Sara Ahmed

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Sara Ahmed
Born Sara Ahmed
(1969-08-30) 30 August 1969 (age 45)
Salford, England
Nationality British and Australian
Alma mater Cardiff University
Occupation Professor of Race and Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Sara Ahmed (30 August 1969),[1] is an Australian and British academic working at the intersection of feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory and postcolonialism.

Life[edit]

Sara Ahmed was born in Salford, England. She has a Pakistani father and English mother. She emigrated to Adelaide, Australia with her family in 1973. Key themes in her work relating to migration, orientation, difference, strangerness, and mixed identities relate directly to some of these early experiences. She completed a BA (hons) in English and History at Adelaide University from 1987–1990, and then undertook doctoral research at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, Cardiff University from 1991-1994. Sara Ahmed was based at the Centre for Women’s Studies (later the Institute for Women’s Studies) at Lancaster University from 1994–2004, and was Co-Director and then Director of the Institute from 2000-2003. Appointed to the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2004, she is now Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths. She has been an Executive Member of the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK and Ireland), and has also acted as Co-Chair of this Association as well as Editor of its Newsletter. In the Spring semester of 2009, she was the Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women’s Studies at Rutgers University and has previously held visiting appointments in Gender Studies at Sydney University (2003-4) and Adelaide University (1999). Sara Ahmed was the Diane Middlebrook and Carl Djerassi Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies in the Spring term of 2013.[2] Sara Ahmed is an Associate Editor of International Journal of Cultural Studies, and is also on the editorial boards of 16 other academic journals and book series, including New Formations, European Journal of Women's Studies, GLQ and Sexualities.

Works[edit]

Sara Ahmed has published 7 single-authored books: Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism (1998);[3]Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality(2000).;[4] The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004);[5] Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006);[6]The Promise of Happiness. (2010),[7] which was awarded the FWSA book prize in 2011 for "ingenuity and scholarship in the fields of feminism, gender or women’s studies";[8] On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012).[9] and Willful Subjects.[10] She has also edited or co-edited 7 books and journals, and has published over 60 journal articles and book chapters.[11] One reviewer of her work has commented: “Few academic writers working in the UK context today can match Sara Ahmed in her prolific output, and fewer still can maintain the consistently high level of her theoretical explorations." [12]

While much of the history of moral philosophy from Aristotle to John Stuart Mill has described “happiness as the ultimate object of our desires,” Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness (2010) “takes on the long-standing philosophical affinity for happiness in exposing ways in which the concept of happiness functions to justify oppression and to recast social norms and human goods.”[13] As one reviewer writes, quoting Ahmed's 2010 monograph, "Ahmed is not concerned with what happiness 'is' but with the kinds of cultural, phenomenological, and political work it does. She historicizes the concept, attending to the 'happiness turn' at work in popular culture and in science, arguing that 'by finding happiness in certain places, [the science of happiness] generates those places as being good, as being what should be promoted as goods' (6)—or as 'happiness objects,' which orient us or compel us to turn toward them to generate “accumulative positive affective value as social good' (21)."[14]

Sara Ahmed's essay published in 2010, "Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects)" [6] which reclaims the figure of the feminist killjoy as a site of political potential, has circulated widely. She has since begun a blog on feminist killjoys [7]. The Promise of Happiness explores the connections between affect, subjectivity, and citizenship. One of the central questions of the text is “What does it mean to be worthy of happiness?”, and Ahmed’s response is to show how specific acts of deviation (intellectual, ideological and physiological) get attached to particular identities that are seen to cause unhappiness. These identities serve to threaten the harmonious stasis of social order. Thus the promise of happiness becomes more than a psychological attribute, it becomes a moral imperative to “restore’’ the natural goodness of normative family, community, state, and union. Ahmed argues for the space to be unhappy as a sign of political will and freedom, given that happiness is conditional to proper subjectivity and citizenship within heteronormative and multicultural societies. Ahmed’s book The Culture Politics of Emotion focuses on the relationship between emotion, languages, and bodies. Ahmed concentrates on the influence of emotions on the body and the way that bodies relate with communities, producing social relationships that determine the rhetoric of the nation. Ahmed argues that emotions are cultural practices, not psychological states. Bodies are given value through emotion and thus the bodies, as well as the individuals, become aligned with a popular ideology. Cultural politics of emotions creates “others” by aligning some bodies with each other inside a community and marginalizing other bodies. The repetition of words and signs elicits emotional response that grow upon more repetition. Words often generate meaning because of their history and context, but can eventually take on a new meaning. Emotions are material rhetoric- they have affective power and can dictate our modes of life. They are in fact gateways into the social and material world. Emotions can lead to collective politics and social alliances, and this social power is exhibited through politics and social movement, even to create national identities. To illustrate her points, Ahmed analyzes public texts and the figurative language that they employ to name or perform emotion.. Ahmed's theory encourages readers to consider the political implications of emotion. In her essay “Feminist Killjoys,” Sara Ahmed critiques the role of happiness in women’s culture and the depiction of feminists as unhappy, bitter, or “killjoys” because they disrupt are ability to enjoy the things that make us happy. According to Ahmed, feminism is largely constructed around the fantasies of the happy housewife, which as she quotes is “a fantasy figure that erases the signs of labor under the sign of happiness.” This figure operates under the assumption that working for the family makes women happy and that happiness motivates the work they do. This figure also conceals the domestic labor done by women of color and working class women whose work done outside of the home is not a matter of choice. From here, Ahmed moves through an analysis of how happiness is used to justify unequal divisions in labor and education as an orientation device to a particular type of social values to an argument about how happiness is used as a sort of boundary on gender roles.

