Anthro 147c

Queer Ethnographies (Spring 2018)

Prof. Karen Nakamura
Time: Tuesdays 2p - 5p
Location: Rm 219, Kroeber Hall


Brief Course Description

This course engages in a broad reading of classic and contemporary ethnographies of non-mainstream genders and sexualities. Our emphasis will be on understanding anthropology's contribution to and relationship with gay and lesbian studies and queer theory. Over the course of the semester, we will be reading and talking about what constitutes a queer ethnography and the history and future of an anthropology of sexuality.

Extended Course Description

Research of non-mainstream genders and sexualities in non-Western contexts has reinforced the premise that same-sex sexuality has always been a part of human variability. At the same time, this research has also served to deconstruct any simple rendition of binary sexuality (hetero vs. homosexuality) or normative genders (male:female). Using a close reading of the last thirty years of ethnographic monographs on non-normative genders and sexualities, this course analyzes anthropology's central but often rocky relationship with gay and lesbian studies and queer theory.

Our readings range from Esther Newton's (1972) classic monograph on American gay drag queens to Don Kulick's (2015) work on disability and sex in Denmark and Sweden. While the general emphasis is on non-American ethnographies, I have included several key exceptions to this rule.

This course is open to all students with an interest in anthropology or gender and sexuality studies.

Although it looks like we are reading a lot of books (one a week), most students have reported that the workload is about equal or less than other advanced seminars. This is because reading a book straight through is often easier than reading (and digesting) a handful of articles by different authors. The class assignments involve writing a weekly précis of the book (and a pop quiz from time to time), but there is no final term paper or final exam.

Prerequisites and Requirements

None. Students at every level and from every discipline and major are welcome to take the course, however as it is a seminar the number of students may be capped.


Grades will be composed of:
  1. Précis: Undergraduates must do at least nine; graduate students must at least ten. Précis guidelines here. 70%
  2. Pop Quizzes: Pretty much every week. One question to test whether you read the whole book and arrived on time. No makeups. 20%
  3. Mini-Ethnography: Attendance at at least one non-film LGBT Studies event with mini-ethnography write-up 10%

There are no make-ups on missing precis. If they don't arrive by Monday night by 7pm, it is 20% off. If they don't arrive by the beginning of class, they are 40% off, and will not be accepted after the start of the class. If you do more than the required minimum, then the lowest grade will be dropped.

Extra credit for various reasons may occasionally be given but there is a cap of +5% of the final grade (i.e., even if you do four projects that might each earn +2% to the final grade, you will not be able to earn more than 5% even if you do all of them).

Grading Rubrics

The grading for this course is severe, as I want to recognize good work at the same time. However, I also recognize that people put a tremendous amount of work into the class. So I grade each assignment based on quality using a scale that makes it easier to identify good work; but the final grade takes into account the tremendous volume of work that this class entails.

So basically, don’t freak out when you get your weekly précis scores back.

Here is the grading rubric for the précis:

0 – not handed in
1 – minimal effort
2 – perhaps read a bit of the book but unclear if you understood the point
3 – good. What an average UC Berkeley undergraduate picked off the streets might be able to do with some effort and thought.
4 – really stellar. Your analysis was cogent and your criticism had several points that made me think.
5 – brilliant. Your criticism was insightful, brought in other work, theorists, and ideas, and presented the material in a way that I have never seen done before.

In other words, you should never expect a five. If you put a reasonable amount of effort, you should expect a 3 and if you have good insight you might get a 4.

Final Grades

Naturally there is a steep curve given the workload and my rather strict grading. Normally the majority of the class will receive an A or A- with a B+ for those who struggled with some of the material; and a smattering of Bs and Cs for people who didn’t hand in some of the work. Anything lower than that indicates serious problems. One or two students may get an A+ in recognition of the quality of their work.

Textbooks and Course Readings

Note: Because of the number of books, I strongly encourage you to set up shared reading groups (we can organize this the first day of class or via bcourses). I also encourage you to buy used copies of the books through AbeBooks or Amazon (note that it can take up to 3 weeks for used books to arrive by media mail), use library copies, order copies through interlibrary loan, check the local public library etc.

Additional course materials such as articles will be distributed in class and through bcourses.

Topic Date Main Reading Suggested Film Comments
Early Monographs Jan 16

Weston, Kath (1993). "Lesbian/gay studies in the house of anthropology." Annual Review of Anthropology (22): 339-67.

Boellstorff, Tom (2007) "Queer Studies in the House of Anthropology." Annual Review of Anthropology (36): 17-35.

Jan 23 Mother Camp (1972) Paris is Burning (1990) 78 min  
Jan 30

Tearoom Trade (1970)

Selections from Goffman's Stigma (on V2 server)

LG and T Studies in the 1990s Feb 6 Stone Butch Blues (1993) Boys Don't Cry (1999)  
Feb 13 Travesti (1998) All About My Mother (1999)
Boys from Brazil (1993)
Feb 20  ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba (2011)  
Queer Studies into the 21st century Feb 27

Fixing Sex (2008)

Mar 6 Imagining Transgender (2007)  
Mar 13 Wenner Gren Conference
March 20

Sex in Transition (2012)

March 27 Spring Break
April 3 Look of a Woman (2017)    
April 10 Falling into the Lesbi World (2013)    
April 17 Chicago Conference
Conclusions April 24 Loneliness and its Opposite (2015)