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2003-2004 AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship Winner

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Julie Chu

Julie Chu was the recipient of the 2003-04 AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship. Chu received a BA with High Honors in Political Science and Mass Communications from the University of California, Berkeley. She received her MA in Anthropology at New York University in 2000. With the support of the AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship, Chu completed her Ph.D. in Anthropology at New York University in 2004.  After spending a year as a University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, Julie took a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wellesley College.  This Fall 2008 she will join the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor.  Julie is currently putting the final touches on a book manuscript based on her AAA-supported dissertation.  The book, Cosmologies of Credit: Fuzhounese Migration and the Politics of Destination, will be forthcoming with Duke University Press.  In 2009, with research support of the NSF Programs in Cultural Anthropology and in Law and Social Sciences, she will launch a new ethnographic project on customs inspection and shipping culture at the Port of Fuzhou in China.  Julie is very grateful for the initial support and tremendous vote of confidence provided by the AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship at the crucial early stage of her academic career as a PhD candidate.  She especially appreciated the opportunity to meet the members of the AAA Minority Dissertation  Fellowship committee who provided many words of advice and encouragement during the final stretch of graduate school.

Chu's dissertation, Cosmologies of Credit: Understanding Fuzhounese Migration Through Theories of Value and Exchange" explores economic concepts of migration by showing how local notions of filiality, Buddhist karma and gender shape understandings of the risks and rewards of emigration from Fuzhou, China to the United States. Chu states, "This project stems from longstanding personal and intellectual commitments to issues concerning migrants in the U.S. and in increasingly transnational social contexts. It is also driven by an anthropological interest in analyzing complex social phenomena through the use of local cultural categories."

Chu's dissertation provides an ethnographic study of a village in Fuzhuo, China in which over 85% of households have at least one member in the U.S. Through methods such as participant-observation, discourse analysis and local oral histories, her fieldwork lead to certain salient findings. First and foremost, her research shows how religious practices are central for providing the terms for grappling with the risks and rewards of emigration and moreover, for producing ongoing familial, marital and other relations of sentiment with overseas villagers. One key issue explored in her research is how the influx of U.S. dollars through transnational migration has shaped and been shaped by local religious institutions, ritual practices and folks cosmologies of credit and debt. By foregrounding popular religion, she shows how money often assumes varied and contradictory meanings and uses beyond the pursuit of capital and profit. U.S. dollars, and the desire for them, index more than local interests in economic prosperity but in a cosmopolitan ideal as mobile modern subjects.

Fuzhounese desires for emigration articulate what Chu calls "a politics of destination" for a group traditionally dismissed as "backwards" and "unproductive" in both mainstream Chinese and U.S. understandings of economic development and modernization. Specifically, Chu shows how the Fuzhounese rework divergent Chinese and U.S. ideologies of prosperity into a transnational moral economy that centrally involves relations of deep cosmic debt and reciprocity with gods, ghosts and ancestors. Local religion provides a crucial means for the production of value itself; enabling a morality of wealth often in contradistinction to socialist state narratives fro the model citizen and Western new liberal ideals of market rationality. According to Chu the project also contributes to both current debates over market liberalization in China and the globalization in the U.S. Because mobility has become such a central and normative feature of productivity and prosperity on both Chinese and Western promotions of modernization and "free markets", she argues that immobility (physical, social, economic) is experienced as the ultimate form of displacement and failure for those remaining in this migrant-sending village.

The Minority Dissertation Fellowship Award is awarded each year to an outstanding doctoral student. It is expected that the recipient will complete the dissertation with in the award period.

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