States of Dispossession: US Political Culture, State Form, and Race from 1930 to the Present creates a genealogy of US political culture of dispossession in order to historicize contemporary experiences of left melancholia. By dispossession, I mean the material conditions, power relations, and discourses through which political subjects experience and know their loss and suffering. Even though dispossession is a condition more often associated with nineteenth and early twentieth century through settler colonialism, chattel slavery, and imperial expansion, my inquiry begins with emergence of the New Deal during which the problem of the dispossessed takes on a political prominence and a national scale in the wake of the Great Depression and then moves on into the late 20th century to trace its centrality in the development of liberal governmentalities. Through an analysis of key nodal moments, the dissertation argues how the dispossessed gets bound to the legitimacy and operations of the state through techniques of governance that simultaneously rationalize state intervention and manage political crises.
Through analyses of historical documents and multiethnic literature, States of Dispossession pursues its inquiry by demonstrating the alignment of political rationalities of state recuperative practices and political subjectivities via the historical norms of race, gender, and sexuality. For instance, by situating James Agee's and Walker Evan's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in the political operation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Chapter 1 asserts that the documentary novel normalizes the dispossessed as a technical problem by both generating a political subjectivity that sees state intervention to be direct democracy and ethnicizing whiteness as an object for state tutelage and an object of national spirit. By situating John Okada's No No Boy in the political crises of the Pacific in World War II, Chapter 2 argues how Japanese internment ironically acts as a contradictory recuperative practice of the state that resolves the contradiction of dispossessed "Japanese American" by racializing Japanese culture through gendered and sexual norms of the reproductive family. By situating Oscar Zeta Acosta's Revolt of the Cockroach People in the political crisis spurred by the expansion of the black freedom movements, Chapter 3 shows that projects of empowering the dispossessed poor simultaneously reified race around the uneven geography of capital and introjected the spectral body into political subjectivity. Finally, by situating Samuel Delany's The Mad Man in the political crisis of the 1970s that formed the pre-conditions neoliberalism, Chapter 4 claims that homelessness social policy promulgates neoliberal forms of freedom that contradictorily revivifies possessive individualism at the level of political subjectivity. Taken together, the dissertation shows how the political subjectivities of dispossession both sanction the legitimacy and operations of the liberal state and chart the racialized tensions and limits of twentieth century political culture.