arcane knowledge

what u don't read on street signs

There are more than 300 million indigenous people in the world
They live in every continent and speak more than 6000 languages
Sadly, only about 60 of these have more than 1/2 million speakers
over 150 million live in Asia
over 40 million live in South and Central America (Alderete 2005)

In terms of linguistic diversity, those countries that make the top 9 are:

PNG 850 languages
Indonesia* 670 languages
Nigeria 410 languages
India* 380 languages
Cameroon 270 languages
Australia* 250 languages
Mexico* 240 languages
Zaire* 210 languages
Brazil* 210 languages (Toledo 1994)

The countries with an asterisk are the world's top megadiverse countries: with rich biodiversity and number of species.

(no subject)
Here's a bit from the Argentine theorist, Walter Mignolo. He is author of Local Histories/Global Designs and The Idea of Latin America. You could easily think the use of queer theory as a form of attractive intellectual capital that circulates transnationally and is taken up in ways at times problematic, given its geopolitical and localized enunciations that sometimes reach for the claim of fluid movement outside U.S./Anglophone contexts. Why is Judith Butler an intellectual leader in the study of genders and sexualities, and not, for example, any number of feminists and writers on gender and sexuality before and after her, in languages other than English and outside the terms of deconstructionism? There's a lot more I had thought about vis-a-vis the "Americanness" of queer studies; I will post more...

<<History may be universal in Hegel’s terms, but it is only universal by its claims to universality; all histories are local, as their place of enunciation is local and the act of enunciation is always marked by geopolitical particularities. There is nothing else; all enunciations are localized>>.  - Mignolo

What does it mean to think critically about the geopolitics of knowledge? What does it mean to think about knowledge production geopolitically?

Firstly it means that we stop thinking that what is worthwhile as knowledge is only in certain languages and comes from certain places. […] In this way, for example, if I understand the Zapatistas basing myself on Bourdieu or on sociological methodologies, well, what I am doing is reproducing the colonization of knowledge, negating the possibility that for Latin America’s socio-historical circumstances what the Zapatistas have to say themselves is more relevant than the theories of Jurgen Habermas. One of the negative consequences of the geopolitics of knowledge is that it can prevent thought being generated from other sources, drinking from other waters. Hell, how am I to think about civil society and “inclusion” without Habermas or Taylor?! In contrast, how might I start to think from the vantage point of the Zapatistas or Fanon who have produced knowledge based on other histories, the history of black slavery in the Atlantic and the history of European colonization of indigenous peoples in the Americas? Another consequence of the geopolitics of knowledge is that only authors whose works “contain” and reproduce geopolitically marked forms of knowledge [i.e. Northern Anglo-European theory] are published and translated. Who knows the intellectual and activist Osage, Vine Deloria Jnr in Latin America? How many in Latin America [or, indeed, anywhere] would adopt Frantz Fanon as an intellectual leader instead of Jacques Derrida or Jurgen Habermas?

In sum, the major consequence of thinking through the geopolitics of knowledge is being able to understand that knowledge functions like the economy. It’s said these days that there’s now no such thing as centre and periphery. However, the economies of Argentina and Ecuador are not the economies that run the world economy. If the stock market in Quito or Buenos Aires crashes, it doesn’t have many repercussions in other parts of the planet. With knowledge something similar happens…

why we need institutional ethnography like never before!
Ruling relations have been transformed since then [the 1980s] and have become more trans-locally organized. I suggest that political activist ethnographies are now even more important than in the past since, with the development of new forms of capitalist globalization, social power is organized on a more international level and no longer in local communities, regions or nation-states. The nation-state has been superseded in important respects as a framework in which capital is organized and as a framework in which working-class and social struggles can be contained (Hardt and Negri 2000, 2004). We have seen the generation of a whole series of new "global" and "regional" organizations through which capital and ruling relations come to be organized. At the same time, capitalist globalization also works through the intensification of aspects of nation-state formation. This includes the tightening up of border restrictions against migrants, immigrants, refugees and people of colour, and assaults upon the poor and the rights of workers. Crucial to the current waves of capitalist globalization are the attempts to convert more aspects of social and "natural" worlds into commodities (including water, seeds, education and services) and a further colonization of the global commons. We are witnessing a new enclosure movement, which is extending the commodification of our lives while pushing more and more people off the land and separating people from various means of access to production. New forms of poverty and proletarianization are being produced through this process. (Gary Kinsman, 'Mapping Social Relations of Struggle')


from the ground up
I'm monumentually inspired by institutional ethnography  (I.E.) at the moment. reading the work of dorothy e. smith. I.E. isn't the kind of sociology where the researcher takes up a position outside the field she is studying, in order to look on in from some imagined universal objective place of  theory. instead, it works from the local positions of people in the actualities of their everyday lives, in order to map the relations they have with the web of institutions that are faced on a day-to-day basis in doing things in the world. The subject's stand-point guides the research; the questions arise as one works with the subject/s and their experiences. Then one attempts to uncover the kinds of logics that guide the interactions that real subjects have with institutions, which operate via certain textually coordinated sets of rules and regulations that are not always unitary, but are still laid down to deal with people as if they were anonymous clients. I.E. aims to help us -- as subjects -- grasp the ruling relations that govern our experience of the social world.

