AAA 2017 CFP – From Berlin to the Bay and In-Between: Queer Life In and Outside of the Gayborhood

From Berlin to the Bay and In-Between: Queer Life In and Outside of the Gayborhood

Anthropologists and geographers investigating social organization among queer and LGBT people have analyzed how constructions of place and identity mutually constitute one another (Blackwood 2008; Boellstorff 2003; Gieseking 2013). The analytical and methodological approaches developed by these scholars present conceptual foundations for theorizing connections between global and/or historical imaginaries and lived social connections among queer people.  This focus on transnational queer imaginaries provides an analytical framework for understanding imagined communities (Anderson 1983) disconnected from nation-state boundaries and geographic place. This poses several important questions. Namely, how do queer people conceptualize local connections and social relationships within broader imaginaries of queer communities? What do queer places look like? What is it about these places that are queer? How have gayborhoods and gay locales shifted with changing demographics and economic landscapes of urban centers? What tools do we need, as ethnographers, to understand gay sociality simultaneously at local and transnational scales? What is the relationship between global imaginaries and specific locales? How are networks of people and ideas distributed across space? The papers in this panel use ethnographic evidence to bridge the tension between queer imaginaries and queer lived experience, showing how narratives of a global queer community inflect with the changing social organization of queer people within and outside of major urban centers.

Many queer people and some scholars in anthropology and geography have located queer life primarily in specific locales and urban neighborhoods. This imaginary of queer life appears in prominent popular media, commonplace narratives of queer experiences, and in references to queer life made by queer and non-queer people alike. Some of these imaginaries include the centrality of coastal metropolises like New York and San Francisco, the inherent conservatism and homophobia of rural settings, and the magnetic draw of sexual possibilities in densely populated global cities. Although these narratives do not fully encompass the complexity and diversity of queer life today, they nevertheless inform the way queer people relate themselves to both other queers on a local level, as well as to a broader imaginary of global queerness.

From a lesbian-centered book Salon in a medium sized California city to a queer SM club in a gentrifying Berlin nightlife district, we address the ways that queer forms of social organization trouble assumptions about the centrality of the gayborhood to queer life. We find that queer subjectivity and social organization is informed by a dialectic of the intimate, local, and transnational. Understanding the way identity-based communities position themselves simultaneously along multiple geographic scales requires a specialized set of ethnographic tools. This panel develops tools to address these critical questions, and articulates necessary conceptual frameworks for exploring this dialectical formation. Developing and refining methodological and conceptual tools for understanding the co-construction of identities and space—and the urban imaginaries to go along with it—allows anthropologists to address current issues like gentrification, urban decay, and the rise and decline of different community-centered enclaves. In this context, anthropology matters because these issues have profound influence on the lived experiences of people in rural and urban contexts around the world.

Please submit your proposed paper abstract by April 7th to Elizabeth Handschy ( and Scott Olson (  The accepted panelist will be notified by April 10th, at which point the accepted abstract should be submitted to the conference organization by April 14th.



Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso.

Blackwood, Evelyn. 2008. “Transnational discourses and circuits of queer knowledge in Indonesia.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 14(4):481-507.

Boellstorff, Tom. 2003. “Dubbing Culture: Indonesian gay and lesbi subjectivities and ethnography in an already globalized world.” American Ethnologist. 30(2):225-42.

Gieseking, Jen Jack. 2013. “Queering the Meaning of ‘Neighborhood’: Reinterpreting the Lesbian-Queer Experience of Park Slope, Brooklyn, 1983-2008.” In Queer Presences and Absences, edited by Michelle Addison and Yvette Taylor. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 178-200.

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