IRW Seminar

2011-2012 Seminar Abstracts

(De)Generations: Reimagining Communities 

This year’s IRW interdisciplinary seminar on (De)Generations: Reimagining Communities will investigate representations and meanings of belonging and non-belonging implied in genealogies and generations in social, intellectual, national and cultural communities. The seminar brings together University faculty, graduate students and IRW Global Scholars for weekly discussions of one another’s work-in-progress. The seminar meets every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the IRW Library (second floor, 160 Ryders Lane, Douglass Campus). Visitors are asked to contact the IRW in advance to get access to the weekly readings.

IRW Seminar Fellows

Crystal Bedley, Sociology, New Brunswick
“From Attitudes to Identities, the Impact of the Mixed Race Population on Contemporary Race Relations”
Scholarly inquiry into the multiracial phenomenon has yet to rigorously explore the role the multiracial population plays in maintaining/transforming the racial order. Some scholars argue that the multiracial population represents declining social distance among race groups, while other scholars argue that certain identity legacies (such as the norms of one-drop rule) lead to greater exclusion from the dominant racial group and greater inclusion into subordinate racial groups. Scholars working in this topic area fiercely debate whether social stratification and its related inequities are falling along a White/non-White or Black/non-Black distinction (or along an unexplored distinction). Based on survey research exploring monoracial and multiracial attitudes towards racial inequality and ethnographic research into multiracial identity processes, I seek to bridge these seemingly disparate subjects together by exploring what multiraciality looks like in the contemporary context.


Carlos Decena, Women’s and Gender Studies & Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies, New Brunswick
“Husband? Refugee? Exiled in the (Trans)Nation”
This essay will investigate two strategies of legalization that emerged among Dominican immigrant men who self-identify as gay or bisexual: marriage and asylum based on sexual orientation. The historical emergence of asylum marks an important generational break within Dominican gay male networks, and my analysis will stress the continuities and discontinuities produced by these recent developments in how some of these men construct their homosexuality/bisexuality vis-à-vis the Dominican state. I argue that the regimes of truth that produce and reproduce the inscription of marriage and asylum have relatively little to do with romantic commitment, “foundational fictions” of heteronormative coupling in the nation state, or the injury of homophobic oppression. The essay will place special emphasis on the broader implications and politics of marriage and asylum as institutions and instruments for the constitution of subjects legible and legitimate in relation to state and international laws while also illustrating the lived disjunctures, complicities and opacities produced by these strategies. The cases to be discussed illustrate the widening gap between legal representation and cultural practices of belonging, violence, and intimacy.


Catherine Lee, Sociology, New Brunswick
“Genetic Kin and Gendered Genealogies”
Some scientists argue that genetic testing has the possibility to determine at long last our true identities—one that is tied to particular ancestral past—be it racial, ethnic, or national. Such claims and scientific enterprise can shape how we narrate our stories of origin and construct racial or national identity. I propose to examine the discursive construction and use of population genetics in articulating notions of racial purity or admixture and a national identity. To understand the work of narrating these scientific and nationalist genealogies as evolving over scientific, intellectual, and political generations, I will trace the current claims about genetics and forms of kinship to earlier history of race difference science and its role in adjudicating familial, racial, and national claims. Specifically, I will investigate earlier uses of biometric testing, comparing them to contemporary genetic ancestry projects, which seek to articulate a national identity, and explore the gendered ways in which these processes are constructed.


Rick Lee, English, New Brunswick
“AIDS 2.0: New Media and the 'New' Gay Generation Gap”
This project examines two public debates about the gay generation gap that have been staged in academic and popular venues in the last decade. These debates from 2001 and 2009 frame a historical moment notable equally for the rise and spread of HIV infections among younger gay and bisexual men, especially men of color, as well as for the rise and spread of new media. Tracking this conjunction, I explore the ways in which the Internet and digital technologies have changed the sociosexual practices and communication networks in gay culture. With the goal of better understanding what I identify as “new media literacy,” I analyze several visionary websites and projects on the history of AIDS: the HIV Story Project’s Generations HIV, a digital storytelling project billed as “a new media AIDS quilt for the twenty-first century”; Sarah Schulman and Jim Hubbard’s ACT UP Oral History Project website; Chris Bartlett’s Gay History Wiki; the HIV is Still a Big Deal website; and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s In the Moment website. To the extent that AIDS caused a rupture between the Stonewall and the post-Stonewall or queer generations, it can also be mobilized, as my IRW project illustrates, to generate a new media literacy that can help to reconnect the generations and redefine gay culture in the twenty-first century.


