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Hobo subculture, chromosomes win doctoral dissertation awards

Two doctoral students in the College of Arts and Sciences were recent recipients of the college’s Distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Awards, which were presented at Lehigh’s 137th Commencement in late May.

Lisa Morgan Antoniacci, who earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology, and John Lennon, who earned his Ph.D. in English, were recognized by Anne Meltzer, dean of the College of Arts and Science, at the ceremony.

Antoniacci’s doctoral research work was conducted under the supervision of Bob Skibbens, assistant professor of biological sciences, and focused on how sister chromosome cohesion is established.

“Sister chromosomes are glued together from the time of DNA replication until chromosome separation,” Antoniacci explains. “When sisters are not glued together, there are serious consequences on the cell that lead to chromosome missegregation, aneuploidy and cell death. General examples of diseases that result from chromosome missegregation are the development of various cancers, or Down’s Syndrome, where an individual harbors three copies of chromosome 21 resulting in mental retardation and physical abnormalities.”

In Skibbens’ lab, Antoniacci was able to identify a novel interaction between a derivative of CTF7p -- the only known essential gene responsible for establishing chromatid cohesion -- and a component of the nuclear envelope.

“The focus of my thesis was to characterize the interaction between these two genes,” Antoniacci says. “My data revealed a physical, functional, and genetic interaction between these two genes that supports a model whereby Mps3p is regulating sister chromatid cohesion establishment through an interaction with Ctf7p. This is the first time that a nuclear envelope protein has been shown to regulate chromosome cohesion.”

Her thesis further explored the role of the nuclear envelope as a regulator of other chromatin metabolism pathways other than cohesion, with the hope that this research would illustrate the importance of the nuclear envelope as not just a barrier, or a way to compartmentalize the cell and separate the genetic material from the rest of the cell’s components. She also hopes that others begin to explore the importance of the nuclear envelope in different chromatin regulation pathways.

Antoniacci plans on continuing her research, and is considering three different biotech/pharmaceutical companies in the hopes of receiving a post-doc position in biochemistry/molecular biology field.

Analyzing the hobo figure

Lennon’s research involved a philosophical examination of hobo subculture resistance in the late 19th century and early 20th century, as well as a study of the U.S. rail riding community in the late 1990s. He plans on publishing his dissertation as a book.

“My dissertation, ‘Interrogating American Subculture,’ is essentially about the manipulations of movement and visibility, locating hobos’ resistance in their transient bodies and negotiations of invisibility,” says Lennon. “The American hobo’s continuous ability to stay in motion, hidden from the stabilizing organizations that attempt to place her/him both geographically and socially, constitutes an essential site of subcultural resistance in American society.”

Using critical methods derived from literary studies to analyze cultural narratives by and about the hobo figure, Lennon focused on the physical body in motion as the location of resistance, drawing on the work of Michel de Certeau, a French Jesuit and scholar whose work combined psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences, and who argued that the body is both delimited and articulated by societal laws and regulations.

“Building from this, I show how the negotiation of invisibility is an ideological tool manipulated by the individual to free and express her/his own body,” he says.

His dissertation illustrated how resistance is more that just a theoretical abstraction, and is, indeed, a lived experience, with life-and-death ramifications, that is fought in the everyday realm of the train yards, jungle fires and squats in towns and cities throughout the United States.

Narrating the story of this marginalized yet essential community through the use of canonical literature, political tracts, hobo autobiographies, zines, philosophical treatises, and personal interviews and observations, Lennon challenged common simplistic assumptions about the hobo’s cultural meaning in the United States.

“Rather,” he says, “we must uncover and analyze the fundamentally individualistic nature of the hobo lifestyle and the ways in which the ability of hobos to control the visibility of their own bodies is at the root of their subcultural power. This leads to a new understanding of how those living in the margins speak through their movements.”

Lennon hopes that his work prompts more interest in how individuals use their bodies in order to manipulate their visibility.

“I hope,” he adds, “that it is a way for us to see homeless/marginal people and look at them NOT as passive sites but rather as active men and women using their bodies in order to create spaces for themselves to be individuals.”

He credits Dawn Keetley, assistant professor of English and chief advisor on this project, for being “my biggest support system.”

“She has always been there ready to talk and work with me at every stage of the dissertation process,” he says. “It is an eccentric and very unwieldy topic, and Dawn allowed me the space to try and find my own way.”

He also acknowledges the support of John Pettegrew, associate professor history and director of the American Studies program, who helped with his dissertation and provided opportunities to teach; as well as Betsy Fifer, professor of English; and Seth Moglen, assistant professor of English.

“The English department as a whole has been wonderful and I appreciate all the opportunities that I was given,” says Lennon, who will teach American Studies at the University of Miami.

Recently married to Liz Bickford, a high school teacher, Lennon hopes to take hobo trips in the future to conduct more field research with the current railriding community.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005

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