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Speculative Capital and Its Wastes: Race, Labor, and War in the Age of Financialization

Kim, Bom. Speculative Capital and Its Wastes: Race, Labor, and War in the Age of Financialization. 2021. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation attends to overlapping, entangled histories of US militarism, speculation, and extraction in Asia and the Pacific to rethink the relationship between race, labor, and war in our current moment of predatory capitalism. It seeks to theorize disposability and racialization in contexts where war-making comes hand in hand with lucrative financial projects and investments, as well as the dumping of waste both human and material. Through an engagement with Asian American, Pacific Islander, and African American literature, I argue that disposability and racialization are signaled by proximity to complex forms violence that reduce bodies to trash and datasets, as well as susceptibility to financial endeavors and extractive logics that monetize both destruction and reconstruction to manage not labor power and resources but wasted populations and ruined ecosystems. As such, tracking the relationship between race, labor, and war in our contemporary moment puts pressure on more familiar paradigms of (Asian) American studies that have historically theorized racialization through the analytics of labor exploitation, national exclusion, and national (un)belonging.

Chapter one engages with Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [guma’] (2014) to resituate the question of Asian racialization and labor within a framework that foregrounds the entwined histories of US militarism in the Pacific, settler colonialism, and finance capitalism. Chapter two takes up Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014) to ask what resistance and opposition might look like in a world where populations are mobilized by an administration that seems to operate entirely in service of capital. Chapter three focuses on Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011) to point to spatializing practices by which the forces of race, labor, and war are created, preserved, lived, and recreated in service of capital to connect histories of racial expropriation, terror, and violence to modes of accumulation that are secured through the management of destitution. Chapter four reads Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rainforest (1990) alongside Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter (2017) and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters (1990) to ask how the analytics of waste and trash can allow us to rethink the ways disposability has been theorized in relation to race and the racialized subject.

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