Heather Love: Queer Affect and Method

January 16-17, University of Amsterdam

An epilogue to the NICA “Approaching Affect” Soirees (Spring 2013)

Organized by Eliza Steinbock (Maastricht University) and Esther Peeren (University of Amsterdam)

Heather Love is the R. Jean Brownlee Term Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include gender studies and queer theory, modernism and modernity, affect studies, disability studies, film and visual culture, psychoanalysis, sociology and literature, and critical theory. She is the author of Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Harvard, 2007), the editor of a special issue of GLQ on Gayle Rubin (“Rethinking Sex”), and the co-editor of a special issue of New Literary History (“Is There Life after Identity Politics?). She has current projects on reading methods in literary studies, comparative social stigma, and generations and mentorship in queer studies.

Public Lecture: 

Date: Thursday 16 January 2014
Time: 17:00-19:00
Location: Doelenzaal, University Library, Singel 425, Amsterdam

The Natural History of Queer: Affect, Impersonality, and the Social Science Roots of Sexuality Studies 

In this lecture, I trace the roots of sexuality studies in the postwar social sciences, arguing that the flattening, observational approach of these researchers offers a valuable model for queer critics today. I focus on two traditions in the social sciences: deviance studies and microsociology. With its attention to the variegated and potentially universal category of the underdog, research in deviance studies produced a model of exclusion that emphasized shared experiences of marginalization. Microanalytic researchers in the 1960s developed a “natural history” approach that attended to visible behavior, and avoided speculation about both large-scale social structures and psychological interiority. These two approaches converge in the work of Erving Goffman, whose account of social stigma situates deviance in scenes and interactions, not in people. Although Goffman is not often cited as a precursor for queer studies, he exerted a profound influence on foundational works such as Laud Humphreys’ Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. I argue that Humphreys’s ecological account of sex play in public bathrooms in the 1960s was de-stigmatizing because it objectified and flattened its actors, setting aside questions of affect, motivation, and desire to describe highly specific, local interactions in concrete settings. I argue that microanalytic research in deviance studies models a highly specific account of social relations that is particularly useful at a moment when queer life is changing rapidly. I also suggest that these observational, descriptive approaches offer an alternative to the deadlock between humanist and anti-humanist accounts of affect.

The lecture is free and open to the public. No registration is required.


Date: Friday 17 January 2014
Time: 14:00-17:00
Location: Room 1.01A, University Theatre, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16-18, Amsterdam

Affect and/as Queer Method

In this workshop, we will address questions of method across the humanities and social sciences, with focus on issues of exemplarity, scale, hermeneutics and post-hermeneutics, situated knowledges, personal criticism, and humanism and anti-humanism. We will pay particular attention to the question of queer method, considering recent approaches such as queer affect studies, queer temporality, and the anti-social thesis, and evaluating claims for queer studies as an anti-disciplinary form of knowledge. We will also discuss longstanding tensions between universalizing and minoritizing accounts of queer, considering the fate of sexuality studies in a moment when queer is often understood primarily as a method rather than an object. If queer is delinked from particular sexual practices and communities, what distinguishes it from its methodological doubles such as post-structuralism, affect studies, critical race studies, or new materialism? Should we hold on to the specificity of queer, and what are the political ramifications of queer with or without links to identity-formations in the contemporary moment?

1)      H. Love, 2010. “Truth and Consequences: On Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading” Criticism 52 (2): 235-241.
2)      H. Love, 2012. “What does Lauren Berlant Teach Us about X?” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 9 (4): 320-336.
3)      H. Love, 2012. “Safe” American Literary History pp. 1-12.
4)      H. Love, 2013. “Close Reading and Thin Description” Public Culture 25 (3): 401-434.

All readings will be provided through Dropbox.

Participation Note:

There is a limit of 25 participants. The masterclass is open to RMa students, PhD candidates and staff members (RMa students can earn 1 ECTS if they attend both the lecture and the masterclass). All participants are required to do preparatory reading and bring questions. To register for the masterclass, please send an email with a short bio (max. 50 words) to e.peeren@uva.nl by 10 January 2014.