Thursday October 29th, 6pm, Klein Conference Room, A510
66 West 12th Street, New York City.
Over the past decade, a sea change has occurred in discourses of sexuality throughout the Global South. In this presentation, I review this set of changes in South Asia, by focusing on sex worker, transgender and queer politics as they have unfolded in Indian cities. These transformations may ostensibly be read through the rubric of modernity, in that, if sex workers have been subject to ‘temporal distancing’ through erasure, then gay and transgender rights are increasingly framed as signs of the times. The rising discursive legibility of gay, lesbian and transgender subjects, in particular, has been acute in the wake of a stalled national campaign to decriminalize “unnatural sexual practices,” a phrase that has been interpreted to mean ‘sodomy’ and criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual contact between adults. Here, I suggest that, while the rubrics of modernity and its Other are useful for understanding the new juridical and other discursive regimes of sexuality being produced in South Asia, these rubrics must, in their turn, be read through the twinned lenses of migration and temporality. My argument takes up Benjamin’s assertion in his essay on translation, that “In the final analysis, the range of life must be determined by history rather than by nature, least of all by such tenuous factors as sensation and soul.” I contend that, by considering the question of modernity alone, the discourse of sexuality has risked being read as biologized constraint. Countermanding this propensity requires concomitant attention to a materialist history of sexuality, and specifically to how, where and why discourses of sexuality have moved, and to what effect.–
Svati P. Shah is an associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Previously, she was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in Sexuality studies at Duke University, and had served as visiting assistant professor at Wellesley College and New York University. She has spoken about her work extensively in the U.S., India, Europe, and South Africa. Dr. Shah earned a PhD in 2006 from Columbia University’s joint doctoral program in anthropology and public health; she also holds an MPH from Emory University. Dr. Shah has taught sexuality studies and feminist studies in her courses, and in workshops and short-term courses taught internationally. Dr. Shah’s has published work on a range of topics that explore the intersections of urbanization, sexuality, migration and political economy. Her research has examined these intersections ethnographically, through studies of sexual commerce and LGBTQ politics in India. Dr. Shah also works with a number of charitable foundations and community based organizations, both in the U.S. and in India. Her ethnographic monograph entitled Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work and Migration in the City of Mumbai was published by Duke University Press in 2014. Her new three new projects examine the relationship between climate justice movements and trade unions, the intersections of sexuality politics and land rights movements in India, and pedagogical questions that derive from theorizing sexuality in the non-Western world. She is one of Zimm’s visiting scholars for 2015-2016.