Ariana Mangual Figueroa, Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick
“Testimonios y testigos / Testimonies and witnesses: A study of situated enactments of citizenship in the New Latino Diaspora”
This project draws from a twenty-three month ethnographic study conducted in a southwestern Pennsylvania city that forms part of the New Latino Diaspora to consider the ways that adults and children demonstrate the significance of macro juridical categories of citizenship status during every day micro interactions. I analyze two facets of the larger study: first, the ways that undocumented Mexican mothers participated in local grassroots efforts for immigration reform and how this in turn shaped their parenting practices in the home, and second, the methodological and ethical considerations of working with a vulnerable population such as undocumented migrant women and their children. This work illuminates the daily experiences of mixed-status Mexican migrants who are both central figures in contemporary U.S. public discourse and marginal subjects in educational research in the hopes of supporting scholarship and activism that advocates for the well-being of foreign- and U.S.-born communities living in the U.S.


Rebecca Reynolds, Douglass Residential College, New Brunswick
“Feminism/Psychoanalysis/Poetry: Re-threading Community”
My grandmother was a social worker, feminist and analyst whose life spanned the 20th century. I propose to write a series of essays connecting my grandmother’s commitment to psychoanalysis with a feminist tradition that extends to my work as a poet and my interest in women’s education. As a poet/administrator, I often situate myself on the margins of an academic community, and yet the work that I do as both poet and advisor extends across communities: relates variously to the care work undertaken by social workers, to language work undertaken by psychoanalysts and writers, to theoretical work represented by feminist scholarship, and increasingly, to technology as a vehicle for constructing identity. My project description provides the auto/biographical groundwork. Writing as a poet, I envision these essays as meditations, using my grandmother’s experience as a touchstone. These meditations would engage intersections between communit(ies), feminist criticism, psychoanalysis, identity, genealogy, and lived experience.


Anahi Russo Garrido, Women’s and Gender Studies, New Brunswick
“Mapping Bodies, Mapping Cities: Queer Geographies of Desire in Mexico City”
This project examines the ways in which knowledge on spatial practices has been transmitted in Mexico City’s queer community since the 1980s until today. More specifically, I discuss how (two) generations of queer women have learned to negotiate the use of public urban space in their everyday lives and question how their relationship to ephemeral places constitute them as a generation. I suggest that lesbian community interaction leaves few archival traces (e.g. buildings, documents, CDs) and relies heavily on a repertoire of bodily performances, for knowledge transmission, while acknowledging the effects of recent changes related to the neoliberal shift, globalization and reforms touching LGBT rights. I consider the implications for knowledge transmission, memory and the notion of generation. This project is based on fieldwork conducted in Mexico City for 9 months in 2009-2010, which included participant observation, 45 interviews and the review of newspapers of wide circulation.


Stina Soderling, Women's and Gender Studies, New Brunswick
“Mundane Fermentations: Rural Queer Community Formation”
Situated in the burgeoning field of rural queer studies, my dissertation investigates the effects of landownership on community formation and autonomy through a comparative study of a women-only land trust in Vermont and an all-gender queer community in Tennessee. Using the metaphor of fermentation, I challenge the dichotomy of creation and degeneration, highlighting instead the constant connections and mutations that make community possible. I look at economic history, HIV/AIDS, healthcare, racial dynamics, and LGBT activism to understand how these communities came to exist and how they have developed. I am especially interested in questions of inclusion and exclusion, asking why young female-bodied queers are choosing to form kinship ties with gay male Faeries rather than land dykes, and how these communities both challenge and reinforce notions of belonging and genealogy.


Eunkyung Song, Sociology, New Brunswick
“Recruiting Activists to a Protest: Girls and 'Keyboard Warriors' in the Candlelight Protest in South Korea”
This project explores how ‘teen girls’ and ‘keyboard warriors’ could trigger the Candlelight Protest (the Candlelight) that swept South Korea in 2008. The Candlelight raised a question concerning a theoretical presumption that activists lead collective actions by playing a leadership role as a center of power and resistance. In the Candlelight, however, teen girls and ‘keyboard warriors,’ decentralized and under-organized, were better at attracting more diverse people and at creating space where ‘transparent’ and ‘gendered’ public deliberation burgeoned. How could this be possible? Is this a sign of girls’ politicization? I will challenge genealogies of social movements that have overemphasized the roles of activists in protests and reduced interactions among protestors to the process of recruitment by activists. What teen girls and ‘keyboard warriors’ did across virtual and physical spaces, in contrast to what more traditional activists did, will allow me to argue that decentralized laypersons are better at creating collective action.


