This week, Tavia Nyong’o was on campus for the first installment of Queer Speculations, the LGBT Studies lecture series and conference (April 17!) that I have been working on this semester along with my new colleagues. We have a rather wonderful poster, incidentally, created by Mira Azarm:
I livetweeted as much of the talk as I could, as did some other attendees; Tavia made many associative connections that are both perfectly and not at all captured in 140-character chunks.
It was a joy to introduce Tavia and take part in the colloquium on his work the next day, where we talked about Beasts of the Southern Wild, disciplinarity, British vs American cultural studies, and many other things. And this is just the first of several events this semester!
This year, along with Lauren Lacey, I have taken over as co-chair of academic programming at WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention for which I have immense and enduring love. The convention is in Madison, WI on May 22-25 2015, and academic proposals are due on February 23. They’re open to all, and I would encourage anyone doing research related to WisCon’s areas of focus to consider attending. It’s a very different experience to an academic conference (presentations of scholarship are a tiny, tiny proportion of what is going on) and, for me at least, a reminder of why critical cultural analysis of gender, race, sexuality, and disability matters beyond the academic sphere.
Here are the details (at WisCon’s web page):
WisCon Academic Programming
WisCon has a track of academic programming that is open to undergraduate, postgraduate and independent scholars. One of the benefits of this track is that it strengthens the links between the wider feminist science fiction community and students and other scholars working on feminist SF and fantasy and related fields. The track operates very much like a conventional academic conference, with presentations based on extensive research. However, scholarly work on all aspects of feminist science fiction reaches an audience at WisCon that gives a kind of passionate and informed feedback that is rare at academic conferences. We also encourage submissions from people who aren’t involved in formal academic work! Over the years, people have presented papers on fantasy, horror, and science fiction literature, media and fandom, examining issues of feminism, gender, sexuality, race, disability, and class amongst many others.
Call for Proposals for WisCon 39: May 21-24, 2015
Deadline: February 23, 2015
WisCon, the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention, invites scholars of all descriptions to propose programming for its academic track. We invite proposals from anyone with a scholarly interest in the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, and disability with science fiction – broadly defined – in literature, media, and culture. We would especially welcome scholarship on the work of 2015’s guests of honor, Alaya Dawn Johnson and Kim Stanley Robinson, and on the histories and cultures of feminist and social-justice-oriented fan communities. We encourage submissions from scholars in all fields, including interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary areas, and from amateur and independent scholars as well as graduate students, postdocs, and faculty.
At WisCon, papers are presented in groups of two or three during a single 75-minute programming slot. If a group of presenters would like to submit their papers together as a single panel, they should indicate that on their paper submissions. We also encourage the presentation of scholarship in formats other than the traditional paper, and discussion-based panels focused on issues of particular interest to scholars of science fiction and feminism.
An incomplete list of possible subjects:
- Gender, sexuality, race, class, and disability in individual works of science fiction
- Feminist, queer, critical race, and critical disability analysis of science fiction media (film, television, video games, online culture)
- Speculative aspects of feminist and social justice movements
- Science fiction and feminist science and technology studies
- Race, colonialism, and speculative fiction; Afrofuturism and related cultural movements
- Fan cultures and communities
- Feminist pedagogy and speculative fiction in the classroom
An incomplete list of possible formats:
- 15-20 minute paper presentations, with or without visual accompaniment
- Presentation of scholarly creative works, including digital scholarship
- Readings from recently published or forthcoming scholarly books
- Discussion-based panels and roundtables on scholarly research, teaching, or service
- Mentoring sessions on academic professional life: graduate study, the job market, tenure and promotion, publishing and presentation
- Screenings and discussions of short films or videos
Please submit your proposal via this form (you must create a Wiscon login to submit a proposal).
The deadline is midnight CST on February 23, 2015.
You will be asked for a 100-word abstract, which will be printed in the convention’s program, and for a more detailed proposal of up to 500 words. If you are proposing something other than a traditional paper, please make sure you describe the format of your proposed program. item. A projector and screen will be available; if you have further technological needs, please let us know in your proposal.
