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A critical engagment ab

  1. 1. Spencer RuelosAnth 410 A Critical Engagement with Queer, Digital, and Social Justice Anthropological TheoriesAs an anthropologists, my interests have tended to lie in a more critical engagement with theconcepts society, culture, power, and identity. This has mostly embodied itself as a means of utilizingqueer, digital, and social justice frameworks to my understandings and viewpoints of the world.Below you find some of the works that I have found over the last four years that have shaped theseoverarching theoretical frameworks that I use in my anthropological and ethnographic work.The first section you will find titled ―Queer Anthropology.‖ As a gay man myself, I have been veryinterested in understanding some of the social and cultural meanings tied to sex, sexuality, andgender. I can honestly say that my interest early on in this investigation of queer anthropology was ashallow one—I had expected to find in the readings a collection of diverse sexual and genderedsubjectivities of those in the anthropological literature that I could reference and classify as I saw fit.Oh, the hijra in India? Yeah, that was a third gender/sex category in India that was very much tied into ritualpractices and asceticism. What I‘ve come to learn through my more critical engagement with queeranthropology is understand the complex relations of power that various sexual and genderedsubjectivities are formed and contested. Much of this work you will see come from both the fields ofqueer studies and anthropology. While these two fields have had some difficulties ‗getting along,‘ Iultimately find their collective worth and intersections (thus, ‗queer anthropology‘) to be worthwhileto my theoretical and anthropological self.The second section called ―Digital and Virtual Anthropologies‖ explores my interests that lie indigital technology, virtual embodiment, social networking, and online virtual communities. Growingup as both a geeky gamer and a tech kid has really shaped my views on the roles of technology andthe internet in our daily lives. While I think a lot of popular discourse has discussed how we‘vebecome less intimate by becoming our digital selves, I hold fast to the viewpoint that digital mediatechnologies have actually deepened the ways we have meaning relationships and connections withother humans, both locally and globally. I would argue that a common theme in the citations belowis that digital and virtual anthropologies (in the plural) extend our analysis of culture, society, andwhat it means to be human to the more recent online virtual spaces. Thus, I value the perspective oflooking at virtual and digital settings as illustrative of many ways that we are human.The final section is called ―Social Justice and Transformation‖ and traces my theoretical and activistinterests in social movements, anti-oppression visions, and activist research work for social justice.Part of these interests stem from my position as a queer-identified cisgender man and myengagement in the department of Critical Race, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. But that isn‘t to saythese interests aren‘t anthropological! Much of this critical perspective has given me a understandingof the social and cultural processes that inform understandings of race, gender, sexuality, class,(dis)ability, national identity, and the like. One especially transformative insight from this has beenmy interest in a critical understanding of the prison system—the prison industrial complex. In all ofthese questions of social justice and sociocultural transformation, critical anthropology andethnographic methods become useful tools for delving further into the discussion. Thus, while manyof these citations do not come from anthropologists per se, they come together to ultimately informhow I envision doing activist/engaged anthropological work in order to combat systems ofoppression and to create and envision a better world for future.Collectively, the list below illustrates both my theoretical and activist research interests within andbeyond anthropology. Though not necessarily disciplines that have immediate overlap, takentogether these three themes work to really paint a vivid picture of my continued engagement withanthropological research and my perspectives on issues such as society, culture, power, and identity.