Timothy Stewart-Winter, History, Newark
“Sisters, Orphans, Mothers: Generation and Reproduction in Lesbian Politics since the 1950s”
Lesbian politics in the United States emerged out of a historical period—the two decades after the Second World War—when procreative, heterosexual nuclear families acquired an unprecedented cultural importance. Using Chicago activists as a case study, this project examines the changing place of generational difference and reproductive metaphors in U.S. lesbian politics from the founding of the homophile movement in the 1950s to the genderqueer and trans movements of today. In pushing the intellectual history of lesbian politics beyond the 1970s and beyond a simplified opposition between patriarchy and sisterhood, this project will trace a longer arc of lesbian politics and examine a wider range of familial and generational figures—particularly orphans and mothers—that shaped debates among lesbians over their place in the world. By placing lesbian feminism in historical context, this project will offer a revised account of a strand of queer activism too often caricatured or decontextualized.


Additional Seminar Participants

Aren Aizura (IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow)
“Trans Feminist Perspectives on Transnational Transgender Rights and Immigration Law”
In this essay I intervene in emerging imaginaries of transgender rights, their uses for understanding and combatting the global regulation of immigration, and their effects on the lives of gender variant people. Through a close reading of Immigration Law and the Transgender Client, a practice manual for attorneys who represent gender variant clients, I interrogate the limits of neoliberal rights frameworks that produce gender variant people as subjects who must perfectly perform regulatory procedures in order to gain access to rights.  In this framework, political transformation is displaced onto individuals, who are asked to be visible as “transgender subjects” (and conform to the state’s idea about what that means) in order for their cases to become part of the precedential law-making machine.  In doing so, Immigration Law and the Transgender Client exemplifies the limits and inconsistencies of a political practice oriented exclusively towards “rights.” In a second section, I argue for a trans theory that not only acknowledges its debts to feminist theory and incorporates a feminist critique of heteronormativity, but that turns “trans” into an anti-identitarian direction.  While it is important to acknowledge that transgender is an identity category whose subjects’ access to freedom will be divided along the cuts of affluence, racialization, gender, and citizenship, we also need to look at where and how categories of immigrant, transgender person, man, woman, become incoherent and inconsistent.  This means taking on the lessons of particular feminist anti-racist and now queer anti-racist work on intersectionality, but also challenging some of the limits of intersectional analysis.


Monica Barra (CUNY Graduate Center)
“From Homes to Hoodlum City: Reading Public Housing off the Template of its Spatial Structures in Newark, New Jersey”
Produced at the intersection of reality and perception, visual, social, and spatial imaginations collaboratively author the story of mid-century urban public housing in the US. This project examines the relationship between visual and rhetorical representations of public housing in Newark, NJ with a particular focus on integrating a critical examination of the aesthetic representation of public housing and its marginalized and forgotten communities. It seeks to problematize and re-draw the boundaries of critical study that have perpetually reified the study of public housing into the binaries of utopian and dystopian urban space. This approach invokes a particular ethos of seeing how meaning is shaped in and by multiple and convergent “architectures” and counter-narratives of the built environment, and how the representation, perception, and experience of space influence the structure and content of social worlds.


Claudia Brazzale (IRW Global Fellow)
“Choreographing Afropean Communities: The Economy of African Dance and Drumming in Italy”
Over the past decade so-called ‘African’ dance and music have become increasingly popular in Italy, growing in tandem with local West African diasporic communities and the national concern over immigration. If on the one hand, the popularity of African dance and music provides West Africans migrants with an important form of self-identification and, in some cases, a ticket into the country and a form of subsistence, on the other hand, it often revolves around problematic discourses of authenticity rooted on the myth and romance with the ‘primitive.’ At once constructing and capitalizing on representations that exoticize and objectify African bodies, the diffusion and performance of African dance and drumming in Italy mobilize complex economies of desire that rest on an orientalist fascination with the Other. Although re-enacting dominant sexist and racist stereotypes and often engendering patriarchal relationships, these economies enable significant communities of knowledge and interracial encounters. Based on fieldwork conducted among various African dance courses, performances, and festivals across northern Italy, this project will consider how passion, exoticism, desire, and intimacy play a key role in the creation of these communities. Examining the complex ways in which solidarities and agency are built in these communities, I would like to explore whether the economy of West African dance and drumming can engender a more positive engagement with foreignness or if it ends up articulating another expression of wider imperialist discourses. In a context of increasing xenophobia and urban segregation, can West African dance choreograph new ‘Afropean’ practices and communities that destabilize traditional representations and meanings of belonging and non-belonging?


