EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Whatever is happening to the critical study of sexual and gender diversity in anthropology? (European Network of Queer Anthropology)

Location S-420
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Paul Boyce (University of Sussex) email
Silvia Posocco (Birkbeck, University of London) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Despite rich evidence of work on sexual diversity in early anthropology, it is now almost absent in the discipline in the European academy. Converging with the new European Network for Queer Anthropology, this panel discusses sexuality and gender diversity's importance to the discipline's future.

Long Abstract

Whereas a growing critical body of ethnographically-informed research on sexual and gender diversity is taking place in dispersed locations of the European academy, it remains close-to absent in the discipline of anthropology today. Given this, how might a critical ethnographic focus on sexual/gender diversity contribute to rethinking anthropological analysis and its dominant orthodox normativities, contributing to anthropology's relevance into the future? Why and how is sexual and gender difference central to our understanding of broader constellations of intimacy, belonging, and revolution? In what ways does the marginalization of 'queer' anthropology index broader exclusions and hierarchies in the discipline, and how do we challenge and change them? Arguing for the importance of a 'queer' perspective to anthropological inquiry 'proper', we invite papers on themes such as, but not limited to: ongoing struggles to define the proper and divergent constellations of marriage, kinship and relatedness globally; the tensions between religion, state and secularity; im/migrations, racism, nationalism, and citizenship; hierarchies and geopolitics of love and intimacy; governmentality and its democratic deficit; globalization, 'Fortress Europe' and the economic crisis; sexual and gender transitions and the politics of (mis)recognition; the ethics and politics of disciplinary practice at university institutions, in academic publishing, and in non-textual practice.

We welcome submissions that engage these questions and connections - and more - in our ambition to put the anthropology of gender/sexual diversity back into the centre of anthropological and interdisciplinary collaborative projects, within and beyond academia. Student papers, polemic think pieces, work-in-progress, and alternative submission formats very welcome.

Discussant: Elisabeth L. Engebretsen (International Institute for Asian Studies)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Belonging elsewhere: queer and anthropological failures

Author: Paul Boyce (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores anthropological and queer sexual subjectivities as modes of ‘outside belonging.’ Synergies and ruptures in aspiring to achieve a sense of ‘belonging elsewhere’ are explored as mutual attributes of anthropological subjectivity and queer subjectification.

Long Abstract

This paper explores anthropological and queer sexual subjectivities as modes of 'outside belonging.' Synergies and ruptures in aspiring to achieve a sense of 'belonging elsewhere' are explored as mutual attributes of anthropological subjectivity and queer subjectification. Drawing on ethnographic work with transgender and same-sex desiring people in Kolkata, India, conducted at different times, over a number of years, the paper employs a reflexive, autobiographical approach to consider failures of belonging as quotidian moments of insight into a queer anthropological standpoint. Inasmuch as the paper employs a first-person narrative the reliable authorial voice is queried. Rather an unreliable narrative mode is explored, offering potential insights into the partial and assembled nature of queer life-worlds - ethnographically particular, but countering claims to authenticity and identity. Resisting any consistent sense of knowing self or other, the paper posits a focus on a displaced sense of being as a queer ethnographic stance. This mirrors a displacement of queer anthropological work within much of the orthodox (European) academy, whilst offering a perspective that might posit anthropological and queer dialogues.

Thinking transition at the margins of anthropological theory: reflections on methods and practice

Author: EJ Gonzalez-Polledo (London School of Economics and Political Science)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on my process of researching and writing about (ftm) transition as an anthropologist to explore relations between anthropology and gender, queer and trans studies as critical and political methods, practices and epistemologies.

Long Abstract

This paper reflects on my process of researching and writing about (ftm) transition as an anthropologist. I build on the affective learning process of getting to know transition through ethnographic, historical and interdisciplinary enquiry. As a boundary object that connects multiple communities, disciplines and forms of knowledge and practice, transition requires being thought through relations between scales and temporalities that reconfigure the boundaries of traditional anthropological models of fieldwork and theory making.

