What are the emotional and political stakes of knowledge production? How can queer and trans communities of color reject transparency to better protect themselves and their cultural production? What might drag and voguing teach us about entanglement of performance, politics, and performance?

In episode 55 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach talks with professor and artist Shaka McGlotten about the erotic relationship we often have to the things that we study as well as how that always necessitates both desire and loss, how students can harness the power of Afrofuturism and speculation to combat white supremacy and climate change, and how queer and trans communities of color can use voguing, drag, and what Shaka calls “Black Data” to imagine and create new worlds.

Guest: Shaka McGlotten

Shaka McGlotten is a social anthropologist with a background in the fine arts. Their work brings together the theoretical insights of queer studies with the methodological toolkit of anthropology to consider new media technologies in relation to queer cultures. They have published and lectured on public sex, online cultures, pornography, gaming, zombies, human waste, voguing, and more. Their first book, Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality, was published by SUNY Press in 2013. They are the co-editor of two edited collections, Black Genders and Sexualities (with Dana-ain Davis) and Zombie Sexuality (with Steve Jones). Currently they are at work on two book projects: The Political Aesthetics of Drag and Black Data: Queer of Color Critique Meets Network Culture Studies. In 2014 they were the recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award for Experienced Researchers and in 2017 and 2018 they are a fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude.

We chatted about

  • Shaka’s fellowship with the Akademie Schloss Solitude (02:24)
  • On disrupting traditional academic writing (05:55)
  • On the origins of the Political Aesthetics of Drag and Black Data (07:50)
  • Shaka’s thoughts on the entanglement of performance and technology (13:45)
  • The entwined nature of desire and ethnographic research (17:55)
  • On Imagining Otherwise (25:53)

Takeaways

The importance of interdisciplinary creative community

“Akademie Schloss Solitude is a cultural arts institution in Stuttgart [Germany]. It’s been there for 35-odd years. When it began, it was a residency fellowship program for artists, but they’ve since expanded it to include other kinds of scholars and artists and people who bridge the two like me there as well. The people there are from all over and all of them are enormously creative. Many of these artists that I spent time with this summer would work in any medium that would get their point across and I was literally blown away. It was inspiring in a way that even produced certain kinds of crises, as I thought about my own practice—wanting to to return to more of a visual arts practice but also reflecting on the kind of changes that I’m making in own writing style as I move away from traditional academic writing.”

Disrupting traditional academic writing

“I discovered Trinh T. Minh-ha’s writing at the very end of my time as an undergraduate. What she was doing blew me away and it was the model I had been looking for for my own work. I was really lucky to encounter work like that, work like Avitel Ronell’s Crack Wars, The Telephone Book, people who were experimenting with form. Then in graduate school [at the University of Texas at Austin], I worked with Katie Stewart [and] with Sandy Stone….It’s a disruptive practice in the academy and maybe also an activist practice in its own way. I think about texts like Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s Undercommons too…that book bent my brain in new ways and provided a sort of model for working and writing from some perspective that was within and also lateral to the academy.”

Drag as a political intervention

The Political Aesthetics of Drag began in a gay bar in Jerusalem….I was struck by a moment in which [a performer] completely upset our expectations about what an Israeli is expected or permitted to say in the contemporary political climate of Israel. So that was part of the birth of that project, this way that drag could work not only with gender and the performativity of gender but could make interventions in politics that were enabled precisely because of the liminal position of people who perform in drag.”

The entanglement of performance and technology

“As an anthropologist, I was trained to pay attention to how people are using things. I came of intellectual age at the end of the 1990s, and all of those conversations that emerged from British cultural and media studies—I’m still working with them. I’m still working with identity, with performance, with their intersection in political spheres. I’m also just interested in the basic materiality of how people are using these objects and interacting with one another as a result.”

The intertwining of desire and ethnography

“When I was working on my dissertation, I was trying on some level to write a celebratory account of histories of public sex in Austin and all of the ways that new technologies were providing affordances for people to connect for love and sex. Of course, the more I studied this, the more I realized that these histories were profoundly impacted by HIV/AIDS, that the people I worked with were really suffering and are still suffering a decade later (and two decades later in some cases) as the result of HIV/AIDS. The closer I came into contact with that, the more intense it was. Of course I had to work through that intellectually, but there was no way for me not to work through it personally as well.”

Writing and/as meditation

“This is going to sound so cheesy, but when I sit down to practice meditation, my intention is of two parts, which some people have said is actually the same thing. It’s about freedom and love. I love—however excruciating it can be—I love the practice of writing. I want to connect with the people that I am writing for. I do feel that I am writing as much for other people as I am writing for myself. As a way of working through ideas or almost as a service.”

Imagining Otherwise

“I’m teaching a class this semester called New Black Ethnographies. In the past, I’ve given students a range of work that are not so new like Zora Neale Hurston or W.E.B. DuBois, and they’ve then done ethnographic projects about schooling, Black hair, and Black businesses. But this year, I’ve given them a different task. I’ve asked them to create Afrofuturist ethnographies, or speculative ethnographies. They were to write about and study topics as anthropologists from the future. They could either conduct this ethnographic field work in that future world in which they actually live or in a time travel process where they come back, and they each created their own project. Each of them imagined a different kind of world…Whatever work I’m doing, I’m so inspired by the work of students like this who help me imagine otherwise.”

More from Shaka

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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