EROSS PUBLIC WEBINAR SERIES - SEMESTER 1 2022/23
This presentation ventures a socio-theoretical analysis of over fifty years of radical queer social movements within the United States. It situates gay liberationism, black lesbian feminism, and AIDS activism in relation to the Fordist and neoliberal regimes of accumulation and shows how these transnational movements sought to negate the governing fictions of the American hegemonic order.
It starts by illustrating how the subsumption of desire has historically secured the conditions for the expansion of American hegemony. The production of ostensibly universal national ideals has been integral to managing a constitutive contradiction between US state and capital: while the state promises homogeneity, equivalence, and resolution, capital depends upon differentiation, hierarchy, and exclusion. National ideals conceal the gendered, sexualized, and racialized divisions upon which the reproduction of capital depends by positing themselves as universal, singular, and inclusive. Crucially, the mass identification of such ostensibly universal national ideals was facilitated by the subsumption of desire.
Under Fordism, the ostensibly universal ideal of the suburban nuclear family disavowed the pathologization and repression of queer and racialized populations who were unable to assimilate to the heteronormative prescriptions of family life. This family model promised an array of desires and pleasures associated with leisure time within the home. Under neoliberalism, the heteronormative family became a privatized alternative to the support structures of the Fordist welfare state. The sanctification of the private family masked the processes of dispossession, displacement, and death that constituted the underside of neoliberal gentrification, privatization, and redevelopment. No longer sustained by institutions of the state, the private family reproduced itself instead through affective structures. The private family became the site of projected fantasies of well-being, happiness, and longevity. During both the Fordist and neoliberal stages of American hegemony, the subsumption of desire was central to the reinforcement of social integration — establishing an illusion of sameness among members of the national body politic, while disavowing the particular racialized and non-normative gender and sexual hierarchies that were integral to the reproduction of the American hegemonic order.
The subsumption of desire was never total. Seizing upon the cracks within the incomplete integration of desire within the social order, projects of radical queer struggle were able to articulate queerness not only as a condition of pathologization, stigmatization, and subordination, but also as a site of insurrectionary pleasures, eroticism, and sociality. They politicized various queer formations, treating them as sources of non-heteronormative kinship, erotic enjoyment, and sexual pleasure. In other words, queer struggles found within queerness possibilities for rebellion and resistance against the gendered and sexualized stratifications upon which United States hegemony depended. They connected sexual freedom — understood expansively as the celebration of unsanctioned pleasures and desires, the legitimation of non-heteronormative familial structures, the proliferation of relations of care and love, and the securing of bodily autonomy — to a broader demand for social transformation.
However, this politics of pleasure was a risky endeavor. The (counter-)investment in bodily and erotic pleasures did not constitute an inherently antagonistic practice. Although it contained emancipatory promises, it risked continual recuperation and subsumption. Desire could animate radical struggles, yet it could not guarantee their success. This presentation argues that radical queer social movements were defined by a (counter-)investment in pleasure as a proxy for the fundamental transformation of social relations. However, when severed from their broader political horizon, their articulations of pleasure could be deftly recuperated and harnessed for the renewal of the social order.
Alexander Stoffel is a Fellow in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He is completing his PhD as a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London, and he holds a BA in History and Politics from the University of Oxford and an MSc in International Relations Theory from LSE. His research interests include transnational sexuality studies, international relations theory, Marxist thought, Discourse Analysis, and histories of revolution and resistance. His doctoral research, entitled ‘Queer Worldmaking,’ explored history’s radical sexual politics in the age of United States hegemony. More specifically, it provided a transnational re-narrativization of the gay liberation movement of the late sixties, the black lesbian feminism of the seventies, and the AIDS activism of the late eighties. His current research works on building methodological foundations for the application of concepts and theoretical frameworks from gender and queer studies to empirical social science disciplines.
