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Lecture ICI Berlin

Cathy Cohen: Race and Queer Theory in the Age of Obama

Jun 2012

The talk explores how changes in our understanding of the racialized state, as experienced in the United States in the era of President Obama for example, inform both queer theory and queer politics. Using the examples of the campaign against bullying and the struggle for same-sex marriage in the United States, I consider how race is directly deployed or inherently influences debates and battles over the status and scope of queer subjects. Correspondingly, given the significance of race in the intimate sphere, at least in the U. S., I consider what insights might be gained from centering the work of black queer theorists and activists as academics and activists re-imagine the politics of intimacy.

Cathy Cohen is Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago, and the author of the groundbreaking 2005 essay “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” (in: Black Queer Studies. A Critical Anthology ed. by Patrick E. Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, Durham/London 2005), that has inspired much reflection and response from queer of color as well as critical whiteness thought. In the essay, Cohen criticizes the all-too-simple binary of “queer” versus “straight” and pleads for queer theory and politics to be more attentive to the complex and intertwined power relations of, for instance, sexuality, race, and class. In her early book, The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (Chicago 1999), she addresses the tensions between NGO and black community organizing, state politics, and the needs of individuals in relation to HIV/AIDS politics and policies. In her most recent book, Democracy Remixed. Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford 2010), Cohen presents a detailed analysis of the racialized and often still racist power dynamics in contemporary US politics that draws on the actual voices of black youth. In her talk, she connects this understanding of the racialized state to neoliberal developments and the specific forms they take in the age of Obama.

Time: Tuesday, 12 June, 19:30

ICI Berlin

Flyer (download)

The talk is organized in cooperation with and supported by the Institut für Politikwissenschaft der Freien Universität Berlin (Prof. Cilja Harders) and the Zentraleinrichtung zur Förderung von Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung an der Freien Universität Berlin.
It is part of the series The Subtle Racializations of Sexuality: Queer Theory, the Aftermath of Colonial History, and the Late-Modern State organized by Antke Engel, Institute for Queer Theory, in cooperation with the ICI Berlin.

Western states happily turn to gender and sexual politics in order to demonstrate their presumed progressiveness. They find support from some parts of feminist and LGBTI activism that regard (neo)liberal state and diversity policies as instrumental for achieving integration and recognition. Such alliances have recently been criticized for fostering new social divisions and endorsing occidentalist and sometimes racist premises. Interested in the nuances of this critique, the lecture series brings together theoretical and political considerations developed from anti-racist, queer of color and/or migrant perspectives on late-modern and neoliberal state policies. The speakers will analyze the sexual imaginaries that organize Western publics and develop queer counter narratives.

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