Alexia Bloch

Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
"We are trans women" : on-street sex work and transgender politics in Mexico City (2018)

This dissertation is a feminist ethnography about on-street sex work and transgender politics in contemporary Mexico. It focuses on the socioeconomic and symbolic tensions existing between trans activists and trans vendors, mostly of sexual services, in Mexico City. It is based on ethnographic research consisting of participant-observation, formal interviews, informal conversations, and travel companionships with low-income female-gendered transpeople and self-identified trans activists in places of work, homes, social gatherings, and activist events about sexual diversity. The fieldwork for this study was conducted between 2010 and 2011, with shorter research periods spanning 2009 to 2014. The research also draws on bill proposals and official stenographic transcripts of socio-legal discussions held in Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly between 2001 and 2013. This study shows that, while not all transpeople are sex workers, a sizeable number of low-income trans women work as sexual labourers on the streets of Mexico City. Trans women have gained increasing visibility in on-street sex trade areas. Impoverished transpeople suffer the symbolic and material expressions of a generalized disrespect and disregard affecting on-street sex workers and low-income female-gendered transpeople. A sexual labour framework is thus critical to understand the ways in which social class and informal on-street vending shape the circumstances, livelihoods, and aspirations of low-income trans women. Their daily realities are shaped but not subsumed or exhausted by gender expressions and subjectivities or sex–gender systems alone. A class and labour lens, in addition to a gender lens, is necessary to shed light on the often-overlooked dimensions of socioeconomic standing and employment background that frame the lives of trans activists and trans sex workers. This project applies an intersecting critical trans and sexual labour analysis to understand the socioeconomic concerns and livelihoods of female-gendered transpeople. It contributes to the ethnographies of Mexico by underscoring regional and class diversity in the experiences and circumstances facing Mexicans. Lastly, this work helps refine feminist anthropology by demonstrating the utility of classic concepts to understand shifting intersecting realities and, more broadly, by refusing to conflate trans and sex work issues in Mexico with those found in other contexts.

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Anthropology of the hometown : the workings of migration and intimacy in the Town of Dollars, Philippines (2018)

Filipinos are now among the most mobile population in the world, and much literature on Filipino migration has focused on what happens overseas. This dissertation investigates the effects of migration at home, in an attempt to address the gap in existing literature, as has been noted by scholars of migration. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork as well as from an archive of experiences as returning resident of Nabua, a lowland riverine-agricultural town located in Southeastern Luzon Island, Philippines, I explore how migration and intimacy co-produce what is now called by its residents “Town of Dollars.” In the Bicol region, Nabua is known for the many male townsfolk who served in the United States Navy from the beginning of the 20th century until the closure of the U.S. Bases in 1991, and who sent dollars to their relatives who were left behind. Generations of people from Nabua have been shaped by this migration and by the stories brought home of the “American dream.” Therefore, this dissertation investigates Nabua as a site in which desires for and orientations for migrant futures are produced and conditioned. I look into the entangled workings of migration and intimacies in everyday life – including both quotidian and spectacular public events. The chapters in this dissertation make sense of several domains such as religious ritual, memorialization projects by returned retirees, and the private realm of the family. However, like many rural communities in the Philippines and elsewhere, Nabua has also been transformed by rapid globalization and neoliberal restructuring, resulting in the transformation and structuring of life, particularly of the majority of the non-migrating rural poor. Engaging with feminist, phenomenological, and postcolonial/decolonizing renderings of the lived experience, this dissertation argues for the need to bridge discussions of the much-studied Filipino diaspora with the investigation of what occurs in the origin community of migrants, including how migration-oriented state imaginings impinge on the lives of the rural poor. Finally, my effort in writing an “anthropology of the hometown” approaches questions of intentionality, self-reflexivity, and empathy for interlocutors who might also be kin, neighbors, and townsmates.

