My research is engaged with the fields of Asian American Studies, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Cultural Studies, and Visual Culture. Much of my work has been drawn to critical analyses of neoliberalism and multiculturalism in the context of Asian American family and kinship in North American culture.
My current book manuscript is titled Technologies of Family: Asian American Racial Formation and the Making of Kinship. Expanding conceptualizations of family and kinship beyond processes of biological reproduction, the project traces the construction of the Asian American family as a systematic site of racial formation in American culture. It argues that kinship itself has been newly constructed through, what I call, “technologies of family” – systems such as government bureaucracy, immigration policy, photography, online profiles, and ancestry tests, each of which serve as a case study. These technologies demonstrate the ways in which Asian American family and kinship have been endowed with fantasies of identification, intimacy, and belonging that define racial categorization. And they reveal how kinship in its representational, institutional, and affective forms has been co-constituted with the racial shifts from exclusion to liberal inclusion in the twentieth century, to the contemporary rise of neoliberal multiculturalism into the present.
I am also at work on a second long-term project that combines archival and ethnographic methods to construct a genealogy of the term “transracial” in North American adoption practices. Spanning North American “domestic” adoption of African American and Indigenous children in the twentieth century through to later transnational adoption from Asia, South America, and Africa, the project explores how the cultural construction of the mixed race adoptive family has reflected and reproduced the changing meanings of race across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
(Forthcoming) “A Technology of Family: Photography and Kinship Formation in Transnational Adoption from Asia,” American Quarterly (December 2022)
Johnson, LiLi. 2021. “Transnational Family Photographs and Adoption from Asia.” Forthcoming in Trans-Asia Photography Review 11.1 (Spring 2021), https://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0011.103/–transnational-family-photographs-and-adoption-from-asia?rgn=main;view=fulltext
Johnson, LiLi. 2018. “Searching in Photographs: Photography and the Chinese Birth Parent Search.” Adoption & Culture. Vol. 6, Iss. 1, 2018: 116-134.
Johnson, LiLi. 2017. “Paper Family Photography: Photography and the State in the Era of Chinese Exclusion (1882–1943),” Photography and Culture, Vol. 10, Iss. 2, 2017: 105-119.