A Race So Different

Performance and Law in Asian America

279 pages

30 halftones

December, 2013

ISBN: 9780814769966



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Joshua Chambers-Letson is Associate Professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University and author of After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life (2018).

All books by Joshua Chambers-Letson

Winner of the 2014 Outstanding Book Award presented by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education
Taking a performance studies approach to understanding Asian American racial subjectivity, Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson argues that the law influences racial formation by compelling Asian Americans to embody and perform recognizable identities in both popular aesthetic forms (such as theater, opera, or rock music) and in the rituals of everyday life. Tracing the production of Asian American selfhood from the era of Asian Exclusion through the Global War on Terror, A Race So Different explores the legal paradox whereby U.S. law apprehends the Asian American body as simultaneously excluded from and included within the national body politic.
Bringing together broadly defined forms of performance, from artistic works such as Madame Butterfly to the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the Cambodian American deportation cases of the twenty-first century, this book invites conversation about how Asian American performance uses the stage to document, interrogate, and complicate the processes of racialization in U.S. law. Through his impressive use of a rich legal and cultural archive, Chambers-Letson articulates a robust understanding of the construction of social and racial realities in the contemporary United States.


  • “Drawing upon theoretical insights of J.L. Austin, Erving Goffman, Carl Schmitt, Louis Althusser, and Michel Foucault, the author has fashioned an informative and nuanced study, which . . . is certainly provocative and fascinating.”

    The Journal of American History

  • "Through a host of illuminating examples ranging from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly to the military prisons at Guantánamo to the indie-rock band Dengue Fever, A Race So Different effectively develops the idea of 'racial exception' to characterize the legal statuses and imaginative spaces occupied by Asian Americans. Legal history, theater, and everyday performance come together in this illuminating, profound, and intrepid study."  

    —Josephine Lee, University of Minnesota