The Intimacy Lectures



Fall 2015 and Winter 2016

Thursday, September 10, 2015, Monroe Hall 124, 3:30 to 5:00pm, reception to follow
“In the Shadow of Sexuality: Social Histories of African American LGBT Elders”
Mignon Moore
In this talk I examine the interaction of race and sexual orientation as it relates to dimensions of social histories, social support and experiences with health for African American LGBT elders. While past studies of aging in White gay populations imply that homophobia often results in geographically distant relationships between gay people and their families of origin, I have found that many African American sexual minority elders live in close proximity to family members and sustain close kin relationships. However, they also maintain a particular type of silence around their sexual orientation, and limit the information they share with family members about their lives. They provide substantial instrumental support to kin but may not receive sufficient emotional support to mitigate experiences of social isolation that increase with age. I will also share the beginnings of new analyses of how the social histories of this population and their "coming of age stories" from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s relate to current life circumstances as they approach retirement age.

Thursday, September 24, 2015, Minor Hall 125, 3:30 to 5:00pm, reception to follow
‘Confidence is the new sexy’: Remaking intimate relationality in contemporary culture
Rosalind Gill
This paper is interested in the reshaping of intimate relationality in contemporary culture. It is located within sociological debates about the transformation of intimacy (Giddens 1993), and in particular how constructions, understandings and practices of intimacy are changing in societies marked by neoliberalism, postfeminism and emotional capitalism (Illouz, 1997). The talk aims to examine how intimate relationality is being ‘made over’ in these contexts through new incitements to ‘love yourself’ or ‘love your body’, directed almost exclusively at women. It seeks to argue that a ‘confidence imperative’ has reached an ascendancy in contemporary popular culture and to examine what potentialities this might open up or close down politically for those interested in equality, diversity and social justice. I will look at two areas in my interrogation of the ‘cult(ure) of confidence’ (Gill & Orgad, 2015). First at the proliferation of incitements to ‘love your body’, ‘ feel good at any size’, ‘be comfortable in your own skin’, etc. I draw on examples from advertising and magazines addressed to young women to argue that these injunctions are part of a technology of self, seeking to remake female subjects’ intimate relationship to the self. Secondly I examine how the confidence imperative is reshaping relationship advice such that female self-belief becomes posited as attractive, sexy and essential to ‘good’ heterosexual relationships. Conversely I show how low self-esteem and ‘insecurity’ are consistently framed as abject personal qualities that are toxic to relationships. The talk highlights the gendered asymmetry of these shifts and explores their implications.

Thursday, October 22, 2015, Minor Hall 125, 3:30 to 5:00pm, reception to follow
“‘I Needed to be Loved Like That’: Gender, Sexuality and Desire in Rural Mexico”
Jennifer Hirsch
In contrast with the substantial published work analyzing Mexican men’s extramarital relations, very little has been written about married women’s and extramarital sex. This paper describes and analyzes experiences of intimacy, both marital and extramarital, from the perspective of married women, drawing on ethnographic research in rural Western Mexico.  The paper develops the notion of sexual projects as a way of incorporating both culture and agency, argues that women’s marital and extramarital relations can only be understood in relation to each other, and discusses the social organization of married Mexican women’s sexuality as an example of the modernization of gender inequality.

Thursday, November 5, 2015, Minor Hall 125, 3:30 to 5:00pm, reception to follow
“The Importance of Being Ordinary: Celebrity in the Age of Reality TV”
Laura Grindstaff
Reality programming has altered the landscape of American television over the past decade, ushering in new industrial labor practices, new narrative/textual codes, a heightened interdependence of broadcast and digital platforms and more intimate, “ordinary” forms of celebrity. This lecture focuses on the category of celebrity generated within the reality television context, which derives its claims to “the real” by highlighting the emotional expressiveness of so-called ordinary people and branding this expressiveness as a signifier of genre as a whole. I tease out the cultural politics of this emergent category both in terms of its performance demands and in terms of the broader social forces in which these performances are embedded. Along the way I grapple with the following questions: What is the relation between “real” and “ordinary” celebrity? How does the rise of ordinary celebrity alter traditional class and cultural hierarchies? What structural/ institutional supports exist to cultivate the intimate emotional/affective displays on which reality TV depends? Why are people interested in, and hailed by, the prospect of achieving ordinary celebrity? Is it a form of cultural power or distinction? If so, what kind, and for whom?