When I set up this website, I decided to commit to blogging once a month. That hasn’t exactly happened since I embarked on the tenure track… It hasn’t been for lack of activity, though. Most recently, I had a generative and wonderful time attending the George Washington Digital Humanities Initiative Symposium on Disrupting DH. Jonathan Hsy wrote a wonderful summary post about it here: #GWDHI and Embodied Digital Communities: Openness, Danger, Care.
I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between digital humanities and embodied communities because I am working on a chapter for a new Companion to Digital Humanities, focused on gender and digital humanities work. I’ve been using the opportunity to think about DH in the broadest sense, and so far my rough draft goes from Turing’s imitation game to women of color’s unacknowledged labor in the production of digital devices to cyberfeminism to feminist archives, Wikipedia activism, and #transformDH. As part of my research, I went back to my timeline of tweets from the 2014 ASA Convention, in particular to the panel This Bridge We Call Cyberspace. I made a Storify archive so that I could refer to and reflect on them more easily; for anyone else who might want to do so, the link is at Women of Color Feminist Digital Humanities at #2014ASA
One of the first and most exciting tasks I’ve undertaken in my new job has been inviting speakers and developing the theme for the annual DC Queer Studies Symposium – an event I watched longingly from afar before I moved here (I defended my dissertation during the 2012 conference celebrating the career of Samuel R. Delany, as I recall). I’m delighted to share this year’s theme and call for papers, and I hope that everyone reading this will distribute it widely and consider attending! The official call for papers is online at this link.
What if? And what then? The time and space of gender, sexuality, race, and empire are shaped by acts of speculation: both financial speculation on “futures” markets and the speculative imaginaries that invent, theorize, imagine, and enact different kinds of worlds. Queer theory, politics, and life have always engaged in speculative practice, demanding we attend to forms of kinship, politics, gender, sex, and sociality that exceed the logics of assimilation. In recent years, attention has turned both to the ways in which some queer formations can reinforce the logics of speculative capital, and to the work of speculative cultural production in imagining different, deviant worlds.
We invite proposals for presentations at QUEER SPECULATIONS, the 8th Annual DC Queer Studies Symposium at the University of Maryland. The symposium will be a daylong series of conversations about the various speculative practices queer theory, politics, and life engage, and the kinds of queer speculations about queer bodies, objects, feelings, pasts, futures, utopias, dystopias, and transformations that are emerging. Events will include paper sessions featuring faculty and graduate students, a buffet lunch, and a plenary session featuring Ramzi Fawaz (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Shanté Paradigm Smalls (St. John’s University), whose work is expanding the field of scholarship on queerness and race in speculative cultural production.
The day will culminate with a keynote address by Juana María Rodríguez, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Rodriguez is author of Sexual Futures: Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings (NYU Press, 2014) which speculates about the world-making practices of queer of color femme intimacies and embodiments. Her other publications include Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces (NYU, 2003) and numerous articles related to her research in sexuality studies, queer activism in a transnational American context, critical race theory, technology and media arts, and Latina/o and Caribbean Studies.
The 2015 symposium marks the coming-together of Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies at the University of Maryland College Park, a moment to inspire creative speculation about possible futures for transformative knowledge production within the university.
We welcome proposals for presentations on topics including but not limited to:
- Queer speculative cultural production in media and literature
- Speculative worldmaking in queer communities and social movements
- The relationship of queer politics and culture to speculative capital, risk, and debt
- Queer currents in speculative materialism / the philosophical speculative turn
- Speculative uses of emerging technologies for queer bodies and worlds
- Queer interventions into global, imperial logics of speculation
- Speculative queer ecologies of the human and nonhuman
- Speculation as queer knowledge production in the academy and beyond
Proposals for 15-minute presentations should include name, affiliation, e-mail address, title of paper, a 250-word abstract, and a 1-2 page CV. We also welcome submissions for 45-minute panels, but we may reorganize speakers due to the demands of scheduling. If you submit a panel, please include a panel title and a brief explanation of the panel rationale. Please send materials by e-mail attachment (Word or PDF only) by January 16, 2015 to DCQS@umd.edu. Put “Submission for Queer Speculations” in the subject line of your message. For more information, contact JV Sapinoso at email@example.com. Selected participants will be notified by February 20, 2015.