Drawing on connections between aspects of fieldwork, practice and theoretical exploration in my project, I ask whether the relations between gender, queer and trans studies and anthropological theories of sexuality and gender diversity could be conceptualised as a new instance of the 'awkward relation' through which Strathern (1987) defined the differences between anthropology and feminism as methods, practices and epistemologies. Reflecting on the relations between the affordances and limits of anthropology as a disciplinary context, my paper will explore some productive adventures that might result from framing anthropological projects within these awkward -'queer'- relationalities. What futures critical and political might (and might not) emerge from these relations?

Starting from the bottom: queering anthropological theory and practice

Author: Mark Graham (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper briefly outlines the scope of a queer anthropology and then goes on to consider the sexual subtexts and political and ethical implications of two examples in greater detail: Fieldwork and the study of Failure. It invites anthropologists to explore worlds immanent to those we study.

Long Abstract

Drawing on a range of theoretical sources, the paper outlines the scope of a queer anthropology and then considers two examples in greater detail: Fieldwork and Failure. In both cases, the sexual subtexts of apparently non-sexual phenomena are highlighted. The paper therefore explores sexual diversity in places we normally might not expect to find it. Fieldwork is an embodied endeavour but it is here framed as molecular and larval, a heterogeneous encounter, not between the organ-ised body of the ethnographer, but between visceral processes that are often the unrecognised or unacknowledged subterranean aspects of fieldwork, ones that connect the ethnographer with actors, organisations and processes with political and ethical implications. Queer fieldwork, I argue, alerts us to the materiality of ethnography to a greater extent than its conventional counterpart. Failure here signifies not defeat or inadequacy, as it is often understood, but an ontological fact of life. It arises from the fact that only a fraction of the multiplicity inherent in all situations is ever made actual. This makes failure something everyone experiences on a routine basis in the sense that things 'could have been otherwise'. It also means that a queer kind of failure is a highly political and ethical phenomenon, one that points us in the direction of suppressed doubts, tears in the fabric of everyday life, the unheimlich, the subjunctive moments that reveal glimpses of other- not least gender and sexual - worlds immanent in those we study, worlds the anthropologist can and perhaps ought to delineate.

The politics of sameness and difference in the anthropology of gender and sexual diversity

Author: Adnan Hossain (The University of Amsterdam)  email

Short Abstract

Highlighting sameness and difference in the way gender and sexuality are both studied and understood in anthropology, I contend that the unique critical capacities of queer anthropology needs to be foregrounded to counter the extant marginalization of this subfield.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I highlight the politics of gendered and sexual sameness and difference both in the way marginal gender and sexuality are studied and in the ways these studies are understood and received by dominant disciplinary practices of anthropology. For instance, one common assumption among anthropologists not necessarily interested in gender and sexuality is that marginal gender and sexuality are studied by anthropologists inhabiting marginal gender and sexual positions themselves while for others this so called shared sameness is emphasized precisely as a position of advantage that enables situated readings of the marginal gender and sexualities. I contend that both notions of essentialized difference and sameness work to marginalize and de-legitimate gender and sexuality as topics relevant to our understanding of cultural practices and processes and worthy of serious scholarly investigation. Drawing on ethnographic research with the hijras, the male bodied feminine identified subjects in Bangladesh and the reception of my work in diverse institutional settings, I intend to shed light on the politics of knowledge production and questions on and around sameness and difference. I argue that the dominant tendency to view 'queer' anthropology as being relevant only to a minority politics can be countered by foregrounding the critical epistemological capacities of queer anthropology to the discipline of anthropology and beyond.

Scandalous belonging: space, time, and heteronational panic in postsocialist Hungary

Author: Hadley Renkin (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper compares two past scandals over LGBT public presence in postsocialist Hungary in order to trace their effects on the current tensions shaping Hungarian sexual politics, and especially the country’s recent surge in public homophobia.

