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2018 - 2019 dissertation fellows

juli case, english and comparative

J. Case headshot


Project Title: The Holmes Alpha

Julialicia Case’s dissertation in progress is a novel called The Holmes Alpha, which focuses on identity in video games. This book is a speculative character-driven novel about a group of gamers who learn that a controversial video game technology—one that allows players to walk into a physical version of their favorite game and become their avatars—was secretly developed and then abandoned in a rural town in central Illinois. The experience of the “alpha” (or test version) is both exciting and psychologically difficult, illustrating the complicated intersections between physical and digital experiences. The book draws upon the critical work of game studies scholars such as Ian Bogost, Jane McGonigal, Anna Anthropy, and Janet Murray, and addresses important cultural debates about the influence of video games on empathy and identity, particularly with regard to young adults. The novel explores important questions about video games in contemporary society: What are the differences between avatar and lived experiences? How are relationships developed and sustained between individuals who inhabit both physical and virtual worlds simultaneously, and what are the boundaries between these realms? How do our digital experiences influence, affect, and alter our experiences in the physical world?

ellen chew, german studiesEllen Chew headshot

Project Title: “Opera with Innovations”? - The Debt of Brecht’s “Epic Theater” to the 19th Century

In his notes accompanying his opera with Kurt Weill, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, “Das moderne Theater ist das epische Theater,” Bertolt Brecht remarked that opera should move away from the “culinary” or appealing directly to emotions, and toward a dialectical theater, a theater that would instruct audiences to think, not feel: an “opera with innovations”. These “innovations” were the basis of his epic theater, his theories on how the “words, music and setting” should be fully independent from one another. Despite his innovations, however, I contend that Brecht did not fully escape the musical and dramatic formulas of 19th century opera. The Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk fused words, music, and setting together. Verdian and Verismo opera featured prostitutes as its leading ladies - morally ambiguous characters, and emphasized the darker elements of realism, sin, and hedonism, placing these elements above the beauty of the voice. Looking at Brecht and Weill’s Die Sieben Todsünden, one can readily see, both musically and thematically, the influence of Wagnerian, Verdian, and Verismo aesthetics, although Brecht made every attempt to distance himself from these composers, their music, and their dramas. In my dissertation, I will investigate the extent to which the nineteenth century provides the backbone for epic theater, and if perhaps epic opera, with its gritty thematic content, stock characters, and musical structure, is more indebted to the nineteenth century than previously thought.

alex huffman, philosophy

Project Title: The Metaphysics and Semantics of Natural Kinds: A Case for Kind Nominalism

My dissertation concerns the metaphysics of natural kinds and the semantics of natural kind terms. Natural kinds are the categories or properties appearing in our most successful scientific theories and explanations, e.g., categories such as “massive body” or “charged particle” in physics and the corresponding properties “mass” and “charge.” Many philosophers, on the basis of metaphysical or semantic considerations, or both, hold that natural kinds are abstract entities of some sort, existing in their own right. Call this view kind realism. The main motivation for kind realism goes something like this: If we take scientific representations (law statements, theories, explanations, etc.) literally, and hold them to be accurate, then we are thereby committed to the kinds they range over and the relations between them.

In opposition, I defend kind nominalism: the view that natural kinds are nothing over and above their members or instances. My primary reason for rejecting kind realism is that the abstract entities posited cannot play their purported causal-explanatory role. I argue that natural kind terms play a semantic-explanatory role that fosters understanding without successfully referring to anything that exists (mind-independently at least). The members or instances of a kind alone are eligible to play a causal-explanatory role. I argue on metaphysical grounds that only entities playing a causal-explanatory role are ontologically committing.

huibin weng, economicsHuidin Weng headshot

Project Title: Estimation of a social interaction model with endogenous network formation

A large and growing literature examines the role that peer effects in the networks play in economic phenomena. Properly identifying the peer effects in social network is of real importance for policy makers in order to implement policies efficiently.

Spatial Econometrics is often use to estimate peer effects in network models. Exogeneity of the spatial weight matrix is an unrealistic assumption when it comes to model interactions between individuals. In this paper we relax the assumption of exogeneity of the weight matrix and extend the exponential random graph models (ERGMs) by including nodal-level attributes that would directly affect the probability of links between individuals.

ERGMs are some of the most popular models in network analysis but are in practice very difficult to estimate. A class of networks will be estimated by comparing two approaches approximating the Exchange Algorithm proposed by Murray et al. (2006). The first method is Double Metropolis-Hastings sampler proposed by Liang (2010) which replaces perfect sampling with a standard Metropolis-Hastings algorithm. The other method extends the Exchange Algorithm by an importance sampling procedure to generate auxiliary variables, called Adaptive Exchange Algorithm (Liang et al., 2016).

The Add Health data will be used as empirical application to estimate the peer effect for high school students on their academic performance.

maría del mar gámez, maría del mar gámez headshot photo romance languages and literatures

Project Title: Journalism as a site of Cultural Memory: the Literary Canon of the Spanish Golden Age in the Language of Hispanic Journalism (1975-2017)

My dissertation is a cultural studies project that borrows and employs concepts and ideas from the fields of memory studies, media studies, and the theories of reception.