Wednesday 28th September 2022
Laëtitia Nebot-Deneuville, Dublin City University, Ireland
In what ways do the experiences of travel and transgression converge? This question acquires particular focus in the fiction of both Edith Wharton and Ernest Hemingway when they contemplate their experience of Northern Italy and, in particular, Venice. This paper will offer an analysis of the pattern of transgressions in Glimpses of the Moon (1922) by Wharton and Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) by Hemingway. Both novels are inspired by Wharton’s and Hemingway’s travelling experiences in Italy. Although the novels are separated by thirty years around World War II, they are nevertheless bound by their setting and a fundamental theme of seeking refuge in Northern Italy to escape social entrapment. Travel and transgression are in fact inextricably linked as transgression comes from the Latin ‘transgredi’ meaning the act of passing over, of crossing, of going beyond something. In different ways, both novels reveal how crossing one’s border is transgressive as it means challenging one’s own culture, language, social and sexual norms. This is particularly true in Venice and in the area surrounding Lake Como in the twentieth-century, because Northern Italy proves to be a liberating place for all genders and sexual inclinations at that time, “an ‘elsewhere’ that offers the possibility of realizing your hopes and dreams - ones that seemed impossible for so many reasons, unthinkable even in your land of origin”, according to French philosopher Didier Eribon. However, transgression is only temporary as the protagonists in the novels eventually return to their homeland. The temporariness of their journey is what makes it transgressive in the first place, just like the Venice Carnival that allows all sorts of transgressions once a year.
Currently a funded Phd student at Dublin City University, Laëtitia Nebot-Deneuville is working on Anglo-American Literary Tourism in Northern Italy at the Beginning of the Twentieth-Century. Her corpus is composed of two American and two British novels in total: The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (1908) by Frederick Rolfe, Arctic Summer (begun in 1911 and published unfinished in 1980) by E.M. Forster, Glimpses of the Moon (1922) by Edith Wharton, and Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) by Ernest Hemingway. After simultaneously completing two Bachelor’s degrees, one in English Literature and Culture, and one in Italian Literature and Culture at Paris-Sorbonne University in 2018, Laëtitia Nebot-Deneuville undertook a Research Master’s in English Literature that she completed at Cambridge University in 2020. Her PhD project research emerged as a natural progression from her MA thesis, which she wrote on: “Travelling between Oneself and the Other in A Room with a View by E.M. Forster”. Her interests are twentieth-century British and American literature, the representation of Italy in fiction, Edwardian literature and gender and queer writings.
The bleak Arab world is portrayed in Saleem Haddad’s Guapa as simultaneous critique of various cultural and social reactions to sexuality, religious misinterpretations, and dysfunctional political systems. Along with fixing readers’ attention to its mysterious and claustrophobic atmosphere, Haddad views the Arab world not as a culmination of history but as a place of controversies, where all leads to the impossibility of welcoming any difference. Indeed, the authoritative social and cultural expectations are given such absolute power that individuals must succumb to them. To demonstrate this dystopian reality, Haddad uses characters that are personally and socially misbalanced to show how these expectations re/shape individuals’ sexual identity. Tensions regarding homosexuality reflect the conflicting nature of Arab society, and the ambiguities played out after the aftermath of the Arab Spring show extreme the sensitivity towards homosexual identities. In Guapa, Haddad attempts to make male homosexuals’ tragedy visible to the extent that he communicates meaningfully their struggle for self-worth in an increasingly complex milieu. According to him, male homosexuals feel that they are under threat of losing the entire grip over themselves. In this sense, exposing the illusive reality of homosexuality can introduce a number of problematic areas in the social and psychological spheres. To delineate the forthright acknowledgment of male homosexual identity in Saleem Haddad’s Guapa, one needs to discuss the course of the developmental socialization (selves) and the psychological fabric (self) of homosexuals. Homosexuals whose deviant identity has isolated from social life have to go through many upheavals and define themselves in narrow spaces. For homosexual characters, the lost space has become a dystopian reality which gives them the status of unwilling guests in their homeland. In Guapa, Saleem Haddad criticizes human conditions in the Arab world that force homosexuals to be oscillating between the beautiful utopian desire and the ugly dystopian reality.
