Student Spotlight: Martha Deutscher Defends her Dissertation

Student Spotlight: Martha Deutscher Defends her Dissertation

Martha Deutscher has defended her dissertation entitled "Cleared & Present: Danger in the Personnel Security Clearance System" and worked with Hugh Gusterson, Peter Mandaville, and Roger Lancaster.  Here is a short interview with Martha in which she reflects on her time here at Mason.  CONGRATULATIONS MARTHA!!!!

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?

When I began the program, I envisioned applying Cultural Studies to my work at the State Department.  As you know, in the Ph.D. program we must choose two separate fields of study.M  y two fields were “Cultural Studies of Food” and “Theorizing the Nation State.”  

When I left the State Department for a job at the Department of Defense, I became more interested in the nation state and national security policy.

It was also then that I read two books by Hugh Gusterson, Nuclear Rites (the ethnographic study of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and People of the Bomb.  These works inspired my own research.  From them I came to understand how American public debate around defense policy was largely missing the cultural perspective.  And I also came to believe that if people looked at national security policy with such a perspective that our public discussions might be more generous and imaginative.  I also learned the importance of subjecting Western institutions – particularly powerful ones, that affect the lives of millions of people, to rigorous scrutiny.

I was fortunate that Dr. Gusterson agreed to be my dissertation advisor and he was tremendously supportive as I went on to write "Cleared and Present: Danger in the Personnel Security Clearance System" about Federal government employees within the personnel security clearance system. And I plan to write more about that topic in the near future.

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 probably different than most students in that I was already well into my career by the time I began the Cultural Studies program at GMU. As a matter of fact, I have already retired from my 23 -year career of federal service.  So, I was certainly a "mature" student by the time I earned my Ph.D.  

But I will say that, while I already had a rewarding career, I found that the program provided me with vital theoretical and disciplinary perspective that was lacking at both the State and Defense Departments.   So it was professionally valuable for me to bring the Cultural Studies perception, that I acquired at GMU, to work with me in the federal government.  

For example, as part of the program I underwent directed readings supervised by Peter Mandaville.  I had been working in the field of international relations at the State Department.  But it was during those readings with Dr. Mandaville that I began to critically review the canon within the discipline of International Relations and learned how the framework for thinking about the state and national security has evolved.

Starting with classical social theory - specifically those of Weber, Durkheim and Marx - and moving into more recent scholars, I learned about methodologies to improve the discipline and think about state security.  Building on that classical social theory was important to understand how subsequent scholars have employed structural and post-structural analyses of the national security state that further illuminates our current circumstances.  Dr. Mandaville helped me to re-think the whole field of International Relations and helped me to learn how the cultural studies approach can refute the naturalness of commonly held beliefs.  In my mind, there is nothing more important than this work that examines how beliefs are manufactured. And that allows us to envision different natural states of reality – those that reject state sponsored violence as natural and routine. 

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

I was fortunate to present a paper at the Cultural Studies Association's International Conference at Lingnan University in Hong Kong in the summer 2010. It was organized by Lingnan's Department of Cultural Studies and Kwan Fong Cultural Research and Development Program, and was the first Cultural Studies Association International Conference held in East Asia.

In addition to other GMU students who gave papers, our panel was organized by a fellow GMU Cultural Studies student, Nayantara Sheoran.  She too recently graduated from the program.  The topic for my panel was "Cultural Laboratories and Scientific Cultures: Interrogating the Theoretical and Empirical between Cultural Studies and Science and Technology Studies".  

I was taking Roger Lancaster’s class, (the Cultural Studies of Science) at the time.  The paper that I had written for that class, "Genetics and Medical Testing: Winners and Losers in the New Science of Race" was the one that I presented at the conference. It generated more interest than I expected from the international audience and it was just so exiting being there in Hong Kong to discuss it.  And that class, was a real eye opener.  Dr. Lancaster is such an inspiring intellect and an amazingly talented teacher.  I will never look at the world the same way again.  I think it was then that I fell in love with Cultural Studies as a discipline.