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"Where are the moderate Muslims?" : fraught Muslim positionalities in post-9/11 New York (2017)

This dissertation examines how the ongoing repercussions of the September 11, 2001 attacks on The World Trade Center (“9/11”), and the haunting legacy of the Twin Towers’ collapse, have affected the religious subjectivities, identity positionings and spatial perceptions of American Muslims living in New York City. Anti-Muslim conservatives continue to perceive Islam as an inherently extremist political system and cynically ask, “Where are the moderate Muslims?” In this framing, Muslim Americans are often de-Americanized and treated as outsiders in the United States—a narrative that was exacerbated during Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Based on 24 months of fieldwork, my dissertation analyzes, first, how Muslim New Yorkers navigate the suggestion that religious moderation among Muslims is a rarity and that Islam is antithetical to liberal democratic values. I show that while some reject the use of “moderate” in Islamophobic discourses, others position themselves as moderate and progressive Muslims using particular religious interpretations and practices (especially those emphasizing gender egalitarianism and LGBT inclusion), as well as civic engagement, public events, and other forms of political action. My analysis also pays attention to the spatial dimension of Muslim New Yorkers’ senses of self, first in relation to ongoing surveillance by the NYPD, and secondly, in relation to the World Trade Center. Using examples such as the highly controversial "Ground Zero Mosque," it shows how Muslim subjectivities are embodied and spatialized through affective relationships with certain places.

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The politics of transnational welfare citizenship : kin, state, and personhood among older Sakhalin Koreans (2016)

This dissertation examines the return migration and the reconfiguration of personhood among older Sakhalin Koreans. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 2010 to 2011on Sakhalin Island, Russia and in South Korea, I explore how transnational return mobility shapes discourses, practices, and imaginaries of kinship and citizenship among older Sakhalin Koreans. This study situates the return program as an imperial formation, and a contemporary ethno-nation-building project of Japan and South Korea. I contend that this particular program has provoked complex emotional and political discourses around family separation and reunion, as well as raised questions of inclusion and exclusion among older Sakhalin Koreans reflecting on their relationship to the three nation-states, Japan, South Korea, and Russia. This study highlights how older Sakhalin Koreans reconstitute personhood through practices of kinship and citizenship in a transnational milieu where post-colonial, post-Cold War, and post-socialist transformations intersect. Adding the prism of everyday moral experiences to the analytical lenses of kinship, transnational citizenship, and humanitarianism, I analyze the unexpected consequences of return mobility among both mobile and immobile subjects. I examine how older Sakhalin Koreans imagine and make sense of separation from and reunion with offspring, friends, and companions, as well as living and diseased kin across multiple spaces and times. I also explore experiences of citizenship. These include aspirations for living, transnational strategies for drawing welfare entitlements in Russia and South Korea, and claim-making practices. I argue that these processes entail problematizing, criticizing, and reflecting on the self, all part of how older Sakhalin Koreans constitute personhood. My study suggests that kinship, citizenship, and the politics of care are crucial components for understanding transnational mobility. Moreover, my research underscores the confluence of age, gender, and life course as crucial factors in the experience of mobility, an approach rarely taken in the study of transnational mobility. Finally, this study critically analyzes how ongoing large-scale social transformations intersect with everyday lives, and thereby provides a much needed perspective on transnational mobility. This dissertation offers a grounded understanding of how post-colonial, post-Cold War, and post-socialist transformations have shaped personhood in Northeast Asia and more broadly Eurasia.

