Performing Racial Cosmopolitanism: Contemporary Asian American Theatre

  • Author / Creator
    Zeng, Minhao
  • This dissertation identifies a strand of contemporary Asian American theatrical works which dramatize what I call “racial cosmopolitanism,” a mode of cosmopolitanism emerging out of the lived experiences of racialized “difference.” Conjoining the historically divergent fields of cosmopolitan studies and critical race studies, the project calls for bringing these two fields together to approach Asian American plays produced in an increasingly multiracial and transnational era. Through the dual lenses of cosmopolitan studies and critical race studies, this research examines eleven contemporary plays written or co-written by twelve Asian American playwrights between 1989 and 2007, which are grouped into four clusters according to the specific mode of racial cosmopolitanism they each interrogate: interracial propinquity in the racialized inner city (Chapter I “Urban Cosmopolitanism”); cross-racial solidarity forged out of the ravages of war (Chapter II “Negative Cosmopolitanism”); the mixing of different racial heritages in a single body (Chapter III “Mixed-Race Cosmopolitanism”); and voluntary racial dis/affiliation (Chapter IV “Post-Racial Cosmopolitanism”). This project integrates text-based analysis with attention to a broad range of non-textual factors involved in the theatrical production of racial cosmopolitanism, including script writing, casting, rehearsal, performance, promotion, and community outreach. This study argues that Asian American theatrical works staging racial cosmopolitanism simultaneously advance two oppositional cosmopolitan projects. On the one hand, they unsettle Eurocentric frames of cosmopolitanism, sustaining and sustained by hegemonic structures of power, which dominate, exploit, distort, marginalize, or exclude racial minorities. On the other, they construct non-Eurocentric cosmopolitan visions grounded in Asian American particularity in interracial and transnational contexts, and, in so doing, press Asian Americans themselves to reconfigure their own notions of racial differences which underpin and shape their cosmopolitan stances towards others. This thesis contributes to the reconceptualization of Asian American racial identity and Asian American identity politics in Asian American studies. It enriches cosmopolitan studies by offering Asian Americans’ alternative and politically transgressive visions of cross-racial exchanges and transnational affiliations. It also challenges critical race studies to broaden traditional monoracial and nationalist understandings of race by placing race within contexts of transnational movement and interracial contact.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Specialization
    • English
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Zackodnik, Teresa (Department of English and Film Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Slemon, Stephen (Department of English and Film Studies)
    • Ty, Eleanor (Department of English and Film Studies)
    • Appleford, Rob (Department of English and Film Studies)
    • Smith, Susan (Department of History and Classics)