Cultural Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Student Spotlight: Lisa Daily Defends her Dissertation

Lisa daily

Lisa Daily defended her dissertation entitled "Ethical Capitalism, Commodities, and the Consumerist Gaze" and worked with Dr. Paul Smith, Dr. Alison Landsberg, and Dr. JP Singh. Esma H. Celebioglu conducted an interview with Lisa in which she reflects on her time at Mason.



How have your research interests changed from the time you began the PhD program to now, and in which direction do you envision your work moving upon graduating?

Up until my Ph.D. studies, I did not have a clear academic trajectory: I studied studio art, creative writing, and East Asian studies as an undergrad and then got an interdisciplinary Master’s degree with a thesis that looked more into issues of globalization, power and politics, nationalism, and social movements. Entering Cultural Studies, I was clueless as to what I wanted to study, but I was fortune enough to stumble my way into some courses in CS that became foundational to my thinking: Visual Culture, Political Economy, and After Colonialism. Of course, I learned from all the courses I took, but these three classes most directly informed what would become my dissertation. I was also teaching in Global Affairs throughout my first four years at GMU, which certainly gave shape to my thinking. Research methods further cemented where I would go with a focus on fair-trade products. By the end of that class, I knew there was a larger system of what I’ve come to call ethical capitalism that I wanted to analyze and I was already aware of many of its commodities and visual discourses of “good.” I expect to have many more years of studying ethical capitalism. It is such a massive and incessantly changing object of analysis that I am constantly pushing it in new directions. For instance, my next project will consider the role of virtual reality in ethical capitalism as well as within humanitarian organizations that see this immersive technology as an “empathy machine.” I will also teach a course at NYU next spring called, #ThisClassWillSavetheWorld: Media & the Humanitarian Impulse, in order to underscore the relationship between ethical capitalism, humanitarian organizations, and media representations. (Not that I need to say this to a CS audience, but of course the hashtag is a critical intervention into the ways in which hashtags, facebook likes, etc. circulate, proclaiming solidarity and often material humanitarian good.) I am also hoping that I will someday do ethnographic work at the site of ‘good’: spaces of production as “empowerment,” giving locations, and so forth.

What kinds of professional development did you pursue while a student and which do you think will best position you to get the job you want: publishing, presenting, teaching, service in the department, engagement in non-university service projects, acquiring particular research skills?

I’ve committed myself to professional development since my first year at GMU. In those early days of my first year, I went to SOC meetings more so as a way to meet other people in the program, learn from them, and most importantly at the time: hear from experienced voices that I would indeed make it out of my first year of the program (and perhaps someday actually finish the degree!). Something I haven’t revealed to many people is that I contemplated leaving our program almost every day that first year: I felt ill-equipped for a Ph.D. and definitely not smart enough. At some point, those anxieties eased and I committed myself to the program, learning from those students I saw as smarter than me instead of feeling threatened by them. I went on to co-chair the conference for a couple years, co-chair the SOC, and serve on the admissions committee. Needless to say, in this academic climate and market, I think it is vital for students to be continually working on their own professional development. I have presented at conferences fairly regularly since my first year and become quite involved with the Cultural Studies Association (CSA), co-chairing the Visual Culture Working Group for several years and taking a student representative position on the Governing Board last year. I’ve really just started getting into publishing these past two years and I would encourage students to start earlier than I did. Since around 2008, I have steadily taught a range of classes in the humanities and then Global Affairs. The one hard decision I made a few years ago was to move away from GMU at the end of my four years of funding. Like many students, I was massively in debt and couldn’t envision living in the area on an adjunct salary. I had personal reasons as well. Although I missed out on future friendships, more regular contact with my committee, and being an active member in our CS community, the decision ultimately strengthened my C.V. (although made the completion of my dissertation a bit slower): I took a full-time job at the University of Iowa, managing several grant-funded creative arts exchange programs for the International Writing Program. This administrative position provided me the one area where I really lacked experience. I also made some fantastic connections and got to travel abroad for work! With the job market being what it is, I (along with most graduating and graduated PhDs) have constantly worried about finding a position that pays a livable wage and offers healthcare. Administration seemed a less desirable, but perfectly acceptable option. Last spring, I was fortune enough to land a permanent full-time position at New York University with a split admin/faculty position. While it isn’t the tenure-track position I always dreamed of, it has so far been an amazing position for me, allowing me the space to finish my dissertation, attend conferences, and teach courses of my own design. I am currently teaching an interdisciplinary seminar that emerges from my dissertation, “The Consumerist Gaze.” Although I haven’t looked at the numbers, it seems like more and more of these sorts of jobs are emerging within academia as we witness the erosion of tenure lines.

What is one of your best memories from your time in the PhD program in Cultural Studies?

I cannot limit my time in Cultural Studies to just a memory! I will say that our Cultural Studies program offered me my first real academic home. When I realized exactly what Cultural Studies was sometime in my first year, I had this epiphany that I had been doing (or seeking to do) cultural studies all along and just did not realize it. I immersed myself in the CS program during the years I lived in Fairfax—attended colloquium, colloquium dinners, conferences, and made some very close friends. Some of my fondest memories occurred outside the classroom: grabbing drinks after colloquium and discussing, debating, and sharing research ideas with my peers. Speaking of drinks, if you’ll be at CSA this year, you should come check out a potentially disastrous praxis session I am hosting with Gil Rodman (University of Minnesota) and Sean Andrews (CS alumni, currently at Columbia College Chicago): “Optimism of the Will: Resistance, Persistence, and Critical Drinking.


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