Communities: Research and Action

Project Abstracts

Thea Renda Abu El-Haj
Educational Theory, Policy and Administration, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Gender, Citizenship Education and Community Activism: Lessons from an Arab American Community Arts Organization"

The proposed project studies community as a powerful, potential site for democratic citizenship education. It investigates how one local Arab American community arts organization educates youth to become engaged social and political actors. The project will analyze how, through the arts, this group self-consciously creates opportunities for youth from Arab immigrant families to explore and construct flexible, critical/reflective transnational identities; this work supports youth to challenge dominant constructions of Arabs and Muslims as dangerous outsiders to the nation, and to engage in social and political activism. Gender offers a critical lens for this analysis because of its salience both in public discourses about Arab Muslims that posit Islam as somehow inherently oppressive to women, and in the micro-politics of everyday practices as Arab immigrants produce and negotiate their identities. This project aims to contribute to contemporary debates in the field of education about democratic citizenship education by offering an analysis of how immigrant communities create alternative democratic discourses and practices that support youth civic participation and social activism.


Nikol Alexander-Floyd
Women’s & Gender Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Framing Condi(licious): Condoleezza Rice and the Rhetoric of 'Closeness' in U.S. National Community Formation"

Using an interdisciplinary integration of insights from Black studies, the study of women and gender in politics, and narrative analysis, I examine the politics of representation animating the political career of Condoleezza Rice. I analyze variants of the dominant storyline of 'closeness' that frame discussion of her as a political actor, specifically in light of what it reveals about the imaginings of community within contemporary public discourse. I argue that the dominant storyline of closeness works both to create and disassemble the U.S. national narrative of color (difference) blind integration. I demonstrate how Rice signifies the liminality of Blackness and the ambivalence of contemporary imaginings of Blacks in White public imagination. I problematize, moreover, Rice's efforts to enact a politics of articulation in which she tries to harness and deploy her sexualized racial power as Secretary of State.


Agatha Beins
Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Sisters Rise Up: Feminist Periodicals and the Production of Feminist Identities and Communities"

Based on her research at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Beins will be doing close readings of the periodicals Ain’t I A Woman and off our backs published between 1970 and 1973. Specifically, Beins is asking how the periodicals present their editorial collectives as a specific kind of feminist community that is both local and also part of a national feminist movement.  Additionally, Beins is interested in how these periodicals interpellate a feminist reader who is, or who can become, part of the publication’s activist community.  Beins anticipates that this paper will incorporate three main theoretical strands: the discursive production of communities and identities, the public sphere’s relation to political discourses, and feminist alternative media scholarship. Through her research, she hopes to document feminist activism at the inception of what is now recognized as the U.S. feminist movement and ask meta-questions about representations in print media in relation to activist movements.   


Ulla Berg
Latino & Hispanic Caribbean Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"In Defense of Community? Long Distance Localism and Transnational Political Engagement Between the US and the Peruvian Ande"

This paper takes point of departure in an analysis of an incident of communal violence in the rural community of Urcumarca to discuss the transnational political engagements of a group of Andean migrants from this community - now working as domestic workers (empleadas domesticás) in Maryland and Washington DC - on behalf of members of their village in Peru being on trial for crimes of violence. As inhabitants of rural Peru, only few women from Urcumarca have historically exercised full citizenship in their country of origin prior to migration. It is argued that while the particular incidence of economically supporting the legal process following the violent incident in Urcumarca may be taken as evidence of the development of ‘diasporic citizenship’ among US-based migrants, it is important to understand such political practices as a continuation of local struggles against economic and juridical marginalization within Peru.


