This course explores processes that render people invisible in real life and/or in literature, and the meaning and consequence of those processes. It examines both people who sociologist Erving Goffman famously labelled “non-persons” – i.e. people who are “treated in their presence as if they were not there” (The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, 96) and people who novelist E.M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel, famously called “flat characters”, i.e. minor characters without depth or the ability to surprise. The course has four key components: reading, data collection, discussion, and writing. In the first several weeks, we will read discuss literature on processes of “invisibilization” and discuss differences and similarities between wanting to be invisible and being made to be invisible. In the following weeks, students will conduct their own literature searches, plan their research projects and collect their data. In the final weeks, students will work on drafts of their projects and make in-class presentations.
The course involves independent research. Following initial discussions of key introductory texts on what it means to be invisible or be rendered invisible, students will find and select other readings that will be most relevant to their own empirical projects. The projects can focus on literary texts or on engagement with real people through observation and interviews. Towards the end of the first month, students will embark on their own data collection followed by the formulation of their research projects, drawing up research proposals and bibliographies.
All students will collect their own data. Data collection may involve on-site participant observation and/or interviews with study participants.
This course aims to consolidate students’ knowledge and critical analytic skills in critical social and literary analysis gained during their undergraduate studies to date. It will allow students to enhance their ability to read, synthesize and present academic information, formulate research questions, design and carry out small-scale empirical projects.
The course will be organized around (a) the readings to be discussed by students; (b) gathering and analysis of data; (c) presentations of the data and analysis. The instructor will moderate discussion and provide feedback. Seminars will take place on Wednesdays between 14:30-16:20. Students should budget additional 4–6 hours per week for reading, preparation, data collection and writing.
Toni Morrison’s book Playing in the Dark (week 2) should either be purchased or obtained through a library. Most other required readings are available through the HKU library databases and the Internet. Students are responsible for finding them, downloading them and reading them before class. Those few readings not available through the HKU library or the Internet will be provided by the instructor. Those readings are marked with an *.
It is crucial that you come to class prepared. Read the readings carefully and bring your notes with you so that you can refresh your memory when you are asked to summarize and discuss them.
Required readings note: Read the readings in the order they appear.
Read before the first session and come to class prepared to discuss these texts (week 1)
Goffman, Erving 1956. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, passage on non-persons, pp. 95-96.
Forster, E. M. 1927. Aspects of the Novel. London: Edward Arnold. Chapter 4 “People (continued)”, pp. 47-59.
Davis, Fred 1959. The cabdriver and his fare: faucets of a fleeting relationship. American Journal of Sociology 65: 158-165.
Weiss, Meira 1994. Nonperson and nonhome: territorial seclusion of appearance-impaired children. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22(4): 463-487.
Miller, Laura 2013. Elevator girls moving in and out of the box. In Modern Girls on the Go: gender, mobility, and labor in Japan, edited by Alisa Freedman, Laura Miller, and Christine R. Yano, Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 41–46.
Foucault, Michel 1978. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Penguin Books, pp. 1-35.
Morrison, Toni 1992. Playing in the Dark: whiteness and the literary imagination. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Proctor, Robert 2008. Agnotology: a missing term to describe the cultural production of ignorance (and its study). In Agnotology: the making and unmaking of ignorance, edited by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger. Standford, CA: Stanford University Press. pp. 1-33.*
Goldberg, David Theo 1996. In/Visibility and Super/Vision: Fanon on race, veils, and discourses of resistance. In Fanon: A Critical Reader, edited by Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley- Whiting, and Renee T. White Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 179-200.
Grønstad, Asbjørn and Øyvind Vågnes 2019. Invisibility matters. In Invisibility in Visual and Material Culture, edited by Asbørn Grønstad and Øyvind Vågnes Cham: Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-16.
Frederickson, Jon and James F. Rooney 1988. The Free-Lance Musician as a Type of Non-Person: an extension of the concept of non-personhood. Sociological Quarterly 29(2): 221-239.
Hackl, Andreas 2018. Immersive invisibility in the settler-colonial city: the conditional inclusion of Palestinians in Tel Aviv. American Ethnologist, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 341-353.
Newton, Natalie 2016. Contingent Invisibility: space, community, and invisibility for Les in Saigon. GLQ 22, no. 1: 109-136.
Langegger, Sig and Stephen Koester 2016. Invisible homelessness: anonymity, exposure, and the right to the city. Urban Geography 37(7):1030-1048.
Herzog, Benno. 2020. Invisibilization of Suffering: the moral grammar of disrespect. Palgrave McMillan. Chapter 2 ”Invisibilization”, pp. 71-93; 142-146.
Olsen, Erik 2014. No Country for Subtitles (Just Voices). New York Times, 8 August*
McKinley, James and Rick Rojas 2106. The lives and lies of a professional imposter. New York Times, February 4*
Poore, Benjamin 2019. “Turning Over: why page turners matter”. VAN Magazine, 2 October. https://van-magazine.com/mag/turning-over/
Lankenau, Stephen 1999. Panhandling repertoires and routines for overcoming the nonperson treatment. Deviant Behavior 20(2): 183-206.
Schweik, Susan 2009. The Ugly Laws: disability in public. New York: New York University Press, Introduction, pp. 1-20 and chapter 5 “Dissimulations”, pp. 108-140.
Hardaker, Claire 2017. Flaming and trolling. In Pragmatics of Social Media, edited by C. R. Hoffmann and W. Bublitz. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 493-522.
Brighenti, A. Mubi 2010. Visibility in Social Theory and Social Research. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Grønstad, Asbjørn and Øyvind Vågnes, eds. 2019. Invisibility in Visual and Material Culture. Cham: Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Frederickson, Jon and James Jinnah, Zaheera 2017. Silence and Invisibility: Exploring Labour Strategies of Zimbabwean Farmworkers in Musina, South Africa. South African Review of Sociology 48(3): 46-63.
Jones, Rhys Dafydd 2012. Negotiating Absence and Presence: rural Muslims and ‘subterranean’ sacred spaces. Space and Polity 16(3):335-350.
Papadopoulous Dimitris and Vassilis Tsianos 2008. The Autonomy of Migration – the animals of undocumented mobility. In Deleuzian Encounters: studies in contemporary social issues, edited by A. Hickey-Moody & P. Malins, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 223–235.
Philipps, Dave 2022. The unseen scars of those who kill via remote control. New York Times 16 April.
Pugh, Jeffrey D. 2021. The Invisibility Bargain: governance networks and migrant human security. Oxford University Press.
Robinson, James Philip 2012. Invisible Targets, Strengthened Morale: static camouflage as a ‘weapon of the weak’. Space and Polity 16(3): 351-368.
Trammell, Rebecca and Mackenzie Rundle 2015. The inmate as the nonperson: examining staff conflict from the inmate’s perspective. The Prison Journal 95(4):472–492.
Villegas, Francisco 2010. Strategic in/visibility and undocumented migrants. Counterpoints 368: 147–170.
Woloch, Alex 2003. The One vs. The Many: minor characters and the space of the protagonist in the novel. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Zerubavel, Eviatar 2015. Hidden in Plain Sight: the social structure of irrelevance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Course assessment is 100% coursework consisting of (1) class participation (30%), (2) outline of research proposal and indicative bibliography (20%), and (3) a research project combining overview of the literature and discussion of illustrative data examples from students’ fieldwork (50%). Class participation will be based on the students’ discussion of readings and data and feedback offered to other students on their ongoing projects. Assessment of the written work is based on the breadth and depth of the overview of the readings, quality of collected data, and data analysis. The word limit for the final projects is 3,000 words, excluding references.