All symposium events are free and open to the public. More details will be forthcoming at http://www.lgbts.umd.edu
I don’t write a lot here about being Scottish. I haven’t ever made much of it in my academic work, in my professional life. I haven’t lived in Scotland since 2003, and my nationality usually comes up in conversation only when someone is trying to identify my accent. It’s ironic, given that I am presently in a situation where I can’t leave the US until my pending visa renewal has been processed. But I’ve never felt more deeply connected to Scotland than I do right now.
As a student at Edinburgh University, I avoided the Scottish Literature classes because I didn’t want to focus on my own tiny almost-nation; I wanted a bigger world. I had already spent time in London, where I learned that being markedly Scottish made you a bit funny, not to be taken too seriously until one had moderated one’s accent. At Edinburgh, I read about feminism and postcolonial studies and critical theory; I also met the British class elite for the first time, and I realized how little many of them knew or cared about the world I came from. I left, to study abroad in California and then for a postgraduate degree in England and then to the US again, first for my PhD and then to work; I came home as often as I could to visit family, but I haven’t looked back all that much.
I’m looking at Scotland now, every day, reading articles and watching video and talking back and forth in person and on social media. But I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward.
Watching London politics over the past few years has broken my heart, as the official discourse seems to move ever closer to the American version of things where the conversations are always about money, never about people, despite powerful and vibrant protest. Growing up in Glasgow during the Thatcher era, I remember being confused about what this thing called democracy I learned about in school was supposed to be, since the government of the country had so manifestly little interest in or respect for the people around me; I remember my mother explaining carefully about Middle England and the politics of scale. Somebody with the same questions today could expect different answers.
My entrancement with the steady upswell of Yes is not terribly much about nationalism. That’s a reason I’m glad, in the end, that I don’t have a vote in Thursday’s referendum. I am Scottish, I will get a Scottish passport if such things come to exist, but I don’t live there; it’s a decision for the people who do, regardless of where they come from. And the people I am close to who live there have, many of them, been shifting steadily from a wary “don’t know” to a chorus of Yeses. Or, as we say in my native dialect, Aye.
“We’re no putting up a border, we’re just putting our house in order”: what Yes means for many of those voting is not so much separatist nationalist fervor (as it seems often to be described by those south of the border), as it is a resounding, passionate, affirmative NO. Campaigners for union focus on the economic gain to be found from the wealth of the south of England; they sentimentalize about the histories of power and privilege that tie the United Kingdom together. And a Yes to Scottish independence says no to all that. It says “I would prefer not to.”
With the affirmative grassroots movements that are gathering, that seem to me to be much more important than the Scottish National Party, a vote for independence has the potential to be to be a vote of no confidence for the capitalist nation-state as it stands. It’s a vote against “the economy” as the determinant of everything. It’s a vote, maybe, against the lingering sickening powerful feeling that the British Empire is something that those who benefited from it (think of ships built in Glasgow for the triangle trade; think of Elvis Costello and Robert Wyatt’s powerful song Shipbuilding) should consider a source of pride, rather than a source of shame.
In Butterfly Rebellion, which is a great account of the structure of feeling that Scottish independence has become, Robin McAlpine writes:
In a room behind a locked door, behind a policeman, behind a gate, behind another policeman, a group of millionaires get together. One, an old Etonian, nominally runs the country. The others, the CEOs of big corporations, actually run the country. They decide on a strategy: terror. We. Will. Take. Your. THINGS. From. You. It’s a fair trade, of sorts – give up your chance of self-determination and in return we will give you the cheap things that you love. This is Britain.