What are ruling relations? They are not necessarily relations of simple domination from above, but rather, the state of play of arrangements for managing the world that predominate in a given set of contexts: from the local, to the municipal to the state to the global and so on. Ruling relations  are "that extraordinary yet ordinary complex of relations that are textually mediated, that connect us across space and time and organize our everyday lives-the corporations, government bureaucracies, academic and professional discourses, mass media, and the complex of  relations that interconnect them". These entities and their practices produce a managerial and objectified knowledge to deal with cases in their institutional workings.

"The concept of ruling relations doesn't refer to modes of domination but to a new and distinctive mode of organizing society that comes into prominence during the latter part of the nineteenth century in Europe and North America. The ruling relations are forms of consciousness and organization that are objectified in the sense that they are constituted externally to particular people and places"

Situating this objectified (often textual) knowledge in terms of the operational logics of institutional contexts is vital; one looks at those texts and practices which are generated to run and coordinate organizations that structure and govern our lives. With this knowledge about the operational logic of institutions, we become armed with a knowledge that can demystify the everyday surrounding processes -- which are present but often remain invisible in our everyday doings -- so that we can act to change our engagements with these institutions, and not simply become subject to them, displaced and excluded; dismissed and made unintelligible as self-determining individuals within our own communities and bodies; power relations may be changed this way.

More as I read....

Telling history from the United States
I've been invited to take part in a discussion -- with George Chauncey and Annamarie Jagose -- about queer studies and its limits. Now, normally I wouldn't go there, as I may not be able to shut up! But the rhetorical question put to me, 'Are queer studies American?' makes me say, first, YES, (un sí rotundo!) but then, pause to think, don't you mean U.S.? (the Latin Americanist protests!). Of course, queer theory/studies have crossed the Río Grande/Río Bravo (lol) and somewhat problematically at times. So, I would say that queer studies are americanos to some extent, but I would draw attention to their specific origins in U.S. institutions and theoretical paradigms/practices. Speaking of which, the same problematics arise when we refer to trans(gender) theory/studies. Are transgender studies U.S. American? When they move places, are they marked by that voyage? Can we create a trans scholarship that doesn't inevitably find itself forced to refer to the U.S., even as we are talking about Mexico, Egypt, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, anywhere? (Of course, a further question exists: if we write about transsexual/transgender/travesti/gender variant peoples and issues, do we need to 'belong' to a discipline called 'trans studies' at all?)

It would seem that the editors of Transgender Rights see transgender history as beginning and ending in the U.S.

An excerpt from an interview with the eds, Shannon Minter, Richard Juang, and Paisley Currah (from

4. What are the major benchmarks in the transgender movement?

1953 Christine Jorgensen makes international news as one of the first people to undergo sex-reassignment surgery

1960 Transgender pioneer Virginia Prince publishes first issue of Transvestia, one of the first transgender magazines

1966 Drag queens fight back against police harassment at Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco

1966 Dr. Harry Benjamin publishes the Transsexual Phenomenon, one of the first medical texts to recognize the existence of transsexual people 

1969 Drag queens, butch lesbians, and gay and bisexual people fight back against police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in New York City

1975 Minneapolis passes first local anti-discrimination law protecting transgender people

1984 The International Foundation for Gender Education is founded and begins publishing Tapestry (now Transgender Tapestry Journal)

1986 FTM International, an organization for the female-to-male community, is founded 

1991 Transgender attorney Phyllis Randolph Frye founds the International Conference on Transgender Law & Employment Policy (ICTLEP), one of the first legal organizations for transgender people in the world

1991 ICTLEP adopts the International Bill of Gender Rights 

1991 Minnesota passes the first statewide law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people

1991 Brandon Teena, a female-bodied person living as a man, is raped and murdered by two men in Falls City, Nebraska

1993 Cheryl Chase founds Intersex Society of North America

1994 The San Francisco Human Rights Commission conducts historic public hearing on discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, health care, education and public accommodations

1999 Brandon’s life and death are depicted in the Academy-award winning film Boys Don’t Cry

2000 The Transgender Law and Policy Institute is formed.

2001 San Francisco become first municipality to provide equal health benefits to transgender city employees

2002 The brutal murder of transgender teenager Gwen Araujo in California galvanizes national attention on the problem of hate violence against transgender people

2002 The Transgender Law Center, the first statewide legal organization for transgender people, opens its doors in San Francisco

2002 The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, another legal organization for transgender people, is founded in New York City.

