Gender Studies

Q&A with Vanessa Díaz

Vanessa Díaz is Assistant Professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University. In this Q&A she discusses her new book Manufacturing Celebrity in which she draws on ethnographic fieldwork, her experience reporting for People magazine, and dozens of interviews with photographers, journalists, publicists, magazine editors, and celebrities, Díaz traces the complex power dynamics of the reporting and paparazzi work that fuel contemporary Hollywood and American celebrity culture.

Chapter Two touches on the frustration that paparazzi experience when they are villified by celebrities, the media, and the public. Often there is a negative perception of paparazzi since they take the pictures. Why do you believe paparazzi receive the sole blame? 

There are so many layers to this question. It’s really important to start off with the fact that there is a long history of celebrity irritation with paparazzi. After all, the term evolved from the 1960 Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita in which the annoying celebrity photographer was called “paparazzo”—Italian for mosquito. The magazines and other media outlets need the paparazzi to be the bad guys of celebrity media, creating the perception that they are solely responsible for the lack of privacy faced by today’s stars, so that the media outlets can position themselves on the side of celebrities, furthering their relationships with the stars they cover.  If paparazzi are the only ones out on the streets gathering the images that the magazines and other media outlets want and, frankly, need to sell their product, the paparazzi are the only ones in the line of direct contact with the celebrities. A magazine editor sitting in his office in a fancy high rise building in Hollywood is specifically and strategically positioned to not be blamed, despite the fact that he may be requesting the photo that the paparazzi are trying to get. Paparazzi are workers operating in the informal channels of an often highly formal media production process, within a hugely profitable corporate system, doing the dirty work for the celebrity media industry. 

Since the demographics of the Los Angeles paparazzi shifted to being predominately Latinx, which I discuss in the book, the media and public discourse surrounding paparazzi has become highly racialized and xenophobic. So whereas there used to be general annoyance around paparazzi work, the language towards and the legal action taken against paparazzi was not anything like it is now. For instance, major news articles from outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and AP have referred to contemporary paparazzi as “illegals,” “pack animals,” “knuckle-scraping mouth breathers,” and “foreigners working on…questionable visas.”

Can you elaborate on the process of deciding the final photos that are published in a magazine?  

The decision as to which photos get published is entirely at the discretion of the staff of the media outlets (reporters may weigh in, but the decision is usually made photo editors, with approval from other senior editorial staff). The decisions tend to be made based on newsworthiness, so whatever is most newsworthy to that particular outlet. For example, the week that Kim Kardashian had her first wedding to former NBA player Kris Humphreys, all of the weekly celebrity magazines featured photos of their wedding, since it was the big (celebrity) news of the moment. When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were first photographed together as a couple, People magazine bought those paparazzi images as an exclusive (meaning nobody else could buy the rights) and they were featured in a huge spread in the magazine. The magazine knew this story was big for their audience, and for celebrity and entertainment news more broadly, so they invested heavily in these photos since they knew it would boost sales. 

It’s important to note that paparazzi take images based on what is deemed “newsworthy” in the moment, and that has very much to do with what they know the magazines want. So, while the paparazzi do not directly help the magazines decide which photos to publish, their work and their own judgement of newsworthiness in combination with the magazines’ and other media outlets’ decisions themselves impact which images end up circulating. 

How do you believe advancements in technology have impacted the paparazzi industry? 

There are so many ways, it’s hard to know where to even start. Technological advancements have impacted every realm of every media industry across the board. Even when I started reporting for People magazine in 2004 as an intern, the reporting that didn’t make it in the magazine was mostly used on their website just to create extra content, because most people were still not getting their news online. That shifted dramatically over the next few years and media outlet websites started to be the place where news broke. Whereas before it was the printed newspaper or printed magazine that held the breaking news, and stories were held specifically so that they could appear in printed press to break the news, it became customary to break news online first, since more and more people started getting their information online. So, while the internet was exploding, so was the digitization of images, which had huge impacts on how images were shot and circulated. As I discuss in chapter two of the book, in 2001 around fifty thousand digital photos were received by the magazines, but by 2011 that number had jumped to over eight million. Now most outlets receive close to twice that number per year. So that means a lot of different things. It means that there are more paparazzi taking images because there is more demand. It also means that there is an excess of photos that are taken because obviously the images can’t all be published. It means that there is more competition because there are more photos. And it means that photographers, like most other media workers, have to work extremely quickly and around the clock to ensure they get their content shared first. A minute difference in transmitting a photo can mean losing a sale if someone else get a similar shot and uploads it first.  

During your research, when did you make the connection between gender disparity and the sexualization of women reporters? 

