The Racial Mundane

Asian American Performance and the Embodied Everyday

304 pages

6 halftones

May, 2015

ISBN: 9781479844326



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Ju Yon Kim is an Associate Professor of English at Harvard University.

All books by Ju Yon Kim

Winner, Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize presented by the New England American Studies Association

Across the twentieth century, national controversies involving Asian Americans have drawn attention to such seemingly unremarkable activities as eating rice, greeting customers, and studying for exams. While public debates about Asian Americans have invoked quotidian practices to support inconsistent claims about racial difference, diverse aesthetic projects have tested these claims by experimenting with the relationships among habit, body, and identity. 

In The Racial Mundane, Ju Yon Kim argues that the ambiguous relationship between behavioral tendencies and the body has sustained paradoxical characterizations of Asian Americans as ideal and impossible Americans. The body’s uncertain attachment to its routine motions promises alternately to materialize racial distinctions and to dissolve them. Kim’s study focuses on works of theater, fiction, and film that explore the interface between racialized bodies and everyday enactments to reveal new and latent affiliations. The various modes of performance developed in these works not only encourage audiences to see habitual behaviors differently, but also reveal the stakes of noticing such behaviors at all. Integrating studies of race, performance, and the everyday, The Racial Mundane invites readers to reflect on how and to what effect perfunctory behaviors become objects of public scrutiny.


  • "Kim’s methodology throughout reminds us that scholarship is its own practice and the 'theoretical elasticity' demonstrated in these studies highlights the complexity of Asian American cultural works and their unfolding critical praxis."

    American Literature

  • “Impressive and compelling, The Racial Mundane defamiliarizes everyday behaviors in order to expose the racial formation of Asian Americans. In this beautifully rendered, standout book, Ju Yon Kim breaks new ground, opening the theoretical framework of race and performance in original and exciting ways.”

    —Shannon Steen, author of Racial Geometries of The Black Atlantic, Asian Pacific, and American Theatre

  • “A beautifully written and original discussion of Asian American performance and the politics of the everyday. The Racial Mundane illustrates how Asian Americans, whether historically marginalized or celebrated as model minorities, have come into the public eye, and will surely open up important new dialogues on Asian American culture and racial representation.”

    —Josephine Lee, author of Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage