Fail Epics: Gender, Race, and the Narration of Institutional Failure

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Fail Epics: Gender, Race, and the Narration of Institutional Failure

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Everywhere around us we see instances of institutional failure: government malfeasance, fraud and corruption in the banking industry, the collapse of mass access to higher education, home foreclosures, rising rates of poverty and houselessness, swelling prison populations, and failed military endeavors, among other examples. One can argue that the crisis management strategies engineered by various statist and imperialist entities in light of recent disastrous events create the conditions under which institutions face erosive restructuring. While valid, such an analysis does not allow us to explore the complex ways that people grapple with these circumstances. “Fail Epics” is invested in developing a cultural study of institutional failure, the narration of which is integral to how subjects see themselves as part of their political modernity. As such, I argue that the story we tell about institutional failure is just as important as the contexts from which it emerges. My work critiques the rhetorics through which we name and assess institutional failure. It explore how the languages of injury, loss, abandonment, and betrayal, so commonly used to articulate failure, liberalize the themes of precarity that have long animated the lives of the racially and sexually marginalized: the poor, criminalized, undocumented, and unprotected. To broadly attribute the precarious nature of life is not merely to trespass on these histories but to occult them, rendering certain, minoritized experiences of and reactions to institutional failure something wholly unrecognizable, even uncanny, to contemporary formulations of injustice. In turn, I contend that the narration of institutional failure reproduces normative notions of violence and injury that, nevertheless, do not go uncontested. This dissertation illuminates the ways that vernacular representations of institutional failure—in popular political nonfiction, television, and news media—implicitly center particular experiences that do not allow us to more robustly examine the traumatic effects of power or the politics by which lives come to matter.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2016. Major: Feminist Studies. Advisor: Jigna Desai. 1 computer file (PDF); 276 pages.

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Bashore, Katie. (2016). Fail Epics: Gender, Race, and the Narration of Institutional Failure. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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