I actually noticed this immediately after starting my internship with People magazine in New York, prior to starting my research in this area. I saw it when I covered red carpet events. I saw it in the way that stories were assigned at the magazine. When I became a stringer for the LA Bureau of People magazine in 2005, I saw it even more in Hollywood than in New York. There was always a conversation among the reporters (who I noticed from the beginning were mostly women) about the different ways that employers pressured them into particular kinds of situations with celebrity men. Once I started doing the research for the book and interviewing people about this, I heard more and more stories, many of them extremely disturbing, about the ways that women reporters were asked to handle themselves to help get a story. The most public of the situations is the one I discuss in the opening of the book, Natasha Stoynoff’s assault by Donald Trump. 

You discuss the #MeToo movement in Chapter Five. Why do you believe the #MeToo movement is important, especially within the entertainment industry? 

#MeToo became such a force in the entrainment industry because the type of abuse of power that is often exercised in cases of sexual assault is rampant throughout Hollywood. In fact, Hollywood is full of really serious and egregious abuses of power, abuses of labor, racism, gender discrimination and forms of abuse. And what’s amazing is that the whole image of Hollywood, and its movies, television shows, and celebrities, are all putting on a show for us. That’s what Hollywood does—it produces stories, it produces shows, and it creates very strategic images to draw in audiences, not to turn them away. And so it’s no accident that the kind of abuses of power I’m describing are simply not the picture we get when we look at beautiful glossy magazines like People and Us Weekly. And so I think the Hollywood figures who came forward as part of the #MeToo movement did so to help people see these layers. And so that’s part of what I’m trying to do in the book too—to understand the institutional complexities of the Hollywood-industrial complex, which I discuss in more depth in the book and which helps give us a framework for the level of institutional force of Hollywood. 

 How do magazines play positive and negative roles in the promotion of body image and standards, specifically for women? 

The magazines have the potential to play a positive role on body image and beauty standards, and they sometimes play at least a marginally positive role. But most of the coverage contributes to negative body image perceptions. Across the weekly magazines, there is a consistent focus on stories that celebrate women’s weightloss, regardless of how healthy that weightloss may be. And, often times, the weightloss is focused on women who just have just given birth. So, not only are the expectations unrealistic, they are often unhealthy. As chapter six in the book discusses, many body-focused stories develop out of magazine workers ridiculing women’s bodies. The very climate of the conceptualization of body-focused coverage is negative. Even in the moments where the magazines attempt to confront negative perceptions, like the famous example I use in the book of Tyra Banks on the cover of People magazine, posting in a bathing suit and posing the question, “You call this fat?” Banks is photographed in a bathing suit, looking slim and trim. So, the point of the story is to prove that she isn’t fat, rather than to celebrate different body shapes and sizes. To be clear, it’s not just celebrity magazines, though. American culture more broadly celebrates unrealistic body and beauty standards that are also incredibly Eurocentric. The magazines reflect that. In the moments where the celebration of certain bodies are not reflective of Eurocentric standards of beauty, we often see that it takes place through the celebration of typically non-white features on white bodies, like the Kardashians/Jenners who physically alter their actual bodies. The representation and limited celebration of very particular kinds of women’s bodies in magazine and in popular culture more broadly is troubling. 

What is the correlation between celebrity reporting and hard news in the Trump Era? How has reporting and news changed in the past few years? 

In the book, I explain the story of Natasha Stoynoff, the former People magazine reporter, and my friend and colleague, who was sexually assaulted by Donald Trump while interviewing him for the magazine. While I was doing the research for this book, she had confided in me about this experience in both 2011 and 2012 during recorded interviews, with the expectation that I would anonymize everything. Then she came out publicly with the story in 2016. That my research on celebrity media became intertwined in the U.S. presidential race is emblematic of the way Trump has impacted what we understand as news. While there were always blurred lines between entertainment, celebrity, and politics, the distinction between entertainment and news media is not an empirical reality, but rather a function of a public imaginary—that there should be a difference between so-called hard news and entertainment news. The dynamics I talk about in the book are increasingly relevant to media in general, international politics, and to the state of American culture more broadly. 

There is an interesting parallel in how Donald Trump fomented hatred of mainstream news media outlets like CNN and NBC News by relating to White House and national reporters in ways that mirror how celebrities often relate to celebrity media producers, especially paparazzi. He understands how to use the media to generate interest, such as when he revealed his Supreme Court nominee Apprentice-style on prime-time television. Yet he constantly performs anger toward the very media who gave his candidacy, and now his presidency, nonstop coverage. He disparages them as “fake news” and “dishonest.” This behavior mirrors the way celebrities rely on paparazzi shots for promotion while simultaneously performing hatred toward them. For Trump, it is directly carried over from his career as a celebrity. In his book How to Get Rich, he wrote, “If I happen to be outside, I’m probably on one of my golf courses, where I protect my hair from overexposure by wearing a golf hat. It’s also a way to avoid the paparazzi. Plus the hat always has a big TRUMP logo on it—it’s automatic promotion.” Trump references wanting to avoid the paparazzi while in the very next sentence revealing how he uses them to promote his own brand—a celebrity tactic I explore in depth in chapter 4 of the book. 

While Trump has used celebrity media strategically to build his brand, he has also exploited, humiliated, and assaulted celebrity reporters. Since becoming president, he has continued this belligerent behavior in White House press conferences and other media events. Trump has kicked out, verbally bullied, and even banned news reporters and media outlets from his press conferences. His ire has been directed at the corporate media entities themselves, as well as individual media laborers. For example, in 2015 Trump had Univision’s Jorge Ramos symbolically deported from a press conference while yelling at him, “Go back to Univision,” another way of telling the Mexican American reporter to go back to Mexico. This kind of racialization and racialized discrimination is closely linked to the treatment of Latino paparazzi I expose in the book. A 2016 Dallas Morning News op-ed titled “Trump Can’t Treat Press Like Paparazzi” pointed to Trump’s problematic approach with the political media: “Trump may see these reporters as an extension of the paparazzi that hounded him when he was a reality television promoter and real estate mogul. They aren’t. The press pool isn’t about staking out celebrities.” The article insinuates that, unlike political reporters, paparazzi are and should be treated as problems. Trump has drawn no distinction between the celebrity news and hard news outlets that have followed him at various stages of his career. While using them for self-promotion, he has treated the political press with the same disdain that he showed to celebrity media producers— including Natasha Stoynoff. 

Read the introduction to Manufacturing Celebrity and save 30% on the book using the code E20DIAZ.

New Books in September

With summer quickly coming to an end and the new academic year upon us, now is the perfect time to replenish your reading list! A great place to start is with our diverse array of new titles arriving this month.

Diary of a Detour is film scholar and author Lesley Stern’s memoir of living with cancer, where she chronicles the fears and daily experience of coming to grips with an incurable disease and turns to alternative obsessions and pleasures, from travel and friendships to her four chickens.

In Traffic in Asian Women, Laura Hyun Yi Kang demonstrates that the figure of “Asian women” functions as an analytic with which to understand the emergence, decline, and permutation of US power and knowledge at the nexus of capitalism, state power, global governance, and knowledge production throughout the twentieth century.

Abstract Barrios by Johana Londoño examines how the barrio has become a cultural force that has been manipulated in order to create Latinized urban landscapes that are palatable for white Americans who view concentrated areas of Latinx populations as a threat.

In Keith Haring’s Line, Ricardo Montez traces the drawn and painted line that was at the center of Keith Haring’s artistic practice, engaging with Haring’s messy relationships to race-making and racial imaginaries.

In Youth Power in Precarious Times, Melissa Brough explores how youth-centered forms of civic and cultural engagement in Medellín, Colombia, create networks of change that have the possibility to transform and democratize cities around the world.

Abigail A. Dumes offers an ethnographic exploration of the Lyme disease controversy to shed light on the relationship between contested illness and evidence-based medicine in the United States in Divided Bodies.

Examining theater, performance art, music, sports, dance, and photography, the contributors to Race and Performance after Repetition explore how theater and performance studies account for the complex relationship between race and time. The collection is edited by Soyica Diggs Colbert, Douglas A. Jones Jr., and Shane Voge.

Beyond the World’s End by T. J. Demos explores a range of artistic, activist, and cultural practices that provide compelling and radical propositions for building a just, decolonial, and environmentally sustainable future.

The contributors to Indigenous Textual Cultures examined the ways in which indigenous peoples created textual cultures to navigate, shape, and contest empire, colonialism, and modernity. The collection is edited by
Tony Ballantyne, Lachy Paterson, and Angela Wanhalla.

In Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture, Alessandro Russo rethinks the history of China’s Cultural Revolution, arguing that it must be understood as a mass political experiment aimed at thoroughly reexamining the tenets of communism itself.

Animal Traffic by Rosemary-Claire Collard investigates the multibillion-dollar global exotic pet trade economy and the largely hidden processes through which exotic pets are produced and traded as lively capital.

Monica Popescu traces the development of African literature during the second half of the twentieth century in At Penpoint. She shows how the United States and the Soviet Union’s efforts to further their geopolitical and ideological goals influenced literary practices and knowledge production on the African continent.

Bolivia in the Age of Gas by Bret Gustafson examines the centrality of natural gas and oil to the making of modern Bolivia and the contradictory convergence of fossil-fueled capitalism, Indigenous politics, and revolutionary nationalism.

In this genealogy of Hindu right-wing nationalism, Hindutva as Political Monotheism, Anustup Basu connects Carl Schmitt’s notion of political theology to traditional theorems of Hindu sovereignty and nationhood, illustrating how Western and Indian theorists imagined a single Hindu political and religious people.

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Watch the Teaser and Trailer for Vanessa Díaz’s New Book Manufacturing Celebrity

Vanessa Díaz is the author of the new book Manufacturing Celebrity. She is Assistant Professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, her experience reporting for People magazine, and dozens of interviews with photographers, journalists, publicists, magazine editors, and celebrities, Díaz traces the complex power dynamics of the reporting and paparazzi work that fuel contemporary Hollywood and American celebrity culture. This guest post by the author introduces the trailer and teaser for her new book.

As a multimedia ethnographer and documentary filmmaker, I always knew I wanted to create a book trailer for Manufacturing Celebrity. The prospect of capturing the essence of the over 300 pages of Manufacturing Celebrity in a few minutes of video was daunting. However, because the book itself is rich with images from my own photography, the photography of the paparazzi I worked with, and material from the magazines I write about, imagining a visual representation of the book was organic. I started developing ideas for the trailer early this year, with the assistance of two research assistants at Loyola Marymount University, Malik Gay-Bañuelos and Steven Uribe. We decided that it was important to focus not only on the main issues, questions and conundrums the book presents, but specifically to highlight the stories of the paparazzo Chris Guerra who was killed on the job and former People magazine reporter and sexual assault survivor Natasha Stoynoff who ground my discussion about precarity in the manufacturing of celebrity. By the time we started to make progress on the trailer’s development, the pandemic hit and we had to conceptualize video production in a new way. I set up the camera equipment lighting in my living room, and recorded my own interview while Malik and Steven interviewed me via FaceTime. Video editor Larissa Díaz Hahn of The Díaz Collective took my interview, original footage shared with me by the paparazzi, images from the book, my archive of celebrity reporting clips, and archival news footage and began masterfully piecing together the trailer. It was a collaborative process and we went through various iterations, with a focus on doing justice to the central themes of the book and, most importantly, the incredibly intense stories of my friends and colleagues Chris and Natasha. The goal of the trailer is to provide an engaged, visual representation of the book that encapsulates in a few minutes what is at stake with the stories I’m telling and why this book matters in this particular moment in history. The trailer shows the ways the book centers on issues of power, privilege and positionality in a way that resonates with the present moment. As the U.S. remains in an uprising focused on addressing systemic racism, and as Hollywood figures remain at the center of controversy due to rampant abuse of power on racial, gender, and intersectional levels, Manufacturing Celebrity breaks down the larger stakes of celebrity culture and demonstrates how the Hollywood-Industrial Complex is part and parcel in the broader systemic inequalities of the U.S. The trailer offers a small taste of the complicated questions and analysis Manufacturing Celebrity forces the reader to grapple with. You’ll never look at celebrity magazines the same again.  

Read the introduction to Manufacturing Celebrity and save 30% on the book using the code E20DIAZ.

New Books in August

It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to an end but there’s still time to purchase new books to complete your summer reading list. Check out these exciting new titles coming out hot off the press this August!

978-1-4780-0828-6In Information Activism, Cait McKinney traces how lesbian feminist activists in the United States and Canada between the 1970s and the present developed communication networks, databases, and digital archives to use as a foundation for their feminist, antiracist, and trans-inclusive work.

Resource Radicals by Thea Riofrancos explores the politics of extraction, energy, and infrastructure in contemporary Ecuador in order to understand how resource dependency becomes a dilemma for leftist governments and movements alike.

In Japonisme and the Birth of Cinema, Daisuke Miyao reveals the undetected influence that Japanese art and aesthetics had on early cinema and the pioneering films of the Lumiére brothers.

978-1-4780-0943-6Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, her experience reporting for People magazine, and dozens of interviews with photographers, journalists, publicists, magazine editors, and celebrities, in Manufacturing Celebrity Vanessa Díaz traces the complex power dynamics of the reporting and paparazzi work that fuel contemporary Hollywood and American celebrity culture.

In American Blockbuster, Charles R. Acland charts the origins, impact, and dynamics of the blockbuster, showing how it became a complex economic and cultural machine designed to advance popular support for technological advances.

Conceiving of sovereign space as volume rather than area, the contributors to Voluminous States, edited by Franck Billé, explore how such a conception reveals and underscores the three-dimensional nature of modern territorial governance. 

978-1-4780-0839-2In History 4° Celsius, Ian Baucom puts black studies into conversation with climate change, outlining how the ongoing concerns of critical race, diaspora, and postcolonial studies are crucial to understanding the Anthropocene and vice versa.

In Peripheral Nerve, the contributors to this volume reframe the history of the Cold War by focusing on how Latin America used the rivalry between superpowers to create alternative sociomedical pathways. The collection is edited by Anne-Emanuelle Birn and Raúl Necochea López.

In his posthumous book Sexual Hegemony, Christopher Chitty traces the 500 year history of capitalist sexual relations, showing how sexuality became a crucial dimension of the accumulation of capital and a technique of bourgeois rule. The book is edited by Max Fox and features an introduction by Christopher Nealon.

In Infamous Bodies, Samantha Pinto explores how histories of and the ongoing fame of Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta generate new ways of imagining black feminist futures.

978-1-4780-0959-7Examining the work of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Solange Knowles, Flying Lotus, and others, in The Meaning of Soul Emily J. Lordi proposes a new understanding of soul, showing how it came to signify a belief in black resilience enacted through musical practices.

In Afterlives of Affect, Matthew C. Watson considers the life and work of artist and Mayanist scholar Linda Schele (1942–1998) as an entry point to discuss the nature of cultural inquiry, decipherment in anthropology, and the social conditions of knowledge production.

In Enduring Cancer, Dwaipayan Banerjee explores the efforts of Delhi’s urban poor to create a livable life with cancer as they negotiate an over-extended health system unequipped to respond to the disease.

In Gestures of Concern, Chris Ingraham shows that gestures of concern, such as sharing or liking a post on social media, are central to establishing the necessary conditions for larger social or political change because they help to build the affective communities that orient us to one another with an imaginable future in mind.

978-1-4780-1083-8The contributors to We Are Not Dreamers—who are themselves currently or formerly undocumented—call for the elimination of the Dreamer narrative, showing how it establishes high expectations for who deserves citizenship and marginalizes large numbers of undocumented youth. The collection is edited by Leisy J. Abrego and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales.

The contributors to Gramsci in the World, edited by Roberto M. Dainotto and Fredric Jameson, examine the varying receptions and uses of Antonio Gramsci’s thought in diverse geographical, historical, and political contexts, highlighting its possibilities and limits for understanding and changing the social world.

As vast infrastructure projects transform the Mekong River, in Mekong Dreaming Andrew Alan Johnson explores of how rapid environmental change affects how people live, believe, and dream.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Literature, Activism, and Gendered Intimacy in Modern and Contemporary Iran

coverimageLiterature, Activism, and Gendered Intimacy in Modern and Contemporary Iran,” a new special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, explores Iranian gendered and national identities and experiences in the aftermath of European imperialism and the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Contributors call attention to the lived experiences of women in modern-to-contemporary Iranian society, showcasing the agency and creativity of their responses to these experiences.

Articles include:

Explore the contents here or purchase this issue.

Dispatches on AIDS and COVID-19: Continuing Conversations from AIDS and the Distribution of Crises

Today’s guest post is curated by the editors of AIDS and the Distribution of Crises, Jih-Fei Cheng, Assistant Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Scripps College, Alexandra Juhasz, Alexandra Juhasz is Distinguished Professor of Film at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Nishant Shahani Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Department of English at Washington State University. The contributors to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence. This post is a part of a short series. The following posts will be shared to the blog once a week over the next two weeks.

The contributions below grew out of our investments in marking and launching the publication of AIDS and the Distribution of Crises in late April. More importantly, we wanted to continue conversations that we began in the book about HIV/AIDS in light of COVID-19. We wanted to continue the format of “dispatches” in our book that allowed for more scattered and informal meditations. After contacting all the contributors to the edited volume, we planned logistics around synchronous conversations and asynchronous writings. For both formats, we asked our contributors to respond to the following questions:

  • How can we think of AIDS and COVID-19 through logics that are both synchronous and asynchronous, temporally distinct yet overlapping, convergent and simultaneously divergent? How do we temporalize multiple durations of multiple crises, especially given that neither AIDS nor COVID-19 have singular histories or monolithic subjects?
  • Since we collectively theorized the distribution of crises in our book (what Emily Bass evocatively theorized as “scattering”), how might we attend to the scattered logics of pandemics in the context of COVID-19? How do modes of social distancing magnify our experiences of being scattered and how do we find each other in its midst? In what ways does the pandemic simultaneously warrant a “scattered” lens so that we can think of COIVD-19 not just in epidemiological terms, but one that attends to crises in housing, access to water, migration and movement across borders, incarceration, racialized and gendered structures of wage labor.
  • How might we hold accountable structural racism in the midst of pandemics? Plans for abating the COVID-19 pandemic have called for more data to demonstrate structural needs. This means increasing tracking systems and surveillance to illustrate the higher rates and incidences of infection, sickness, and death–particularly among Black, Native, Brown, and global south communities. Simultaneously, advocacy groups are collecting data on anti-Chinese/Asian discrimination and violence. How do we leverage data intersectionally to track and address structural vulnerability and systemic violence without resorting to carceral logics, such as policing and prisons?
  • We have been struck by the casual invocations of phrases such as “when this is over,” “I can’t wait for things to go back to normal,” and “we have the right to work.” How might the presumptions about the temporary conditions of crises train our attention on quick social, political, or economic fixes rather than structural changes? What is the role of biomedical solutions (i.e., drugs, vaccines, plasma with COVID-19 virus antibodies, etc.) in addressing pandemic crises? How can we learn from histories and ongoing realities of HIV/AIDS in attending to these questions?

Dispatch One: 

Discussions on Temporality, AIDS, and COVID-19:

Moderated by Alexandra Juhasz

Respondent: Emily Bass, Bishnupriya Ghosh, Pato Hebert, Cait McKinney, Juana Mariá Rodriguez, Julia A. Jordan-Zachary

Introduced by Nishant Shahani:

If I’m getting my dates correct, Jih-Fei, Alex, and I started working on AIDS and the Distribution of Crises in 2016. At this initial moment, the impetus behind the book was to offer a social and political barometer of the times and the current state of AIDS, both politically and academically. Part of our motivation was to attend to the distribution of HIV and AIDS at precisely the moment when it was increasingly being framed as over or as something that belonged to the past. In the book we call this retrospective framing “a national fiction of democracy, which served the tools of US empire and global capitalism.” 

Fast forward to 2020 when our book comes out last month, right as COVID-19 escalates into its moments of crises. When sharing the book with friends and colleagues, I casually commented on the strangely coincidental timing of its release: who would have thought that a book about one pandemic would come out precisely during the midst of another one? But I now think this initial casual observation is actually a bit misplaced. If, as we argued in our book, that AIDS indexes multiple and ongoing crises, if we refuse idea of AIDS and pandemics in general as having singular points of origin and finite conclusions, then the overlap of AIDS and COVID can never be reduced to the temporality of coincidence. So in today’s conversation, we want to draw on this temporal critique of first occurance and triumphant biomedical end points to think about the ongoing nature of pandemics, especially in light of COVD 19. In their own way, each of our contributors in the book grapples with what AIDS looks like if we begin with contesting the supposition that AIDS began in the early 80s among a cluster of white gay men and ended when combination therapies hit markets in the mid 90s. Rather than constituting the concluding moment of the book, several of our essays begin with the axiom that crises are not simply epidemiological, but also socially and politically produced. We of course see this with COVID 19 and its scarcity models—of hospital beds, ventilators, and protective equipment. These forms of scarcity are not simply inevitable or axiomatic, but are consequences of austerity logics that are central to the project of neoliberalism, and which produce multiple crises in the plural. Rather than simply investing hope in medical cure, perhaps we can turn to investing in diagnosing a failing globalized system and move on from there to name strategies of collective survival. 

If we can understand pandemics through the lens of enduring structures such as environmental racism, settler colonialism, incarceration, militarism, and gentrification, then rather than focusing on when they begin or when they will end, we can ask how pandemics scatter and proliferate. And then more importantly, we can ask how we will respond and act. I look forward to hearing our respondents’ thoughts on some of these questions.

(Actual event begins at the 15.55 mark)
Discussions on Solidarity: AIDS and COVID-19:

Respondents: Marlon B. Bailey, Andrew Jolivette, Theodore (Ted) Kerr

Moderated by Jih-Fei Cheng

Introduced by Nishant Shahani: 

While today’s prompts are distinct in their approach to thinking about the relation between AIDS and COVID-19, they once again build on the discussion we began last week on the limits of theorizing AIDS through definitive periodizations. The idea of pandemics as crisis moments or singular turning points can be useful, but in some senses they also can be quite reductive. On the one hand, they foreground urgency and the necessity of solidarity and action; but they also frame these modes of urgency as states of exception rather than modes of slow death or crisis ordinariness, to use Lauren Berlant’s terms, that are diffused over long durations and distributed over different geographical and geopolitical contexts. We are interested in both what precedes putative first occurences of pandemics and also in what persists in their supposed aftermaths. So in the introduction to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises, we ask, and I think this in many ways is the guiding question of our book: “How is AIDS one or many of the outcomes and expressions of crises that are made ordinary and exceptional at the same time? And how are the durations and intensities of crises experienced in specific contexts?” 

In thinking about the contexts of crises distribution, one of the goals of this book was to refuse making whiteness and the global north a default referential point for an understanding of AIDS. The goal was not simply to insert ignored groups into founding narratives without questioning the centrality of those narratives in the first place and interrogating how they came to be. So for example, in decentering the global north, we were not interested in simply theorizing the global south through what Bishnupriya Ghosh calls in her contribution in the book, a “cartographic projection.” The attention to difference without essentializing difference is particularly important as we extend our conversations about AIDS into thinking about COVID-19. For example, it is not enough to simply stop at foregrounding the disproportionate impact of COVID on black and brown people which tends to naturalize predisposing conditions to race rather than attending to the environmental or structural conditions of racism. It is worth recalling the work of scholars like Dorothy Roberts who have refused biological understandings of race that end up naturalizing socially made health disparities to logics of genetic difference. We thus have to be careful that our understanding of differential impact does not shift the conversation away from limited resources about access to healthcare to one of personal responsibility so that disproportionate impact can then be explained through individual failing rather than state neglect and state-sanctioned violence.

In relation to the two prompts that Jih-Fei began with, I’d like to leave us with a few quotes from our book that begin to grapple with these questions. In a roundtable on the globalization of AIDS in our book, Theodore (Ted) Kerr, one of our respondents today, asks: “I wonder what histories could be uncovered, what actions could be taken, and what discussions could be had if we took a longer approach to AIDS history.” And I’ve been thinking a lot about these words in light of the state-sanctioned police killings these last few weeks since a longer approach to AIDS history would also incorporate an understanding of white supremacy, and of the criminalization of black and brown bodies. In the same roundtable in our book and in a similar vein, Eric Stanley suggests that “the epidemiological foundations of what we have come to know as HIV/AIDS are the haunts of conquest and chattel slavery.” If we take longer approaches to past and futures of AIDS, how might we think of these hauntings as constitutive of our current crises in terms of housing, access to clean water, sick leave, and food security among various other issues?

In this light, the invocation for a moment when the pandemic is over undercuts the persistent nature of crises. It also obscures their multiple and intersecting iterations. Just as we understand pandemics as not exceptional but constitutive of capitalism, similarly, we cannot think about black and brown death as if it were simply a glitch in the system—it is, in fact, the system’s feature and intrinsic to US democracy –or US empire: these terms are and have always been fungible. But perhaps we can use this desire for a post-COVID world as an occasion to think about and enact abolitionist critiques since pandemics be can only ever be over if we imagine and fight for the abolition of prisons and white supremacist and settler logics of policing, containment, and incarceration. It was important to us to end our book with C Riley Snorton’s piece on crisis and abolition. So I want to end by reading just one important idea from Riley’s concluding essay as yet another prompt for this conversation today or for our thinking in general:

AIDS is not the only metaphor for premature death. So is the prison, or living under occupation, or in underdevelopment, or living while Black, while trans, while undocumented, while poor. Many folks living with AIDS are also living with a combination of the aforementioned conditions. But if one believes that AIDS, and its precipitating and attendant crises, are structural and ideological, then one must consider how those very spatiotemporal formulations also forge abolitionist strategies and imaginaries.

Read the introduction to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises free online and save 30% on the book with coupon code E20AIDS.

French Book Week

frenchbook

Literally Swiss, the European Literature Network and Pro Helvetia have launched the first French Book Week, an online forum dedicated to French literature, translation and publishing in the UK. We’re happy to share our new and upcoming French Studies titles as part of the celebration. UK customers can purchase these books from our European distributor, Combined Academic Publishers.

978-1-4780-0823-1_prThe Birth of Solidarity: The History of the French Welfare State by François Ewald is edited by Melinda Cooper and translated from the French by Timothy Scott Johnson.  The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986, revised in 1996, with the revised edition appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. It’s is a classic work of social and political theory that will appeal to all those interested in labor power, the making and dismantling of the welfare state, and Foucauldian notions of governmentality, security, risk, and the limits of liberalism.

Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950 by Eric Smoodin  takes readers on a journey through the streets, cinemas, and theaters of Paris to sketch a comprehensive picture of French film culture during the 1930s and 1940s. Judith Mayne says, “Paris in the Dark is an outstanding study of the spaces and places of Parisian filmgoing and a major contribution to French film studies.”

Wombs of WomenThe Wombs of Women: Race, Capital, Feminism by Françoise Vergès will be published in August. Translated by Kaiama L. Glover, The Wombs of Women examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism. Vergès traces the long history of colonial state intervention in black women’s wombs during the slave trade and postslavery imperialism as well as in current birth control politics. She examines the women’s liberation movement in France in the 1960s and 1970s, showing that by choosing to ignore the history of the racialization of women’s wombs, French feminists inevitably ended up defending the rights of white women at the expense of women of color.

We also invite you to check out our journal French Historical Studies, the leading journal on the history of France, which publishes articles and commentaries on all periods of French history from the Middle Ages to the present. The journal’s diverse format includes forums, review essays, special issues, and articles in French, as well as bilingual abstracts of the articles in each issue. Also featured are bibliographies of recent articles, dissertations, and books in French history and announcements of fellowships, prizes, and conferences of interest to French historians.

The Biopolitics of Plasticity

The newest issue of Social Text, “The Biopolitics of Plasticity,” edited by Kyla Schuller and Jules Gill-Peterson, is now available.

Contributors to this special issue argue that plasticity—the capacity of living systems to generate and take on new forms—is a central feature of biopolitics. Moving away from celebrating plasticity’s disorganizing and disruptive features in relation to normalizing and dominating systems of power, the authors investigate how race and state power actually depend on plasticity and enlist its malleability and formlessness to govern living populations and individuals.

