Student Spotlight: Laina H. Saul Defends her Dissertation

Laina H. Saul successfully defended her dissertation entitled "Representations of Women, Sexuality, and Capital: Considering Questions of Credibility and the Body in a Global World" and worked with Prof. Alison Landsberg, Prof. Debra B. Bergoffen and Prof. Roger N. Lancaster. Esma Celebioglu conducted a short exchange with Laina 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?

They have changed in particulars but not in substance. I was accepted into the CS program as I was finishing up an M.A in Philosophy at GMU. When I began that program it was actually a liberal studies program, but in my second year it split into Religion and Philosophy. The first class I took however was, Feminist Theory - it was a life changing experience...personally and intellectually. My project that semester, and at every opportunity available to me, was research into Islamic Veiling. I became very interested in understanding this practice from the perspective of choice, embodiment, and language. My theoretical interests were very deeply rooted in Continental Philosophy and Feminist theory. Those things that caught my interest, the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Friedrich Nietzsche, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, remained with me throughout my Graduate work and along with Judith Butler, became the foundational theoretical framework for my dissertation. However, one thing changed and one thing was added once I began the CS program. I had done so much research on Veiling during my M.A. I became, burnt out? I guess would be the thing. But my interest in women's embodied lives, the use of language in framing those lives remained, so it was simply particulars of the women that took a different direction. The thing that was added in was an interest in Globalization, and the role that neoliberalism plays in constructing the frameworks in which I was "reading" these women. The classes in particular that contributed to developing these interests were, Globalization, Body Subjectivity and Citizenship, Semiotics, and Human Rights. The articulation of power, capital, and cultural and social mores on the body, enriched the way that I was considering how particular women become positioned as victims, and how within certain national and global narratives, women get taken up as symbols, specifically in terms of their embodied sexuality, representing, and hiding, certain agendas. Most importantly, throughout my work in CS, and in my dissertation, I've been interested in challenging existing understandings of Subjectivity, and the formation of new categories of Subjectivity that resist given categories and criteria. As I move forward, my work will likely continue in this direction...and I look forward to answering in more detail the questions that drove the dissertation, while also taking up again some of the more theoretical work I've done in the past.


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 am what the university likes to call a "non-traditional" student, i.e. - I'm older. I had an entire other non-academic work life with a 15 year gap between my undergraduate and graduate schooling. But when I began the program I was eager to "learn" how to be an academic. I didn't participate specifically in the professional development workshops, etc... that I see have and are being offered by the program, but - I think the idea of them is fabulous and I would encourage everyone who can do so, to take advantage of them. However, I did participate in a great number of conferences, giving papers, learning to engage with an audience, learning to moderate a panel...these experiences were invaluable to me in terms of positioning me to best pursue any future opportunities. My plans at present are unformed, as I am established in the area I will look for work here. I am interested in teaching and writing, and have enjoyed greatly working with students when I was a T.A. and as I taught my own classes. So at present, I'm just going to let things unfold and see what comes along.


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

I can't think of a specific moment but - the conversation and camaraderie throughout the program with those in my cohort, and those ahead and behind me...were delightful. The intellectual engagement was incredibly satisfying in my classes, I appreciated so much the time and attention given by the faculty. Enrolling in this program has truly changed my life, and I'm incredibly grateful for it.