Student Spotlight: Dissertation Proposal Presentations

Student Spotlight: Dissertation Proposal Presentations

A big congratulations goes out to the program’s six people who presented their dissertation proposals at the end of the Fall 2014 semester: Sarah Carpenter, Kimberly Klinger, Tai Neilson, Zac Petersen, David Rheams, and Andrea Zach Rutan.  Stay up to date on these exciting projects by reading a summary of some of them below. 


Kimberly Klinger is working with Roger Lancaster, Denise Albanese, and Craig Willse to complete her dissertation.  Her working title is “The long reach of transplantation": Pittsburgh and the biopolitics of organ transfer, described in her abstract below:

This project will explore a particularly rich site within the history of organ transplantation: the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) during the 1980s and 1990s. During these years, the hospital’s once modest program grew to become the largest, busiest, “most messianic,” and most successful transplant center in the United States. This is largely due to the arrival in 1981 of Dr. Thomas Starzl, a pioneer in the field, who brought with him new techniques for liver transplantation as well as novel immunosuppressant therapies. The “Starzl years,” lasting into the late 1990s, ushered in a new era in medicine: one in which organ transplants went from being considered untenable, unimaginable, and downright immoral to one in which they became not only standard medical practice but even an imperative treatment. This dissertation will seek to understand how events at UPMC facilitated this change. A new biomedical regime of managing sick populations emerged from this era, one that this dissertation will argue was created through a set of tensions surrounding the lives and deaths of patients. This dissertation will provide a case study of the clinical medical practices and policies at the epicenter of these transformations. It will identify and examine three key tensions that created this new regime of biomedical knowledge during this time period in order to more clearly delimit and understand: the wavering boundary between experimentation and therapy, the competing and sometimes overlapping interests of research and profit, and the redefinition of death and the contingent extension of the lives of the chronically ill. It will focus on Pittsburgh's particular role in these tensions, and the political and economic context under which its program flourished.

David Christopher Rheams is working with Paul Smith, Hugh Gusterson, and Satsuki Takahashi to complete her dissertation.  His working title is Models of Catastrophe: Groundwater Conflict, Software, and the Production of Knowledge during the Texas Drought (2010 – 2014), described in his abstract below:

This dissertation offers a critical examination of the conflicts that surround three major sources of groundwater consumption in Texas during the drought that began in 2010: domestic use, oil and gas production, and agriculture. The linchpin between these conflicts is the reliance on geological groundwater modeling software to understand the contents of an aquifer and transform groundwater from a hidden object into a tangible one.  To address this topic I propose the following question: What were the effects of geological modeling software on groundwater conflicts in Texas during the latest drought (2008-2014)? Answering this question will provide insight into the way models are used to understand the environment and provide a critical study of the specific software used to visualize the environment. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms at the core of water conflict is essential for discussing and solving these conflicts. Groundwater makes a particularly intriguing object of study because it is a hidden object that depends on technological mediation to be understood.

Andrea Zach Rutan is working with Paul Smith, Peter Mandaville, and Marion Deshmukh to complete her dissertation.  Her working title is Post-Wende Germany: Heimat, Citizenship, Subjectivity, described in her abstract below:

The idea of Heimat has carried a rich palimpsest of cultural and political purposes in Germany since the late eighteenth century. My dissertation addresses the concept of Heimat and inquires how it is either implicitly or explicitly positioned within the varied discourses in Germany. This dissertation aims to invert or destabilize (de-mythologize) the hierarchy of Heimat via a critical analysis of three ‘sites’ most visibly enmeshed in local, regional and national levels of cultural production in Germany, specifically within the last decade.