Patrick J. Carr
Sociology, Rutgers-New Brunswick
" 'Where You Can Go Wrong Here’…: A Narrative of the Experiences of Young Women Growing up in Three High-Crime Philadelphia Communities"

This project analyzes the narratives of 74 African-American, Latina and white women who reside in three high-crime communities in Philadelphia to examine the experiences of young women growing up in these environments. Specifically, Carr investigates why some young women get into trouble with the law, while many more manage to avoid such difficulties by analyzing the narratives they detail about their community, their experiences with danger and crime, and the factors they feel propel some young women into wrongdoing or act as protective shields for many others. In doing so Carr hopes to show the myriad effects of community, family and peers, as well as the young women’s agency, shaped the pathways they take in adolescence and early adulthood.


Edgar Rivera Colón
Anthropology, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Love in the House of Gotham: An Ethnographic Study of the NYC Ball Community"
This project focuses on notions of family, race, and love amongst members of the New York City House Ball community. The Ball community emerges from working class African American, Latino/a, and queer historical contexts. The literature on Ball culture lacks ethnographic specificity and depth. The anthropological literature has few ethnographies that describe queer Black and Latino/a subjects using family, race, and love as domains. The literature assumes that House members are exiled from kinship and marginal to their broader communities. This project will test those assumptions via participant-observation and interviews. It will also document the mutual construction of racial identities amongst Black and Lation/a members of the scene. Finally, in the midst of an HIV epidemic, love will be rethought via Ball friendship, familial, and erotic networks and tested against love as a repository of individual social intelligibility, mental health, social mobility, and secular transcendence.


Beth Hutchison
Women's & Gender Studies & Institute for Research on Women
"Gendered Patterns of Blood Donorship: Blood Sisters in 1980s San Diego and Seattle"
As HIV was beginning to be understood as blood-borne in the early 1980s, lesbians in seveal cities across the U.S. organized public blood drives that were at once meant to create AIDS awareness, proclaim solidarity with the gay male community and situate the blood of women who have sex with women as most likely to be free of disease. Though both San Diego and Seattle were sites of multi-year lesbian blood drives held under the "Blood Sisters" rubric, there are interesting differences in the structure, success and meaning of the organizations in their respective lesbian-gay[bisexual-transgender] communities.


Laurie Marhoefer
History, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Ideas of Race and Empire in Community Formation and Homosexual Activism in Germany, 1918-1933"
This project is an historical analysis of how queer women and men drew on ideas of empire, race and biological hierarchy to organize sexual communities and activism in Germany during the Weimar Republic. Homosexual activists saw scientific research as the way to achieve political liberation. Yet their activism, like their imaginings of boundaries of their own sexual communities, drew on ideas of empire, race, and biological determinism. Belief in race and biological determinism, Marhoefer argues, led homosexual emancipation activists to join right-wingers and proponents of eugenics in an effort to restrict sexual unorthodoxy, including homosexuality and prostitution, to communities of people who were thought to be biologically deviant. This was an effort to create a sexual and biological hierarchy of Germans. This hierarchy paralleled and depended on the imagined imperial, racial hierarchies of the sexuality of Europeans and non-Europeans that were central to lesbian, gay male and transvestite community formation.


Imelda Martin Junquera
Universidad de Léon, Spain
"Activism and Environmental Ethics in Chicana & Native American Writers"
This project considers short stories, novels and "ecocriticism" by Latina/Chicana and Native American women writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Gloria Anzald­úa, Sandra Cisneros, Louise Erdrich, Paula Gunn Allen, Linda Hogan and Ana Castillo while heeding Anzaldúa's precept that we must "[uproot] dualistic thinking."  Putting these communities into conversation with one another yields both similarities and productive dissimilarities in their deployments of ecofeminist insights. The project tries to apply the gender perspective of ecofeminism when analysing literary texts by Chicana & Native Am. writers from the point of view of the parallel domination of women and nature. Key texts are Desert Blood by Alicia Gaspar de Alba, So far from God by Ana Castillo, The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich and The Moths by Helena Maria Viramontes.


