Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect


Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: July 2012

Author: Mel Y. Chen

Asian American Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory

In Animacies, Mel Y. Chen draws on recent debates about sexuality, race, and affect to examine how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, or deathly animates cultural lives. Toward that end, Chen investigates the blurry division between the living and the dead, or that which is beyond the human or animal. Within the field of linguistics, animacy has been described variously as a quality of agency, awareness, mobility, sentience, or liveness. Chen turns to cognitive linguistics to stress how language habitually differentiates the animate and the inanimate. Expanding this construct, Chen argues that animacy undergirds much that is pressing and indeed volatile in contemporary culture, from animal rights debates to biosecurity concerns.

Chen's book is the first to bring the concept of animacy together with queer of color scholarship, critical animal studies, and disability theory. Through analyses of dehumanizing insults, the meanings of queerness, animal protagonists in recent Asian/American art and film, the lead in toys panic in 2007, and the social lives of environmental illness, Animacies illuminates a hierarchical politics infused by race, sexuality, and ability. In this groundbreaking book, Chen rethinks the criteria governing agency and receptivity, health and toxicity, productivity and stillness—and demonstrates how attention to the affective charge of matter challenges commonsense orderings of the world.


“This work is a bricolage demonstrating the dexterity of cultural studies today in its explorations of the limits of live- liness. Although the work speaks primarily to queer theory and Asian American studies, it will stir anthropologists of multiple subfields.” — Rheana Salazar Parrenas, American Anthropologist

“To read Mel Chen’s book Animacies is both a challenge and a pleasure … [it] offers critical positions that will be of interest to Asian Americanists.” — Neel Ahuja, Journal of Asian American Studies

“Chen’s book touches upon many topics in Animacies and provides channels for further investigation and expansion for those who wish to study linguistics, disability studies, race, animal studies, gender, and sexuality studies.” — Marissa Malady, Feminist Legal Studies

"Animacies provides us with fresh, provocative insights into the queer possibilities of kinship and intimacies with some of the most overlooked forms of material existence. Readers will find much to admire in this book." — Cynthia Wu, TSQ

" . . . the lucidity of Chen's histories of each of the intersecting fields of study makes these [first] chapters worth reading and teaching. The latter half . . . stands out as innovative work that advances new potentialities for cultural studies sensitive to the multivalent dimensions of relationality." — Christine Yao, College Literature

“What makes Chen's argument impressive and ambitious is that it offers a coherent framework with which to think the intersectionality of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heteronormativity, and anthropocentrism.  . . . Chen's project offers invaluable contributions to animal studies and environmental philosophy, particularly environmental justice. This exciting first book by a promising young scholar opens multiple avenues for exploring humanity's relationship with the nonhuman, avenues that have the potential to enrich both animal ethics and environmental policy.” — Christy Reynolds, Environmental Philosophy

“Chen’s prose is animate; it leaps off the page and sparks in the reader both respect in Chen’s outstanding linguistic ability and wonder in the flow of her prose, her mastery of theoretical sources, and the flux of her intense, immense subject. . . . Animacies is a significant addition to disability theory, gender theory, linguistic theory, queer theory, cultural theory, postcolonial studies, and feminist theory, and is the first book, in my mind, to perform a transnational, transhistorical, and interdisciplinary investigation into the concept of animacy. It is a work that would be at home in both the undergraduate and the graduate classroom (certain chapters, at least), and should be read by any scholar of feminist, queer, disability, linguistic, or postcolonial bent. In this book, Chen has perfected the impossible art of writing a book that is, somehow, all things to all people—or at least, it should be. There is something for everyone here. Animacies is a groundbreaking work of interstitial scholarship. . .” — Erin Kingsley, H-Disability, H-Net Reviews

 “Throughout the book, Chen interweaves the topics and implications of society, race, biopolitics, sexuality, disability, and queer studies as it relates to linguistics, animacy, and animacy hierarchy. Chen utilizes an immense amount of examples through pictures, historical events, and theories to cover a large amount of material. Chen’s book touches upon many topics in Animacies and provides channels for further investigation and expansion for those who wish to study linguistics, disability studies, race, animal studies, gender, and sexuality studies.” — Marissa Malady, Sexuality and Disability

“Chen sets out in this book to take intersectionality seriously, and the concept of 'animacies' provides a framework for intersectional analysis that is immensely enriching. . . . The achievement of Animacies is that it enacts this ethics of care in ways that prompt the reader into caring about things—even inanimate objects—in ways we may not have even considered doing before reading it.” — Clare Barker, Disability & Society

"Animacies is an erudite mapping of the coerciveness of cosmological hierarchies of being, of the ontological classifications that deny life to the people, phenomena, and things that they sort into impossible solitudes." — Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, GLQ

 "In Animacies, Mel Y. Chen offers a mesmerizing inquiry into how cultural life is animated by 'matter' that is considered insensate, immobile, deathly, and even inappropriate.… This book offers a set of powerful ideas for those who are open to rethinking the assumed boundaries between the human and nonhuman, and to imagining new affinities across differences." — Hyaesin Yoon, East Asian Science, Technology and Society

"Animacies is ambitious in scope, intervening in the fields of queer theory, critical race theory, and disability studies. Although primarily targeted toward academics, the analysis of pop culture and use of personal narrative broaden the book’s appeal.  … Chen provides fresh theoretical concepts and language for thinking through the body’s physical and affective engagement with objects. The major contribution of Chen’s work to the diverse fields it engages with is theorizing animacy as a pervasive element of how we sense, order, and perceive the world." — Shawna Lipton, QED

"A vigorous new materialist study of the concept of 'animacy' . . . an ambitious intellectual work that offers brilliant moments of slippage in terms of queering human subjects, objects, and affect." — Deniz Gündogan-Ibrisim, Masculinities Journal

"Animacies is a book about 'reworldings,' as Mel Y. Chen traces the myriad ways that objects and affects move through and reshape zones of possibility for political transformation and queer resistance to neoliberal biopolitics. At the same time, Animacies itself generates such transformations: grounded in a generous, expansive understanding of queer of color and disability/crip critique, Chen's study reworlds or reorients disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, critical race theory, animal studies, affect studies, and linguistics. In all of these critical spaces, Animacies might be described as the breathtaking and revivifying book we have been waiting for." — Robert McRuer, author of Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability

"This ambitious transdisciplinary analysis of the relations between humans, nonhuman animals, and matter charts a compelling and innovative rethinking of the biopolitics of 'animacy.' Mel Y. Chen animates animacy, a concept of sentience hierarchy derived in linguistics, to offer a far-ranging critique that implicates disability studies, queer of color critique, and postcolonial theory. The generative result is a timely and crucial intervention that foregrounds the oft-occluded import of race and sex in the rapidly growing fields of posthumanist theory, new materialisms, and animal studies." — Jasbir K. Puar, author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mel Y. Chen is Assistant Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Animating Animacy 1

Part I * Words

1. Language and Mattering Humans 23

2. Queer Animation 57

Part II * Animals

3. Queer Animality 89

4. Animals, Sex, and Transsubstantiation 127

Part III * Metals

5. Lead's Racial Matters 159

6. Following Mercurial Affect 189

Afterword: The Spill and the Sea 223

Notes 239

Bibliography 261

Index 283
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5272-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5254-9
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