Some of the Yes campaign responds by offering reminders that Scotland would still be a rich country. But I’m more convinced by the Scottish actor and comedian Elaine C. Smith:
If you live in an affluent area, have a good job, drive a couple of nice cars, a good pension, a holiday home in Majorca and your kids are at private school, then why would you want change? I’ve enjoyed many of those advantages in my own life.
But surely life has to be about more than your own personal comfort? Isn’t your life made worse when you know that half a mile away from your home there are people living in abject poverty through no fault of their own, with no hope, no future, no dreams of a better life.
The left “no” side has offered up the argument that division makes for a smaller chance of equality, but that still comes close to the idea that what Scotland really needs is the trickle-down wealth from London – which would surely have worked rather better than it has, if it were going to.
The Yes vote is a No to predictability chosen out of fear. It’s a vote for admitting that things won’t necessarily get better right away, but that it’s worth trying to see if they can get different. When I think about what it might mean for the universities of Scotland, my first instinct is fear: with no fees and reduced access to UK funding, how will research get the funding it needs? And yet when I pause and think, it’s all possibility. Universities as they are don’t work terribly well as places to promote learning; the world has moved faster than they have, with their paywalled depositories and closed books. What would an alternative university be like? What kinds of knowledge might get shaped there, with an opportunity to start from scratch? This could be a time to collaborate on finding out.
Let me finish with a couple of images from the Scotland I grew up in. I come from Springburn, which Wikipedia will tell you has some of the the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Scotland, and some of the worst health. We lived in a council flat across the road from a beautiful park, where I walked almost daily past the imposing ruins of Victorian greenhouses that once housed winter gardens:
The garden picture looks like how Scotland and Scottishness feel to me today. Something old, slipping into disrepair, no longer functioning but lumbering on; it’s not so much that I think that is Britain as it feels like the dominant way we have of doing and thinking politics. And twining around and over and through, persisting even in darkest winter, a thousand shoots of nascent possibility, already green and growing, uncontainable. What if we let them bloom?
As I gear up for my first semester at the University of Maryland, I’m thinking a lot about academic and social positionings, offline and on. More particularly, about my own online positioning and how it has changed over the past four years as I’ve made the transition from graduate student life to completing my dissertation and going on the market, to being an assistant professor in a teaching-focused university teaching composition, literature, and doctoral-level theory classes, to my brand-new status as a tenure-track professor doing interdisciplinary work at a large public research university. The change in my online persona has been marked and undeniable. I have become much, much quieter.
My presence on Twitter used to be constant and vocal: livetweeting every conference I attended in queer studies, critical race studies, digital media; following and retweeting emerging news and political events (I most vividly remember the 2011 London riots); arguing; celebrating the benefits of the platform as I moved through the world in community with my Twitter friends, advocating its use both as a space for succinct, low-stress writing and as a platform for public intellectual discourse. I still livetweet most of the conferences I attend, but I don’t read like I used to, and I haven’t engaged in Twitter debate for a long time. Everything I’ve ever said about the importance of Twitter is truer than it ever was now that the platform has become so central to so many kinds of public life – but some recent discussions about #Ferguson made me realize that I don’t access the stream the way I used to. I think that Zeynep Tufekci (to pick one post from the dozens on the subject in my web history) is absolutely right in calling attention to the un-algorithmed Twitter feed as vital to the possibility of media justice; nevertheless, I followed and shared Ferguson news from inside my Facebook filter bubble. That was an interesting experience in itself; I learned that my activity there is such that I was given wall-to-wall Ferguson coverage and very few ALS Ice Bucket Challenges (though now the Challenge has crossed the Atlantic I’m seeing more of them). My Twitter feed, when I accessed it, had a much less unified perspective.
