research

I am a feminist geographer. My research brings together critical strands of geographic thought to interrogate the past-presents of nationalism, cosmopolitanism and neoliberal globalization. I view a postcolonial and intersectional lens as imperative, given its attentiveness to gender, race, class and sexual logics, their roots in and across place, their work producing and transforming national, ‘modern’, colonial and cosmopolitan subjects and spaces, and the efforts of women and others marginalized by these processes to negotiate, rework and resist.

Within this broader intellectual framing, my research embraces three key strands:

  C O M M O D I T I E S, Consumption & Cosmopolitanism

.This project examines economic and political liberalization in the Gulf-East African region, via a study of the people, commodified objects and flows of goods, traders and ideals between Dubai, UAE and Uganda. Focused on the hair and beauty industry, this research deploys a feminist commodity chain analysis (following Ramamurthy 2006). This multi-sited, globally intimate analysis integrates participant observation/ ethnography, surveys, in-depth interviews, archival work, and the study of visual images, textual materials, and material objects. The research centers the social, embodied and affective life of commodities and so integrates an account of the lives of producers, entrepreneurs, beauty-workers and consumers connected to the trade.

The project has three key objectives: 1) to examine the spatial, socio-cultural, economic and ideological nature of and transformations in sub-Saharan African-Gulf ties over the last fifteen years, 2) to interrogate the ‘social life’ of commodities amidst these reconfigured ties, including the experiences of those involved in its trade, their varied mobilities, and the racialized, gendered and classed-based workings of power that underpin these new circuits of global connection, and 3) better understand the work of these new circuits in reinforcing, troubling and/or remaking African subjectivities over this time, particularly with regard to gendered, racialized and classed-based norms. This three-year project is funded by the National Science Foundation Geographical and Spatial Sciences Program (#1461686).

My students and I have presented this work at a series of annual conferences, including the AAGs, ASAs, Critical Ethnic Studies and the Association of the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora. In addition I have been invited to present this work at the University of Florida, Texas State University, and in my role as an AAG Visiting Geographical Scientist at Aquinas College and Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, and St Thomas University and Macalester College in Minnesota.

I have also begun publishing this work, with a piece in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (2013) that bridges this work with my previous research on nationalism. A number of pieces are also in review or preparation for publication, including papers on: the rise of the bridal and wider fashion industry in Kampala, Uganda; the manufacture and fashioning of synthetic hair extensions there; the cultural politics of shopping mall development and consumption in Kampala and Dubai; and the urban intimacies of the “human” hair trade through the UAE.

  N A T I O N A L I S T  Performance, Violence & Resistance 

This strand of my research examines the everyday and activist politics of nationalism. I am concerned with the quotidien, trivialized, and as such often overlooked subjects, spaces and scales through which the nation is brought into being. This body of work has centered the fraught efforts of nation-making revealed in both the everyday and its gendered, raced, classed, and sexual norms.

I have, for example, examined public health campaigns and gendered everyday discourses of prevention in Ghana (2008). In particular, my work in this area has focused on the politics of South Sudanese nationalism expressed in the period following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, around the 2011 independence to the present day. I have examined nationalist performance, practice and politics through a disaporic beauty pageant (2010, 2012), the long distance and intimate care work of the diaspora (2014), the emotion-laden trade of commodities across national borders (2013), and the tensions between feminist and nationalist imperatives that women’s empowerment organizations in South Sudan are grappling with (2010a, 2010b).

Building on McClintock, and other critical scholars’ work warning us of the dangers of nationalism, and recognizing the heternormative, racialized, classed and gendered norms that underpin it, my work also attends to its violences and to examples of resistance and transgression. Here, again, and inspired by Nagar et al. (2006) I am concerned with those subjects and spaces that elide intellectual and popular recognition, but that are often so central to nation-making, or its troubling.

Most recently, I have extended this work by drawing on Katz’s countertopographical approach, Pain, Staeheli, Secor, and other feminist political geographic scholarship on intimacy-geopolitics. I use these approaches to consider the connections across the spaces of refugee flight, displacement and resettlement, and the varied forms of intimate/ domestic and geopolitical/ state violence that are, in part, co-founded in nationalist imperatives and ideals (2017).

