We had a very active spring at IRN. We had two significant events this spring. One was our participation at IASSCS conference in Hanoi where we had
a panel entitled The Sexual Geography of
Postcolonial Asia. Framing the conceptions
of sexuality as being affected both by the
globalization and by critiques of the nation-state as a unit of analysis or as the ultimate scale for political action, the panel investigated the implications of transnational phenomena for scholarship and advocacy
around sexuality. A key question invoked by the presentations as well as subsequent discussion was, What is the scale of sexuality? This approach seems particularly fruitful as we renew our effort to vitalize the Asia Pacific region of IRN. As Ara Wilson provided an overview of different arguments for, and frameworks deployed in, decentering US
and Europe as the origin of queer sexual possibilities. Mary E. John discussed the recent emergence of new configurations of sexualities in the Indian context, raising questions of sexuality and historicity. As many who have worked in critical geography, anthropology, post-colonial history and feminism are aware, “Asia as region” proposes particular set of challenges as well as
opportunities. The conceptualization of the panel was a working process between the
invited participants, Ara Wilson, Audrey Yue, Mary E. John and Samina Choonara organized by Ara Wilson and Yukiko Hanawa. Personal and institutional circumstances prevented both Audrey Yue and Samina Choonara from attending the conference, but their involvement in the planning of the panel was invaluable and we missed their presence in Hanoi. At a moment’s notice, Paul Boyce, in the audience joined the panel to enrich the discussion as a commenter.
IRN also organized a workshop at IASSCS Asian Sex/Gender Research Network
Workshop. The workshop, led by Wilson and Hanawa, staged a discussion of questions in order to develop the Asia component of the IRN. Participants
addressed questions such as: What would be required to form a sustainable network
of researchers of Asian sexual diversity? How might internet resources help? What are the key focal themes relevant to such a network? Can we identify major cross-border rubrics in Asian research on sex/gender diversity?
Both events led to long and productive discussions and provided us with new
contacts crucial to our project in the near future as well as the long term.
Following on these two critical events, Ara Wilson, Director of the Program in the Study of Sexualities and Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at Duke University, and a former member of CLAGS Board delivered “Sexual Latitudes: Queer Studies of Global Life,” the inaugural lecture for the IRN Lecture Series. Wilson’s lecture expanded on the themes of her
presentation in Hanoi tracking the
transnational turn of sexuality studies and queer studies. Grounding her argument in theories of political economy and Marxist geography, Wilson considers the intensification of flows across national borders and regions from the 1970s on, and their relevance for understanding sexuality. Through ethnographic observations, visual presentation as well as meta-level analysis, Wilson challenged projects like IRN to consider “other circuits of sexual knowledge” by, for instance, using a transnational focus as a way to consider the global conditions for queer life and queer knowledge production. Such an approach challenges how political economy, which often leaves out affect, intimacy, and most desires is conceived. “Transnational queer studies,” she argues “can interpolate desire, affect, knowledge with world history and global powers.” Her stimulating talk generated a discussion that carried on way past the event time limit till the building closing—we were finally asked by the security to leave the premises! Wilson’s talk will be available on the IRN website later in the summer as part of our Public Seminar series.
These two coordinated events, presentations and comment as well as the rich conversations that ensued will be foundational to both the development of Asia region as well as shaping the IRN, along with other regional boards, into envisioning transnational conversations.
Many thanks to all of the participants—both as presenters as well as audience in Hanoi and New York—and particular thanks to Ara Wilson for her many roles in shaping the events.
Yukiko Hanawa is Senior Lecturer in the Department of East Asian Studies at New York University and Chair IRN-CLAGS Committee