Recently in GWSS Colloquium 2010-11 Category

Within the past decade, South Africa has gained worldwide attention for violent masculinities, manifested remarkably through high rates of sexual assault with public sanction, "corrective" rapes of lesbians, intentional HIV infections, sexual violence targeting infants, and debates over intersexuality. Challenges to the composition of male masculinities have been the subject of sensationalist journalism and public discussion and led to stigma, medical maltreatment, and aggressive policing. This presentation will highlight particular moments in the past decade of such controversies, centering on how and why debates about gender codify its meaning.

Date: 12/07/2012
Time: 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM
Location: 400 Ford Hall
Cost: Free

2012-13 Feminist Studies Colloquium Series.

Event details here.

Date: 11/02/2012
Time: 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM
Location: 400 Ford Hall
Cost: Free

If all writing is fundamentally tied to the production of meanings and texts, then feminist research that blurs the borders of academia and activism is necessarily about the labor and politics of mobilizing experience for particular ends. Co-authoring stories is a chief tool by which feminists working in alliances across borders mobilize experience to write against relations of power that produce social violence, and to imagine and enact their own visions and ethics of social change. Such work demands a serious engagement with the complexities of identity, representation, and political imagination as well as a rethinking of the assumptions and possibilities associated with engagement and expertise. This presentation draws upon 16 years of partnership with activists in India and with academic co-authors in the US to reflect on how story telling across social, geographical, and institutional borders can enhance critical engagement with questions of violence and struggles for social change, while also troubling dominant discourses and methodologies inside and outside of the academy. In offering six "truths" of alliance work, this talk reflects on the labor process, assumptions, possibilities, and risks associated with co-authorship as a tool for mobilizing intellectual spaces in which stories from multiple locations in an alliance can speak with one another and evolve into more nuanced critical interventions.

Richa Nagar is Professor of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota and she has worked closely with Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan (Sangtin Peasants and Workers Organization) in Sitapur District of India. She has co-authored Sangtin Yatra (Sangtin, 2004), Playing with Fire (University of Minnesota Press and Zubaan, 2006), A World of Difference (Guilford, 2009), and Ek Aur Neemsaar (Rajkamal Prakashan, 2012) and she has co-edited Critical Transnational Feminist Studies (SUNY Press, 2010). She has been a residential fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) in Stanford and at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute for Advanced Studies in New Delhi.

Event details here.

Date: 10/19/2012
Time: 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM
Location: 400 Ford Hall
Cost: Free

Mirta Kupferminc is a Jewish Argentine visual artist whose exuberant, often challenging work encodes complex stories of gender, diaspora, space, and the body. Kupferminc's images, set in the context of other visual representations that function as maps of desire, politics, and, often, women's bodies provide an insight into the metaphorical power of cartography.

Event details here.

Date: 09/21/2012
Time: 1:00 PM - 2:15 PM
Location: 140 Nolte Center for Continuing Education
Cost: Free

How has human trafficking been described and made real through legal, political and cultural sites? What visual economies shape the consumption of certain kinds of images of trafficking and what is at stake in posing human rights through (neo)liberal terms? Taking an interdisciplinary approach, this presentation examines how human trafficking (and more specifically sex trafficking) has become a political and cultural reality for US audiences by mapping the ways government, media and scholarly research have framed and narrated trafficking. This presentation looks at the production of human trafficking as a contemporary human rights concern in order to draw attention to the historical and continuing ways knowledge of racialized sexualities shapes and polices US national belonging as well as notions of global, human rights citizenship.

Event details here.

Racial Formation in the Media Post 9/11

On Friday, December 9th Professor Jigna Desai presented her work-in-progress entitled "Cinema of Exception, Cinema of Insecurity: Race and Terror in Post 9/11 Media." Positioning her work in the context of former President George W. Bush's post 9/11 remarks, which propelled the nation into a "state of exception" she illustrated how the U.S. was able to justify its persecution of "bad" brown bodies (muslim terrorists). Bush's campaign relied on the idea that the surveillance and violence against these "bad" brown bodies must be done to preserve the national security of the U.S. and the international community at large. The former President successfully gathered national and international support for his campaign against terror by laying out a framework for determining what made a "good" and "bad" brown muslim body through his executive actions. More specifically, this exercise of hegemonic power and global violence would be explored in popular films. By examining two Harold and Kumar films Desai argued that these parodies do more than provide a venue to purge the U.S. of the fear of a terrorist attack.

The point I remember the most during her analysis of the films was the role that citizenship played in the stories developing narrative. For instance, in one of the films the ability of the two main characters to access goods or to participate in consumer culture became a major signifier of American citizenship. The fantasy of the American dream and the constant pursuit of inclusion became the basis of almost all the interactions that took place throughout the film.

A question that arose for me relates to the ways that representations of the American dream have shifted alongside the state of exceptions persecution of "bad" brown bodies. More specifically, how do these films disrupt the ideological particularities of the American dream? Why is that important to a parody film that aims to use humor to challenge and disrupt the idea of the "good" and "bad" brown body?

I am have always been particularly interested in the ways that the American dream continues to define, confine and legitimize certain ways of being in the world. I believe a closer examination of its role in tandem with your works established goals could open up your exploration of the role that citizenship plays in contemporary racial formation.

Good Luck!

Musical Activism, Black Feminism and Queerness

In Yuichiro Onishi's talk entitled Abbey Lincoln's Japan: Slave Art in the Creation of 1973 Albums" Onishi argued that Abby Lincoln's divorce from drummer Max Roach in 1970 did not defeat her intellectual or activist spirit, but rather gave her "the courage required to go on living in the present." Lincoln's hiatus to Japan during this time then signified a major shift in the artists concsiousness where she explored two things primarily. First, Lincoln challenged the notion that the enslaved did not speak back by recalling the importance of her ancestral past. Second, In this act of "monkery" (the act of self-searching through past exploration) Lincoln aimed to rethink and reorientate the Black families usage of the normative family model.

During the question and answer portion of the talk a number of interesting comments and questions arose, but the most intriguing came from Professor Amy Kaminsky. Kaminsky suggested that the author leave room for Lincoln's work to be interpreted as queer. In short, Kaminsky found that Onishi's reading of Lincoln's message as solely rooted in heterosexuality was limiting to the message that she believes Lincoln was trying to send in her music. Kaminsky was commenting specifically on an interview clip we watch where Lincoln talked about Polygamy in the African community and ended her comments by describing the multiple connections and linkages that should be possible, "with you, and you, and you and you."

Onishi was not 100% sure that he understood Kaminsky's comments, because he did not believe that Lincoln's reference to the "you" in the video clip made any reference to a specific gender desire. This however, is not the precursor for something being "defined" as queer (a specific gender notation), however I believe queerness does the exact opposite it relies on the ambiguity and unsureness that disrupts the heteronormative frame. But what I found interesting in Onishi and Professor Zenzele Isoke's comments back to Kaminsky was this idea that "queerness" in early Black feminist understandings was rooted in disrupting the normality of whiteness.

My question is then; How does important articles like Cathy Cohen's "Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?" help further this claim? Or rather how has the use of "queer" by Black feminist scholars been pushing back on the exertion of power by an elite ideological frame that aims to police and control "unruly Black bodies?"

Response to Squires

Catherine Squires in her colloquium talk discussed her attempts to bring bell hooks to the discipline of Journalism and Mass Communication. She linked hooks' ideas of civility and political engagement to those of John Dewey and C. Wright Mills. Squires emphasized the idea of civility in an approach of 'what I can do for you', decentering the self and promoting 'civilized' exchange. I was curious about this discussion of civility and why hooks utilizes this term given its proximity to civility and the idea of 'civilization' (as opposed to barbarism) in western ideas of liberalism and democracy. I wondered what Squires' own understandings, critiques, and interventions are regarding this. While I appreciate efforts that seek to encourage discussion between traditional disciplines and feminist studies, in utilizing the terms of debate of that discipline to draw feminist theory into it, what potential is lost, and what remains, of critique and alteration of that discipline? Could an approach that keeps hooks' discussion at critical disagreement with Communications Studies (or Dewey and Mills) and allowing her words to remain at odds with these ideas be an enactment of the very approach that hooks proposes - of sitting with disagreement and ambiguity?

I also am curious about how the 'you' to be helped in 'what I can do for you' is assumed to be the other in political discourse, and not someone who is similarly positioned with respect to social location. Can one reorient this language to think of space to speak with 'you's who may be similarly oppressed? This would also be a political choice to generate spaces of discussion and action, which supports others without centralizing self or re-centering an oppressor.

Civility in the classroom, Buddhism as a way of knowing.

Although the entirety of Friday's colloquia was thought provoking, two particular aspects of Dr. Squires talk stood to me: interpersonal civility in Academia and Buddhism as an alternative entry point into theorizing. I have been thinking about both on my own all semester, so I found the space for thinking about these things as a community particularly rewarding this week.