For those of you who follow digital humanities debate on Twitter, you may recognize the influence of Noel Jackson’s recent posts (storified by Adeline Koh) in this moment of contemplation. The abhorrent firing of Steven Salaita from the position he had accepted but not begun at the University of Illinois for his vocal, emotive public tweets against the genocidal war in Gaza is another thread that has been leading me to think about scholarly, political, and personal positionings. A third is the new publication of a second installment of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class in Academia recently published in the Seattle Journal of Social Justice, which I have been working my way through
Jackson calls attention to the relative silence of online networks of academics in the realm of digital humanities when it comes to the protests in Ferguson. He argues that if the humanities are to be public at all, then humanists must engage with what is happening on the ground. I agree with this premise, though critical caveats by Elizabeth Losh (Respect, Niceness, and Generosity) and Ernesto Priego (On the Public Humanities and the Reign of Opinion) on the ways that public online personae and political investment are rarely transparent reflections of one another ring very true. My own time away from Twitter has brought me to a deep appreciation of the temporality of the blog post.
I have seen some exchanges on Twitter in Jackson’s wake that illuminated for me why some tend to remain silent: when fear of appropriating a discourse not one’s own leads a white scholar not officially trained in race studies to hold back from expressions of solidarity with Black Americans, for example. People of color and those marked as other speak, knowing that their silence will not protect them (this article by Ramona Fernandez, a long and painful read, tells a story of what it can be like to endure that silence); silence does protect those who pass more seamlessly into the mainstream, where the risk is rather that we will appear to be giving assent to the violence of the status quo, and also that this appearance will become reality (read Sara Ahmed on the different experiences of bodies in systems that are or are not shaped around their movements and needs).
So, then, I’m reflecting on my own shifts in outspokenness and privilege. Switching the locus of my online activity from Twitter to Facebook has been a retreat into such a protective silence for me, in many ways. It has not only been that; it has most immediately been a question of demands on my time as I shifted from graduate school (in which I had the immense privilege of being well funded and generously mentored by radical scholars) to a full-time position with a high teaching load. It has been a recognition of the institutional impossibility of maintaining the kind of openness I had as a student, once I realized that the tenure-track position I had been incredibly lucky and (again) incredibly privileged to maintain was not going to be a good long term home; going on the market without the support of a cohort of equally anxious peers was a lonely thing, and Facebook provided a higher ratio of comforting dog, cat, and baby pictures to distract me. It has also been a sign of the attention I’ve been paying to happier events in my personal life, which I wanted to share with those I am more than with a scholarly audience. I do want to defend Facebook a little against the many who steer clear of its voracious surveillance and advertising; I’m far from the first to find that it’s become the digital space of the less digitally savvy, which for me includes many faraway friends and family. My Twitter feed, for all it has 1000+ followers, feels as if it reaches mainly the like minded, whereas on Facebook I’m constantly confronted by those awkward interactions between relatives, friends, and acquaintances (these include a fair number of internet-only friends and acquaintances with whom I’ve been interacting for more than ten years) whose life experiences are radically different than my own.
Anyway. I’m writing this post now, I think, as a reminder of the ways in which my new academic position charts a new relationship to scholarly visibility and privilege. I am no longer, praise everything, on the market; I am in a position where the things I want to do and the things I will be professionally rewarded for line up as well as I could hope for them to do. I may not have tenure yet, but I have access and a voice that have the potential to be powerful. And I need to use it mindfully; I need to use it well.
My summer has thus far been spent moving, with little time for web updates. But I have had two collaborative pieces come out in the past few months, and not yet got around to linking them here.
The first was a real first for me: co-writing with my romantic and domestic partner. We reviewed Volume 7 of Aqueduct Press’s WisCon Chronicles series, Shattering Ableist Narratives, for Disability Studies Quarterly. I edited Volume 6 in the series and WisCon is, as I’ve described here before, a home for me and a place where I find both community and significance for my work beyond my academic sphere. Disability studies is something that I have only recently been beginning to delve into, in part because of the focus on widening access and challenging ableism that I have seen over the years at WisCon. I’ve also been learning about it because it is the field within which my partner, Kathryn Wagner, is doing research in Clinical Psychology, so we thought that this review would be a fun way to explore the intersection of our scholarly work after she came with me to WisCon and experienced the convention first hand. It proved to be just that, and we hope to do more writing together in the future. For those who enjoy the review and the volume and want more WisCon, Volume Eight: Regenerating WisCon has just come out, edited by Rebecca Holden.
