Cultural Anthropology: gender and sexuality specializing in masculinity and homosexuality; theories of culture and identity; nationalism and cultural politics; spectacle and performance; media studies
Ethnographic Areas: Martinique/Barbados/Caribbean; New Zealand; gay/homosexual communities
Growing up in Canada in the 1960s and 70s, I heard many debates and discussions about what it was to be Canadian: the separatist movement in the province of Quebec, the increasingly vocal dissent from indigenous peoples in Canada, and the ever-present shadow of America meant that it was difficult to avoid encountering questions of nationalism and identity. However, as I went through my undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montreal and began my graduate studies at The University of Virginia, I became increasingly aware of how these politicized discussions of identity were more struggles over meaning and power rather than a rational inquiry into some underlying ‘truth’. I also became increasingly curious about the people whose voices were not included in these public debates, and I wanted to know more about how they thought about and related to a social context in which, for the most part, they were silenced and unable to represent themselves. Martinique, an island in the Caribbean that is an Overseas Department of France, provided an excellent fieldwork site in which to explore these interests. My dissertation and the majority of my publications (including my book, Opacity: Gender, Sexuality, Race and the ‘Problem’ of Identity in Martinique) have investigated struggles over self-definition and representation in this postcolonial society from different perspectives, ranging from empowered French and local Martinican bureaucrats and artists to gay Martinican men. Amongst these differentially positioned groups, I have come to recognize the centrality of race, gender, and sexuality in structuring and influencing identity positions, but I have also noted the culturally and historically specific ways in which these kinds of identifications are formed.
I find that performative genres like theatrical plays, dance and Carnival (Mardi Gras) are fertile sites in which to investigate these kinds of questions. In Martinique I joined a theatrical troupe that was developing a play for an annual Cultural Festival. In my new research project focusing on negotiations of identity amongst Maori and non-Maori groups in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I am using dance as a key site (and symbol) through which identity and meaning are developed and debated. Finally, in my ongoing interest in the intersections of sexuality, power, and identity, I have recently analysed Australian male-to-female cross-dressing performances in popular public cultural contexts like t.v. shows and team sport social events. I am also undertaking a new project that examines the impact of globalization and transnational discourses of ‘gay’ identity on local gendered and sexual identities in the Caribbean.