Call for Papers: Lesbian Studies, Now
In the contemporary cultural imagination, lesbian feminism holds all of mid-twentieth-century feminism’s highest aspirations and its worst mistakes. The figure of the lesbian looms large in the ever-present nostalgia for second-wave feminism and the early years of women’s studies, in eulogies to shuttered bars and bookstores, and in the promises and perils of butch-femme couplings and gender aesthetics that have been hailed as the precursor to contemporary gender nonconformity. Such longings are often met with critique, wherein lesbian separatism marks a supposedly quaint experiment that was ruined by its insistent whiteness and gender essentialism.
Feminist scholarship mirrors this simultaneous disavowal and embrace of the lesbian. Lesbian studies is frequently offered as a question rather than a field of study, so that feminist and queer theorists alike recursively ask: whither lesbian studies? And yet, lesbian feminist studies are encountering a kind of revival: at the cutting edge of feminist theoretical, historical, ethnographic, and social scientific scholarship is work that centers lesbian literary and cultural productions, spaces, aesthetics and icons, relationships and kinship formations, and historical epochs in feminist history. Lesbian feminist theory remains at the core of feminist theory curricula; lesbian feminists remain at the heart of feminist action across geography and period; and scholarly work about lesbians proliferates in and across the disciplines.
We understand the struggle to articulate a shared vision of lesbian feminism and lesbian feminist theory as a sign of the vitality of lesbian political life and of the continued urgency of feminism as a tool to confront the cataclysmic realities of the present. Whereas women’s and gender studies has recently embraced rage as a distinctly feminist affect, we suggest confrontation as the heart of lesbian affective life, culture, and strategy. We use this special issue to stage and unfold the debates that mark the field as active, contested, and very much alive.
We invite rigorously interdisciplinary submissions on gender nonconformity, family-building, aesthetics, performance and cultural production, political actors and political ideologies, academic feminisms and institutional life, languages and literatures, lesbian presences across feminist and queer historical epochs, humor, erotics, nostalgia, grief, trans* lesbianisms, domesticity, dramas, infighting, limitations, and revolutionary fervor. Submissions may address these and other questions:
- What is at stake in claiming “lesbian” as an identity, as a politics, and/or as an analytic? How does the figure of “the lesbian” circulate in debates about identity?
- What is the work of mourning, grief, nostalgia, and disavowal with respect to the figure of the lesbian in feminist history and theory?
- How does lesbian—as an analytic, a theory, a way of being—figure, or what tools does lesbian offer, in a post-Roe world? In the twilight of American empire? In the context of climate apocalypse? In the ongoing threat of viral pandemics?
- What strategies do histories of lesbian lifeways and/or new modes of lesbian living provide for thinking survival, resistance, and revolution?
- What pressure or insight does lesbian studies exert, or what insights does it offer, in relationship to disability studies? Black/ethnic studies? Trans* studies? Where does lesbian studies live within the academy?
- What promises, delights, surprises, and investments attach to the lesbian today, and how might we harness these affective intensities? In other words, what does/can lesbian feminism do, now?
Signs particularly encourages transdisciplinary and transnational essays that address substantive feminist questions, debates, and controversies without employing disciplinary or academic jargon. We seek essays that are passionate, strongly argued, and willing to take risks.
The special issue will be guest edited by Emily Owens, assistant professor of history at Brown University; Mairead Sullivan, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Loyola Marymount University; and Suzanna Danuta Walters, professor of sociology, professor and chair of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and editor in chief of Signs at Northeastern University.
The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2023.
Please submit full manuscripts electronically through Signs’s Editorial Manager system at http://signs.edmgr.com. Manuscripts must conform to the guidelines for submission available at http://signsjournal.org/for-authors/author-guidelines/.