Wanda Nowicka
Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland
"Examining Reproductive Rights Activism with Special Focus on Central and Eastern Europe"

The project will address the issue of reproductive rights (RR) in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) from diverse dimensions, from national and international perspectives. It will explore strategies of the women's movement at international and national forums in the context of political transformation in Europe. The project will also address backlash regarding reproductive rights in international agenda resulting from Bush conservative policies and its impact on the situation of women in CEE region.

The project will include the following subjects:

  • Concepts of reproductive rights and health in international political discourse.
  • Struggles around reproductive rights in CEE,
  • Women's movement towards RR.
  • Reproductive Rights in the context of European Union Enlargement
  • Women's strategies of promoting RR at the international level incl. global conferences and human rights mechanisms 
  • Perspectives regarding the status of RR in Europe in near future. Will the EU further promote RR or rather lower their RR standards in international agenda?


Carolina Núñez Puente
Women’s and Gender Studies/ English and American Studies, Universidad de la Coruña, Spain
"Gender, Ethnicity and Difference in (US) American Literature: A Dialogical Feminist Approach"

A comparative analysis of (US) American literature by women, whose cultural backgrounds are in constant dialogue with what gets constructed as a particular conceptualization of ‘American-ness.’ The writers, usually labeled as ‘ethnic’, are Sandra Cisnero, Zora Neale Hurston, Bharati Mukherjee and Leslie Marmon Silko. By means of a dual feminist-dialogical perspective, focused on Bakhtin’s thought on ethics, the intention is to contribute to the lines of research on Bakhtin developed nowadays. Further, through a comparativist revision of nominally ethnic literature, the expectation is to participate in contemporary critical discussions on globalization and immigration, as well as in how to reconfigure ‘(US) American literature.’ In doing so, other categories such as ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘women’s writing’ will also be questioned. The project pursues the search of a new paradigm to understand the ‘community’ which does not repeat the mistakes of ‘assimilation’ and ‘separatism.’ It also entails a redefinition of the concept of ‘difference,’ which also comprises similarities according to gender, class, race and sexual orientation, among others.


Paula Pinto
Sociology, York University, Canada
"Bridging the Feminist and Disability Community Perspectives on Care"

This research attempts to problematize both the feminist and disability community discourses on care in order to move beyond the limitations each contains. By exploring the tensions and complementarities in these two theoretical approaches through the lens of human rights, the hope is to suggest a more inclusive model in which to frame continuing debates on care. 


Judy L. Postmus
School of Social Work, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Identifying a New Strategy for Partnering with Survivors of Victimization"

Violence against women is a growing social problem and a major public health and human rights issue at national and international levels. Estimates suggest that the lifetime occurrence of violence towards women range from as little as 10 percent to as large as 69 percent. It is difficult, if not impossible, to discover the true extent of violence among female populations around the world especially since most women do not report domestic violence because of cultural values and social taboos. Participating in the IRW’s annual interdisciplinary seminar will provide a venue to collaborate with and learn from other faculty and graduate students about conceptualizing a new methodological strategy for partnering with women who have survived physical and sexual victimization. This new strategy will further our knowledge about prevention and intervention efforts with survivors of all ages, from diverse communities, at home and abroad. 


Joanna Regulska
Women’s and Gender Studies/Geography, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Forced Migrants: Women Constructing Their Support Communities in Post-Conflict Situations in Georgia"

This research has two overarching goals: 1) to analyze how forced migrants in post-conflict situations, and the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in particular, use social networks in the construction of livelihood strategies and in building communities in order to survive and 2) to examine the extent to which those strategies, communities and networks result directly or indirectly from interactions between IDPs and governmental and non-governmental organizations involved in post-conflict management. The proposed study extends past findings about gender identity, relocation, livelihood strategies and community in order to analyze the ways in which gender and livelihood strategies interact for IDPs. It asks: in what ways do multi-layered identities and livelihood strategies converge and result in formation of new communities within which IDPs survive, live, work, form friendships, struggle or cooperate with diverse national and international institutions? As women and children represent an estimated 70-80% of IDPs world-wide, such questions are especially critical for both rethinking of theories of migration, displacement and exclusion, but also for practical policy outcomes. This research investigates cases of Georgia, where over the last fifteen years more than 260,000 people were internally displaced.


