Rangan, Pooja

Rangan Pooja pic2

Pooja Rangan
Ph.D, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
M.A., Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University
B.A. (high honors), Department of Cinema Studies, Oberlin College
Assistant Professor

I am currently completing a book titled Humanitarian Mediations: Otherness, Indexicality, and the Politics of Intervention, based on my dissertation, the recipient of the 2012 Marie J. Langlois Outstanding Dissertation Award at Brown University. In this book I argue that the humanitarian intervention represents a distinctly mediatized and insidiously neoliberal mode of contemporary governmentality. Treating intervention as a technological, historical, and theoretical frame, I survey projects in which visual media are actually handed over as a means of immediate political speech to marginalized subjects deemed to be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, including indigenous people, children, animals, refugees, and disabled individuals. I argue that the interventionist rhetoric of documentary immediacy through which these subjects are urged to represent themselves further exploits them by mobilizing their alterity as an unmediated sign of agency: to authenticate their authorial control, the subjects of such participatory projects are often required to actively and entrepreneurially reify their status and situations as “other” by drawing on the rhetorical tropes of directness, transparency, presence, immediacy, and indexicality. Because humanitarian media advocates ignore the ideological premises and actual effects of these tropes of immediacy, their benevolent language of autonomy and reflexivity conceals a predatory cultural logic that is consistent with the military and corporate logic of disaster capitalism. To wit, the affective work of humanitarianism’s beneficiaries is harnessed for corralling them into pre-coded positions of alterity, such as the noble savage, the mimetic child, the dignified animal, the resourceful refugee, or the rehabilitated autistic.

Thus, the visual immediacy of humanitarian narratives of media empowerment obscures the way in which they enact a Foucauldian logic of power. Since the recipients of humanitarian rescue are recruited as documentarians spectacularizing their catastrophic situation, their resistance paradoxically empowers the neoliberalist economic rationale of racialization and control. To remedy this, I insist on the urgency of historicizing the work of mediation achieved by humanitarian interventions. In each of my chapters, I show that the ideology of immediacy and urgency promoted by the condensed temporal frame of the “emergency” mandates a degree of representational violence in the work of bearing witness, when it comes to the hierarchy of priorities governing contemporary debates regarding child labor, animal welfare, political asylum, and disability rights. I propose that it is necessary to critically examine the mediated frames of humanitarian claims, especially in those cases where such critical work defers to—and is deferred by—the exigency of the ethical task of saving lives.

My teaching spans the fields of media studies, critical theory, and visual anthropology, with a focus on documentary media, discourses of childhood and animality, and contemporary humanitarianism. The questions that compel my research have to do with the contradictions of autonomy and control, responsibility and culpability, redemption and risk underlying contemporary discourses of social justice, and that indicate the complexities of the ways in power operates in our postmodern, mediatized climate. The courses I offer at Lang historicize these contradictions as key issues in the study of culture and media, and examine how they inflect and structure contemporary and historical debates regarding the sexuality of children, states of emergency, ethnographic practices, and confessional media. Some of the courses I currently offer include “The Queerness of Children,” “Ethnographic Mediations,” “The Confession: Theory and Practice,” “Introduction to Media Studies,” and “Mobilizing Shame: The Politics of Humanitarian Media Interventions.”
Courses Taught:
LCST 2450A: Introduction to Media Studies (Fall 2012)
LCST 3038A: Ethnographic Mediations (Fall 2012)
LCST 3046A: The Queerness of Children (Fall 2012)
LCST 3178A: The Confession: Theory and Practice (Spring 2012)
LCST 3038A: Ethnographic Mediations (Spring 2012)
LCST 2783A: Mobilizing Shame: The Politics of Humanitarian Mediation (Fall 2011)
LCST 2781A: The Queerness of Children (Fall 2011)
Recent Publications:

“Humane-itarian Interventions.” Differences (forthcoming, 2013)

 “Race, Racism, and Postcoloniality.” Co-authored with Rey Chow. Oxford Guide to Postcolonial Studies ed. Graham Huggan (Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2012).

“Immaterial Child Labor: Media Advocacy, Autoethnography, and The Case of Born Into Brothels.”Camera Obscura volume 25, no. 3 75 (2011): 143-177.

“Some Annotations on the Film Festival as an Emerging Medium in India.” South Asian Popular Culture volume 8, no. 2 (July 2010): 123-141.

Office Location:
Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts
65 W 11th St, Rm. 064
New York, NY 10011
Office Hours:
Mondays and Wednesdays 2:50PM-3:50PM
Phone Number/Extension:
212-229-5100 x2294


Research Interests:
Humanitarianism, Media Advocacy, Visual Anthropology, Primitivism, Animal Studies, Discourses of Childhood, Biopolitics, Documentary Studies, Media Theory, Critical Theory
Professional Affiliations:
Founding Member, The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Studies Seminar, Northeastern University, 2012-13
Society for Cinema and Media Studies
American Studies Association
Recent Presentations/Exhibits:
“The Elephant’s Self Portrait and other Humane-itarian Interventions,” Invited Speaker,  Minding Animals, New School and New York University (November 2012)

“Feminist Media Interventions,” Invited Speaker, Now! Visual Culture Conference, New York University (June 2012)

“Child Labor or Child’s Play? Humanitarian Media and Virtue’s Virtuosic Economies,” Marxism and New Media, International Conference, Duke University (January 2012)

“Refuse, Refuge, and Disaster Capitalism,” American Studies Association Conference, Annual Conference, Baltimore (October 2011).

“Child Labor and the Dematerializing Frames of Humanitarian Media,” Visible Evidence, Annual Conference, New York University (August 2011)
    • Panel Chair: “Documenting the Child”

“Speculating with Precarity: Gambles of Representation and Critique.” World Picture Conference, Annual Conference, Oklahoma State University (October 2010)

“Automatic Ethnography: Immersive Aesthetics of Indexing the Animal in Contemporary Art.” Zoontotechnics (Animality/Technicity), Tenth Anniversary International Conference, Center for Critical and Cultural Theory, Cardiff
University (May 2010)
Awards and Honors:
Marie J. Langlois Outstanding Dissertation Award, The Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Brown University (2012)
Manning Graduate Fellowship, Brown University (2010-2011)
Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Workshop Grant, Brown University (2010-2011)
Graduate International Colloquia Grant, Department of International Affairs, Brown University (2010-2011)
Creative Arts Council Grant, Brown University (2009)
Graduate Fellowship, The Pembroke Seminar ’08-’09 Visions of Nature: Constructing the Cultural Other, The Pembroke Center, Brown University (2008-2009)
Graduate Teaching Fellowship, Brown University (2006-2010)
CV (pdf):

< back