Imagine Otherwise: Minh-Ha T. Pham on Asian Fashion Bloggers & Finding Her Scholarly Voice Through Public Writing

Minha-Ha T Pham, Imagine Otherwise blog image

Imagine Otherwise: Minh-Ha T. Pham on Asian Fashion Bloggers & Finding Her Scholarly Voice Through Public Writing

January 19, 2016 Podcast

How can interdisciplinary scholars decolonize the fashion industry? How does digital fashion labor build on older forms of racially gendered immigrant labor? And is it possible to critically study and teach an industry you love but also know is deeply flawed and in desperate need of an overhaul?

In this episode of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with guest Minh-Ha T. Pham about her new book on elite Asian fashion bloggers and racialized (unpaid) blogging labor, the politics and pleasure of fashion, why researchers shouldn’t be afraid to study what they love, and how academics can use blogs to create engaged scholarship and develop their public intellectual voice.

We invite you to check out the episode, as well as the highlights and show notes below.

Guest: Minh-Ha T. Pham

  • Minh-Ha is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Minh-Ha is the author of the new book Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging (which Ideas on Fire edited and indexed!), which is the first book ever that critically investigates the personal style blogosphere, and it examines the phenomenal rise of elite Asian bloggers who have made a career of posting photographs of themselves wearing clothes on the Internet. She is also the co-author of the feminist fashion studies blog Threadbared (with Mimi Nguyen), and the author of the blog Of Another Fashion, which highlights the often-erased fashion histories and practices of women of color.

We chatted about:

  • The links between elite Asian superbloggers and Asian garment workers as both fashion laborers (1:52)
  • How fashion capitalism builds on long histories of racially gendered labor (3:49)
  • Why and how scholars shouldn’t be afraid to study what they love (7:20)
  • The role of fashion studies in the academy (8:15)
  • The exploitation of unpaid blogging labor (14:04)
  • How and why to maintain blogs while on the tenure track and on the academic job market (19:04)
  • Academic temporality versus blogging temporality (23:12)
  • The art/activism/academia braid (24:15)

Takeaways:

  • On Asia’s increasing role in the global fashion industry: Minh-Ha is asking “How are race, gender, and class in this labor market are changing, or maybe not changing, in the context of digital labor and in what people are calling the “new Asian decade” or “the Asian century” where we’re seeing parts of Asia, particularly China and Thailand rising as a global economic and commercial force” (3:13)
  • On critically studying something she loves: “It’s easy to disparage fashion because it has a lot of problems–its race problem, its body imagery problem, its class problem, its crass commercialism sometimes. It has a lot of problems. And I see all that. But I also wanted to think about the ways in which fashion does things for people individually but also does things in social ways that are positive” (7:31)
  • On writing: “People always say “you write the book you wanted to read”. I wanted to think about fashion in terms of race in particular and power more generally (9:40)
  • On decolonizing the fashion archive: “If you go to the fashion museum or any mainstream fashion archive, you see nothing but luxury brands and white women’s bodies in these clothes. I wanted to decolonize the fashion historical imaginary” (21:42)
  • On blogging as public intellectualism: “It’s because of Threadbared that I discovered my voice and discovered how to be a writer, even more so than in grad school…Threadbared was engaged scholarship. We took our training as ethnic studies grad students and we tried to apply it to these real things that were happening in the world. In doing so, and because of Threadbared’s increasing popularity and because of folks at Jezebel and at Colorlines and other people that were really supportive…we found we were intervening in the mainstream popular discourse about fashion” (23:57)
  • On imagining otherwise: “Especially for women, and women of color, ‘I want’ is not what you’re raised [to ask]. It’s about how do you help other people and how do you self-sacrifice, etc…I want a more just world. I want a fairer world for not only all people, but also especially because of my background, for immigrants, for people of color, for women of color especially, for girls of color” (28:53)

Minh-Ha T Pham, IO podcast quoteMore from Minh-Ha:

Projects and people discussed:

About Imagine Otherwise:

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/episodes. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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About the author

Cathy Hannabach: Cathy is the president of Ideas on Fire, and loves helping progressive, interdisciplinary academics rock their careers and build the worlds they want to see.

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