Thursday, November 19, 2015, Minor Hall 125, 3:30 to 5:00pm, reception to follow
"Cultures of Flirtations: Sex and the Moral Boundaries of Migrant Hostesses in Japan."
Rhacel Salazar Parreñas
The talk takes us inside the world of a group of migrant workers identified as sex trafficked victims in the U.S. Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report -Filipina hostesses in Japan. Based on 56 in-depth interviews with hostesses and three months of participant observation in a hostess club in Tokyo, the talk describes the labor of hostesses and accounts for their vulnerability to human trafficking but at the same time argues against their universal depiction as trafficked victims. It shows how the varying moral standards of hostesses when it comes to sex work results in different experiences and meanings of work.


Thursday, December 3, 2015, Minor Hall 125, 3:30 to 5:00pm, reception to follow
“Intimacy and Vulnerability”
Martha Albertson Fineman

Thursday, January 28, 2016, Nau Hall 101, 5:00 to 6:30pm, reception to follow
“Living in Ellipsis: On Biopolitics and the Attachment to Life”
Lauren Berlant
This talk is located in a shattered, formally inconsistent, yet intelligible zone defined by being in life without wanting the world. Reading with Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely), the novel and film of A Single Man (Christopher Isherwood, 1964; Tom Ford, 2009), and Harryette Mullen (Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002), it describes an aesthetics and a subjectivity shaped on one side by suicide and on the other by a life drive that is also, paradoxically, negative, in that it turns toward life by turning away from the world of injury, negation, and contingency that endure as a defining presence for biopolitical subjects. It suggests attending to and developing a dissociative poetics. The talk will be less abstract than this abstract.

Thursday, February 18, 2016, 229 Bryant Hall, 5-6:30 p.m., reception to follow.
"X-treme Domesticity: A View of Homemaking from the Margins"
Susan Fraiman
Domesticity gets a bad rap—especially from many of today’s humanities scholars.  But while it’s true that keeping house may mean stasis, banality, bourgeois accumulation, and conservative family values, it may also—and does, more often than not—involve upheaval, creativity, economic insecurity, and queered notions of family.  My longer study explores domestic knowledge coinciding with female masculinity, feminism, and divorce; domestic practices in the context of Victorian poverty, twentieth-century immigration, and new millennial homelessness.  My talk will focus on the latter.  Being homeless, I suggest, isn’t the opposite of being domestic.  On the contrary, for those without secure shelter, domestic improvisation is all the more urgent and ongoing.  Approaching domesticity through narratives about homelessness, I hope to challenge our thinking not only about homeless lives but also about such broad categories as privacy and intimacy.

Thursday, March 24, 2016.  Monroe 116, 3:30-5 p.m., reception to follow.
“On the Cutting Edge of Intimacy: Multi-Parent Families Negotiating Cultural Change"
Allison Pugh
We live in an era of massive transformation in intimacy practices in Western nations, with rapidly proliferating kinds of families replacing the dominance of one family type.  In the United States, children increasingly live in “complex families,” in which their primary caregiving includes more than two parents, such as the stepfamily with the involved but non-custodial father, or the gay fathers who maintain close ties to the birth mother. At the same time that an increasing number of families are negotiating roles without scripts, however, institutions are enforcing them; schools, workplaces, and the law are often structured as if ‘family’ means ‘married parents and their children in a single household.’ The resultant collision of different notions of ‘family’ can require that individual children and caregivers actively manage a kind of cultural dissonance at home and at work. Yet what if we not only documented clashing conceptions of the “family,” but also historicized the very need to have a conception of the family, as part of the obligatory self-narration of our customizable contemporary experience?  Using the case study of an unusual three-parent family from my recent book The Tumbleweed Society, I focus on two ways in which these parents and children “do family”: their inner workings (how they sort out matters of discipline, money, and other issues) and how they explain themselves to themselves and others in light of external contradictions. I argue that the cultural mismatch between these families and their institutions reveals more than some form of “cultural lag,” but instead exemplifies the clash between two neoliberal trends: romantic reflexive individualism and rationalization.

