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5 Books with Jan Padios

We are excited to introduce a new regular series: 5 Books with a Board Member. On a regular basis, members of our board will recommend five books from their respective fields. Dr. Jan Padios, our New England & Central and Eastern Canada representative, is inaugurating this series.

Dr. Padios is Associate Professor and Chair of American Studies at Williams College. She teaches introductory courses, senior seminars, and theories and methods in American Studies, Asian American Studies, and ethnography. Her publications include A Nation on the Line: Call Centers as Postcolonial Predicaments in the Philippines (Duke University Press, 2018). 

Dr. Padios is chair of the AAAS Book Awards Committee. She has recommended books that were published before 2020 and are therefore no longer awards eligible.

Dr. Jan Padios is Associate Professor of American Studies at Williams College.

Gendering the Trans-Pacific World: Diaspora, Empire, and Race is the first book I can recommend. It’s a collection edited by Catherine Ceniza Choy and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, and published by Brill in 2017. The essays by Genevieve Clutario and Tessa Winkelmann, respectively, have been stellar companions for my research on the Manila Carnival, racial capitalism, and infrastructures of economy and empire. But the volume is great overall because it brings together social scientists, literary scholars, poets, historians, and interdisciplinary scholars to showcase a range of gender-based research. It’s not the cheapest text out there, but I think it’s worth checking out (or worth asking your library to buy it), especially because the essays are long enough to make substantive arguments but short enough to assign more than one for a single undergraduate class meeting.

Another book that informs my historical work is Manu Goswami’s Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National SpaceThe book was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004, but its methodology — of thinking about the nation-state in relation to economy, infrastructure, and global empire — have stuck with me ever since.

I can also recommend some books that inform my thoughts and teaching about ethnography. A book I’ve excerpted for both my ethnography class and my Introduction to Asian American Studies course is Eric Tang’s Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the New York City Hyperghetto published by Temple in 2015. The way Tang understands the afterlife of slavery in relation to urban space and then connects that to U.S. empire and Cambodian refugee experiences of captivity and time is so complex and yet clear. The students always get a lot from reading the chapters I assign. There’s a part in chapter one where Tang interrogates his own assumptions as an interviewer, and it’s really great for showing how our lived experiences shape the questions scholars ask—and why we sometimes need to change those structures of consciousness.

Another book I found helpful to teach with is Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social Sciences, which has one of the most undergrad-acccessible discussions of the implications of anthropology and ethnographic fieldwork within colonialism that I have seen. The book was published by Duke in 2019, and has four co-authors: two academics and two local immigrant workers. It also contains a play written by the workers and performed by people interviewed in the groups’ research. There is also a chapter in which the senior academic contributor discusses how the expectations of the academic profession shape the political qualities of academic research. 

Finally, I’ve been doing a lot of creative writing and thinking about creative writing in the last couple of years, and a book I can’t recommend enough is Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses and published by Catapult in 2019. Salesses reveals the racial as well as broader cultural politics behind a lot of craft terms and practices, so readers come out of the book with a good sense of the Eurocentric ideas trafficked into creative writing spaces. Salesses teaches Asian American literature, so a good number of his references land there. And he has a great section about Chinese literary forms and how they show up in literature written by white authors — often without any acknowledgment. 

Thanks for checking out these books!