UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars

Fall 2011: LGBTQ Studies


Led by A. Finn Enke (History, Gender & Women’s Studies, LGBT Studies) and Judith Houck (Medical History & Bioethics, Gender & Women’s Studies, History of Science)

What is LGBTQ studies, and what can it offer the humanities today? Scholars across the humanities now widely recognize that gender, sexuality, and even concepts of “queer” have been fundamental organizing principles in many cultural contexts: every humanities discipline now produces scholars whose primary expertise reflects an LGBTQ studies lens; many college and graduate courses contain at least a nod to the relevance and multiplicity of systems for regulating and enacting gender and sexuality. In ways unimaginable just a decade ago, it is now possible and useful to ask how the mainstreaming of LGBTQ topics has affected LGBTQ studies, and vice versa. What logics guide the ever-lengthening acronym such that Gay and Lesbian Studies now may include Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual, and Intersexuality Studies? Does LGBTQ Studies imply the same rubric, or a different rubric, than gender studies and sexuality studies? How have other vital areas of inquiry such as critical race studies, subaltern studies, transnational and migration studies, gender studies, and body studies challenged lesbian and gay studies and vice versa?

This Faculty Development Seminar begins with such questions in order to examine the interdisciplinary tensions that have given rise to LGBTQ studies as a set of analytical and methodological lenses of interest to scholars in every field and subfield of humanities. We organize the seminar around keywords designed to elicit these tensions. For example, Globalization studies simultaneously encouraged critique of the ethnocentric concepts of gender and sexuality in North American lesbian and gay studies, while proliferating universalizing discourses of “gay rights as global human rights.” Scholarly attention to globalization may have been integral to the emergence of “queer” as an analytical lens that attempts to circumvent neoliberal and imperial formulations of the sexed and gendered subject. The keywords chosen are not designed as topics of the acronym (such as bisexuality), nor are keywords concepts that have been integrated into LGBTQ studies (such as racialization). Instead, each keyword reflects a vital “moment” in the transformations that comprise LGBTQ studies’ ongoing relevance. The order follows developments in the fields, but is also designed such that each key word may evoke and enhance the others. This structure, like a web, allows participants across disciplines to enter the conversation, and it does not require prior background in LGBTQ studies.

Ultimately, our goal is to bring faculty together from across the humanities to read, discuss, and debate moments in LGBTQ studies. Many faculty members and students at UW-Madison campus work on LGBTQ topics and with LGBTQ tools. But, unlike most of our peer institutions, UW has no formal venue to support faculty collaboration in LGBTQ studies. Indeed, our work and our interests may be unknown to our colleagues in the larger university community. With this seminar, we hope to enrich the intellectual labors of the participants. We anticipate that this will expand the analytical conversation on campus in a lasting way as it fosters nascent interest, builds ties across disciplines, and encourages cross- and inter-disciplinary research and collaboration in LGBTQ studies.