The second piece was part of a roundtable published by the online International Journal of Communication. I was invited by Henry Jenkins and Nick Couldry to join an illustrious line-up of media and communication scholars exploring “the Participatory Promise of Contemporary Culture and Politics,” in groupings organized around themes of creativity, labor, politics, knowledge and education, and platforms. I was part of the “politics” grouping, in the illustrious company of Danielle Allen, Nico Carpentier, Moya Bailey, Natalie Fenton, Henry Jenkins, Jack Linchuan Qiu, Mirko Tobias Schaefer, and Ramesh Srinivasan. I learned a lot from our dialogues about the uneven dynamics of participation as democratic political theory, utopia/dystopia, revolutionary and/or reactionary force; all of the roundtable’s segments are accessible and thought-provoking reads, and I recommend them highly.
I am overdue on a few announcements here; let me start with the biggest one.
This fall, I will be moving to the Washington, DC area to start a new position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at University of Maryland College Park. I will be joining the Program in LGBT Studies as it becomes a part of Women’s Studies, and I’m looking forward to being a part of this changing moment for gender and sexuality studies at Maryland. I will also be teaching in the undergraduate honors college as part of the Design | Culture & Creativity program, a first- and second-year interdisciplinary living-learning program focused on digital culture and featuring the spec-fictional tagline of a curriculum for “independent thinkers and problem solvers who imagine that which does not yet exist.”
As will hopefully be clear from all that, this position could not be more of a dream job; it feels tailor-made for my idiosyncratic collection of interests, and it will give me the scope to explore them in ways I am only beginning to imagine. And College Park is, of course, the home of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, as well as so many scholars – in my new department and elsewhere – whose work I have been reading and engaging for years. I am honored and overjoyed beyond words to have this opportunity.
I’m excited to announce that the 1889 feminist utopia to which I wrote the introduction, New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future by Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett, is now in print – with a beautiful cover from Aqueduct Press’s Heirloom Books imprint.
It’s a strange book; typical of the burgeoning utopian fictions of its time, yet with some unusual interventions to make regarding technology, medicine, writing, and gender. Here’s the first paragraph of my introduction:
When Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett sat down in the late 1880s to imagine a world 500 years hence, she can little have imagined that her words would be pored over in another century, on another continent, in a community gathered around the kinds of imaginative engagement with gender that she was pioneering. L. Timmel Duchamp has described feminist science fiction as a “great conversation”; Corbett’s speculations about New Amazonia are part of that conversation’s prehistory, a fictional contribution to political debates with which the writer was intensively engaged. The book you are holding is a piece of utopian fiction, but it is just as much a feminist rant––entertaining, educational, and more than a little over the top. Hilarious at some moments, it is shocking and dispiriting in others. It forces us to remember how easily feminist hope can coexist with racism, class hierarchy, imperalism, and the ableism that justified eugenic reproductive policy. Utopias and rants are both genres that make presumptions and prejudices acutely visible.
You can buy the book directly from Aqueduct, in print or ebook (which I recommend, since they are a small publishing house doing amazing work to support innovative and radical feminist science fiction), or from Amazon.com.
My second panel at MLA was a roundtable on “Tumblr Vulnerabilities” with Aren Aizura, Roy Perez, Nick Mitchell, Kara Jesella, and Jeanne Vaccaro. My notes are a little scattered, but I’m posting them anyway. I was respondent and was trying to gather key phrases to bring together at the end in a live post on tumblr itself, but I didn’t quite manage to pull it off; I shared my notes for that attempt at my rarely-used queergeektheory tumblr anyway.
Apologies for any mishearings; please comment or email me if there’s anything I should change.