The Program in Critical Theory will support seven Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2021–2022. Brent Eng and Pedro Javier Rolón Machado will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Wendi Bootes, Alfonso Fierro, Thiti Jamkajornkeiat, Lubna Safi, and Camila YaDeau will receive Critical Theory Research Grants.

Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund through the Division of Arts and Humanities, the Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science, the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the generosity of many other colleagues and friends.

Brent Eng is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His particular interests include speculative philosophy, aesthetic theory, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, and political theology. Brent’s dissertation explores the nexus of individual and collective vicissitudes in the contemporary Levant through an ethnography of a bakery in Tripoli, Lebanon, at once at the margins of and central to ongoing destruction. Positioned against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the onset of the Lebanese revolution, it focuses both on the bakery as a singular privileged site and on the symbolism of the technique of bread making itself, where the former becomes a site of experimentation with possible life through the forms of the latter.

Pedro Javier Rolón Machado is a PhD candidate, poet, and sound artist from Caguas, Puerto Rico working within the Comparative Literature Department and the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. They hold a BA in Literature from Yale University (2014) and are interested in Francophone, Hispanophone, and Anglophone Caribbean and American poetry and poetics, postcolonial theory, Caribbean theory, sound studies, and aesthetics. Their doctoral dissertation, titled “Waves in Time: The Otherwise Poetry of Being Puerto Rican,” constellates artworks, literature, and other aesthetic materials from the Puerto Rican archipelago between the 19th century and the end of the 20th in order to track the development of radical imaginings of space, time, and sensuous experience emerging from maritime and oceanic figures. These artworks, which engage the vast body of saltwater that limits, surrounds, and conjoins the archipelago, map out the spatio-temporal dimensions of an elsewhere and an otherwise that in turn makes available a language regarding a Puerto Rican experience of sovereignty that is opaque to epistemological toolkits of history or political economy. Here, notions of permanence, endurance, and impermeability are no longer operative and erosion, decay, and death reorient the conditions and constraints for common life. 

They have received support for their research from the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and Philip Bret LGBT Studies Fellowship, and have presented their work at the Visual Cultures Working Group at the Latin American Studies Association, the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs “Arts of Critique” symposium in Mexico City, and the Arts Research Center’s “Art as Critique” conference. They have appeared in various publications and presentations organized by academics in Puerto Rico and Argentina, such as the Latin American critical theory avenue Telar: Revista del Instituto Interdisciplinario de Estudios Latinoamericanos.

Wendi Bootes is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Her research and teaching spans Anglophone and Russian modernisms, the intersections of literature and philosophy, and the legacies of imperialism and revolution.

Her dissertation, “Revolutionary Perception: History and Modernist Form in Ireland and Russia,” considers the relationship between literary form and revolution in modernist prose during the early twentieth century. It asks how we perceive historical events—in particular, vast and complex phenomena such as imperial collapse and revolution. In addressing this question, this project argues that Irish and Russian writers turned to modes of linguistic and rhetorical indirection as a means of grasping the experience of revolution.

Alfonso Fierro is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His research approaches critical urban studies through an exploration of utopian and speculative traditions of literature and architecture in Latin America. His dissertation “Inhabiting Utopia: Literature, Architecture, and Urban Utopianism in Postrevolutionary Mexico” explores the utopian urban models advanced by a line of radical avant-garde architects and writers in modern Mexico. The project examines how these architects and writers participated in urban debates and struggles of the period over issues such as affordable housing, rent exploitation, or demands for public services with a series of utopian visions for a revolutionary polis. In dialogue with contemporary critical theory, the dissertation explores questions of habitation, social reproduction, and speculative aesthetics that emerged in Mexico’s urban utopianism, as well as the avant-garde’s evolving theories on the political stakes behind the production of urban space and the critical role of art in imagining alternative futurities. 

Alfonso is a regular contributor in the Mexican architecture and urbanism magazine Arquine. He has also published in different academic and non-academic magazines such as Public Books, Chasqui, Revista de la Universidad, and Discurso Visual. He coordinates a seminar on contemporary urban futures in the global south for Instituto17, a critical theory research institution based in Mexico. Alfonso is currently organizing and co-curating Hidden Cartographies, an exhibition on mail art networks in Latin America for the Museo de la Filatelia in Oaxaca, Mexico (September-December, 2021). At Berkeley, he teaches courses on Latin American, Spanish, and Latinx literature and art.

Thiti Jamkajornkeiat is a PhD candidate in South and Southeast Asian Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His theoretical inquiries concern a rethinking of Marxism with decoloniality to develop a more generative framework for explaining the decolonizing periphery and transforming it away from racial capitalism. His intellectual-historical dissertation, “Peripheral Dialectics: Internationalist Praxis of Indonesian Marxism (1943-1966),” recovers the subterranean internationalist strand of Indonesian Marxism foundational to the creation of both a socialist, decolonial Indonesian nation at the global periphery and inter-racial solidarity against the capitalist-imperialist nexus.

Lubna Safi is a PhD candidate in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She holds an MA in Comparative Literature from The Pennsylvania State University (2016), where she completed a thesis on the ways 20th century Spanish poets mobilized al-Andalus (Muslim Iberia) in order to negotiate Spain’s changing national, racial, and literary identities. Her current research interests include aesthetic experience, knowledge formation, reading praxis, and theories of vision and the imagination, with a focus on al-Andalus and the Maghrib. 

Her dissertation, “How the Qaṣīdah Sees from al-Andalus to the Maghrib: Vision, Poetic Knowledge, and the Transformative Capacity of Poetry,” traces modalities of vision and visuality in literary and critical work from al-Andalus and 20th century Morocco. The dissertation examines vision—both poetic and physical—as an aesthetic and ethical praxis in the production, reception, and theorizing of poetry. Drawing upon readings in philosophy, poetics, optics, and critical theory, her project lingers on poetry’s transformative capacity as well as on the image and the imagination as they pertain to poetic knowledge.

Lubna has previously published in The Comparatist and has a version of her MA thesis forthcoming in Comparative Literature. She is also a translator and has served as an editor for the Journal of Associated Graduates in Near Eastern Studies.

Camila YaDeau is a PhD candidate in the Department of Rhetoric with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She holds a BA in Philosophy from Yale University. Her interdisciplinary research brings together comparative political theory, intellectual history, China studies, post-colonial theory and literary theory of translation. Her dissertation, “Reconstructing the Political: Yan Fu, Liang Qichao and the Genealogy of Chinese Liberalism,” examines the relationship between liberalism, nationalism and state power in Chinese interpretations of liberalism during the long 20th century.

For her studies, Camila has been awarded the Allan Sharlin Memorial Award for Research from UC Berkeley’s Institute for International Studies and a research grant from the Republic of China East Asian Fellowship (Ministry of Education, Taiwan). During the 2018–2019 academic year, she was the recipient of the Blakemore-Freeman Fellowship, supporting her study of Mandarin, classical Chinese and Chinese philosophy at National Taiwan University in Taipei. Prior to coming to Berkeley, she studied Chinese during the 2012–2013 academic year at Tsinghua University, Beijing as a Richard U. Light Fellow. Camila recently published an article entitled “Translingual Encounters: Freedom and the Social Organism in Liang Qichao’s Reading of Kant,” which appeared in the May 2021 issue of TRANSIT. 

Her interests include: early-modern and modern Anglo-European political theory, modern Chinese intellectual history, pre-modern and modern Chinese political philosophy, postcolonial studies, 19th and 20th-century Continental philosophy, theory of translation, and philosophy of history.