2003 The National Center for Transgender Equality is founded in Washington, D.C.

2005 California enacts first statewide law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people by insurance companies and health care service plans. 

To be fair, the modifier 'U.S.' creeps in later, but I wonder if, to some extent, the 'transgender movement' travels with that modifier unmarked?

Susan Stryker has a new book coming out with Seal Press this year called Transgender History (see:
Likewise, in spite of the generalising title (where? which transgender history?), the book description employs the modifier 'U.S.'. Personally, I'd like to see that put in the title itself. When we understand that trans and transgender struggles begin and end in the United States, what is lost from the picture? Why aren't other histories -- located elsewhere -- considered to be part of the mosaic?

Now I realise this problematics of cultural hegemony, knowledge production and location isn't particular to transgender studies (or queer, for that matter), but I'd love any comments about how a trans studies might develop without such U.S. referents (exclusively)? Must non-U.S. peoples disappear into/from history? Perhaps, after all, transgender is United States American? Perhaps non-U.S. people who are sexually and gender variant have/should write different histories, and hence do not get included in U.S.-specific cultural logics and histories for good reasons.

Transgender Rights does include a chapter from Argentinian trans/intersex activist, Mauro Cabral (co-written with Paula Viturro) -- I acknowledge this! However, where are the other struggles - no less important - in that milestones in the history of the transgender movement I excerpted above? What about the riots against the police carried out by Chilean travestis before and during the Pinochet regime? (Yep, folks, even under Allende. The left treated them as badly as the dictatorship!) These kinds of riots were arguably co-temporaneous with Stonewall etc. There ARE other histories that are important.


Let it be said: I am not, nor have ever been, a queer theorist!

Nuff said!

My transsomatechnics paper
(La versión en español aparecerá próximamente)

This paper is an introductory move to my field research to take place in Tecate, Baja California, in which I will examine mediatic and court documents that invoke cross-living acts and subjects, in the context of the anti-cross dressing ordinance brought into place there in 2002. I will use a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) approach, but I will also interview persons who have been subject to the force of the new ordinance. I want to understand the action of the law and its process in the social field. I believe I will find some substantial gaps that need some contextualization in light of the subjects' experiences of the enactment of legal frameworks (eg. police records do not always give a full account of an arrest and what took place communicatively)

Media, law and sexual minorities: the case of travestis in Mexico

Vek Lewis
University of Sydney

This paper provides a brief history of the appearance of male-born cross-living travestis in Mexican mediatic and juridical discourses, reflecting on the mutual influence both discourses have had in the production of cultural knowledges about marginalised sexual subjects in the Mexican republic and the potential social impact such knowledge production obtains.

Under the institutional gaze of the media and the state, travestis, among other groups, such as sex workers or the homeless (groups only theoretically separated, as they are often one and the same) have obtained increasing visibility in recent years. Such visibility is incredibly fraught and contentious. In newspapers and television broadcasts, in judicial decrees, court room transcripts and police operations, as subjects they emerge in a definitional field of ‘peligrosidad social’ (social dangerousness), vice, risk and contagion. They are produced as suspect bodies. Criminalised through vaguely worded laws concerning disturbance of the public peace, offence to morality, or via the regulation of sex work from which most travestis gain their living, cross-living people in Mexico are at a socio-cultural and political crossroads with regards to the understanding of their lives, needs, and identities.

Employing recent examples of press, television and legal discourse production around gender crossing and cross-living in Mexico, and placing these examples in the context of debates around sexuality, public health and safety, poverty and criminality, the paper will critically evaluate the spaces of possible epistemic resistance available to activists working to overcome the orders of symbolic violence that the media and judicial system powerfully regulate. Such symbolic violence undermines the living-space of travestis in contemporary Mexican culture and too often turns into other forms of violence, both psychological and physical.

Sondeo / estudio sobre el concepto 'transgénero'
Estoy haciendo un estudio sobre el uso creciente de los términos
transgénero y transgenerista entre diversos sujetos transexuales y
travestis, tanto activistas como no-activistas, de América Latina. El
presente mensaje es algo largo; espero que tengan un momento para leerlo y tal
vez puedan darme un poco de información y feedback.

