EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Connection and contestation in queer anthropology [ENQA]
Location U7-12
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 11:15
Sessions 1


  • Shaka McGlotten (Purchase College-SUNY) email
  • Margot Weiss (Wesleyan University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Shaka McGlotten and Margot Weiss
Discussant Margot Weiss

Short Abstract

This panel explores the future(s) of queer anthropology by attending to connections and contestations between anthropological and other ways of knowing, and between the concepts that ground our fields: queer, gender, sexuality, desire.

Long Abstract

This panel explores the future(s) of queer anthropology—the borders between anthropological and other ways of knowing, between queer studies and anthropology, and between different geographies of anthropology (US-based or European, for instance). As anthropology's methodological and conceptual toolkit is increasingly adapted by other disciplines and even corporate sectors, and as the discipline is under attack in the US, we ask what the future of anthropology looks like and speculate on some possible trajectories, both the optimistic and the less than encouraging.

Against legacies of the more voyeuristic "suffering subjects" (Joel Robbins) of ethnographic knowledge, the panel seeks to explore a future for an anthropology that can learn and think alongside its interlocutors. We seek panelists working on issues of borders and boundaries in queer anthropology, especially those attentive to the impasse of the political present, the distinctive ways queer ethnography might be used in and outside anthropology, and the ways activist and queer knowledge practices both connect to, and critique, anthropological ways of knowing. Papers that ground queer critique in local conditions of knowledge production in the contemporary academy are especially welcome, as are projects that explore more dialogic relationships between anthropology and its objects of analysis.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Fa'afafine and the Va tapuia: boundaries, interrelations, interdependences between indigenous and queer practices

Author: M. Carolina Vesce (University of Messina)  email

Short Abstract

Reshaping and reusing the ethnographic works, Fa'afafine identified artists and performers enlight the possible future(s) indigenous queer studies can share "in the house of anthropology".

Long Abstract

Fa'afafine (literally meaning "in the manner of a woman") are well aware of their role within Samoan society as well as of the limits they have to respect in order to preserve such a role. Referring to the Va tapuia, the sacred space of relations and one of the main concepts of the fa'a Samoa, fa'afafine place themselves at the core of their culture.

As a consequence, both in Samoa and in the diaspora, they prefer to identify with the MPFAFF community (acronym for the Pacifc islander non-heteronormative gender experiences) instead of identifying with the LGBTI or the Rainbow community. Gay, Transsexual or Transgender identities are therefore considered as "western medical terms" that fail to represent indigenous genders (Roen 2006; Tcherkezoff 2015).

What appear to be a contestation turns into a connection when we focus on the creative practices, subverting the subject/object trajectory of the research. Fa'afafine identified artists, poets, performers connect indigenous knowledge and queer practices, focusing on ethnographic works and imaginaries shaped by the first ethnographers and using that works to subvert the western understanding of Samoan gender and sexualities (Wolf 2010). Focusing on the interview I collected during my fieldwork in Samoa and New Zealand I will discuss the challenge that queer indigenous studies (Driskill 2011) pose to anthropology and the possibles future(s) we should seek to construct with our indigenous queer-identified colleagues.

"Gender killings": tensions and coalitions of death among queer, trans and feminist movements in Turkey

Author: Asli Zengin (Brandeis University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on some tensions (borders and boundaries) between queer, trans and feminist politics in Turkey. Drawing on ethnographic work in Turkey, I discuss how a collective focus on the realm of death would bring feminist cis women and trans people together around a shared gender experience.

Long Abstract

Since 2011 every International Women's Day March has been marked by tensions between feminist cisgender women and trans activists in Istanbul, Turkey. Central to these intense exchanges have been questions that have become familiar at the intersection of feminism and queer and trans activism: What is feminism? Who is a "woman"? Who can inhabit the category of "woman"? Who is the political actor of feminism? Whose feminism counts as feminism? Which slogans and words mark the feminist political space? Which demands herald a more feminist agenda?

Placing these questions at its center, this piece reflects on borders and boundaries, and hence some ongoing tensions, between queer, trans and feminist politics, and suggests specific frameworks to resolve these tensions into coalitional political organizing. To do that, I draw on my ethnographic research and activist work in Turkey, and propose that a collective focus on the realm of death would bring feminist cis women and trans people together around a shared gender experience. In Turkey, the annual counts of cis and trans women, who are killed by cis men, has been gradually increasing. This situation makes the availability of killing a shared gendered experience for cis women and trans people. Hence, organizing around the framework of "gender killings" would allow us to develop alliances to survive and transform the very material and symbolic conditions of our gender oppression as cis women and trans people.

