Our Research and Interests
One of the reasons we are unique and deeply collegial as a Department is because our core faculty members are trained in advanced interdisciplinary methods. We use what we regard to be the best of the methods from traditional disciplines while also interrogating how certain disciplines came to be so powerful in the first place. Our various research projects require us to traverse disciplinary boundaries in order to understand how the politics of knowledge are related to social inequalities.
Another distinctive element of the UCI Gender & Sexuality Studies Department is that our focus lies not on different areas of the world but on the key discursive sites in which gendered and sexualized subjects and forms of knowledge are produced. We look at various forms of authority and study how they have contributed to our understandings of gender and sexuality. We reverse the gaze, if you will, to examine the authority of sciences, technologies, images, narratives, laws, and religions as these have been so formative in producing gender ideologies. We also look at how necessities of everyday life are related to larger historical processes in a manner that shapes norms of gender. We ask how phenomena such as war, state-based brutality, forced migration, weather-related disasters, and labor exploitation shape the conditions of women’s everyday lives. We interrogate how commodity consumption plays a part in the everyday lives of many women, affording us the tools for understanding, for example, what anorexia might have to do with the militarization of fashion, or what an epidemic of substance abuse among women college graduates has to do with mounting credit card debt? Using Feminist Transnational Cultural Theory these questions can be fruitfully addressed.
Our faculty have worked extensively in Feminist Transnational Studies and are recognized as such in academic and scholarly circles. Much of the work in this area examines the conflicts between different ideas of modernity within nations, and the ways in which European colonialism was the force through which these encounters occurred. We believe that thinking trans-nationally goes against regional divisions (as constructed within traditional Area Studies programs) since it examines the histories of gender that came about as a result of cultural encounters rather than as different and parallel trajectories in different nations.
Professor Lilith Mahmud’s anthropological work focuses on Europe and the ‘global north’ as sites for the production of transnational and often hegemonic discourses on humanism, citizenship, terror, and subjectivity. Her research interests include the study of elites, right-wing movements, nationalism, critical race and gender studies, and the articulation of secrecy and transparency in political representations. In her first book manuscript, Prof. Mahmud examines the social experiences of upper-class Freemason women in contemporary Italy to interrogate forms of gender-based activism that fall outside the rubric of feminist movements, and to analyze ethnographically the exclusionary practices inherent in the formation of humanist subjects.
Professor Jeanne Scheper’s interdisciplinary work on feminist visual culture and performance analyzes the relationship of race and performance practices to the politics of mobility and subjectivity in the early twentieth century. Paying attention to processes of critical recycling her analysis extends to resignifications by contemporary artists working from transnational, black diasporic, black feminist and queer perspectives. Her current book project, "Moving Performances," studies how these subjects produce complexity within the limits of historical spectacularization and commodification of the racialized body.
The Department ’s combined focus on cultural theory has two implications. Firstly, through a focus on cultural studies, we examine popular culture as a way to understand gender instead of looking only at elite formations. In this regard, feminist scholarship has discussed the exclusion of women from elite cultures at great length and there are rich sources in popular culture that are available to us to study this topic in a variety of ways. Such matters have become even more urgent with the advent of digital cultures that connect cosmopolitans in various locations, and television, cinema and radio, which reach a vast number of illiterate women around the world. Consequently, our interest encompasses visual and audio cultures in addition to the more traditional focus on written cultures. Secondly, our focus on theory links us to traditions of the Humanities and distinguishes us from programs that see themselves as disdainful of theory because it is a “masculine” or elite enterprise. We believe, instead, that theoretical issues are the lifeblood of a good program in Gender & Sexuality Studies, and that there can be no praxis without theory. Theories of agency, subjectivity, governmentality are key to our teaching and research in a variety of perspectives, areas and topics.