge.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft