March 2011 Archives

The "methodological round table discussion" on the Queer Twin Cities book project (Friday, March 25) presented some complex questions and dilemmas around the writing of queer histories in particular, and subaltern histories more generally. Given the greater focus on the two coasts and the metropolitan cities of New York and San Francisco in US GLBT histories, the book undertook the task of filling in a (relative) absence or silence - however, as the panelists pointed out, there is therefore an expectation from such a project to provide a narrative of progress that follows the familiar trajectory of mainstream GLBT histories, i.e. a 'coming out' narrative that charts the evolution of individualized and sexually responsible gay/lesbian subjects, and finds its teleological end in inclusion within mainstream institutions such as marriage. Even though the authors/editors of the collaborative project attempted to veer away from such a narrative, they noted how several reviews were nevertheless casting the book into such (homo)normative framing. I feel that this is a more general problem faced by subaltern histories, in the sense that the categories of intelligibility through which the 'subaltern' has to be made visible as a socio-historical agent often relies or draws upon the same ideological structures that engendered subalternity in the first place.
Another dilemma raised by the panelists was the delineation of categories of vulnerability and risk in order to prevent harm or hurt to the subjects of such histories. They described how early on in the project, the IRB (Institutional Review Board) split up their subject populations into GLB and T, with transgender-identified people being seen as more at-risk and vulnerable to 'harm'. Ironically, as Kevin Murphy pointed out, the specific forms of vulnerability of trans-identified and intersex people had often been created by the medical establishment through discourses of GID (gender-identity disorder), 'corrective' sex assignment surgery, etc. - and now the UMN IRB, closely allied to the medical school, was itself serving as an impediment to the documentation of such histories by insisting on the extra confidentiality of transgender subjects. Thus, here it seems that a certain reification of 'vulnerability' or 'risk' as the inherent property of certain populations - far from empowering them through protection - actually serves as a way of perpetuating subalternity (this is also reminiscent of Wendy Brown's critique in 'States of Injury'). In fact, as I pointed out during the discussion, the naturalized assumption and reification of 'transgender' as an identity and as a category of vulnerable subjects was historically problematic in itself, and marked a discursive imposition of normative forms of intelligibility on what historically has been a complex and shifting terrain of identities and behaviors.
(Aniruddha Dutta)

A Somerville Saturday Seminar

This Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a small "seminar" with Prof. Somerville in which we discussed her work on immigration, birthright citizenship, naturalization and thinking through how queer theory may be a useful mode of inquiry. For the seminar we read Somerville's 2005 article "Notes Toward a Queer History of Naturalization" that appeared in American Quarterly, Ayelet Shachar & Ran Hirschl 2007 piece, "Citizenship as Inherited Property," from Political Theory as well as Mae Ngai's 2007, "Birthright Citizenship and the Alien Citizen," from the Fordham Law Review. Although I was unable to attend Prof. Somerville's talk the day before, I had just read Queering the Colorline for my Queer/ing Ethics class with Prof. Puotinen, I was very excited about putting Prof. Somerville's work in conversation with Ngai, Shachar & Hirschl as well as with other Chicana/o Studies scholarship around migration. What was most interesting for me was the conversation of language (knowledge production?) and power in how we define "productive citizens." This became even more urgent after reading Mae Ngai's work on "perpetual foreigners" and what she terms the "alien citizen." This of course led me to question the significance on the body (using Moraga's "theory of the flesh") specifically how particular bodies are situated within systems and state apparatuses. I began to question, if "citizenship," as it is understood by the state, was really what needed queering? Is the answer to "renounce" citizenship? What would migrants say to this? How much do race, class, genders and sexualities affect the "forced intimacies" that particular bodies need to have with the state? If certain bodies are considered "perpetual aliens" what is the usefulness of debating around citizenship and naturalization? What about those bodies that regardless of birthright citizenship and/or naturalization are still outside the national imaginary of what a "proper" citizen subject should look like, love like, live like, be like? Our Saturday seminar with Prof. Somerville made me think of the way that bodies are raced, classed, gendered, etc and subsequently implicated/hailed into structures that interpolate with the intention of policing and containing them. Our discussions were intense and thought provoking and incredibly useful for me to begin thinking about my research questions.

-reina rodríguez


  • GWSS Course Blogs: 2009-2010

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Idalia Robles De Leon

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Jerod Greenisen

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