Sara Ahmed

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Sara Ahmed
Born Sara Ahmed
(1969-08-30) 30 August 1969 (age 46)
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 a British-Australian academic working at the intersection of feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory and postcolonialism.


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 such as 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. 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 was Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths until her resignation in May 2016 "in protest against the failure to address the problem of sexual harassment."[2] 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). Ahmed is an Associate Editor of International Journal of Cultural Studies, and is also on the editorial boards of many other academic journals and book series, including New Formations, European Journal of Women's Studies, GLQ and Sexualities.


Sara Ahmed has written seven 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, second edition 2014);[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]

The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004)[edit]

Ahmed’s book The Cultural 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.[citation needed]

Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006)[edit]

Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others demonstrates how queer studies can use phenomenology productively. 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. 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. 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.

The Promise of Happiness (2010)[edit]

The Promise of Happiness explores the connections between affect, subjectivity, and citizenship. While much of the history of moral philosophy from Aristotle to John Stuart Mill has described “happiness as the ultimate object of our desires,” The Promise of Happiness questions the central place of happiness in ethical discourse. One of the central questions of the text is “What does it mean to be worthy of happiness?”, and Ahmed explores how specific acts of deviation are attached to particular identities that 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. The book includes the essay “Feminist Killjoys,” which expands on Ahmed critiques the role of happiness in women’s culture and the depiction of feminists as unhappy, bitter, or “killjoys” because they disrupt happiness. Ahmed explains that 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. Ahmed argues that the happy housewife’s “happiness” is not really about happiness but that happiness is used as an instrument of hegemony.[citation needed]

On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (2012)[edit]

In 2012, Sara Ahmed published her first book based on qualitative research: a study of diversity work in higher education. This book focused on the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and actual practice, showing how diversity workers encounter 'brick walls' when they try to transform institutions.

Willful Subjects (2014)[edit]

In this monograph, Ahmed takes up the figure of the "willful subject," showing how willfulness is deposited in those who are judged as not willing in the right way. Drawing especially on philosophies and practices of education, she explores how willfulness might be required to recover from the attempt at its elimination. Ahmed links the figure of the willful subject back to the figure of the feminist killjoy in the fourth chapter of the book, "Willfulness as a Style of Politics."


  1. ^ "Ahmed, Sara, 1969-". Library of Congress. Retrieved 16 January 2015. data sheet (Ahmed, Sara; b. 08-30-69) 
  2. ^
  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]