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Critique Essay History Humanities Journal/Diary Law/Legal Nonfiction Reference/Guide/Manual Social Sciences Theory

The Misrecognition You Can Bear

By Cassius Adair, 2017
By Cassius Adair, 2017

The Misrecognition You Can Bear investigates how gender non-conforming and racialized subjects navigate systems of legal recognition. Through close textual analysis of historical archives, literary fiction, digital media, and public policy, this dissertation examines how technologies of legal recognition—namely, identification papers such as drivers’ licenses, name change orders, and birth certificates, shape gendered and racialized belonging. Identification documents and their attendant public policies persist as controversial topics in twenty-first century U.S. life; voter ID legislation, transgender activists’ appeals for gender marker changes, stop-and-identify policing, and the emergence of an undocumented movement are all instances in which documents index social debates about identity and belonging. These debates are not confined to the headlines, but instead are deeply embedded in the social, aesthetic, and personal lives of those whose identities are contested through state identification. Drawing on early twentieth-century newspapers from Atlanta and Chicago, contemporary short stories by transgender authors Casey Plett and A. Raymond Johnson, archived posts from the early digital communication service Usenet, and a novel by Bengali-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri, I demonstrate how state regulatory practices are central concerns in both the political and aesthetic lives of marginalized subjects. I argue that these texts expose the mutually constitutive relationship between the legal apparati of recognition and recognition as a social and embodied practice. As such, The Misrecognition You Can Bear intervenes in transgender studies, queer studies, and ethnic studies through understanding recognition as both a legal status and an intimate relationship. This dissertation therefore explains why identification is, for marginalized people, both political and personal.

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