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English 201a: Gender and Sexuality Studies

Brandeis University
Spring 2015
T 2:00 PM–4:50 PM (Block S2)
Location: TBA

English 201A, Gender and Sexuality Studies provides opportunities for graduate students, working from a variety of disciplines, to engage current scholarly debates about the social construction and representation of sexual difference, gender, sexuality, and queerness. Reading foundational texts and recent publications, and analyzing a variety of cultural artifacts including (but not limited to) film, visual, and performances texts, we will investigate sex assignment, sexual difference, gender, sexuality, and queerness as categories of social knowledge and modes of social production.

Gender and queer theorists have argued that sex assignment, genders, erotic desires, and sexual identities are neither biologically inevitable, culturally invariable, nor fixed and stable within the individual psyche, but are social processes reproduced by social actors and differing across cultural spaces and practices in the flow of time. As social actors we repeatedly and coercively produce our sexes, genders, and sexualities in everyday social practices including the medical description and display of anatomy, reading and writing, gesturing, seeing, taking space, taking up sexual positions, and enacting roles within family, corporate, religious, and academic structures. Because sex, gender, and sexual identifications locate subjectivity "beyond oneself" in social and historical structures, they are neither embodied nor can be analyzed apart from material interactions that include relations of class, race, nationality, ethnicity, and religious and political party affiliation.

Reading across disciplinary boundaries, we will consider the performative construction, negotiation, recognition, and revision of genders and sexualities by social actors. If it is true that sex assignments, genders, and sexual identities are neither biologically innate nor psychologically essential, to what extent are differently organized gender and sexual practices possible for both men and women?

Across the semester, you'll be working on a written or creative project in which you'll offer critical readings of assigned materials and apply theory to the practices or artifacts of your choice. You'll analyze how we perform sex, gender, sexuality, and/or queerness in any domain of social or cultural production, with particular attention to sex/gender performance here on campus at Brandeis. Examples might include: the gendering and sexual politics of private and public spaces on campus, from sidewalks to the Shapiro Atrium to campus restrooms; the gendered politics and desiring practices of reading and writing, or of speaking in the classroom; the gendered and erotic negotiation of looking and being seen; the display of cultural artifacts in the Rose and the gendering of one's participation as an observer of those artifacts; the construction of gender and sexuality in dance rehearsals and sports practices; the construction and regulation of gender and erotic practice in religious and cultural rituals; the gendering of child care on campus; and creating formal performance (dance, theatre, film, music and singing) reflecting on sex, gender, and sexuality. Through analyzing a particular practice, you'll engage and expand the theories we read.

Course members will participate in THE MAPPING BRANDEIS PROJECT, an online, digital archive or "memory theatre" of spatial practices at Brandeis University.