Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Alan C Braddock

Committee Member

Elizabeth M Losh

Committee Member

Monica Seger

Committee Member

Stacy Alaimo


The racist rhetoric that correlates certain humans with nonhumans has re-entered popular discourse in light of recent rat infestations in Baltimore and the immigration crisis. Scholars have long studied human relationships to nonhuman nature. Other scholars have brought to light the role of power in shaping identity. However, they have often failed to connect these histories without reinforcing dehumanization among marginalized communities. Feminist new materialists have looked at the enmeshment of humans within gendered nonhuman environments; posthumanists have shown that humans are made up of more-than-human assemblages; and queer theorists have emphasized the ways in which normative conceptions of the human fail to recognize the diversity of human expression. To contend with challenges facing non-normative people who are forced to endure harmful human-animal entanglements today, I use the figure of the pest to disassociate these racist discourses while also re-imagining how we see these much-hated animals. This dissertation examines human-pest relations as they play out materially, in actual infestations, rhetorically, across the political stage, and affectively, through paranoia. Using a visual studies methodology, I detangle the structural reasons for why infestations are more likely to persist among people with multiply marginal identities. Additionally, I look to art that resists such constructions. My project analyzes an assortment of varied archives from a 19th century rat nest to documentaries that feature the subculture of so-called bug chasing during the AIDS epidemic. Theoretically, this project juxtaposes feminist new materialist inquiry with Black, Latinx, and queer studies in order to study the work that objects can do to dismantle human-nonhuman value systems. "The Multi-Species Entanglements of Blackness: Infestations from the Coasts of West Africa to the American City" follows rat infestations from the slave ship to present-day poor, black neighborhoods in order to show how material infestation develops as a form of racism built into the structures of slavery and segregation. I highlight how these interspecies intimacies assisted in telling stories about enslaved life that would otherwise be lost to archival bias. "No Cockroaches at the U.S.-Mexico Border: Resisting Rhetoric in Queer Latinx Performance" reveals the ways in which human-pest comparison through immigration rhetoric has a long history stemming from early 20th century immigration reform and the rise of the eugenics movement. Even so, artists Xandra Ibarra and Carmelita Tropicana have used performing as a cockroach to surmount xenophobia. "Deviant Bed Bug Performances: Paranoia as Queer Affect," demonstrates how affect, specifically paranoia, can be queered through humorous bed bug-themed musicals to create equity among species. The last chapter, "A How-To Guide for Making Pest-humanist Art," looks to four living, female artists who use their work to develop alternative modes of responding to nonhuman life. Together, these chapters establish "pest-humanism," an analytic that critiques the structural histories of violence exposed by examining human-pest relationships and enables the development of social justice art which pays heed to the nonhuman in a responsible way.




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Available for download on Thursday, May 16, 2030