It is no secret that many educators love bell hooks because of her "radical" feminist pedagogy. Dr. Squires did not speak directly about hooks' work in education theory, but the conversation about civility situated itself in my mind in the classroom. Following Brittany's question about civility between colleagues who find themselves in differently places in the hierarchy of recognized academic achievement, the talk left me thinking about how we (graduate students) interact with one another in the classroom. I have been focused on this idea all semester with respect to the space I personally take up in the classroom. Dr. Squires talk provided an interesting alternative frame for my thoughts. Just as its important for instructors to think about the dynamics of their classroom as a part of pedagogy, it is equally important for members of a class to think about their participation in that space and what kind of energy they put forth. To some extent we are all responsible for the spaces we move within. Even if we do not have the power, authority, or ability to shift the dynamic dramatically we can - as Squires outlined - control how we respond and situate ourselves in those moments. The examples of how bell hooks responded to hostile colleagues at conferences shows exactly this. I've found that so many of my graduate seminars have gotten bogged down with what I've previously called ego, but with what Squires/hooks calls dominator culture. When, as a member of a conversation, your desire in that exchange is to be right, or to be recognized as the most knowledgeable you are participating in dominator culture. Even if you are the most knowledgeable, to interact with peers as though their lack of understanding is a burden to you is more than unproductive, it is hostile. I was particularly taken by the conversations about when to say "I'm not your teacher" in regard to explaining privilege to those who have it blinding and when to take the time and work with someone who generally wants to be a more conscious human being.

All of this is to position the hooks quote Squires put forth to us as a standard for academic interpersonal civility. What would classrooms, department meetings, committee meetings, mentor/mentee meeting look like if we all asked ourselves not just "what's in it for me" but also or more so, "and what can I do for you?" What could we learn, where would this take us if we honestly approached each moment with this attitude?

Unsurprisingly I was incredibly excited to hear bell hooks' Buddhist practice centered as one of the major frameworks for her thinking. As someone who has studied Buddhism for 10 or so years, this connected directly to my academic projects. Like hooks much of my thinking is framed in my mind through my Buddhist practice, even though I often use other language to discuss it. Squires is exactly right in her response to a question posted to her - Buddhism is not the answer, and hooks does not position it at such. Buddhist thought is simply another avenue or entry point toward answering some of the difficult questions we face as feminist scholars/thinkers/activists. As Squires showed so much of Western academic thinking is based on Judeo-Christian thought. To situate your work on alternative ways of knowing is to risk being viewed as unsubstantial.

My question then - via hooks/Squires - is how does structuring your feminist analysis though Buddhism differ from other feminist epistemologies seen as "alternative?" Could Buddhism Feminist thinking be seen as equal to Women of Color Feminisms, or Latina/Chicana Feminisms, or Queer Feminisms? To start thinking from some place else in rejection of dominant modes of thought is without question a feminist practice. If we are looking for different answers, then starting with different parameters for our questions seems advantageous. How might Squires talk, and bell hooks, help us understand Buddhism, eastern philosophies and other non-western genealogies of thought as a worthwhile, and equally valid mode of theorizing?

Teaching Community: bell hooks and Civility

Catherine Squires talk on bell hooks aimed to place her work in conversation with media and critical communication theory to prompt the field to rethink how it understands the topic of civility and communication in the public sphere.

In this talk I found the following connections extremely compelling:

1. According to Squires reading of bell hooks the starting point for civility is not unity or consensus, but rather equity and mutuality (what can I do for you). Hooks makes this distinction, because she believes the most important step in this process is resisting the bondage of dominator culture. dominator culture is the constant positioning of the self over the other. A mechanism of power that we are all implicated within.

2. This process of communicative exchange also requires that we tolerate ambiguity. In hooks conception this means that each party must engage in exchange willing to walk away without making any clear determinations, but accept fragmentation and psychological discomfort. Squires uses the example of the media's persistent demand that the current "occupy" movement provide them with a leader and a specific set of agenda items. In many ways drawing our attention to the limits of our current communcative practices.

These points were of interest to me, because Squires project unearths past writings by hooks that many publishers have deemed as passé'. However, it is clear that much of her work is still very relevant to the current "age of fracture" (i.e.;post-movement era). As I consider the role that dominator culture and the tolerance of ambiguity (a phrase that other women of color feminists like Gloria Anzaldua utilize) plays in the creation of civility I imagine that this conversation can not happen without talking about the ways that language or particular discursive manuvers frame these debates or discourses of civility.


  • GWSS Course Blogs: 2009-2010

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