From there, Ahmed explicates several different philosophies of happiness, including conditionality, sociality, communities of feeling, and fellow-feeling. These make it clears that the happy housewife’s “happiness” is not really about her happiness and how therefore happiness is used as an instrument as hegemony.

Another one of Sara Ahmed’s groundbreaking works is Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, in which Ahmed demonstrates how queer studies can put phenomenology to productive use. Focusing on the “orientation” aspect of “sexual orientation” and the “orient” in “orientalism,” she examines what it means for bodies to be situated in space and time. Bodies take shape as they move through the world directing themselves toward or away from objects and others. Being “orientated” means feeling at home, knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within reach. Orientations affect what is proximate to the body or what can be reached. A queer phenomenology, reveals how social relations are arranged spatially, how queerness disrupts and reorders these relations by not following the accepted paths, and how a politics of disorientation puts other objects within reach, those that might, at first glance, seem awry. Ahmed proposes that a queer phenomenology might investigate not only how the concept of orientation is informed by phenomenology but also the orientation of phenomenology itself. Thus she reflects on the significance of objects that appear-and those that do not- as signs of orientations in phenomenological texts such as Husserl’s Ideas. In combining readings of various phenomenological texts-by Husserl, Heidegger, Marleau-Ponty, and Fanon- with insights drawn from queer studies, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism and psychoanalysis, Ahmed develops a queer model of orientations.

Interviews[edit]

  • (2007). Salla Tuori and Salla Peltonen, "Feminist Politics: An Interview with Sara Ahmed," Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, Volume 15, Issue 4 2007, pages 257–264.
  • (2009). Ward, Amanda and Ahmed, Sara. "Global Emotion", The Adelaide Review, Issue 356.
  • (2012). Kate Sang and Sara Ahmed. "Interview with Book Prize Winner," FWSA Newsletter, March, pages 7–9.
  • (2013). Antwi, Phaneul; Brophy, Sarah; Strauss, Helene; Troeung, Y-Dang; and Ahmed, Sara. "Not Without Ambivalence," Interventions 15:1, pages 110–126.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ahmed, Sara, 1969-". Library of Congress. Retrieved 16 January 2015. data sheet (Ahmed, Sara; b. 08-30-69) 
  2. ^ http://www.gender.cam.ac.uk/professorship/2012/
  3. ^ Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [1]
  4. ^ London: Routledge
  5. ^ Edinburgh University Press and New York: Routledge. [2]
  6. ^ Durham: Duke University Press
  7. ^ Durham: Duke University Press.[3]
  8. ^ March 2012 FWSA Newsletter, p.7-8.
  9. ^ Durham: Duke University Press[4]
  10. ^ Durham: Duke University Press[5]
  11. ^ http://www.gold.ac.uk/media-communications/staff/ahmed/
  12. ^ Margrit Shildrick, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, reviewed in International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 17 (4):632 – 635.
  13. ^ Veltman, Andrea (February 2013). "Review: The Promise of Happiness, by SARA AHMED". Hypatia 28 (1): 218–222. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2011.01241.x. Retrieved 2014-03-18. 
  14. ^ Carrillo Rowe, Aimee (Autumn 2011). . "The Promise of Happiness by Sara Ahmed; Feminism and Affect at the Scene of Argument:Beyond the Trope of the Angry Feminist by Barbara Tomlinson". Signs 37 (1): 255–259. doi:10.1086/660186. Retrieved 2014-03-18.