Ariella R. Rotramel
Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"Pushed to the Other Side: Contemporary Migrant Community Histories"
This project documents the results of contemporary U.S. migration policy through the production and analysis of histories of three New York migrant community organizations.  Rotramel seeks out the points in time when migrants and their allies have collectively mobilized around and/or survived the consequences of such policies.  She asks how migrant community organizations have developed agendas and priorities in connection/response to state policies and/or the experiences of migrant individuals and social/family networks.  Rotramel aims to tell a more complex story about U.S. policies, as well as the relations among communities, than is generally understood.  Theoretically, she engages scholarship from a range of fields including women’s and gender studies, migration studies, and community studies, while primarily utilizing historical methods. This study is a contribution to the ongoing project of demystifying the effects of U.S. policies framed in terms of patriotism, protection, and responsibility instead of dehumanization, rejection, and exclusion.


Debarati Sen
Anthropology, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"From Illegal to Organic: Fair Trade Organic Tea Production and Women’s Community Activism in Darjeeling, India"
In the face of rapid corporate globalization, what is the fate of women’s labor, especially their community activism? Located at the crossroads of interdisciplinary engagement with issues of transnational alternative trade movements, feminist ethnographies of women’s work and globalization, and subaltern struggles for access to property and better livelihoods, this project explores what socially responsible consumption/corporate social responsibility means from women’s leadership and activism within their own communities. Through a comparative ethnography of women plantation workers and women cooperative movements like Fair Trade articulate with gendered struggles over resources in communities where fairly traded commodities are produced. It examines how the specifics of agriculture commodity productions premised on organic and Fair Trade stipulations can influence the bargaining power of marginalized women tea farmers in cooperatives and plantation workers in labor unions. Sen asks whether actors’ strategic engagement with their colonial pasts, particular organizational structures for collective bargaining, and competing gender ideologies of work shape the impact of Fair Trade on women’s political futures in the plantation and the cooperative. Do these divergent outcomes in turn affect household decision-making, resource sharing and women’s political presence in communities?


Heidi J. Swarts
Political Science, Rutgers-Newark
"Comparing Leadership and Political Skills Development Among Women Community Organizers and Leaders"
This study will compare the political leadership development of women community organizers and leaders across different organizations, and in comparison to male leaders in these organizations, and at various stages of political experience. Increasingly, the most powerful community organizations are part of national groups that organize at the neighborhood, city, state, or national levels.
While this focus is critical, too many scholars have accepted the “organizer” (paid staff) vs. “grassroots leader” distinction, with organizers acting behind the scenes to develop the “real” leaders. Few if any studies examine the political education of organizers, the critical strategists who design campaigns such as ballot initiatives that raised the minimum wage in for (of six total) states in the 2006 midterm election.  Swarts is aware of no study that compared male and female organizers in major community organizations. This story builds on a major previous study, based on over 200 interviews, participant-observation, and archival research.


Mary K. Trigg
Institute for Women’s Leadership, Rutgers-New Brunswick
"My Community is All Around Me: How Mothers Who Are Professionals Define and Experience Community and Place"

This project will explore the idea that community, as defined and experienced by early twenty-first century American women professionals who are mothers, is a psychic landscape, rather than a physical one, not only as a result of suburbanization, technology, and globalization, but also due to changes in the vehicles that transport individuals into community. Looking at cotemporary women professionals who are mothers, it explores the shifting ways they define community in the changing terrain of work and family, and considers the connection to the concept of place and to their perception of the ways an earlier generation of women (symbolized by their mothers) experienced and defined community.  Trigg’s purpose is to understand more fully how work, family, and community interact in time-pressed dual-earner American families, with special attention to the ways that mothers conceptualize community, particularly in relationship to their perception of the ways mothers understood it.