Thursday, April 21, 2016.  Monroe 116, 3:30-5 p.m., reception to follow.
"Three Ways of Looking at a Marriage."
Kerry Abrams




Previous Talks - Spring Semester, 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015, 3:30 to 5:00 pm in Nau 101, followed by a reception
"Why is Intimacy replete with uncertainties?" 
Eva Illouz
Intimacy has supplanted “love”  as the cultural ideal regulating sexual relationships. But intimacy is not an emotion. Rather, it is a complex verbal, physical, and sexual set of practices which constitute both the goal of a relationship and the techniques to reach that goal ( for example, techniques to signal self-disclosure and  trust; techniques to establish emotional commonality and emotional support, etc.). Intimacy is thus not a feeling but a social form which has a definite morphology. And yet, it would be fair to suggest that albeit clearly and endlessly formulated in many cultural arenas,  intimacy is a cultural ideal fraught with difficulties and dilemmas. Indeed much of the sociological literature has focused on the breakdown of intimate relationships in divorce but has not addressed a more elusive question: why do so many relationships collapse long before they become institutionalized in marriage, love, or commitment? This lecture aims to clarify the reasons why “doing intimacy” is sociologically  complex and fraught with impasses by examining the set of cultural assumptions present in the management of a romantic and sexual self.


Thursday, February 19, 2015, 3:30 to 5:00 pm in Nau 101, followed by a reception
“Relationships and Sex among Young Americans”
Paula England
In this lecture, Professor Paula England illuminates the intimate lives of American adolescents and young adults. The focus is on how those who grew up with well-educated, middle class parents have different experiences than those with more disadvantaged origins. Do class origins affect how early youths become sexually active, their number of sexual partners, whether they “hook up,” whether they have same-sex partners, when they cohabit and marry, how consistently they contracept, whether they have unplanned pregnancies, and whether their births occur after marriage? The results show that some things differ a lot by class, while other things differ hardly at all.


Thursday, March 5, 2015, 3:30 to 5:00 pm in Nau 101, followed by a reception
“Giving Life: Managing Intimacy and Regulating Affective Circuits Among Malagasy Marriage Migrants in France”
Jennifer Cole
Over the past twenty years, thousands of coastal Malagasy women have married Frenchmen and migrated to rural and semirural areas of France. These women go, as they so often put it, to “search” or to “find their lot” in life--Malagasy expressions that refer, respectively, to seeking one’s fortune and to finding one’s generative pairing or mate, suggesting how for many Malagasy women, these two ideas are intrinsically linked. When they successfully marry a Frenchman and establish residency in France, they use their position to earn the resources that enable them to build up networks of their own in Madagascar. This talk analyzes how women achieve the task of “giving life” on two continents and across two cultures at once. Far from being a question of money transfers, as much research on female migration implies, their efforts entail the skillful management of intimacy, so as to properly connect or disconnect the different circuits through which love, resources and information all flow.

* The presentation by Rosalind Gill, originally schedule for April, has been moved to September. Please see the schedule below.

Thursday, April 23, 2015, 3:30 to 5:00 pm in Nau 101, followed by a reception
“Beyond Rape Culture: Organizational Approaches to Sexual Assault on Campus”
Elizabeth A. Armstrong
It is common to point to "rape culture" as a source of sexual risk on campus. Armstrong will argue that attention to rape culture deflects attention from organizational sources of sexual risk. Attributing violence to rape culture motivates us to change student attitudes and beliefs. This is important, but sexual safety may also be enhanced by structural changes. Armstrong suggests some features that might generate sexual risk, including: 1) a monopoly over valued social resources, such as alcohol and space for parties by fraternities or other groups of men; 2) uneven policing and enforcement of alcohol policy; 3) lack of safe transportation home at night; 4) a homogenous student body; 5) segregation in student housing by year in school and social identity; and 5) lack of integration into meaningful academic and identity-based communities. Armstrong encourages students and administrators to think about re-engineering student life in order to reduce the opportunities students have to perpetrate sexual assault. Armstrong develops her argument from a study of college life at a large midwestern university involving ethnographic observation of a women’s floor in a “party dorm,” in-depth interviews with floor residents, and group interviews with other students.