Introduction: The Production and Reproduction of Queer Anthropology

From the Series: Queer Futures

Photo by Michael Held.

Historically, anthropologists have paid a high price for conducting dissertation research on a queer topic. With some notable exceptions like Esther Newton’s (1972) Mother Camp, most foundational works of queer anthropology were conducted as second projects, in many cases after the relative safety of tenure. However, since the mid-2000s we have witnessed a new phenomenon: anthropologists whose dissertation projects were on a queer topic, but who have now engaged in second research projects on topics not, on the face of things, “queer” in focus. Such topics include the proposed human settlement of outer space by U.S. entrepreneurial actors; selfhood and sociality in virtual worlds; congruences and disjunctures between human, animal, and environmental rights; relationships between language, nation and race; embodiment and immigrant food; and normative understandings of the laboring body in digital information economies.

The “no future” of the title of this series opens up to the (non)reproduction of queer anthropology, provoking the question of what queer anthropology might become if its subjects are no longer obviously queer, or its object is no longer “queerness” itself. In what follows, you will find reflections from a set of scholars whose career trajectories reflect this emerging pattern. They discuss a number of key questions: How do queer anthropologists craft such “queer second projects?” How do these projects build upon and extend theoretical, substantive, and methodological concerns originating in their queer dissertation work? How do such projects demonstrate the potential of queer anthropology, and queer studies more broadly, to speak to dimensions of social life not self-evidently “queer?” And what might this mean for the utility of the label of “queer anthropology?”

The essays in this series grew out of a roundtable at the meetings of the American Anthropological Association on December 5, 2014. The individual contributions appear in the order of the roundtable's oral presentations, to preserve the spirit of the original exchange. Each author has edited their contribution for this format, but we have retained some of the informal character of the original conversation. We conclude with a question posed at the end of the conference session by Bruno Latour.


Newton, Esther. 1972. Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.