James Hughes


My name is James Hughes and I am a 6th year graduate student in Interdisciplinary Studies at Emory's Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts.

My multimedia dissertation, Southern Community, Commerce, and Representation in the Global Age, examines the social and economic consequences of a small Southern town’s deindustrialization. Specifically, my project centers on the erosion of a way of life encompassing the skills, culture, and custom of my hometown, Chester, South Carolina, due to the closing of local cotton conglomerate Springs Global. With a focus on digital filmmaking, local and regional history, visual culture, and film, my dissertation engages in original fieldwork that explores the issues facing a specific society in decline and offers a nuanced portrait of the working class South. My analysis is based on close readings of Southern rural and working class representations found in cinema, ethnographic filmmaking and fieldwork, and photo-elicitation from current citizens that are situated in a regional and community context.

I am particularly interested in production of documentaries illustrating particular cultural, economic, and social moments rooted in specific circumstances that stand in opposition to broad regional depictions. For example, I argue that class coded “monsters” found in rural horror films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre contribute to a negative Southern imaginary. By contrast, observational films rooted in ethnographic practice help to challenge such depictions through careful engagement with community perspectives and social media. Since my dissertation consists of both text and film, it is the first at Emory to integrate media technology in form and content.

During my graduate career I have engaged diverse audiences by means of both publication and presentation. I have published two visual articles in the multimedia journal Southern Spaces for which I was the Digital Media Coordinator. “From Raw Cotton to Cloth” documents the cotton refinery process in Springs’s Katherine Plant before its close, and “The Klan Tableau” explores the art and photography of William Christenberry. I have finished editing the next film in my Chester series, Alec and Carlisle, and I am currently editing Good Samaritan Clinic which has been submitted for inclusion in the academic multimedia journal Practical Matters. I have recently been approached by South Carolina’s public television station to broadcast Cotton Hills Farm.

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