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date: 25 February 2021

Marxism, Economic Theory, and Asian American Literary Studieslocked

  • Mark ChiangMark ChiangDepartment of Global Asian Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago


As migrants who were drawn to North America to serve as cheap labor, questions of money, economy, and class have been central to Asian American experiences from the mid-19th century, and Marx’s critique of capitalism has circulated almost as long among Asian Americans and anticolonial, nationalist movements in Asia. However, the long history in the communist movement of the subordination of racial and gender inequality to a narrowly defined class struggle alienated many in US racialized communities. Subsequent interventions in Marxist theory leading to non-economically determinist accounts of social transformation have resulted in a post-Marxist Asian American literary and cultural studies. This is a theory, though, that is largely devoid of specifically economic inquiry, and this has led to the marginalization of questions of class, labor, and whiteness that might complicate questions about resistance to domination and capitalist hegemony. These elisions are only exacerbated in the turn to global and transnational frames of analysis, since the complexities of local racial dynamics are often lost in more abstract narratives and conceptual paradigms. The history of Japanese internment provides a case study that exemplifies some of the difficulties of evaluating the multiple forces motivating racial discrimination.

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