Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Greg Smith

Second Advisor

Sharon Shahaf

Third Advisor

Ted Friedman

Fourth Advisor

Michael Karlberg


Dominant approaches in film studies reflect the deeply-rooted assumption – inherited in large part from Marx and Foucault – that human nature and human history are inherently characterized by conflict and the struggle for power. However, this normative adversarialism prevents us from acknowledging the experiences and works of individuals who operate under a different set of foundational assumptions based instead on mutualism, cooperation, and forms of power that do not engage in zero-sum struggles.

This dissertation will treat adversarialism not as an essential, inevitable, or preferable aspect of human nature, but rather as a culturally learned pattern of behavior that can be overcome, both individually and collectively. How would dominant theoretical frameworks in film studies be affected by a view of human nature that does not celebrate moments of conflict and adversarialism, but mutualistic tendencies instead?

By mobilizing the definition provided by the Bahá’í discourse community (BDC) of “world citizenship” as a global ethic founded on the inherent oneness of humanity, this study will challenge three generally adversarial assumptions in the study of film: 1) That any filmmaker working within a non-democratic or “oppressive” state is politically worthy of celebration primarily when actively criticizing the politics of that state; 2) That any filmmaker with a complex multicultural background will have a psychologically difficult time reconciling their own cultural differences and reflect that internal struggle in their films; and 3) That conflict is an essential part of any popular cinematic narrative.

Current approaches to filmmaking in an era of globalization, operating under normative adversarialism and often emphasizing the articulation of difference, are inadequate to explain the works of filmmakers living and working within a mutualistic ethic of world citizenship. By taking Dayyan Eng – a multicultural filmmaker based in Beijing, China – as the primary case study, I will develop a “world citizen” framework based on the articulation of the essential oneness of humanity and a filmmaker’s development of a “triple fluency” (cinematic, cultural, and industrial) to address limitations inherent in existing concepts in order to more appropriately illuminate the works of other media makers who work and live according to similar conceptual frameworks.


Available for download on Monday, September 14, 2099