Student Spotlight: Annie Hui and Tolga Yalur Receive Dissertation Completion Grants

Congratulations to Annie Hui and Tolga Yalur for receiving Dissertation Completion Grants through the GMU Provost's Office. This prestigious award is granted to full-time doctoral studies, who have advanced to candidacy and are approaching the completion stage of their dissertations. Receiving it allows them to focus solely on completing rigorous and high-quality research in order to advance towards their degree at an accelerated pace.

Please read below to find out about the nature of their dissertation projects.

"Visual Resistance and Political Be/longing: The Politics of Mass Cultural Symbols in Sites of Protest."

Annie Hui

"My dissertation examines appropriations of mass cultural symbols in contemporary social protest movements in order to understand the potentials of popular culture in affecting political change. Through close examination of the use of The Hunger Game’s three finger salute in pro-democracy protests in Thailand since 2014, the cloak and bonnet from The Handmaid’s Tale as seen in global women’s rights demonstrations since 2016, and the appropriation of Pepe the Frog in 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations, my research brings to light how protesters might actively construct and exert their political agency through their visual appropriations, remaking and redefining them, while also allowing an examination of the interplay between fictional and real-life narrativizations within which the symbols appear. Crucial aims of my work are to understand how citizens imagine their cultural and national be/longing (both an existing belonging to and a longing for inclusion) and how mass culture can facilitate democratic participation and the emergence of political agency while also challenging hegemonic neoliberal frameworks that consistently work to silence vulnerable and marginalized populations.

The transnational and interdisciplinary nature of my dissertation is of significance particularly at our current historical moment when mass culture, mass media, and political ideologies are disseminated digitally and cannot be confined to one geopolitical location. The three-finger salute, the handmaids costume, and Pepe the Frog are anything but trivial references to pop culture – they are protest symbols part of a larger contemporary aesthetic mode of political intervention that offer a way for the public to confront the (threats of) erosion of civic rights under repressive regimes and to demand democratic governance. My dissertation aims to unpack these examples of visual resistance at a time when it is crucial to understand the importance of civic participation, political subjectivity, shared narratives of democracy, and protest culture in the digital age."

"The Logic of Algorithms: Datafication, Ethics and Social Networks."

Tolga Yalur

"This dissertation research investigates and outlines the logic of algorithms in social networks. It begins with tracking the history of the modern machine learning and its relationships with algorithmic networks towards understanding the datafication process of identity traces, hu-man labor and wants. The dissertation tracks the role played by algorithmic networks to generate advertisements, common-senses and false knowledges; diagnoses ethical problems in the process of datafying human labor and identity traces; and illustrates how the normative logic of algorith-mic networks reproduce these problems in culture."

The Cultural Studies PhD Program congratulates Annie and Tolga on their academic achievement and wished them much success on their way forward to doctoral completion!