  2. 2. Annotated Bibliography Ruelos 2 Queer AnthropologyAlexander, M. Jacqui. 2005. ―Imperial Desire/Sexual Utopias: White Gay Capital and Transnational Tourism.‖ Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditiations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Duke University: 2005.Alexander‘s work was pivotal for my literature review on transnational queer tourism by illustratingthe ways in which travelers position themselves in neocolonial terms and erotically exotify thosequeers in the destination countries they visit. Her analysis of the reification of colonial desires by themainstream gay and lesbian niche market has been a key insight that I‘ve taken with me.Blackwood, Evelyn. 2002 "Reading Sexualities across Cultures: Anthropology and Theories of Sexuality." Out in Theory: The Emergence of Lesbian and Gay Anthropology. E. Lewin and W. Leap, eds. University of Illinois Press: 2002.Blackwood‘s piece traces some of the anthropological approaches in the 70s and 80s to theorizefemale same-sex sexual relations. What I find most useful is her critical engagement with therepresentation of same-sex relations between women in various cultures. Near the end of her piece,she briefly touches upon the postmodern and queer theoretical approaches, which mark a shift intheories concerning power, identity, and subjectivity.Boellstorff, Tom. 2005. The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia. Princeton University Press.Boellstorff‘s pivotal inquiry into the lives of gay and lesbi Indonesians sheds light on the intersectionsof gender, sexuality, and national identity. He brings together a complex understanding thatacknowledges the contradictions and conflicting subjectivities and cultural logics that shapeunderstanding of these Indonesians. Ultimately, his monograph sheds light on a postcolonial queeranthropology that is useful for those of us intersected in those theoretical engagements.*Boellstorff, Tom. 2007. "Queer Studies in the House of Anthropology." Annual Review of Anthropology. 36: 17-35.In this review, Boellstorff marks some of the contemporary trends in queer anthropology since1993. It focuses on the debates in queer anthropology and the shifts to looking at women‘s same-sexdesires and transgender experiences while incorporating a discussion of the uses of history,geography, and linguistics to the field of queer anthropology.Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Theatre Arts Books.Butler‘s work has become foundational for queer studies and feminism. What is especially insightfulis her analysis of gender as something that is performative rather than some essential to someone‘score being.El Menyawi, H. 2006. ―Activism from the Closet: Gay Rights Strategising in Egypt.‖ Melborne Journal of International Law. 7: 28.El Menyawi examines the politics of the Egyptian government to illustrate the ways in which theclassical Stonewall technique to liberation (esp. coming out and organizing) should not be heraldedas the lone method to achieving liberation. He complicates the notion of the ‗coming out,‘ which I
  3. 3. Annotated Bibliography Ruelos 3find especially useful for understanding the political and social contexts for various forms ofactivism and resistanceFoucault, Michel. 1972. History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Penguin Books.Another foundational text in queer theory, feminism, and critical social theory, Foucault illustratesthe ways in which power produces subjectivities through the creation of discourses. Thisunderstanding of subjectivity as something which is no coherent, individual, or internal has beenespecially useful for those examining queer subjectivities across the globe.Jagose, Annarmarie. 1996. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York University Press.Jagose‘s work traces the historical context for understanding queer theory as well as the academicemergence of the field of queer studies. Her attention to detail in depicting the history andmovement of queer is useful beginning for conversations about what it means and how it‘s used bythose in various fieldsKatz, Jonathon. 2007. The Invention of Heterosexuality. University of Chicago Press.Katz‘s work shows the historical and contextual meanings of the term ‗heterosexual,‘ arguing that itis a modern invention that has had shifting meanings dependent on the historical and social context.His queer analysis of showing the instability of both the categories of ‗heterosexual‘ and‗homosexual‘ is what I find pivotal. A big question that resonates is how are identity categories arecontested and contextual so that we can understand how they are normalized?Newton, Esther. 1993. ―My Best Informant‘s Dress: The Erotic Equation in Fieldwork.‖ Margaret Mead Made Me Gay. Duke University: 2000.Newton‘s work is often classified as the beginning work and texts that articulate a ‗queeranthropology.‘ In this piece, Newton reflects on her work on urban drag queens and looks at thepolitics of being involved in sexual relations with one‘s informants. She looks at some of the existingliterature and argues that while it can be dangerous, it is an important conversation to have especiallywhen you‘re researching sexuality and sexual minorities.Rubin, Gayle. 1993. ―Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of Politics of Sexuality.