Beyond performativity: citational sexualities and derivative subjectivity

Author: Kirk Fiereck (University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the limits of performativity, which is to say speech act theory, within queer theory and postcolonial contexts by considering expanded notions of communication and connectivity through citational subjectivities that contest the secret normativity of performativity.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the secret normativity of performativity, which is to say speech act theory, within queer theory and specifically in postcolonial contexts. For it is precisely within the postcolony where forms of citation are the primary mode of sexual subjectivity. It is also the space where financial instruments like derivatives, social theory and pharmaceuticals actively produce queer connections and contestations through the circulation of ostensibly universal subjects, be they the risk-bearing entrepreneur, the scholar, or the (biological) human. The political impasse produced by Austinian performativity in queer theory is rooted in the secret normativity of speech act theory, which inadvertently shores up biological dualisms it putatively troubles. This analysis will consider a range of practices of cultural citation by black LGBTQ and gender nonconforming South Africans. Such practices cite both liberal and ethnic cultural spheres when juxtaposing multiple gender and sexual identities within the same hybrid form of queer personhood. The figure of the gay woman—not a lesbian or trans subject, but rather a gay man who is also, alternately a woman—is exemplary in this regard. I explore citational sexuality in the particular context of a global clinical trial where many black gay women were coded as men who have sex with men (MSM) to determine the efficacy of antiretrovirals (ARVs) to hedge HIV risk. In this vein, new forms of global biofinancial connectivity expressed by biomedical risk hedging practices—what I term derivative subjectivity—implicitly depend upon the construal of sexuality and queerness as citation.

Thinking (with) bodies: affect, ontology and queer worlding from "Africa"

Authors: Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam)  email
Thomas Hendriks (KU Leuven University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing from our respective situated theorizations of desire from urban Africa, we argue that ethnographic processes of body-sensorial knowledge production can unfold non-representational modes of evoking erotic worlds that are (co)produced in the act of thinking and feeling “sex”.

Long Abstract

Starting from the obvious fact that our interlocutors "think sex" as much as we do (Rubin 1984), we argue that queer anthropology should look for ways to theorize sex with and alongside them, rather than assuming an objectivist position from where it can pretend to "explain" what we like to conceptualize as their "practices". At the same time, we call for queer epistemological and methodological approaches that fully take into account the sensorial, affective and bodily aspects of "thinking" sex. We argue that we need to go beyond the tiresome "identities" vs. "practices" binaries in anthropological writings on sex, gender and desire. One way to do so, we suggest, is to tap into the mundane processes of thinking and feeling sex as potential theorizations in themselves. Everyday "sex" indeed creates situated body-sensorial knowledge that brings specific erotic worlds into being, often from eccentric positions in contemporary geographies of power and knowledge. Drawing on our respective fieldwork on erotic desire in urban DR Congo, Ghana and Kenya, this paper explores how queer ethnographic modes of being with - and accountable to - our interlocutors entail processes of body-sensorial knowledge production, which allow for non-representative attempts to evoke sexual worlds that often evaporate as soon as they are put into words. We suggest that the act of ethnography entails a bodily method for approaching our interlocutors' statements, concepts and practices as the possibility of different affective (and sometimes queer) "worlds" rather than as merely different representations of reality.

Whose knowledge, whose ethnography: humanitarian knowledge/power and Syrian queer/LGBT refugees

Author: Fadi Saleh (University of Göttingen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on the nexus of humanitarian knowledge/power and the ways it complicates the dynamics of (ethnographic) knowledge production on queerness within the context of the recent global, humanitarian attention towards Syrian queer/LGBT refugees, specifically in Istanbul, Turkey.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Istanbul, Turkey, August until December 2015, with the Syrian queer refugee communities, I want to expound upon the difficulties I had in the field as a "friend-ethnographer"; not only as an academic-activist, but also Syrian, gay, and a close friend/friend/acquaintance of many of the subjects of my research. Against the backdrop of an overwhelming lack of ethnographic accounts of queerness in MENA and a rise in the production of superficial, sensational, journalistic accounts of sexuality and gender variance across the region, a different set of ethical responsibilities face the "simultaneously insider and outsider" ethnographer when it comes to knowledge production on gender and sexuality within the Syrian refugee context. Caught between the constant urge to tell me the "truth" about how they constantly perform what they believe will secure humanitarian benevolence and the "fear" of having their concerns and critique of these same institutions discovered, the classical tension of what to make public and what not has intensified. I wish to reflect on the challenges and limitations on knowledge production within MENA and by MENA academic-activists this tension creates within the highly-politicized question of Syrian LGBT refugees. My aim is not to contemplate the role of the ethnographer in general; rather, I want to delve into the problematic and the ethical challenges of being a Syrian, gay ethnographer, writing about Syrian gay refugees, who are restricted in their ability to speak by the very institutions that claim to want to liberate them.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.