Dr Abdelnacer Ben Abderrezak is an Associate Professor in the English department at Mohamed Khider University, Algeria. He holds a Ph.D. in Gender studies and Sexualities from the University of Djillali Liabes, Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria. He is also interested in women writings and postcolonial studies. He has published a number of articles and participated in different inter/national conferences and study days.
The city is a fragmented space that gives homosexuality a right to visibility while imposing daily heteronormative constraints (Doan, 2010). It produces even more exclusion when characteristics of gender, sexual orientation, race and social class are intertwined (Lieber, Lépinard, 2020). Lesbians suffer a double marginalisation linked to their gender identity and sexual orientation, they are more exposed to sexual violence and transport, as 'captured places', is a laboratory for observing it (Lhomond, Saurel-Cubizolles, 2013; Chetcuti, Jean-Jacques, 2018; Lubitow, 2020). This violence can be explained by a desire for social control and a 'call to sexual order' of women who escape sexual norms (Hanmer, 1977; Debonneville, Lieber, 2021). This study aims to deepen the definition of lesbophobia by showing that this violence starts in the private space when mobility is anticipated. Strategies of concealment and avoidance, rooted in a culture of threat from childhood, are put in place. The aim is to understand how lesbophobia manifests itself and increases in transport, where the immobility of postures and the circularity of gazes lead to a form of self-censorship and an accentuation of forms of violence. Very specific situations and strong bodily constraints characterise these spaces of confinement. This work will show why they must be taken into account in the framework of an action by operators engaged in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. This study is part of an ongoing thesis at the RATP and is anchored in the experimentation of a plan to combat gender-based violence that has been in place since March 2020. Based on a survey of daily users of the RATP network who define themselves as lesbian couples, the aim is to understand the implicit norms that govern the space (Chetcuti, Jean-Jacques, 2018) by describing precisely the experience of lesbian women in the spaces concerned. The research methodology is based on an audio-visual approach using the itinerary as defined by Petiteau (Petiteau, 2006). After a filmed conversational interview, the couples took the author of the study and a collaborative artist on a daily journey that often included several modes of transport. The camera captures the physical proximities, the glances (between the members of the couple and the other users of the city) in the different spaces crossed. This image-based approach shows the visibility of the body as part of a staging of the self in public space. The memories and experiences evoked during the interviews are represented by drawings integrated into the three short films made to illustrate this study.
Manon Marguerit is a doctoral student in urban planning and geography in Paris. Manon works on sexual and sexist violence in the urban environment, and in particular in public transport, through a sensitive and image-based approach (photo and video). After a first study on women street artists in Berlin, then a second one on the place of users at the Gare du Nord (Paris), she is carrying out in her thesis an action-research to understand the way transport companies, such as the RATP, (re)position themselves in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence by studying the tools they have put in place and their (dys)functioning. In this context, she focuses particularly on the experience of travel by lesbian couples, considering mobility as a broad notion that encompasses both mental anticipation in the private sphere and the various spaces travelled (public spaces, transport, etc…).
Wednesday 19th October 2022 *
Dr Chase Ledin, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland
(* this event will take place at 16h00 Irish Time)
In the UK, the de-politicisation of COVID-19, the rise of monkeypox, an increasing interest in sexual liberation politics in activist circles, and the re-structuring of professional sexual health services to include online consultations have all raised the renewed question of sexual ecology within gay male communities. The concept sexual ecology finds it roots in 20th century sexology, but from a queer political standpoint, the concept received heightened salience during 1990s discussions of AIDS crisis in the US and has resurfaced at the intersection of neo-liberation politics and the eco-crisis movement. This discussion started in public discussions between psychologist Walt Odets (1995), journalist Gabriel Rotello (1998) and sociologist Eric Rofes (1996, 1998, 2001) in the late 1990s. In Sexual Ecology (1998), Rotello argued that promiscuity coterminous with the ‘condom code’ – a safer-sex strategy developed during the 1980s AIDS crisis, in which gay men adopted condoms-only sex – ‘contributed to the tragedy of AIDS’ (99) rather than, as Douglas Crimp (1987) argued, contributing to a proliferation of discourses about safer sex amongst partners. In response, Rofes argued that the notion that a central ‘sexual ecology’ reduced the multiplicitous nature of sexual desires and pleasures amongst gay men – indeed, served the eugenicist logics of the 19th-century movement(s) to classify sexual pathologies, rather than opening a space to consider and contest sexual relations across identities, bodies, materialities, geographies, biospheres, and ecologies in the broadest sense.