‖ Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader. Duke University: 2011.This piece was a pivotal turn in both queer studies and feminist theory, where Rubin articulates anargument that a feminist analysis solely on gender cannot provide a complex understanding forsexuality. Rubin also is the theorist to term the ―sex/gender system,‖ articulating that though thetwo may be tied, we should not conflate the concepts of ‗sex‘ and ‗gender‘ and we should recognizewhat gets demonized and rendered deviant from such socially constructed norms likeheterosexuality.Valentine, David. 2002. ―We‘re ‗Not about Gender‘: The Uses of Transgender.‖ Out in Theory: The Emergence of Lesbian and Gay Anthropology. Lewin and Leap, eds. University of Illinois Press: 2002.Valentine‘s works talks about the complexities of the term ‗transgender.‘ His ethnographic researchfocuses on the political emergence for the category, ultimately arguing that queer anthropology
  4. 4. Annotated Bibliography Ruelos 4reflect on the ways it utilizes terms and categories. His acknowledgement of the social and politicalspecificity is what I find especially useful.Weston, Kath. 1997. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, and Kinship. Columbia University Press.Weston‘s work analyzes the ways in which gays and lesbians negotiate the concept of family. What Ifind especially useful is her analysis of the ways in which family is not something which is necessarilybiologically constructed, bur rather the meanings given to family by those in intimate relationships.Thus family as a social construct for gays and lesbians to reclaim becomes a powerful act of bothresistance and community-making.*Weston, Kath. 1993. ―Lesbian/Gay Studies in the House of Anthropology.‖ Annual Review of Anthropology: 22, 339-367.Weston‘s review focuses on the emergence of gay and lesbian issues in anthropology up until 1993.She argues that issues of sexual orientation and sexual marginalization have had a rightful place inanthropology. Thus, Weston‘s purpose is to simultaneously discuss the history of gay and lesbianstudies in anthropology while also urging writers to continue the recent inquiries into anthropologyof sexuality and gender.Wekker, Gloria. 2006. The Politics of Passion: Women’s Sexual Culture in Afro-Surinamese Diaspora. Columbia University Press.Wekker examines the postcolonial context for women‘s same-sex sexual culture in Suriname and theNetherlands. She analyzes the complex ways in which religion, culture, political economy, andhistory play a dynamic role in shaping these women‘s sexual subjectivity. It is this complex andsituated analysis that I highly appreciate. Digital and Virtual AnthropologiesBoellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton University Press.The first of its kind, Coming of Age in Second Life illustrates the work of an anthropologist investigatingvirtual worlds in order to get an understanding of what it means to be human. One critical insight Itake from this piece is the understanding that research on virtual worlds can ―be on its own.‖ Whatthis means is that one doesn‘t have to worrying about connecting analysis back to the physical worldand that ethnographic methods work virtual and online settings.Boellstorff, Tom et al. 2012. Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook. Princeton University Press.In this handbook on ethnographic field methods Boellstorff Nardi, Pierce, and Taylor work togetherto articulate a set of methods for undertaking ethnographic projects of virtual worlds. ContinuingBoellstorff‘s work above, they continue to articulate the ways in which anthropology has much tooffer in regards to an understanding of digital and virtual worlds and communities.boyd, danah. 2010. "Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications." Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. Ed. Zizi Papacharissi: 39-58.
  5. 5. Annotated Bibliography Ruelos 5boyd‘s article categorizes social networking sites as networked publics and give classificatory forsuch sites. Her analysis of the ways in which media technologies allow us this utilize new digital andvirtual spaces in order to relate and network with others. In this piece, she tackles the concept ofcontext collapse and invisible audiences, which are innovative theories for understanding socialcommunication on SNS.boyd, danah and Nicole Ellison. 2010. Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. IEEE Engineering Management Review, 38(3): 16.The authors give the definition, historical contexts, and current review of the literature for socialnetworking sites. This becomes especially useful for contextualizing my current research on the SNSand virtual community of GaymerConnect.Gershon, Ilana. 2010. "Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Media Switching and Media Ideologies." Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 20 (2): 389–405.Gershon looks at the ways in which media technologies shape the way that we communicatethrough a case study of breaking up via mobile phones. She ultimately argues that media ideologiesshape how we act and behavior, a useful theoretical lens for any digital and virtual anthropologist.Miller, Daniel. 2011. Tales from Facebook. Polity Press.Miller examines the ways in which Trinidadians use Facebook. However, what is especially useful ishis anthropological analysis of media sites like Facebook for various communities. For example, oneof his innovative theoretical analyses is a view of Facebook as a meta-friend to those who use it.Miller, Daniel and Heather Horst. 