Yomaira Figueroa (IRW Undergraduate Learning Community Coordinator)
“Witnessing Faithfully: A De-Colonial Approach to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Las Tinieblas de tu Memoria Negra”
My dissertation will juxtapose the historical trajectory of two diasporic populations: Equatorial Guinean writers in Spain and Latin@ Caribbean writers in the U.S. I am interested in the ways in which their post-1960’s cultural productions create a discursive space for new understandings of diaspora and exile, languages, and function as alternative histories. The framework for the project understands diaspora and exile as central factors to the palimpsestic formations of language. I propose that through the use of the de-colonial attitude we can read the languages produced in exile and diaspora as a linguistic palimpsests which allows for the creation of alternative histories. These alternative histories rupture foundational meta-histories and become part of the epistemic shift called for by de-colonization. In her text Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions, Maria Lugones theorizes the “faithful witness” as one who is “able to sense resistance, to interpret behavior as resistant even when it is dangerous, (especially) when that interpretation places one psychologically against common sense, or when one is moved to act in collision with common sense with oppression.” Lugones explains that, “to witness faithfully is difficult, given the manyness of worlds of sense related through power so that oppressive and fragmenting meanings saturate many worlds of sense in hard to detect ways. A collaborator witness on the side of power, while a faithful witness, witnesses against the grain of power, on the side of resistance.” This chapter utilizes Lugones’ theory of the “faithful witness” as a framework through which to analyze Junot Diaz’s 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Donato Ndongo’s 2000 novel Las Tinieblas de tu Memoria Negra.


Jessica Johnson (IRW Global Fellow)
“Chilungamo?: Women and law in matrilineal Southern Malawi”
My thesis is based on ethnographic research carried out in rural Malawi, January 2009 – September 2010; it focuses on contemporary gendered relationships in a matrilineal area and contributes to current debates within the fields of legal and medical anthropology, gender studies, kinship theory and African studies. My project is compatible with the theme of the IRW Interdisciplinary Research Seminar 2011-12, “(De)Generations: Reimagining Communities”, in a number of ways. Firstly, my writing on the contemporary situations of HIV-positive women villagers deals with the disruptive effects of the HIV epidemic on the continuity of gendered, generational relations. Secondly, my material on marital dispute resolution offers a nuanced ethnographic perspective on conflicts that are often fuelled by considerations of alliance, descent, inheritance rights, and inclusion/exclusion from social and family groups. Thirdly, my work on female initiation rites looks at the ritualised transmission of gendered knowledge and considers how contemporary adaptations, some imposed, some embraced, serve both to empower and disempower women in the roles of initiate, participant and elder ritual specialist in ways that can be transformative of the crossgenerational relations at the heart of village life. Finally, matrilineality is central to social life in rural Southern Malawi and crucial to my analysis, placing women at the heart of local genealogies, both physically and ideologically. Throughout my research, I grapple with questions about ‘communities’ – what is gained and what is lost through the use of the term ‘community’? To whom can it be meaningfully applied in the context of this ethnographic study? What roles do intimacy, marriage and reproduction play in the configuration of ‘communities’, and how might they also serve to undermine communality? In what sense do my informants recognize themselves as constituting communities? And, how might one theorise overlapping ‘community’ boundaries and deal appropriately with ethnographic examples of deliberate boundary crossing, reflexive boundary shifting and various attempts to demolish and erect ‘community’ boundaries?


Sarah Tobias (Associate Director, Institute for Research on Women)
Queering Democracy?
Addressing the relationship between queer theory and democratic theory on the one hand, and queer theory and LGBT activism on the other hand, this project probes the possibilities and perils of queering democracy. The chapter I will present in the seminar focuses on the genealogy of the concept “queer,” which theorists have often deployed to embrace the transgressive and repudiate the “normal.” Drawing upon critiques by feminists, queers of color and others, I consider whether “queering” the state is compatible with the development of an inclusive, democratic sexual citizenship and question whether engagement with the political process necessarily undermines queer radicalism.



Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel
Director, Institute for Research on Women

Sarah Tobias
Associate Director, Institute for Research on Women