My dissertation analyzes the use and reception of literary terms related to the figures of “don Quixote,” “don Juan,” and “Fuenteovejuna” in the written press of Spain and Latin America since 1975. It studies the way Spanish-speaking journalists from those regions use the above mentioned literary terms to describe present day reality in Spain and Latin America. In addition, it analyzes which of the readings of the Spanish Golden Age literary works that gave birth to those figures are the most common in Hispanic journalism.

Firstly, my dissertation analyzes the reception of the Golden Age works Don Quixote (1605), El burlador de Sevilla (1630), and Fuente Ovejuna (1613). It studies how these texts have been read by literary criticism since their origin in the 17th century until nowadays. After that, I study several prestigious and well-known dictionaries in Spanish to find out when the words related to the figures of “don Quixote,” “don Juan,” and “Fuenteovejuna” were incorporated into the Spanish language, and how those words have evolved through the centuries (both in terms of spelling and meaning). Finally, I study more than a thousand contemporary journalistic texts, published by the press of Spain and Latin America since 1975, to learn which readings and interpretations of the works Don Quixote (1605), El burlador de Sevilla (1630) and Fuente Ovejuna are the most common in Spanish and Latin American journalism nowadays. My dissertation shows how by referring to the above mentioned literary works the journalists are also layering an interpretation/meaning onto the work (or reinscribing it) and are also in a sense continuing the process of passing the literary work on to yet another generation.

stef murawsky, sociology

Project Title: Transgender Patient Experiences of Biomedicine

This qualitative dissertation explores transgender patient experiences of navigating and managing a stigmatized gender identity in biomedical contexts. Transgender people are a highly-stigmatized group in American society, making almost every area of life for them filled with discriminatory experiences. Medicine is no exception. Transgender patient experiences reflect many aspects of contemporary patienthood identified by sociologists – like the imperative to be knowledgeable about one’s health, engage in medical consumerism, and manage risk. Transgender people, however, face an additional set of distinct obstacles when trying to access care because of the stigma associated with their gender identity and the centrality of medicine to their successful enactment of it. The following research questions thus guide my dissertation: How do transgender people manage their stigmatized gender identities in biomedical contexts? Do their health care experiences and encounters vary by the type of gender identity they seek to embody (i.e. transwomen vs. transmen vs. gender-nonconforming/non-binary)? How might trans people’s other social locations (e.g. class, race, ability, sexuality) interact to constrain or facilitate their access to medical care that allows them to embody and perform their desired gender? To answer these questions, I will interview a racially diverse set of transgender people utilizing healthcare services who are broken out into categories based on their specific gender identities (i.e. transwomen, transmen and people who identify as neither men nor women). I plan to generate a critical analysis of stigma in healthcare that demonstrates how structural, interpersonal and individual-level transgender healthcare experiences are gendered and racialized.

murat yilmaz, political science

Project Title: China’s Development Model as Internal Colonialism: The Case of the Uyghurs

This dissertation investigates the impact of the Chinese neoliberal development model and the global war on terror on the Uyghur community in China through the lens of internal colonialism. The purpose of this dissertation is to make the case that China’s economic development is, in part, being achieved through a contemporary form of violent internal colonization of its largest indigenous minority group, the Muslim Turkic Uyghurs. It is driven by the research question: How does an internal colonialism framework reveal the relationship between China’s development model and the suppression of the Uyghur people? My hypothesis is that an internal colonialism lens not only best explains why the Uyghurs are not benefitting from and are actually being undermined by China’s Western Development Plan, but also reveals how a globalizing China discursively constructs itself and the Uyghurs to justify its actions against them in the name of neoliberal modernization. Through a qualitative study, this dissertation seeks to challenge assumptions about the success of Chinese development and China’s self-identity as a non-colonizing country, make connections between China’s development and its dispossession and securitization of the Uyghurs, reveal the range of resistances by Uyghur people within and outside China to these features of internal colonialism, and provide an analysis of how these struggles are being cast by China as Islamic terrorism, thereby undermining international attention to and support for the Uyghur cause and enabling greater violence against them by the Chinese state. This has implications for both the survival of the indigenous Uyghur and the impunity with which the Chinese state, as a world power, engages in political, economic, and cultural violence in pursuit of development at home and abroad.

na zhang, mathematical science

Project Title: On the Quenched Central Limit Theorem for Stationary Random Fields

The subject of this project belongs to the field of statistics for stochastic processes. For random sequences, it is known that the existence of certain martingale approximations implies the long run behavior of the normalized sum started at a point in an invariant form, called the quenched CLT (central limit theorem). However, it is not studied yet what we can say about the quenched CLT if we have the martingale approximations for stationary random fields. So this study is mainly aimed to investigate the quenched CLT for stationary random fields. The first goal is to establish the quenched CLT for martingale differences random fields. The second one is to investigate the projective conditions under which we have martingale approximations for stationary random fields.

past dissertation fellows

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