This presentation examines how the concept sexual ecology has resurfaced in conversations about sexual liberation, eco-crisis, and disease prevention in the UK. Its context is the ‘post’-COVID period, in which monkeypox emerged within GBMSM circles in urban centres and in which tensions between queer activists and health promoters have raised questions about the mapping of sexual health and disease prevention along ecological pathways. This presentation traces the epidemiological logic that has emerged from the monkeypox crisis and articulates how this logic has reinvigorated questions about sexual ecology at local and national levels. Further, this paper critically analyses how Rotello’s earlier fear of an ‘endless epidemic’ has emerged from discourses surrounding monkeypox. It thus seeks to analyse and contest how such discourses constitute sexual publics and what sexual politics are both produced- and marginalised - by exchanges between queer activists and health promoters. In doing so, this presentation asks: How has the re-constitution of discourses about sexual ecology shaped ongoing practices of sexual health and disease prevention amongst gay male populations in the UK? Moreover, how do these discourses inform, challenge, and/or reorient the new priorities of the sexual liberation movement in the 2020s?
Dr Chase Ledin completed a PhD in Social and Cultural Theory at the University of Edinburgh. His work explores the social and cultural dimensions of HIV and sexual health promotion in the US and UK. He has published work on gay male sexual cultures during COVID-19, the histories of sexual politics and disease prevention in the UK, and 'post-AIDS' media, film, and television. This work appears in Sociology of Health and Illness; Culture, Health and Sexuality and The European Journal of Cultural Studies.
Wednesday 2nd November 2022 [cancelled]
“She is incapable of leaving” – Perceiving Consent, Vulnerability, and Strategy in ‘Battered’ and ‘Prostituted’ Women
Victoria Holt, University of Roehampton London, England
Over the years, understandings of domestic abuse and sex work have altered the words we call on to define it. The phrase ‘battered woman’ was premised on notions of learned helplessness, a psychological condition where women perceived their circumstances as unchangeable and therefore tolerated the abuse. But now we know that women in abusive or violent relationships do have agency and regularly show resistance – at times violent, but often not. Regardless of how resistance manifests, ultimately resistance is a survival strategy for those living with violence, and this includes, at times, strategic passivity and placation. For many women, leaving an abusive partner may increase their risk of femicide, meaning that it is often safest for them to stay: staying then, is an act of resistance to keep themselves alive. Battered woman as a term, is thus no longer appropriate. But why then, is the term prostituted woman acceptable to the same feminists who acknowledge the agency of abuse survivors? Their argument is that sex worker implies that having sex for money is a job, with freely given consent, and they argue that for those who are trafficked or pimped this term is inappropriate. Prostituted woman is far more apt because they are being prostituted. Staying in an abusive relationship may mean living with violence and degradation, but leaving comes with its own risks. It’s no different in the sex industry where continuing sex working is a reflection of limited livelihood options and scarce economic resources. Many of the participants in this paper utilised sex work as resistance against abuse, against poverty, and as a strategy against further risk of harm.