Long Abstract

Public scandals and moral panics about sexuality are critical sites through which the cultural-political meanings of sexuality are reconfigured, often with lasting consequences for intimacy, belonging, and social transformation. This paper compares two past scandals over LGBT public presence in postsocialist Hungary in order to trace their effects on the current tensions shaping Hungarian sexual politics, and especially the country's recent surge in public homophobia. The first scandal arose in the late 1990s in response to an LGBT school outreach program, the second in the early 2000s over an attempt to ban LGBT people from an outdoor music festival. Public discourses surrounding these scandals centered on heteronormative imaginings of sexuality's significance for conflicting modalities of space and time, figuring schools as crucial spaces of national reproductive futurity, and the music festival as an iconic transnational space emblematic of the nation's postsocialist progress, thus rendering both key sites of contention over postsocialist Hungary's modern European belonging and difference. I argue that in response to each scandal, LGBT activists strove to negotiate these intersecting imaginaries of national and transnational space and time, belonging and difference, shifting the borders of LGBT belonging in order to strengthen identity, community, and activism. These efforts were crucial to constituting a more cohesive LGBT movement making visible claims for rights and inclusion. They also, however, ultimately positioned LGBT people and politics at the precarious center of increasing tensions over Hungary's relation to the borders of European modernity, and rendered them more vulnerable targets of heteronational hatred.

Queer necropolitics and strategic ethnography in Uganda

Author: Heather Tucker (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

Those within the sexual rights movement in Kampala, Uganda are enfolded into a queer necropolitics of U.S. exceptionalism in Uganda. I offer queer intersectional ethnography as a means of which to challenge this necropolitical process.

Long Abstract

argue that the multiple significations involved in the Ugandan sexual rights movement offer strengths and vulnerabilities to the lived realities of its participants. In addition, the means of which members of the movement are enfolded into the larger assemblage of the political economy of sexuality, or the queer necropolitics in Uganda requires multiple strategies regarding signification. This queer necropolitics, I refer to as a means of which to locate the U.S. exceptionalism, and the U.S. Culture Wars as central to the current political economy of sexuality and gender in Uganda. Queer theory challenges essentializations, while "ethnography allows for the nuanced communication of experience and enables a way of exploring the intricacies and nuances of lived practice in a specific temporal and spatial context; how people live through the problems and pleasure of daily life, how they live in relationship to the identities available to them" (Browne: 29). Feminist standpoint theorists and African researchers are calling towards thinking beyond essentialisms, as affect, embodiment, and ethnography can complicate such essentialisms. Engaging in an ethnographic study, therefore, will give more nuanced and complexity to the understanding of the localized struggle of a queer necropolitics in Uganda.

Sexuality rediscovered? Anthropology, heteronormativity, and the Western categorical imperative

Author: Taylor Riley  email

Short Abstract

This paper is an analysis of the norms that govern both the lack and misrecognition of sexuality in anthropology, with a particular focus on heternormativity and Western norms of categorization, illustrating the significance of this absence and the issues with analysing sexuality within a Western vernacular.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists are meant to first and foremost answer to people, but as much as there is reflexivity and hyper-criticism practised, this goal can be marred by our pre-existing ontologies. Anthropology is a field that can dispel the myths that heternormativity enforces and is based on because of its intended purpose as a field that makes the researcher an observer and vessel of translation. But in practise, it rarely does. In 'rediscovering' sexuality, anthropology has maintained notable silences and where not silent, it has (mis)categorized sexualities to mirror the values of the Western profit economy. Even in attempts to listen to localized truths of sexuality and gender, we can advocate our own by default in our claims to knowing what 'freedom' should look like. No matter our intentions, if we see and study in the frame of rights as the answer to the unfulfilled desires of clear categories of people, we enforce the separateness of the heteronormative ideology and render invisible the people and subjectivities we are seeking to view and understand. I will emphasize the need for 'queer' and other perspectives to remedy these misconceptions with regards to intimacy, love, and kinship in particular. The examples I plan to use relate to my research focus on female same-sex sexualities in Africa. I assert that anthropological work can only be that: the study of human beings, if it can reflect the nuances of their lives, no matter how inconceivable they may seem, while understanding that even our best tools, like language, can sometimes fail us.