In these four essays, the contributors propose a critical reckoning with the racial politics of this important concept to ask new questions about how to understand the organic malleability of the body and categories like race, sex, gender, and sexuality.

Check out the table of contents and read the introduction, made freely available.

New Books in July

We are now mid-way through the summer, and it’s not too late to stock up on books to add to your summer reading list. Check out these brand new titles coming out in July!

978-1-4780-0602-2Journeys through the Russian Empire is a lavishly illustrated volume that features hundreds of full-color images of Russian architecture and landscapes taken by early-twentieth-century photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky and juxtaposed against those of contemporary photographer and scholar William Craft Brumfield. Together their images document Russia’s architectural, artistic, and cultural heritage. This one will look gorgeous on your coffee table!

The contributors to Paper Trails, edited by Sarah B. Horton and Josiah Heyman, examine migrants’ relationship to the state through requirements to obtain identification documents in order to get legal status.

978-1-4780-0954-2Written for humanities graduate students and the faculty they study with, Katina L. Rogers’s Putting the Humanities PhD to Work grounds practical career advice in a nuanced consideration of how graduate training can lead to meaningful and significant careers beyond the academy.

In Keith Haring’s Line, Ricardo Montez traces the drawn and painted line that was at the center of Keith Haring’s artistic practice, engaging with Haring’s messy relationships to race-making and racial imaginaries.

In ¡Presente!, Diana Taylor offers the theory of presente as a model of standing by and with victims of structural and endemic violence by being physically and politically present in situations where it seems that nothing can be done.

978-1-4780-0945-0Drawing  on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators, in Latinx Art Arlene Dávila explores how and why the contemporary international art market continues to overlook, devalue, and marginalize Latinx art and artists.

In The Wombs of Women, Françoise Vergès examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism.

In Embodying Relation, Allison Moore examines the tensions between the local and the global in the art photography movement that blossomed in Bamako, Mali, in the 1990s, showing contemporary Malian photography to be a rich example of Western notions of art meeting traditional cultural precepts to forge new artistic forms, practices, and communities.

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Pride Month Reads

This month we approach Pride with mixed feelings—it is difficult to celebrate amid so much injustice, but the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that protects LGBTQ workers from job discrimination is heartening as a step forward.

We’d like to take this moment to lift up our latest scholarship in queer and trans studies.

Our Revisiting Queer Studies Syllabus highlights articles, books, and journal issues on topics such as queerness in poor and working-class populations, decolonizing queerness, antinormativity, queer migration, and contemporary coming-out stories. Our Trans Rights Syllabus addresses trans rights and politics globally, exploring coalitional models of social justice, black trans feminisms, surgery, disability, surveillance, and more. Both syllabi offer free journal content for a limited time, and books can be purchased from your local bookseller or online at dukeupress.edu.

978-1-4780-0820-0Poor Queer Studies by Matt Brim shifts queer studies away from sites of elite education toward poor and working-class students and locations, showing how the field is driven by those flagship institutions that perpetuate class and race inequity in higher education. In a recent op-ed, Brim linked his research to cuts in higher education due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many people have seen parallels between today’s pandemic and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. In AIDS and the Distribution of Crises, contributors outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence.

The Lonely Letters is an epistolary blackqueer critique of the normative world in which Ashon T. Crawley meditates on the interrelation of blackqueer life, sounds of the black church, theology, mysticism, and the potential for platonic and erotic connection in a world that conspires against blackqueer life. These letters may especially speak to people isolating alone in the pandemic. In an interview with New City Arts, Crawley talked a bit about being alone at home and in nature during this time.

The Queer Games Avant GardeSome people may be spending more time playing video games while socially isolating. To learn about some queer game makers and their projects, check out The Queer Games Avant-Garde: How LGBTQ Game Makers Are Reimagining the Medium of Video Games by Bonnie Ruberg. The book presents twenty interviews with twenty-two queer video game developers whose radical, experimental, vibrant, and deeply queer work is driving a momentous shift in the medium of video games.

In Honeypot: Black Southern Women Who Love Women, E. Patrick Johnson combines magical realism, poetry, and performative writing to bear witness to the real-life stories of black southern queer women in ways that reveal the complexity of identity and the challenges these women face.

Pride is celebrated worldwide, including in Korea. Check out Queer Korea, a collection edited by Todd A. Henry. The contributors offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

GLQ_26_3_prWe publish two journals that focus exclusively on queer and trans studies: TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. Both journals offer individual subscriptions.

Recent special issues of TSQ center on trans futures, pornographyreligion, and Latin American trans and travesti studies.

GLQ’s recent special issues consider queer theory in relation to Africa, the ontology of the couple, and the impact of GLQ itself over the past 25 years.