New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

New Body Politics

Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States, 1st Edition

By Therí A. Pickens


180 pages

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In the increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic American landscape of the present, understanding and bridging dynamic cross-cultural conversations about social and political concerns becomes a complicated humanistic project. How do everyday embodied experiences transform from being anecdotal to having social and political significance? What can the experience of corporeality offer social and political discourse? And, how does that discourse change when those bodies belong to Arab Americans and African Americans?

Therí A. Pickens discusses a range of literary, cultural, and archival material where narratives emphasize embodied experience to examine how these experiences constitute Arab Americans and African Americans as social and political subjects. Pickens argues that Arab American and African American narratives rely on the body’s fragility, rather than its exceptional strength or emotion, to create urgent social and political critiques. The creators of these narratives find potential in mundane experiences such as breathing, touch, illness, pain, and death. Each chapter in this book focuses on one of these everyday embodied experiences and examines how authors mobilize that fragility to create social and political commentary. Pickens discusses how the authors' focus on quotidian experiences complicates their critiques of the nation state, domestic and international politics, exile, cultural mores, and the medical establishment.

New Body Politics participatesin a vibrant interdisciplinary conversation about cross-ethnic studies, American literature, and Arab American literature. Using intercultural analysis, Pickens explores issues of the body and representation that will be relevant to fields as varied as Political Science, African American Studies, Arab American Studies, and Disability Studies.


"Rarely does scholarly work generate in me a feeling of excitement, but that's exactly what New Body Politics has done. Here is a book that redefines the limits and possibilities of comparative analysis and brings into brilliant conversation matters of race, ethnicity, ability, gender, and representation. Even better, it is written with verve and clarity."

—Steven Salaita, Virginia Tech

"A bold new foray into the exploration of corporeality and the sociopolitical through U.S. minority literatures: Therí A. Pickens brings together African American and Arab American cultural and literary expressions in a way that will not soon be forgotten. By putting these two complex traditions into conversation with one another, New Body Politics takes the reader through a dazzling array of topics, from the construction of minority subjecthood and family politics to illness and medical practices. This is a rare and important ‘first’ in American Studies, Disability Studies, African American Studies, and Arab American Studies: a long-awaited yet desperately needed comparative analysis of two groups who are distinct, yet overlap with one another quite poignantly."

—Michelle M. Wright, Northwestern University

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1. Respirating Resistance: Suheir Hammad’s Invocation of Breath. 2. Try a Little Tenderness: Tactilic Experience in Danzy Senna and Alicia Erian. 3. Unfitting and Not Belonging: Feeling Embodied and Being Displaced in Rabih Alameddine’s Fiction. 4. Beyond 1991: Magic Johnson and the Limits of HIV/AIDS Activism. 5. The Big C Meets the Big O: Pain and Pleasure in Breast Cancer Narratives. Conclusion.

About the Author

Therí A. Pickens is an Assistant Professor of English at Bates College. Her research focuses on Arab American and African American literatures and cultures, Disability Studies, philosophy, and literary theory. Her critical work has appeared in Disability Studies Quarterly, Al-Jadid, Journal of Canadian Literature, Al-Raida, and, the ground-breaking collection, Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions.

About the Series

Routledge Series on Identity Politics

Group identities have been an important part of political life in America since the founding of the republic. For most of this long history, the central challenge for activists, politicians, and scholars concerned with the quality of U.S. democracy was the struggle to bring the treatment of ethnic and racial minorities and women in line with the creedal values spelled out in the nation’s charters of freedom. We are now several decades from the key moments of the twentieth century when social movements fractured America’s system of ascriptive hierarchy. The gains from these movements have been substantial. Women now move freely in all realms of civil society, hold high elective offices, and constitute more than 50 percent of the workforce. Most African-Americans have now attained middle class status, work in integrated job sites, and live in suburbs. Finally, people of color from nations in Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean now constitute the majority of America’s immigration pool.

In the midst of all of these positive changes, however, glaring inequalities between groups persist. Indeed, ethnic and racial minorities remain far more likely to be undereducated, unemployed, and incarcerated than their counterparts who identify as white. Similarly, both violence and work place discrimination against women remain rampant in U.S. society. The Routledge series on identity politics features works that seek to understand the tension between the great strides our society has made in promoting equality between groups and the residual effects of the ascriptive hierarchies in which the old order was rooted.

Some of the core questions that the series will address are: how meaningful are the traditional ethnic, gender, racial, and sexual identities to our understanding of inequality in the present historical moment? Do these identities remain important bases for group mobilization in American politics? To what extent can we expect the state to continue to work for a more level playing field among groups?

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General