Queering Authoritarianisms: Conflict, Resistance, and Coloniality

22 March 2021 - 26 March 2021


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Hakan Sandal-Wilson (he/him)
Marcin Smietana (he/him)

Keynote Discussion

Rahul Rao (SOAS, University of London): Keynote
Jasbir Puar (Rutgers University): Keynote Response




Authoritarianisms and a right-wing populist resurgence across the globe are once again responsible for a sweeping range of violations. While some groups have been exposed to the cold face of oppression only recently, other groups have long been subjected to similar abuses, ranging from discrimination to direct physical harm. In Turkey under the Erdoğan regime, for example, academics in 2016 calling on the government to end its human rights violations against the Kurds in its southeast and demanding a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue were subjected to exhausting administrative and legal sanctions. Anti-Muslim sentiment and practices are being constantly provoked by the Modi Regime in India. In Russia, Putin is relying on fuelling nationalism to ever expand his powers. Trump, like Putin and Bolsonaro, has harnessed nationalist discourses that work along racial, ethnic, and religious lines and frequently this is built off of dis/misinformation. Therefore, while racial, ethnic and religious identity formations and mobilisations are readily apparent in the context of authoritarianism and conflict, this conference seeks to move beyond this focus and complicate our understanding by bringing non-normative sexualities into the picture.

In countries where nationalisms are resurging, the very term ‘queer’ as well as queer and LGBTIQ+ politics have been framed and rejected by dominant narratives as 'Western' and 'colonial', both in much of the scholarship (Kulpa & Mizielinska 2012) as well as by authoritarian nationalists. But LGBTIQ+ people in these countries do not necessarily agree with such analyses, which they see as simplified narratives, and instead see their activism as vital to political resistance, and much more complex. (TallBear 2018; Luther & Ung Loh 2018; Slany, Kowalska & Smietana 2005; Popa & Sandal 2019). Dynamics of this kind occur in locations as distinct as, for example, North America, South Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. However, in reality, situations can be even more complex: e.g. in Kashmir, the colonial narratives are seen to be coming from the Indian state rather than only from ‘the West’ (Anand, 2019). On the other hand, emergent nationalisms in some other places are framed as gay-friendly, to the extent of being critiqued as ‘homonationalist’ (Puar 2007). Stigmatisation of geographies, ethnicities, and religions, in some instances, in the name of LGBTIQ+ rights, perpetuate and justify Islamophobia, for example, in the United Kingdom (Ahmed 2011). Conversations such as the one we are proposing with this conference are crucial at this current time of a resurgence of right-wing nationalisms, and their frequent ‘anti-gender’ and anti-LGBTIQ+ framing (Patternotte & Kuhar 2018; Takács and Szalma 2019).

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together scholars and activists working on and campaigning against authoritarianisms and right-wing attacks on democracy through a queer perspective. By queering authoritarianisms, we mean making visible LGBTIQ+ lives and politics which resist authoritarian and undemocratic politics. However, we also rest on the ambiguity and potential that ‘queer’ has to offer. Following the Keynote Discussion with the participation of Dr Rahul Rao (Keynote) and Professor Jasbir Puar (Response), there will be four academic sessions on themes such as ‘Queer and Conflict’, ‘The Gendered and Sexual Politics of Authoritarianisms’, 'Authoritarianisms Caught in the Web: Queer Digital Activisms' and ‘Decolonising Sexualities’ in addition to workshops including ‘writing amidst conflict’ and ‘transnational LGBTIQ+ activisms and care’. We intend for this conference to initiate fruitful conversations and intersectional solidarities among academics, activists, and academic activists.

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Conference assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

"Queering Authoritarianisms: Conflict, Resistance, and Coloniality"

22-26 March 2021



Hakan Sandal-Wilson (University of Cambridge)

Marcin Smietana (University of Cambridge)

17.00 - 18.30 (BST)

Monday 22 March

Keynote Conversation

Rahul Rao (SOAS, University of London): Keynote 

Title: 'What is the Relationship Between Homonationalism and Homocapitalism?'
In this talk, I'd like to explore what it means to think of homocapitalism as homonationalism's necessary supplement. Was homonationalism always already about homocapitalism? Under what conditions might homocapitalism supplant homonationalism? And how might these twin logics express themselves in the authoritarianisms through which we are currently living?

Jasbir K. Puar (Rutgers University): Response

Chair: Sarah Franklin (University of Cambridge)

16.00 - 17.30 (BST)

Tuesday 23 March

Panel I: Queer and Conflict

This panel will discuss different ways in which conflict and queer can be thought together. We think about ‘conflict’ broadly, being wary of confining conflict to already stigmatised and marginalized geographies. We think about different conflict-enabling structures, such as neoliberalism, nationalism, colonialism and authoritarianism, and how queer politics can make interventions into them.

Chair: Jamie J. Hagen (Queen’s University Belfast)

  • Dibyesh Anand (University of Westminster, London): ‘Contemporary Colonialisms, Queering Nationalisms’
  • Evren Savcı (Yale University): ‘Neoliberal Islam and Securitization of Queers’
  • Lukasz Szulc (University of Sheffield): ‘Uncanny Europe and Protective Europeanism: Polish queers in the UK in Times of Growing Authoritarianism’
16.00 - 17.30 (BST)

Wednesday 24 March

Panel 2: The Gendered and Sexual Politics of Authoritarianisms

‘The Gendered and Sexual Politics of Authoritarianisms’ panel aims to discuss various ways in which gender and sexuality inform different kinds of authoritarian politics. From knowledge production about gender, to legal interventions, to disrupting state enforced ways of thinking, this panel will expand our understanding of gender and sexuality in the context of authoritarianisms.

Chair: Lauren Wilcox (University of Cambridge) 

  • Judit Takács (Hungarian Academy of Sciences): ‘Institutionalizing Genderphobia in Hungary’
  • Alexander Kondakov (University College Dublin): ‘Defending the Russian State from Queer Theory’
  • Gina Gwenffrewi (University of Edinburgh): ‘The Dungeon in the City on a Hill: on how the USA, its mainstream culture, and its carceral system decide which trans people get to be seen and unseen’ 
16.00 - 17.30 (BST)

Thursday 25 March

Panel 3: Authoritarianisms Caught in the Web: Queer Digital Activisms

How do digital activisms alter the ways in which we think about mobilisation, and affect? Do they help us counter authoritarian states and open up queer spaces, or do they become means of authoritarian discipline and control? Seeking answers to these questions, this panel will situate digital activism at the core of authoritarian politics and objections to them. 

Chair: Daniel Luther (London School of Economics)

  • Ladan Rahbari (University of Amsterdam): ‘Queering Iran, Digitally: Implicit Activism and LGBTQI+ Dating on Telegram’
  • Larissa Kojoué (University of Buea, Cameroon / CEPED Paris): ‘Queer digital activism in Cameroon. Exploring the dynamics of gender, sexuality and power mediated through digital cultures’ 
  • Antoine Badaoui (University of Leicester): 'Transgressing Heteronormativity Online: A Study of Social Media Videos of LGBT Organisations in Lebanon'
16.00 - 17.30 (BST)

Friday 26 March

Panel 4: Decolonising Sexualities

What does it mean to decolonise sexualities? How can we think about sexualities in a broader history of colonialism, exploitation, and racism? Furthermore, what different practices and ways of producing knowledge can help us better engage with these questions? In this panel, we will be discussing different ways in which we engage with sexualities, situating them in broader context of colonialism. 

Chair: Mónica Moreno Figueroa (University of Cambridge)

  • Kim TallBear (University of Alberta): ’Settler Love Is Breaking My Heart: Sex, Kin, Country’
  • Ayodele Sogunro (Human Rights Lawyer, Writer and PhD Candidate, University of Pretoria): 'The nature and legacy of political homophobia in British colonial Africa: the Nigerian case'
  • Matthew Waites (University of Glasgow): ‘Contesting Colonial Criminalization: The Significance of Customary Law for Decolonising Queer Analysis’ 


10.00 - 12.00 (BST)

Saturday 27 March 

Queer Activism and Care: Transnational Conversations

Moderator: Senthorun Raj (Keele University)

Activists: TBA

16.00 - 17.30 (BST)

Tuesday 30 March

Writing in Conflict, Writing in Community

Natasha Tanna (University College London)

The 'in conflict' of the workshop's title refers to writing amidst conflict of various sorts, including psychological and political conflict. In this workshop we will discuss the dilemmas we face when our lives, personal circumstances, political commitments and writing practices come into conflict with the norms and most valued scholarly forms in the neoliberal academy. What is lost when we try to fit the knowledges we gain through queer, feminist, and anti-racist research and practice into conventional scholarly 'outputs'?

To read more about the conversations from which the idea to hold this workshop emerged, see this blog post.