Using the term ‘prostituted woman’ to highlight harm being done undermines the agency that women show when they exercise self-determination, capacity and awareness of income generation for survival. This is especially the case for migrant or coerced sex workers as it forgets the whole social, economic and political context which renders someone vulnerable in the first place. Drawing on data from my PhD research, this presentation will show how agency, strategy, and resistance are present, even in cases of coercive, abusive or trafficked sex workers, if actually, they are strategically working in a way to minimize harm to themselves and others. Simply because they are not actively exiting does not mean that they are consenting to sex work any more than a woman is consenting to being abused simply because she is not moving out. Based on findings from qualitative interviews with sex workers who experienced domestic abuse, I show how, when dominant voices refer to women as prostituted, they are constructed as ‘vulnerable’, and this justifies a range of coercive consequences as shown in my analysis, such as others disciplining them, using stigmatising labelling or even intrusive and destabilising rescue missions.
Victoria Holt is a PhD scholar at the University of Roehampton, and a research assistant at the University of Sheffield, with experience working in frontline women’s services. Her thesis explores sex workers’ experiences of domestic and familial abuse, and she is especially interested in constructions of identity and vulnerability, maternal bonds and knowledge production, as well as abolitionist and community based interventions and support. As a research assistant she is working with Dr Laura Connelly on a project titled 'Equality and Inclusion: Promoting responsible academic engagement with sex workers.' This project aims to explore how academics can operate in a more ethical and responsible way with sex workers, from the perspective of sex workers. It is a project that is informed by a ‘scholar-activist’ approach: an approach orientated around how academics can best work in service to the communities in which they research. Her wider research is focused more broadly on queer intimate partner violence, family violence, the sex industry, feminism, carceralism and police perpetrated violence. She is co-convener of the British Sociological Association’s Violence Against Women and Girls Study Group and she sits on the board for the Sex Work Research Hub. Her work has been published in The Lancet, International Journal of Gender, Sexuality and Law as well as mainstream publications such as The Independent, The Quietus and Novara Media. Her interests are reflected in the activism work she does away from her thesis. She works closely with the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM), Decrim Now and The English Collective of Prostitutes.
The webinar draws out the coincidences between the increase in production of body-horror fiction films with the establishing of restrictions of female reproduction rights. The given examples encompass the increased production of body-horror films in the 60’s and the recent revival of this sub-genre.
Both of these examples are being discussed in relation to their socio-political contexts: the increasing medicalization of pregnancy and labour; their limited representation in cinema until the late 60’s; and the recent restricting of women’s reproduction rights in US and Poland. The emergence of the body-horror genre as an explicit, radical cinematic form is analysed as being a response to the restricting representation of pregnancy and labour in film (Hays Code censorship in US as the case-study); as well as the cultural expression of collective anxiety and trauma being consequences of bio-political strategies and progressing medicalization of women's bodies. Comparison of films from the post-Hays Code period and the recent cinematic productions, by different - male and female - filmmakers, provides observations on how female characters and the motif of pregnancy have been employed to build narratives that foster fear of losing bodily autonomy, but also create a safe space where it can be confronted and withstood.
Agata Wieczorek’s practice combines film and photography, while moving between constructed documentary and documented fiction. In her work, she observes how the human body exists and performs in situations that are deeply intimate and radically political at the very same time. Gender, reproduction rights and motherhood confronted with governmental restrictions and institutionalized healthcare are frequent subjects in her practice. She holds an MA with distinction from The National Film School in Lodz (2020), the Strzeminski Academy of Fine Arts (2016) and also studied at the le Fresnoy - Studio national (2022). Her works have been presented and awarded internationally, both in the context of major art museums and film festivals, in Europe, North America or Asia.
Metropolises all around Europe are witnessing their LGBTQ+ scenes shrink. Queer spaces are shutting down left and right, and this situation is even more critical for towns like Aachen (Germany), which already lost dozens of different safe spaces, even before Corona lockdowns. Today, the few queer spaces in its city centre represent an institutionalized landscape, mostly focused on student/youth initiatives, social work and volunteering – nothing to do with the hubs of queer nightlife that are remembered from the vibrant LGBTQ+ scene in the 1980s and 1990s. Aachen has its own small but significant history of queer resistance and infrastructure, always in the shadow of the neighbouring Cologne. However, numerous examples of spatial productions can be found over the last 50 years, created “by and for” queer people: Bars, parties, NGOs, cruising spots and other spatial productions. Around the year 2000 there were almost 40 spaces in Aachen, which had been created by and for members of the queer community - this number is now below 20. Which spaces have existed in Aachen and how many are still there? Which ones have been closed down? Why is this so? Do virtual options replace physical spaces? In this webinar, we will deal with such topics and questions. We will learn about the queer history of Aachen and ask questions about the future while exploring several (former) queer spaces.
