What is the role of the U.S. in the world? Scholars document the reach of American empire. For example, the U.S. has been, and continues to be, a formal empire, ruling over colonial Philippines and contemporary Puerto Rico and Guam, among others. It also is an informal empire, which scholars currently understand as encompassing a wide array of contexts, from overseas military bases to multilateral agreements. I argue that we need to revise our understanding of empire. First, that military bases are significantly different from those related to exchanges not associated with place. Extending my previous work, I suggest military bases do exert territorial control, albeit one that extends over physical buildings, rather than an entire country and that informal empire should refer to this type of territoriality. Second, I suggest the need for what I call residual empire. If informal empire confers territorial control over particular spaces, residual empire addresses power dynamics among former colonial relations that have no current territorial claims. I have, or will be presenting this work at the 2nd Chicago Area Comparative Historical Social Sciences Conference at Northwestern, the 2019 Junior Scholars Workshop at the Law and Society Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, and the 2019 Social Science History Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.
Recently, I’ve also started a collaborative project on drag as a form of precarious labor with graduate student Zeinab Shuker, where we are interviewing drag queens and drag kings in, and conducting participant observation in clubs around, the Inland Empire of Southern California.