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Worldmaking around the world

Worldmaking around the world: rethinking the intersections of popular media, translation and LGBTQ+ activism across cultures

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter. 17-18 April 2020. Keynote Speakers:  Jack Halberstam, Columbia University,                                   

Ryan Powell, Indiana University

This conference aims to rethink the ways in which popular media, in the forms of film and TV, offer material for LGBTQ+ worldmaking through translation. Popular media have long been understood as a site that is negotiated by readers and viewers (Fiske 1989) and have been considered ‘Goods to Think with’ (Martin 2017). Popular media therefore offer space for developing queer readings and for thinking queerness within texts that may themselves not be queer. Queer readings of popular cultural texts have read back into them gay, lesbian, bi and trans characters that have been previously overlooked or minimised (e.g. White 1999). In addition, there has been a massive growth in LGBT+ representation on TV and in the cinema in the Anglophone world since the 1990s (Mennel 2012: 113-116; Schoonover and Galt 2016: 18). TV shows like Will and GraceQueer as Folk (in both its British and American versions) and The L-Word featured out-gay and lesbian characters and were part of the development of a wider queer visibility in popular culture, although queer characters had been present in earlier TV and film, though seldom in central roles (e.g. the gay best friend).

Such changes in the visibility of LGBTQ+ characters remain limited, however, by forms of censorship in many countries. This has led, in some cases, to the formation of LGBTQ+ translation groups that are committed to subtitling and translating foreign queer materials. At the same time, international circulation of texts has increased in recent decades, due to forms of post-broadcast media such as DVDs, blu-rays and streaming, as well as through informal distribution via systems such as bittorrent. It’s now common to find South Asian, East Asian and European media throughout the Anglophone world, just as it’s common to find English-language media in the rest of the world.

This combination of official and unofficial circulation of media highlights the importance of intercultural transfer and translation in popular culture. However, with the global flows of queer media and the ideas about queerness and LGBTQ+ lifestyles inherent in them, there is a risk that local forms of LGBTQ+ cultures are erased or elided through the importation of foreign ideas and practices, or, in the Global North, that they become exotic materials for international consumption. How do forms of LGBTQ+ worldmaking avoid or negotiate these questions of cultural appropriation and encounter? How do forms of queer reading and translation differ in the Global North and Global South? Indeed, given the Anglophone origins and history of the term ‘queer’, recent research has questioned the appropriateness and use of this term in other cultures and contexts (Domínguez Ruvalcalba 2016, Schoonover and Galt 2018) and analysing global practices related to concepts of the ‘queer’, especially in terms of the use of imported media, would help to decentre queer theory from its typical focus on USAmerican and Anglophone contexts.

The status of popular media has also been changing in recent decades, gaining more and more cultural capital and prestige. It has become easier to access older forms of popular media, through a combination of specialist TV channels like SyFy, home media releases and streaming. Once ephemeral texts are now archived, curated and translated by LGBTQ+ fans and/or activists around the world to understand the past and present of queer culture. This new availability of texts from across different locations and historical moments, however, has an effect of flattening out their historicity and cultural specificity, translating them into the present time and place. At such a juncture, it is imperative to reevaluate historical practices of worldmaking and LGBTQ+ community and the current trends through and within translation (understood in the sense of both linguistic and cultural translation), especially with regard to terms and concepts that would not be recognisable to ‘queer’ communities from other periods and locations.

The conference will explore, therefore, the intersections between global queer media flows (especially in relation to translation), popular film and TV, queer worldmaking and LGBTQ+ activism in order to question assumptions about the relationships between popular media, queer culture and the hegemonic position of current Anglophone cultures in reflections on queer practices.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to: ·         Translation of/within queer media ·         Cultural appropriation in global queer media flows ·         The queer potential of popular film and TV ·         Queer Fandom and translation ·         Local sexual knowledges and global queer culture ·         Historical approaches to queer worldmaking ·         Queerness and popular media in the Global South ·         South-South and South-North queer dialogues and translation ·         Piracy and informal economies of queer media ·         Changing popular culture and transcultural queer readings ·         The queer popular archive across cultures ·         Censorship, queer media and queer activism ·         Translation and global queer culture ·         Neoliberalism and the commodification of queer culture We welcome proposals for original papers of 20 minutes that address the themes of the conference from scholars working across a range of disciplines. Please submit abstracts of ca. 300 words and brief bionotes of ca. 50 words to the organisers. The deadline for proposals is 1 December 2019. Proposals and queries should be sent to the organisers, Ting Guo ( and Jonathan Evans ( This conference is part of the AHRC funded project ‘Translating for Change’. Further information about the event can be found on the project website: References: Domínguez Ruvalcaba, Héctor (2016) Translating the Queer: Body Politics and Transnational Conversations. London: Zed. Fiske, John (1989) Understanding Popular Culture. Sydney: Allen and Unwin. Martin, Fran (2017) ‘Girls Who Love Boys’ Love: BL as Goods to Think with in Taiwan’ in Boys’ Love, Cosplay and Androgynous Idols, ed. by Maud Lavin, Ling Yang and Jing Jamie Zhao. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 195-221. Mennel, Barbara (2012) Queer Cinema: Schoolgirls, Vampires and Gay Cowboys. London: Wallflower. Schoonover, Karl and Rosalind Galt (2016) Queer Cinema in the World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. White, Patricia (1999) Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


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