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Gringo love : affect, power, and mobility in sex tourism, Northeast Brazil (2012)

This dissertation is a feminist ethnography of global sex tourism in Ponta Negra, a tourist area in the coastal city of Natal, Northeast of Brazil that has become the site of important forms of mobilization against sex tourism. It critically examines the ambiguous relationships of love and money between (white) western male tourists and (mixed-race or black) Brazilian women. The methods for the project (conducted 2007-2008) focused on in-depth interviews with Brazilian women, European men, and various stakeholders such as business owners, residents, Non-governmental organization (NGO) workers, feminist activists and state agents; the author also conducted participant-observation in bars and at beaches. She theoretically situates these global ‘sex tourism’ relationships within contemporary political economic structures, historical processes of inequality in Brazil, gendered patterns of mobility and affect, as well as sites of global desire.A major theme in this thesis concerns the politics of the rescue industry as articulated by Brazilian NGOs and through campaigns against sex tourism, which typically locate the problem of sex tourism in the individual (i.e. women as victims; foreign men as deviants). This approach fails to address the complex structural inequalities and global forces that shape the lives of these women, and negates several important aspects of Brazilian women’s and foreign men’s experiences. This research shows that both are invested in ambiguous intimacies that blur affect and interest in complex ways. The main argument in this thesis is that Brazilian women in Natal capitalize on the ambiguities of sex tourism and put their femininity to work in order to establish long-term, legitimate ties with foreigners in the hope of migrating to Europe and marrying up, something they find hard to imagine, much less experience, in Brazil. The appeal for foreigners further reveals a profound sense of dissatisfaction with their social locations. Thus, love with foreigners acts as both an escape and a catalyst to remake themselves as modern subjects in projects of mobility, whether social, spatial or economic.

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Between indigeneity and nationality : the politics of culture and nature in Russia's diamond province (2011)

Despite a half century of rapid, state-sponsored industrialization in the region, only with its more recent, abrupt exposure to global capitalism has Siberia become a hotly contested site of debates over both indigenous rights and natural resource extraction. The Sakha Republic (Yakutia), a Northeastern Siberian region twice the size of Alaska, is now a particularly crucial site of contestation, boasting diamond reserves that produce about 25% of the world‘s diamonds. The region is also home to a sizeable, highly educated indigenous population, the Sakha, who comprise over 45% of the Republic‘s residents. Sakha activists have been engaged in a sustained project of cultural revival that has drawn upon globally circulating representations of indigeneity to contest environmental destruction, assert political control over their lands and resources, and to challenge socio-economic marginalization. However, in post-Soviet Siberia, like elsewhere in Asia, distinctions between indigenous and non-indigenous are not straightforward, and articulations of indigenous identity are fraught with complications. With a population over 400,000, the Sakha are in fact considered too numerous to fit within the official Russian category for indigenous peoples—- the "small-numbered peoples of the North," and many Sakha are themselves ambivalent about the label "indigenous," seeing their own culture as more advanced than that of their neighboring indigenes. This dissertation examines the social processes that link globally circulating images and practices of indigeneity with Sakha cultural politics, and argues that articulations of indigenous identity are not only contingent and heterogeneous, but are also partial and uneven. In this context, indigeneity coexists alongside other kinds of identity, especially ethnonationalism. Analysis builds on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Sakha Republic, including participant observation in 2 cities, semi-structured interviews and life history interviews with Sakha and non-Sakha residents, and regional newspaper analysis.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Imperial memories and neo-liberal genealogies in the Alevi-Bektashi transnational networks (2012)

This ethnographic research attempts to capture the discursive contradictions and strategic alliances in the recently emerging Alevi-Bektashi transnational networks between Turkey and several Southeast European countries. Tracing the networking endeavours of a major Alevi organization located in Istanbul the research shows how, while lobbying for Alevi rights to faith in Turkey, a major Alevi organization becomes an advocate of Islamic pluralism in its transnational ventures. While the narrative of “love for humanity” underpins both the Alevi and Bektashi stakes on “moderate Islam” in the post-9/11 era, I seek to highlight how this narrative is incorporated by Turkish nationalism on the one hand, and how it travels in the context of Turkish “humanitarian aid” efforts in post-socialist countries on the other. In a post-socialist geography where property relations have been radically transformed in the last two decades, the rhetoric of “owning” Rumeli shrines as Turkish heritage cannot be separated from the prospective claims of their ownership as property. By following these threads, this thesis explores the re-making of Alevi genealogies in transnational processes.

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