2012. ―The Digital and the Human: A Prospectus for Digital Anthropology.‖ Digital Anthropology. Eds. Heather Horst and Daniel Miller. Berg Publishers: London.In this introduction to their edited anthology, Miller and Horst lay out the theoretical andmethodological foundations for digital anthropology, including its scope and standing. Since digitalanthropology is such a relatively young paradigm, this text is crucial for understanding what it meansto be doing digital ethnographic work. It examines the complex relations between the digital and thehuman as a means to understanding communication and relations online and with technology.Ong, Walter. 1996. "Information and/or Communication: Interactions.‖ An Ong Reader. 2002. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press Inc.: 505–525.In this piece, Ong makes the theoretical claim that when technology changes, human relationshipand though patterns change. What I find most insightful that, anthropologically speaking, there is animportant relationship to recognize between people and technology.Wesch, Michael. 2008. ―An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube.‖ mwesch. YouTubeVideo. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU>.In this video presentation at the library of Congress, Wesch articulates a complex analysis ofcommunity building in YouTube members. Echoing Ong‘s analysis, what becomes powerful here ishis analysis that when media change, human relations change. He also touches upon the variousways that the community create both positive and negative bonds, which is especially useful for mycurrent research as well.
  6. 6. Annotated Bibliography Ruelos 6 Social Justice and TransformationArkles, Gabriel. 2009. "Safety and Solidarity Across Gender Lines: Rethinking Segregation of Transgender People in Detention." Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review 18.2: 515.Arkles articulates a critical examination of the prison industrial complex as it relates to trans andgender-non-conforming individuals. He makes a cogent argument that the prison system itselfperpetuates systems of violence and coercion regarding racial, sexual, classed, disabled, and genderedminorities. His critical perspective is one of the reasons I consider myself a prison abolitionist andhave thought about conducting research regarding people in prison.Bassichis, Morgan et al. 2011. ―Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement with Everything We‘ve Got.‖ Captive Genders. Eds. Erix Stanley and Nat Smith. 2011. AK Press: 15–40.Bassichis, Lee, and Spade historicize the radical queer and trans social movements in order toillustrate importance of recognizing the damages of the prison industrial complex and to dismantleit. Utilizing quite a few examples of the way various movements have responded to governmentalpolicies and practices, the chapter highlights some very useful queer perspectives on issues includingthe PIC.Davis, Angela. 2003. Are Prisons Obsolete? Open Media.Davis work looks at the intersections of race and gender in the criminalization and surveillance ofcommunities that are incarcerated. Her text articulates an abolitionist perspective to prisons, whichhas very much informed not only my social justice and activist self, but informs my criticalunderstanding of the ways society policies racialized, gendered, and sexual minorities in the US.McIntosh, Peggy. "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (Eighth ed.). Ed. Paula Rothenberg. 1988: 165-169.McIntosh discusses the concept of white privilege as unearned benefits that one receives fromsociety. She uses the metaphor of a knapsack, which carries the tools that those with privilege havewhile also making a list of her privileges as a heterosexual white female. This article sticks with meboth epistemically and methodologically, reminding me to check my privilege and to recognize mypositionality in any situation.Sandoval, Chela. 1991 "US Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World." Genders 10:1-24.Sandoval articulates the various methods of oppositional consciousness: equal rights, revolutionary,separatist, and supremacist approaches. Ultimately Sandoval argues that women of color in the UShave had to utilize all of these strategies (rather than canonizing one and demonizing the rest)because of their complex social position. It is differential consciousness, utilizing the four of these asthey see fit to your current contextual positions, that really informs my own conceptualization ofsocial movement tactics and strategies for social transformationSociological Images. Founders Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp. <http://thesocietypages.org/socimages>.
  7. 7. Annotated Bibliography Ruelos 7This blog seeks to provide a sociological (and very anthropological as well) understanding forviewing the world. Its goal is to provide a critical analysis of popular culture and public discourse inorder to both deconstruct social processes, mechanisms, and systems of inequality and envisionpositive and healthy alternatives. Its social justice lens is why I find it useful for critically engagingwith representations and systems of power and privilege in very contemporary framework.

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