You are here

Queering Capitalism: A Gender and Sexuality Studies Course Coming to the Anthropology Department

August 10, 2017

Though studies of sexuality and gender are by now well integrated into curriculum in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, the department does not currently offer a class that explicitly centers on gender, sexuality, queer theory and LGTBQ lives. Jen Hughes, a Ph.D. candidate in the anthropology department at UMN who holds degrees in both cultural anthropology and gender studies from Mount Holyoke College (a Seven Sisters school with strengths in gender and sexuality studies) and has extensive digital and film production experience, is going to change that.

Jen Hughes
Jen Hughes stands in front of a glacier in Iceland.

After applying for and receiving the Course Development and Enhancement Grant that is part of the Steven J. Schochet Endowment, which funds education in the fields of queer, sexuality, and gender studies, Jen was determined to create a course that brings together queerness, capitalism, and film - “my three favorite things,” she says. With research experience working on topics ranging from LGTBQ homeless youth to lesbian bar culture in Portland, Oregon to financial crisis, queerness and storytelling in Iceland, Jen’s background has more than prepared her to do so.

“We needed a course to answer the questions that students were asking,” says Jen, who was a teaching assistant in the Spring of 2017 for ANTH 1003: Understanding Cultures taught by anthropology department Professor and current Director of Graduate Studies, Stuart McLean. These themes are embedded into courses in the department - however, after taking graduate courses since 2012 at Minnesota and passing qualifying exams to become A.B.D (All But Dissertation) in 2015, she lamented that there was not one single course that goes in depth into sexuality, gender, and queer topics. After returning to the U from doing thirteen months of original research in Iceland, Jen began to outline a course plan and syllabus.

With generous funding from the Course Development and Enhancement Grant to develop the class over the summer of 2017, Jen could “create a class that will be integrated into the department,” she says. Jen’s new course modifies two existing courses in the department, ANTH 4053: Economy, Culture, Critique and ANTH 5033: Feminist Anthropology.  Even though she is not able to teach her course, called Queering Capitalism, this year (Jen is an Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study, one of the most competitive fellowships at the University of Minnesota), faculty or other graduate students may teach it as part of the curriculum until her current dissertation-writing fellowship ends. “I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity,” says Jen.

Starting with an introduction to anthropologies of economy and capitalism and gender and sexuality, Jen’s course looks at taken-for-granted concepts such as time and place, centering on queer, marginalized and indigenous perspectives and thinking about “queering capitalism as an analytic” to understand power, inequality and privilege, before tying it all together with an interview-based documentary or podcast style final project.

Jen described the process of creating a course about sexuality, gender, and queer studies as someone handing you a bowl of your favorite candies and saying “Go! Do something!” With a lot of freedom, graduate students are almost entirely self-directed, with the ability to create projects, decide what the timeline and tasks will be, and what their schedule will be like.

What’s overwhelming isn’t all of the leeway, but rather the timeframe of fourteen weeks: not nearly long enough to cover all that Jen wants students to learn from this course, she says. “So really, it's an opening-up to topics and questions I hope they pursue throughout the university and in their lives,” says Jen, adding that “it’s such a timely topic.”

With a background in film production and digital media - she has worked for the Smithsonian, the Discovery Channel, and the Walker Art Center in various video production, exhibit media design, and social media positions - Jen is also passionate about incorporating media literacy and digital skills into her course.

“I want to incorporate skills that students will need in the real world,” says Jen, explaining that many digital methods that are expected once students graduate are not offered in their classes. Ethics regarding representation, or rather, misrepresentation, are also an important factor when regarding images involving queerness and sexuality, she says.

Jen also wants to incorporate visual anthropology - creating surreal experiences to challenge reality - into Queering Capitalism. “I hope to bring in the visual theory that students will need in real life, eventually developing it into an ethnographic visual course,” she says. Her overall goal with the course, however, is to bring passion and engagement to the classroom. “With students, you have to be able to relate.”