Anthro 147c

Queer Ethnographies (Spring 2018)

Prof. Karen Nakamura
Time: Wednesdays 2p - 4p
Location: Gifford Room, 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 eleven. Précis guidelines here. 70%
  2. Pop Quizzes: Pretty much every week. One question to test whether you read the whole book. 25%
  3. Mini-Ethnography: Attendance at at least one non-film LGBT Studies or YRIHS  event with mini-ethnography write-up 5%

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).

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 ClassesV2). 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 BorrowDirect or interlibrary loan, check the local New Haven public library, etc.

Additional course materials such as articles will be distributed in class and through the ClassesV2 system.


Topic Date Main Reading Suggested Film Comments
Early Monographs 9/4

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.

9/14 Mother Camp (1972) Paris is Burning (1990) 78 min  

Tearoom Trade (1970)

Selections from Goffman's Stigma (on V2 server)

LG and T Studies in the 1990s 9/28 Stone Butch Blues (1993) Boys Don't Cry (1999)  
10/5 Gay by the Bay (1996)    
10/12 Travesti (1998) All About My Mother (1999)
Boys from Brazil (1993)
Queer Studies into the 21st century 10/19

Queen for a Day (2014)

10/26 Fall Break
11/2 Allah Made Us (2009) A Jihad for Love (2007)  

Politics of Passion (2007)

11/16  ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba (2011)    
Thanksgiving Break
11/30 Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality (2011)    
12/7 Queer Women in Urban China (2013)    
Conclusions 12/14 Loneliness and its Opposite (2015) (2014)