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Honoring Nakayama

Distinguished Scholar Award Speech: 2018

Presented by Derek Buescher (Executive Council Member-at-Large)

In last year’s presidential address, Mark Bergstrom reminded us that, as members of WSCA, we stand on the shoulders of giants. The distinguished scholar award recognizes the organization’s scholarly giants and this WSCA recognized the distinguished record of Thomas Nakayama. The idea of standing on the shoulders of giants is often attributed to Isaac Newton, but dates to the Greek myth of Cedalion standing on Orion’s shoulders. Orion had been blinded and Cedalion acted as the giant’s eyes as they sought to heal Orion. While we have all stood on the shoulders of this year’s recognized scholarly giant, we have also been guided by their sight, their vision, and their compassion in research because this year’s distinguished scholar’s research is one guided by a purpose to heal our communities and to heal our culture by confronting what one letter writer called “concrete communication problems.”

For perspective here are some numbers. Dr. Nakayama;s is the author or co-author of a dozen books and over forty book chapters and essays. Just one of his essays has been cited over 700 times and just one of his books has been cited by more than 1,000 other publications. As book series editor, Tom has edited 15 books in the last seventeen years and he was the founding editor and co-editor of two journals. Quantitatively, this scholar’s reach is, while measurable, mindboggling in its scope and impact. “Beyond the metrics,” as one letter writer notes, this year’s distinguished scholar “has literally defined multiple areas of study.” Another letter writer explains that Tom’s“critical scholarship expanded the paradigmatic options, contributed a fundamental reconceptualization of culture as materially consequential and hierarchical and always emphasizing the importance of recognizing power and context”

Tom himself once wrote: “ultimately, we must all ask ourselves the purpose of our research.”  For Tom, the question of purpose was never a passing gesture, but a commitment to craft scholarship to affect change in the cultural world through relevant scholarship with specific attention to “help people dealing with the more agonizing issues of everyday life” (Disciplining Evidence, p 173).

As one nominating letter describes, “Across his career, Tom has pushed boundaries and opened doors. From his earliest essays, he has challenged scholars to think differently, and … has done so in ways that have long and deep impact.”     

Letters and committee members noted that with co-authors and students, Tom brought to communication the studies of whiteness and masculinity, had a lasting impact on the examination of sexuality, and changed, for the better the face of the discipline. One comment from a committee member sums up why Thomas Nakayama is a giant and a visionary “But more importantly, his work has made us think -- think about issues that many would sometimes rather ignore or treat as invisible. Issues such as sexuality, whiteness, race, Asian American studies, masculinity, and power. In this way, his work has been prominent in helping to create a field in which I and many others could build a home. Without people like Tom and his intellectual fearlessness, this could not have been possible.”

For allowing us all to stand on his shoulders and be guided by his sight, we are honored to present the 2018 Distinguished Scholar Award to Thomas Nakayama.

I wish to thank the tremendous and thoughtful work of the committee: Bernadette Calafell, Dreama Moon, Greg Dickinson, and David Henry.

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