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Graduate Student Spotlight: Caroline McKusick

Caroline McKusick is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociocultural Anthropology program.
Graduate Student Spotlight: Caroline McKusick

Caroline McKusick, Ph.D. Candidate

What is your area of research?

I did research from 2015 to 2016 with women journalists in Kurdistan, Turkey. My area of interest is the relationship between news media and the making of the self. I mean first off that people make themselves—they change their actions and conceptions of themselves—based on representations they see in the news. But second, for the journalists and women they interviewed, being part of the news changed their sense of themselves in a deep way. I have also done research on U.S. media representations of Muslim women as part of the New York Times Media Project here at UC Davis.

Why is this research important?

I think the work of the journalists I was studying with was extremely important. Creating a dialogue with this practice of women's journalism is the most important thing about my research for me. I think it's especially important for feminists to learn from the practices of Kurdish women journalists, which has been interrupted and persecuted quite doggedly for a long time now. The only all-women news agency in the Middle East (and as far as I can tell, the world), JINHA, was shut down in 2016 by the Turkish government. These journalists were creating a news world where, for example, a woman doing domestic labor as a housewife in a working-class neighborhood should and could be interviewed; should appear on newspaper pages; should be an inherently important contributor to political conversations in and of herself, not as a representative or example of a "type." The journalists never felt the need to prove that any of that was the case; they just did it, and they published dozens of similar articles and videos every day. They didn't interview or dialogue with people whose voices didn't need any more amplification. I think a lot of people who are trying to change the world in different ways—journalists, feminists, activists—could learn from their practice.

If a student were to ask you why anthropology matters, what would be your response?

If a student were to ask me why anthropology matters, I'd say that it doesn't matter in the conventional sense that most people mean when they think about education right now. And that's why it matters. I think for students who are always being asked to make themselves useful and to prove that their education should matter for their own careers, anthropology classrooms can be a valuable space. Students can think about systems of oppression, about their own "self" in relation to others and society, and that's meaningful in itself. Armed with that understanding, they can take actions that matter for them.

If you could teach any course, what course would it be and why?

I would actually love to teach a course on anthropology of photography. I think I share with others in my generation an experience of living through photos. That means consuming "the world" through images that claim to represent it. It also means agonizing over our own self as something photographed—whether that's willingly for social media, unwillingly through the surveillance networks that are a banal part of everyday life at this point, or elsewhere. I think we could connect this with colonialism and the prominent role of the "visual" in modern history. One of my most beloved books about photography is Malek Alloula's The Colonial Harem, about the gendered anxieties and fantasies of colonialism in Algeria expressed in photo postcards. I will find any excuse to keep talking about that book with new groups of people.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far as a graduate student?

I have worked on my own academic writing, but I have also worked a lot as an editor of other people's work. My favorite part of being a graduate student has been engaging with other people's research and writing—students who came into grad school at the same time as me, colleagues I met in different parts of the world, people in the seminar hosted by my advisor Suad Joseph. So I was really proud in 2018 to co-edit a book called Psychoanalysis and the Middle East: Discourses and Encounters with the Middle East historians Sara Pursley and Omnia El Shakry. The book brings together new work by historians and anthropologists, and reconsiders the intellectual history of psychoanalytic thought as it has been shaped in and through the Middle East. I was very proud to work in such a hands-on way with the writing of excellent scholars. I hope the book gets the broad audience it deserves. The introduction is available online for free.

What's next for you?

This year I'm finishing my dissertation and teaching several classes at UC Davis, including ANT 142: Peoples of the Middle East and ANT 30: Anthropology of Sexualities. I have some publications coming out soon, such as my chapter "Aesthetics of Journalistic Dissent in Kurdish Women's News" in a forthcoming book called Generations of Dissent: Cultural Production in the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Shareah Taleghani and Alexa Firat.

Learn more about Caroline visiting her profile