Research

Theory is always a detour on the way to something more important.

Stuart Hall

At the intersection of cultural studies and sound studies, my research focuses on popular music and how it reveals new ways of thinking about racialized, gendered and sexualized subjectivities, histories and senses of place.

Currently, I am studying the production of Filipino pop music during the 1970s and 1980s as a venue for performing and sedimenting a particular kind of collective memory that affectively anchors rigid Filipino subjectivities to a nation-state and the archipelagic space that has become commonly understood as the Philippines. My work is largely informed through my creative practice in music production and my organizing work with Malaya Movement.

My broader research interests include cultural studies, popular culture, sound studies, migration, diaspora and indigeneity studies, performance, memory studies, knowledge production, affect theory, queer and feminist theory, politics of care and social reproduction, critiques on productivity, abolition, critical race theory, activism, community organizing, coalition and solidarity building, social movements, phenomenology, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis.

My Story

Revolution seeks to win control of the state and its resources, while abolition wants to quit playing and raze the stadium of settler-slaver society for good.

Savannah Shange

What set me on this path was the year 2012 when my mom and my grandpa were both diagnosed with cancer. With all the surgeries, all the radiation and chemotherapy sessions, all the medical bills, my lack of the tools and support I needed to navigate the healthcare industry, and the emotional gravity of being on the sidelines of illness and death, the world felt big, lonely, alienating.

Those years were grueling and harrowing, but they reminded me about the importance of collectivity. The few years between his diagnosis and death, my family came together to organize a musical concert fundraiser for cancer research. This temporary moment for us became a critical moment of praxis where we would rehearse our capacity to cope with the impending loss together. And when my grandpa passed, I remember walking into his funeral and I was overwhelmed with the floods of people coming in from all walks of life: friends, community organizers, religious leaders, coworkers, and more. I was amazed by how many people squeezed into the narrow funeral home and listened to my family speak and sing about our grief.

“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating [their] gifts in all directions; only in community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.”

Karl Marx

Now that I look back, this gathering of people also reminds me of when I was little, all the people from the church and the neighborhood would come to my grandparent’s house to share a feast of Filipino dishes and gossip on Sundays after church, but also for holidays and other special occasions. I vaguely recall many people I didn’t know who would pinch my cheeks and tell me how they knew me when I was an infant. And I can’t count how many times my grandma would proudly make me a plate of food and tell me my grandpa made my favorite Filipino dish: adobo. But one of my favorite memories of these gatherings was the time my grandpa asked me to sing karaoke. As someone who struggled a bit with English, my grandpa, I thought, was hoping to connect with me through music. At first, when he inserted a blank CD into a recording machine that was hooked up to a clunky TV and karaoke machine, I thought he had wanted a souvenir to remember that moment. But after he recorded me singing, he later offered it to me as a gift. This act of gifting was certainly a useful representation of my grandpa’s abundant capacity for care beyond words. But also, this moment, like the gatherings that came around during our musical concert fundraiser and his funeral, illustrated to me the way in which music can be a performatively and affectively powerful way to open dialogue about the diversity of community and the care, belonging and relations that form through it. But what even is community?

To explore, I started frequently volunteering in various communities throughout my undergrad and masters and began doing research on my Filipino ethnicity hoping to learn more about community and belonging. I read novels, conducted interviews to listen to relatives recount their migration stories, and tediously struggled through the lack of Filipino mentors to look up to and US scholarship on the colonial history between the Philippines and the US.

The point is not to render ideas less complex but to make the complex clear.

bell hooks

Through my studies and volunteering, I then found my way to activism. I slowly started attending intersectional actions that mobilized diverse peoples against various registers of oppression. And I learned from scholar-activists who transformed their research into material practices. Some curated better museum representations, protested in the streets, and advocated for undocumented rights. Others were engaged in community participatory projects and developed art to communicate beyond the confines of language. From being in the streets to learning from others, these experiences taught me the value of research as a method for harnessing the power of articulation. Further, these experiences have helped to refine my sensitivity to the possibilities that research made available to me and inspire me to join an activist organization in hopes of putting research in service of my many communities.

From research to activism, the most important lesson I learned was that if things can be thought and made, then they can be rethought and remade. We may never see, hear, sense or live in it, but it means that a better world is possible. Therefore, my research aim is a modest but necessary one, to help clear the way for the growth of more sustainable forms of collective life that build upon care, reciprocity, mutual interdependence, and fairness rather than individualist solutions based on merit and opportunity and punitive, carceral solutions based on fear, terror, alienation, competition and domination. In short, my aim is about unsettling the ontology of the ‘popular’ to make room for social life to grow.

Indeed, to live out a politics of disorientation might be to sustain wonder about the very forms of social gathering.

Sara Ahmed