Graduate Student Colloquium with Alexandra Sastre and Aliya Rao

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 9:30am

Please join us in Cohen 436 for the Graduate Student Colloquium:


Alexandra Sastre (Communication)

“Groping Around in the Darkness:” Race, Gender and the Transethnic Imaginary on Tumblr

In 2012, a user posting under the handle Prince Koyangi shared the following autobiographical information on the platform Tumblr: “i’m…a 16 year old autistic pangender asexual demiromantic trans-asian cat otherkin … i knew that i wasn’t meant to be white — but i did not know exactly which ethnicity i was meant to be until i was exposed to Korean beings.” Emerging from this and other posts, “transethnicity” quickly became one of the most polarizing topics on Tumblr, denounced as fraudulent, fetishistic and wholly invented. The many voices chiming in deemed transethnicity, at best, imaginary, and at worst, bigoted, its overall dismissal seemingly a unilateral response to the question of whether or not it is right or wrong to perceive yourself as an ethnicity other than the one you are culturally (and perhaps biologically) assigned. I ask here, however, a different question, namely why transethnicity is not imagined as a viable possibility, and what this foreclosure tells us about how we construct ethnicity as a category of identity. In short, what ultimately feels so wrong about all this? Drawing from transgender scholarship, critical race and affect theory, this work explores what is palpably at stake in opening up the possibility of agency in ethnic identification as it has been in gender identity. I argue not for the validity of transethnicity per se, but that it matters, in a fundamental way, to ask why it is a threatening possibility and seeming litmus test for our postmodern age, and what the answer might tell us about who (and how) we imagine ourselves to be.

Aliya Rao (Sociology)

The Gendered Costs of Conversion: The Case of Polygyny for Male and Female Converts to Islam

Sociological research on religious conversions has conceptualized the costs of conversion to be rooted primarily in social networks. Similarly, most research on religious conversion has analyzed post-conversion experiences of men and women without attention to how these experiences themselves may be gendered. Drawing on ethnographic and interview data on African American male and female converts to Islam I use the case of polygyny to demonstrate how religious conversion is a costlier experiences for women than for men, especially on religious injunctions on sex and gender. While both male and female converts accept that polygyny is religiously sanctioned, women struggle to fully accept it as a personal reality, while men do not. Both men and women use a framework of rights and obligations in their discussion of polygyny, but women use it to highlight how men are quick to take up their right to polygyny without fulfilling the commensurate obligations, while men highlight how the obligations actually make polygyny beneficial for women. Women frequently undergo lonely conversion experiences where they are embarrassed to admit to their non-Muslim friends and family that they are in a polygynous marriage, thereby isolating themselves from potential sources of support. Men proudly proclaim their practice of polygyny. My findings point to the need for re-conceptualizing the costs of religious conversion, keeping sex and gender at the core.


Lunch will be served, so please RSVP to by Tuesday, September 24. Aliya will pre-circulate her paper and registrants will receive the paper closer to the date of the presentation.