Capturing the gay network(s): a queer ontography of connection in urban Congo

Author: Thomas Hendriks (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

A queer ontography of connection among self-identified “gay” or fioto men and boys in urban Congo, highlighting the material and metaphorical production of sexual networks through mobile phone and internet technologies, raises fundamental questions about erotic “difference” and “similarity”.

Long Abstract

This paper contributes to the ongoing rethinking of "relatedness", "connection" and "belonging" - traditional topics in anthropological theorization - from an explicitly queer perspective. But instead of looking at these topics from the "west", a comfortable position most queer studies (and even "queer anthropology") are still reluctant or unable to abandon, I start from a vantage point where "queer" meets its own ontological limits.

Materialities and imaginaries of connection are approached from ongoing ethnographic research with self-identified "gay" or fioto men and boys in urban Congo. Fieldwork in Kinshasa and Kisangani reveals the fundamental importance of networks and networking in everyday fioto life. This is most clearly stated in the expression naza branché ("I am connected") commonly heard among visibly "effeminate" fioto guys and their gender-conforming boyfriends. In this paper, I provide an ontography of these multiple and ambivalent "networks" in which the French verb "brancher" indicates not a passive plugging into but an active capturing of a global but occult network of fashionable queer modernity beyond orthodox family and kinship relations. A careful analysis of this subversive "network-making" through the everyday usage of networking devices, such as Facebook and mobile phones, in a political-economic environment where "the network" is always (technologically) uncertain, demonstrates how networks have profoundly sexual connotations differentiating gendered erotic identities and "sexualities". This sexual ontography raises fundamental questions about the issues of ontological erotic "difference" and "similarity" that underlie queer anthropological theorizations of connection, intimacy and belonging.

Re-thinking (in)visibility and queerness: LGBT parents and their families of choice at the Polish crossroads

Authors: Sylwia Urbanska (Polish Academy of Sciences )  email
Aleksander Wasiak-Radoszewski (Institute of Psychology, Polish Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

What is the subversive impediment of public in/visibility of LGBT relationships with children in the context of Poland? We would like to discuss the impending willfulness of such struggles in (re)doing family belonging, forming alliances, and (re)defining discursive fields of anthropology.

Long Abstract

What is the subversive impediment of public visibility of LGBT relationships with children in the specific context of Poland/Eastern Europe? Can we talk about any revolutionary potential in 'redoing family', without the public coming out? What is the political valance of 'public (in)visibility'? We would like to discuss the impending willfulness of such struggles in (re)doing family belonging, forming alliances, and (re)defining discursive fields of anthropology. We propose to read the coming outs of the LGBT families with children as a collective (in/out-group) processes, informed by internal family dynamics, inherent ambiguities of being out (or in) of the closet (and not only motivated by the external, political factors). Our focus is on the following:

[1] Queering potential of 'Central-Eastern European LGBT kinship studies' to broaden anthropological perspectives on social relatedness. Could studies on non-normative relationships outside the dominating Anglophone epistemological scope of kinship studies broad our existing anthropological perspectives?

[2] 'Intimacy activism' as possibly new(?) framework of 'queer activism' in Poland. Could we term the effects of practicing visibility/invisibility binary as 'queer', rooted in the particular local context of mid-2000s Poland/Eastern Europe?

The presentation draws on biographical interviewing's findings from the ongoing project "Families of choice in Poland" (PI: Dr hab. J. Mizielińska).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.