Actualmente en países anglófonos el rótulo 'transgender' funciona como
término sombrilla para referirse a una gran gama de sujetos, unidos,
supuestamente, por su inconformidad frente al sistema de sexo-género
convencional: transexuales, travestidos, transformistas, hombres gays
afeminados, lesbianas masculinas entre otros más. También el término ha sido
usado para referirse a aquellos que muestran una fuerte identificación con
el sexo opuesto (al que les fue dado al nacer) y quienes viven corporalmente
en el género con el que se identifican, pero sin hacer caso explícito del
estado de sus genitales. Transgénero así funciona como una etiqueta menos
clínica para referirse a los y las transexuales sin importar en qué etapa de
transición se encuentren.

Lo anteriormente dicho no pretende ignorar lo pugnado que es el término. Hay
muchos y muchas transexuales que no emplean el término para referirse a sí
mismo/as; hay quienes se sienten excluido/as y/o invisibilizado/as si se les
incluye en la categoría transgénero, concepto que para ello/as es demasiado
ambiguo y borroso. Además, argumentan alguno/as, ¿qué tiene que ver la vida
de un/a transexual con la de un transformista y vice versa?

No obstante, se nota el uso del término por parte de los/las antropólogo/as y
alguno/as especialistas de la salud para referirse tanto a transexuales como
travestis hoy en día, y esto muy a pesar de que varios de los sujetos así
nombrados por terceros no utilizan el término ello/as mismo/as. Además, la forma de
ser de muchas travestis escapa a los límites del término. Algunas travestis
se autodenominan homosexuales o gays y vinculan su expresión de género más
con sus deseos y prácticas sexuales. Hasta se podría decir que mucho/as
desconocen el término 'género (sexual)' en sí, dependiendo  tal vez de la zona en
donde vivan y el grado de contacto que tengan con el discurso sobre 'género' y 'transgénero'.

Quisiera saber, en el fondo, ¿en qué sentido se está empleando este término
en diversos puntos geográficos de Latinomérica para determinar a qué
grado se ha aceptado el concepto en las comunidades de la diversidad sexual?
Mi interés va más allá de lo linguístico. ¿A quién(es) excluye la categoría
y a quién(es) incluye? Recientemente en la ciudad de México, un colectivo
que aboga a favor de modificaciones a la ley para reconocer el derecho de
los y las trans de cambiar su sexo legal, llegó a precisar las siguientes
definiciones (¡sé muy bien que estas definiciones son controvertidas y
susceptibles a variaciones regionales!)

Travesti:- Persona que usa ropa del otro género (suponemos que hay dos) pero
que no se siente a sí misma como del otro género.

Transexual.- Persona que se vive en el otro género por lo que no concuerda
con su cuerpo y busca cambiarlo por diferentes medios: hormonal, quirúrgico,
etc.  Por esta razón también desea cambiar su estatus jurídico y social.
Estas personas desean modificar sus genitales a través de cirugías de

Transgénero.-  Es la misma definición que la anterior pero son personas que
no desean o no pueden modificar sus genitales.

Esta definición claramente entiende una vinculación entre lo transexual y lo
transgénero, pero no considera que lo travesti cae dentro de los límites del
concepto (aunque a la vez me imagino que algunas travestis se incluirían en
la categoría de 'persona que se vive en el otro género... pero que no desea
modificar sus genitales'). Sé que en otras localidades 'transgénero' se ha
usado de otra manera, pero quiero saber qué sentido(s) le darían en sus
colectivos y dentro de sus comunidades - a nivel oficial y a nivel
cotidiano. El uso 'oficial' del término estaría evidenciado en documentos
legales, en ámbitos institucionales etc (por ejemplo, al elaborar una
propuesta de cambio de ley). ¿Qué tanto se está empleando el concepto en sus
países/ciudades respectivos?

¡Cualquier comentario, anécdota, crítica o ayuda con esta investigación es

seeing is believing - from 'they live'

Hollywood eats its young
Vale Heath Ledger. He grew up in the same town as me: he was unpretentious and sincere. His death takes me back to when I was 22, recently moved from Perth to Melbourne, and heard of the death of River Phoenix. River's death shattered me, as he was an idol to my young self. I'd seen My Own Private Idaho and felt like he incarnated all the vulnerability I myself suffered through. And although Brokeback Mountain didn't have the same effect on me, Heath's performance is still stunning - like walking constantly on the edge of the abyss. The last scene of the film, where he holds up and breathes the scent of his dead lover's shirt, is just heart-breaking. As heart-breaking as it must be for his poor parents to lose their beautiful son.

Ledger was apparently worn out and desperate for some sleep. Such a genuine person is rare in Hollywood and it's sad to see him go like this.


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