Margaret Rhee

In Search for My Robot: Emergent Media, Racialized Gender, and Creativity

Date 2/24/20

Affiliation Assistant Professor, SUNY Buffalo


Robots, like any technology, are not "objective" or "universal"; Instead, machines reveal the process of social formation. This talk demonstrates how difference--such as race, gender, and sexuality--are shaped by and co-constitutive with technological developments. Specifically, this talk illustrates how the robot is a primary locus of racialization for Asian Americans within modernity’s distinction between humans and machines.

Drawing from examples such as nineteenth century editorial cartoons of Chinese automatons, the 1960s robotic art of artist Nam June Paik, and contemporary developments of artificial intelligence, this lecture introduces the concept of the Asian and/as Automaton. While the machine demarcates racialized gender, Asian American artists have also recalibrated race by way of the robot. Through new media and creative interventions, the robot also offers possibilities of freedom. Not only has race been shaped by technology, but technology has always been imbued with the politics of difference.


Margaret Rhee is a poet, scholar, and new media artist. She is the author of Love, Robot, named a 2017 Best Book of Poetry by Entropy Magazine and awarded a 2018 Elgin Award by the Science Fiction Poetry Association and the 2019 Best Book Award in Poetry by the Asian American Studies Association. Her poetry chapbooks include Yellow and Radio Heart; or, How Robots Fall Out of Love, and forthcoming collection Poetry Machines: A Letter to a Future Reader, a collection of lyrical essays on poetry, and the intersections of cinema, art, and new media. Currently, she is completing her monograph How We Became Human: Race, Robots, and the Asian American Body. She was a College Fellow in Digital Practice in the English Department at Harvard University and a member of MetaLab @ Harvard. She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in ethnic studies with a designated emphasis in new media studies. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Study at SUNY Buffalo and co-leads Palah 파랗 Light Studios, a creative space for poetry, participation, and pedagogy through technology.

-- As of 2/24/20