Thursday, 7 March 2013

Queer/ing Regions: Symposium Report

Cuneyt Cakirlar reports on the Centre's recent symposium on Queer/ing Regions.

Since their paths crossed at NTU, Cuneyt Cakirlar and Hongwei Bao were having conversations about their research and the ways in which they respond to the contemporary scholarship on queer globalization(s) and transnational sexuality studies. While collaborating with students, activists, policy-makers, artists, filmmakers – whose work bears a critical affinity with the growing trends of queer and LGBT activism in Turkey and China, they realized that these “travels” were critically informing their discourse of cultural translation between regions.   

Cuneyt and Hongwei decided to facilitate a dialogue between scholars whose practice contains "regional" emphases in queer contexts. One of their inspirations was Gayatri Gopinath’s theorization of the region. Gopinath questions how useful regionality can operate as “a concept through which to explore the particularities of gender and sexual logics in spaces that exist in tangential relation to the nation but that are simulatenously and irreducibly marked by complex national and global processes” (2008: 343). Thus, the main objective of Queer/ing Regions has been to address the possibilities/potentials of a critical "(self-)regioning" and thus to question the ways in which the complex regional/local formations of sexual dissidence emerges as objects of theoretical inquiry when situated within a global context by means of academic and activist practice.

Exploring critically the "transnational" turn in the second-wave queer scholarship which questions the global/ised intersections between race, ethnicity, nation/diaspora, gender and sexuality, the symposium "Queer/ing Regions" aimed to facilitate a critical intellectual exchange focusing on the discourses of the "regional" in contemporary queer criticism. The organizers attempted to revisit the critical potentials of reclaiming the regional in queer critique. Rather than presuming the regional actors as passive recipients of global flux, this conversation focused on the complex dynamics of local/global systems in sexual politics. How can we understand transnational formations of sexual subjectivities  without assuming a radical alterity between the local and the global, or the west and the east? How can we understand the uneasy nexus of community and sexuality in a global framework without avoiding to hear the voices of regional actors? How can we identify modes of negotiation and contestation in the encounter of the local sexual politics/practices with the Gay International?

The first session of Queer/ing Regions started with Professor William Spurlin’s paper on the new forms of ‘queer’ writing emerging in French from the Maghreb. Accounting for the historical influence of French colonialism and Arab Muslim culture, Spurlin’s paper explored how “this new writing (Eyet-Chékib Djaziri. Rachid O., Abdellah Taïa. Nina Bouraoui) has created spaces specifically for the textual and social negotiation of new forms of dissident sexuality  and regional belonging whilst simultaneously blurring received cultural distinctions between gender-defined performances of homosexuality (active/passive) and struggles for a sexual identity as a discursive position (hetero/homo) not merely reducible to its manifestations in the West.” Following Spurlin’s talk, Howard Chiang considered Sinophone studies as an emerging field that suggests a conceptual framework exposing “where the liminal spheres of queer studies and Chinese Studies overlap”. Chiang ended his talk with a suggestive rereading of one of the most celebrated films in which homosexual experience in the PRC is depicted, Lan Yu (2001). In the final paper of this panel, Professor Richard Phillips shared his reflections and observations on the workshop “Postcolonial Sexualities: Emerging Solidarities” which he recently organized at the University of Sheffield. Phillips explored matters of “empirical and theoretical predicaments”, “dispersed agencies” and risks of “authenticity fetishisms” implied within discourses of the regional.

The second panel of the symposium hosted three geographers who attempted to relate to the region-as-concept from within the disciplinary foundations of geography. Gavin Brown suggested that queer studies (and lesbian and gay studies before it) have periodically considered the role of political economy in shaping sexual identities and politics, but has not engaged with political ecology. “Mak[ing] a case for understanding sexual identities in the context of resource consumption (and local ecologies) at various spatial scales”, Brown’s paper argued that “the emergence of 'modern' gay identities in the Global North largely coincides with the period of high-carbon consumption.” Following this discussion, Silvia Posocco responded explicitly to the organizers’ invitation to consider “discourses of the regional in contemporary queer criticism”. Suggesting that “comparative and regional might become contradictory tools”, Posocco discussed some of the problems and possibilities that open up “when one foregrounds the epistemological and political dimensions inherent in how scale, relation and perspective are figured in queer analysis.” Following Posocco’s inspiring paper, Jon Binnie referred to recent debates in human geography on “the relational politics of scale, networks and assemblage to pose questions of contemporary transnational queer studies.” Relying on his recent empirical study of transnational activism on LGBTQ politics in Central and Eastern Europe, Binnie suggested that “these debates can enrich debates on the politics of space within transnational queer studies, by opening up new agendas for a critical engagement with the region.”

In the final panel, building upon her previous research on Shanghai's gay political economy, Camila Bassi explored the remarkable phenomenon of the reality television show, "Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest". Bassi made connections “between the socio-cultural and the politico-economic aspects of the Super Girl phenomenon, in order to fully illustrate the radical space that was created in China for an antihero and lesbian identity.” Following Bassi’s discussion, Enda McCaffrey explored shifting male homosexual practices in specific urban centres in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. McCaffrey examined “how homographies of this period, set against a unique backdrop of terrorism, military occupation and urban segregation, stand out as traces of a queer ars erotica that is integrative, relational and invisible, but which have been lost to later hypervisible marks of gay identification.” The final paper of the event was Bethan Stevens’ piece which offered a creative exploration of a queer experience of travelling between Sussex, England, and Kigali, Rwanda, in 2007. Attentive to small details, Stevens’ writing sought to show “how the local, regional and global interact in everday life, sometimes in uncanny ways.”

We genuinely hope that the diverse multi-disciplinary content of the symposium triggered inspiring and productive conversations, and hopefully, an ongoing dialogue for further collaborations.  

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