4: Dustin Mabry



Program and Year of Study

PhD, Second Year

Previous degrees and colleges

MA Sociology, Humboldt State University

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in both Bakersfield, CA and in a small town near New Orleans with the name Abita Springs. Two places with bit of twang. 

Where do you live now?

Davis, CA. However, soon to move back to Oakland where I lived prior to Davis for five years. 

What's your favorite spot in Davis?

Third Space Art Collective. 

How do you relax?

Paint, dance, exercise, protest, and ramen. All followed by froyo. 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Read through the eight books in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. Typically I’m reading big Russian novels from folks like Tolstoy, but REALLY digging science fiction these days. 

What was the last film you saw at the theater?

The Love Witch on 35mm, at The Roxie in San Francisco’s Mission District. 

Research interests

I’m interested in the historical formation of “The Artist” in U.S. society, roughly between WWI and the dawn of the space age, 1957. In light of concerns surrounding a newfound potential for science to annihilate humanity, I see machine-age artists as promoting the promise of progress at home through industrial projects whereas later artists saw this potential in a new arena of Space exploration. I’m taking a 1952 symposium through Collier’s magazine to understand artists operating more like scientists in a politics of engagement: Pumping life into the machine under the great fear of a new wasteland in the making. 

Dissertation title or topic

The New Divinity: Space Artists in the Modern Wasteland 

Please share a surprising or unusual fact or finding from your research

The C.I.A. funded abstract expressionism while an ex-Nazi had drinks with artists to imagine nuclear missiles on the moon. 

Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?

Although I probably didn’t know this until later, I was initially inspired by my punk rock community. I was really excited by my first course in philosophy, but generally knew that teaching at the college level was The Jam once I found myself in a community college. 

Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?

To be obvious: Michele Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Why? Because if I had written this book, I had thought about the world through Foucault’s approach and imagination. I find his treatment of the relationship between knowledge and power guiding my thoughts all of the time, even as I’m not a “Foucauldian” per se. 

Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?

Especially interested in the work of my advisor in Sociology, David Kyle, who is writing a book on the history of “Creativity.” Also very excited about the work of Caren Kaplan in American Studies, who pushes me to think through the history of ideas in great ways. 

What’s the best thing about being a grad student?

The support from an enormous institution, which (most importantly) includes time from amazing scholars to help me think.  There’s no way I could be pushing myself and my ideas without these folks and their attention. And things like health care. I was an adjunct community college instructor before this: no time to read or write, and no health care. 

What’s the worst?

The enormous institution with its particular histor(ies). As much as I’m excited about becoming a “sociologist,” everyone I really admire (including some great sociologists) knows well that great things don’t come from following pre-conceived paths. 

If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?

Teaching, for sure. I once worked in an adult school which was so inspiring. 

Finally, please ask yourself a question

Why do you think institutions such as UC Davis hold (if they can “hold”) onto the promise of techno-scientific progress in light of what seems to happen in the world?

I don’t know.


—February 2017


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