Pepe Sánchez-Molero (they/he) has collaborated internationally with design studios, universities, and organisations in the fields of architectural, urban and regional planning, as well as research, exhibition and communication design, illustration and activism. This Webinar is based on Pepe’s Master’s thesis, which explores queer spatial production in Aachen (Germany) during the past five decades.
This presentation will be constructed in open form, where I will discuss some of my long-term academic and artistic meditations on what puppetry is and what potential it holds when discussing the means of human flesh. Recently, I started developing a culturally-rooted but internationally applicable puppetry theory, which I describe as the “third space”. The first two spaces are body-minds of any two people during any form of dialogue. Under non-artistic circumstances generally the dialogue, communication, conversation remain in the realm of these two spaces where the acts of relating can potentially bridge these two body-minds. During an artistic dialogue (between an artist and an audience) a third space materializes through the art work that is not a bridge between these two body-minds, but an escape route to somewhere else, somewhere that didn’t exist prior to the artistic encounter. Elaine Scarry, working through Simone Weil’s arguments (1992, 159), writes about the “radical decentering” power of engaging with the beauty of an art work, on how beauty forces us to “give up our imaginary position as the center” (Scarry, 2010, 99); which allows us to go beyond ourselves, to extend and stretch out to new potentials. In the medium of puppetry, beauty takes another shape that involves a particular risk factor: “[t]he puppet is the infant who relies on another’s recognition of its humanity in order to survive. It cannot exist without us and, if it is to live, must manage to persuade us to believe in its potentiality” (Taylor, 2009, 28). Puppetry is unique amongst all art mediums precisely because this third space – the puppet – actually holds space; it has a material volume and dimension; it is present before and after the performative engagement as an independent being of its own, despite being dependent on its animator to be in its performative state. Therefore, within the context of this presentation I will discuss this theoretical proposal through four case studies: a giant protest puppet I made in 2015, a prototype training puppet I made for a circus artist in 2018, the example I discussed in my first published article in 2019 about an erotic feminist puppet show from Istanbul performed in 2012, and finally the example of Little Amal project and its interpretations in Turkey which I got the chance to observe first hand. Through the first example I will discuss the potential of puppets as embodying ideas and materializing danger in political performances. Through the second example I will discuss the potential of the puppet to create a safe space for the body, precisely because it creates a third space to mediate the gaze and circumvent the means of the body during the rehearsal/training process. Through the third example I will discuss how the puppet can circumvent the sexual-societal taboos. With my last example I will discuss how the puppet can work as a container of large-scale political debates through its ambiguous but material representation.
Dr Deniz Başar is a theatre researcher, puppet maker and two-time national award-winning playwright. Parts of her research are included in anthologies like Women and Puppetry: Critical and Historical Investigations by Routledge(2019), Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race (2021), Creative Activism: Research, Pedagogy and Practice by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2022), and The Routledge Companion to Theatre-Fiction (2023). She recently finished her PhD in Concordia University’s Humanities Department with her work on contemporary Turkish theatre, entitled “A Dismissed Heritage: Contemporary Performance in Turkey Defined through Karagöz”. Currently she is an FRQSC post-doctoral fellow, and continuing her research projects in İstanbul and teaching in Bahçeşehir University’s Conservatory. Her most significant academic work at the moment involves editing two volumes, tentatively titled “Imagining an Alternative Turkey: Political Performativity, Counter-Memory, Mobilizing Publics” and “Theatres of Resilience: Navigating Censorship, Gender, Intersectionality in Turkey” with her co-editors Pieter Verstraete and Eylem Ejder.