Selma Siew Li Bidlingmaier

First Advisor:
Prof. Dr. Kornelia Freitag
(Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Second Advisor:
Prof. Dr. Walter Grünzweig
(TU Dortmund)

Selma Siew Li Bidlingmaier

Selma graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in May 2000 majoring in Clinical Psychology and minoring in Literature. During her undergraduate studies she worked as a teaching and research assistant and won awards for high scholastic achievement. She continued her graduate studies at the University of Bayreuth attaining her M.A. in Anglophone Studies with a focus on the function of memory in literature in 2003. While holding the position as teaching assistant and subsequently tenured lecturer in literature and cultural studies at the Ruhr-University Bochum, she began developing an interest in the Asian American literature and spatial theory. In 2012, she received the MERCATOR research stipend and is currently working on her PhD dissertation on the confluence of literature and the production of third spaces in her study of literary North American Chinatowns.

Writing Chinatown, Writing Third Spaces

The word Chinatown does not merely refer to an ethnic enclave but carries with it a myriad of cultural and socio-political signification: otherness, difference, exoticism, class divide, etc. These meanings, construed and contested since the 19th Century by various institutions ranging from public health boards, sociological schools of thought, political associations to the entertainment industry, have reduced these historically complex, lived spaces into a two-dimensional binary: china (all that is discursively constructed and imagined as other) and town (the material ‘reality’ of these ghettos/enclaves). China-town has been conceived and utilized ‘lifelessly’, the many lives of those living and working there merely artifacts.
My project aims to find ways to ‘re-locate’ and ‘re-habilitate’ Chinatown beyond the confines of the dialectics of discourse and social material practices. Drawing primarily from Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space, Jacques Rancière’s poetical politics of literarity, and Homi Bhabha’s third spaces, this project argues that one of the rehabilitative strategies of Chinatown as an organic, lived social space lies in moments of creative enunciation: the writing and reading of literature. This project attempts to trace the cultural processes in which the various discourses and socio-political practices have shaped ‘China-town’ and to demonstrate how the literature of Chinatown has acted as a platform to subvert, demystify and re-in-state its ethnicized space within US national narrative. Focusing on Chinese American literature of Chinatowns such as Frank Chin’s Donald Duk (1991), Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone (1993), and Ha Jin’s A Good Fall (2009), I will demonstrate the importance of literature, poesy, in the transformation of urban, North American cities.


  • Selma Siew Li Bidlingmaier. Spaces of Alterity and Temporal Permanence: The Case of San Francisco and New York’s Chinatowns in “Selling EthniCity: Urban Cultural Politics in the Americas”. Olaf Kaltmeier ed. Surrey: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Selma Siew Li Bidlingmaier. "The Spectacle of the Other: Representations of Chinatown in Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon (1985) and John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Chinatown (1986)". COPAS, Vol. 8, 2007.

Selected Presentations

  • March 2014: "Everyday Culinary Chinatown: Food and the Spatial Politics of the Cold War"
    Spatial Histories, Constructs, and Practices: Trajectories and Strategies in the North American City. Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany.
  • January 2014: "Re-Inhabiting the Emptied 'Ghettos': The Everyday Spaces in Fae Myenne Ng's Bone"
    2014 Ruhr PhD Forum in American Studies. TU Dortmund, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
  • December 2013: Response to Joseph Ben Prestel's paper "Losing Control: Emotions and the Emergence of New Neighborhoods for Entertainment in Berlin and Cairo, 1870-1900". International Workshop: Feeling Space: Towards a History of Emotion, Affect, and Space, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen.
  • September 2013: Re-inhabiting the Emptied "Ghettos": The Everyday Spaces of Literary Chinatowns. Discourses of Emancipation and the Boundaries of Freedom. 22nd Biennale Associazione Italiana di Studi Nord-Americani (AISNA), Trieste, Italy.
  • April 2013: “Re-inhabiting the Lived Spaces of Chinatown”Urban Transformations Symposium, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) Essen, Germany.
  • November 2012: Guest lecture: "Lefebvre's Spatial Trialectics". Oberseminar: Global Cities in Theory and Practice, Englisches Seminar, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.
  • March 2012: Co-chaired workshop “Health, Food and Citizenship in the 19th Century”. Presented paper: “Governing Bodies, Policing Borders—Mapping San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 19th Century” European Association for American Studies, 2012. Izmir, Turkey.
  • May 2009: “Spaces of Alterity and Temporal Permanence: The Case of New York and San Francisco’s Chinatowns.” E Pluribus Unum? Ethnic Identities in Transnational Integration Process in the Americas. Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung, Bielefeld, Germany.
  • September 2009: “Chinatown: A Museum of Otherness.” International American Studies Association (IASA) 4th World Congress, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China.
  • June 2008: “(Ex)clusion/(In)clusion and the ‘Othered’ Space: Representing Chinatowns in 19th Century USA.”
    Divided We Stand, United We Fall: Perspectives on Inclusions and Exclusions in America. Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Selected Conference Participation

  • March 2014: Organizer of the conference Spatial Histories, Constructs, and Practices: Trajectories and Strategies in the North American City at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.
  • April 2013: Chair of the presentations “Writing the City: Mimesis into Performance," “German-American Ethnicity and Festivals in an Urban Context," and “Walking/Investigating/ Consuming the City: Tourists, Flaneurs and Detectives in Pynchon's Against the Day”. Urban Transformations Symposium, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) Essen, Germany.

Selected Teaching

  • Hygiene, Illness, and Disease in 19th Century American Literature and Culture
  • Writing Third Spaces
  • Chinatown Cowboys and Woman Warriors: En-gendering Chinese American Literature
  • Writing Out of Assimilation: Chinese American Literature Between the Wars
  • A Survey of Asian American Literature
  • Introduction to Chinese American Literature
  • Society and Determinism: Realism and Naturalism in 19th Century American Literature and Culture
  • Analyzing 19th Century American Short Story
  • Introduction to Cultural Studies
  • Dress/Codes: Reading Bodies and Fashion
  • The American Counterculture Movement

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