This work has been published in a range of geography and women’s, gender and sexuality studies journals, including Social and Cultural Geography, the International Feminist Journal of Politics, Gender, Place and Culture, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (with Jennifer Erickson) and Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

  P O S T C O L O N I A L  Intersectionalities in Geography  

Central to my research is a feminist geographic concern with the spatialities of power. In particular, I am concerned with the ways in which racial, gendered, classed and sexual logics of power are produced through, and create, place, space and subjects. A third related strand of my work then has been an intellectual and methodological reflection on feminist geographic engagements with intersectional theory. I am excited here both about the contributions of feminist geographers to intersectional scholarship, and the importance of intersectional thought to our research and activism as feminist geographers.

I have co-authored three pieces on the significant and productive possibilities for intersectional feminist geographic work with Dr Sharlene Mollett at the University of Toronto. These are: Messing with gender in feminist political ecology” (2013, Geoforum), “Critical feminist reflexivity and the politics of whiteness in the ‘field’” (2016, Gender Place & Culture) and, in review, “The spatialities of intersectional thinking” (2017, Gender Place & Culture). This scholarship is mirrored by my disciplinary activism around mentoring women and faculty and students of color.

  F E M I N I S T  Research Collectives

My research and activist work are intertwined. A central imperative of my work is to support women and minority geographers, and those excited by geographic approaches but who may not see a place for themselves in the discipline. This work includes; building and sustaining faculty-student and peer-peer mentoring networks for undergraduates, graduates and fellow faculty; mentoring around research, writing, publication, and securing academic positions; and both writing on and practicing diverse geographic futures.

This work is grounded in part through the activities of the Feminist Geography Collective at UT, the Young and Emerging Scholars Task force (YES!) under the IGU – Gender Commission, and varied collaborations and support networks with collectives, organizations, and research groups that share these feminist and anti-racist ethics. Please check out our work at the varied links below!

igcu_cgg2The Commission on Gender and Geography of the International Geographical Union aims to create a comfortable platform for people to exchange ideas concerning feminist and gender studies in geography. This collective of 750 members from 53 different countries works together to present and discuss new research, amplify gender and feminist approaches rising from outside the “Anglo-American centre”, and create collaborations between scholars working on these themes.

The Feminist Geography Collective at the University of Texas-Austin seeks to foster healthy and vibrant spaces of collective thinking and acting in feminist geography, in the wider discipline, in our UT community and beyond via our ties to collectives across (so far!) North America and Europe.  

2017 members of the feminist collective:
Caroline Faria, Annie Elledge, Cara McConnell, Dominica Whitesell, Juliet Jefferson, and Gabi Valesco.

We love the work of the transcultural studies group at St. Gallen! The work of this group centers on examining transcultural and transnational flows of humans, goods, services, technologies, and affects. Empirically, they ask questions such as: How do new markets emerge across national and cultural boundaries, destabilizing and reproducing inequalities? How are different bodies commodified, and cultural identities reshaped through transcultural contacts in market interactions? Within these themes, Caroline Faria, Elisabeth Militz, and Carolin Schurr are collaborating on a paper that examines how (and whose) affects circulate through transnational commodities. We look forward to strengthening our ties through future research and exchange visits. 

We are passionate about feminist geographic thought and practice, and keen to make it public! We see this both as vital in nuancing debates around complex issues and in attracting women and students of color into the discipline of geography. To that end, we mix in and complement our academic research and publications, with public scholarship and outreach. This has included (and with support from the Public Fellows OpEd project) a series of opinion pieces on campus violence and urban poverty and disinvestment.

We have also presented a number of public lectures and interviews on our research, including on public scholarship and feminist practices, doing feminist political geography, and finding undergraduate research funding. Our efforts also focus on topics and conversations designed to get women and minority students excited about geography, and support them in becoming geographers. Enjoy and share!