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Working Papers Collection
Editorial Statement

Collected Papers
Dagmar Van Engen -Howling Masculinity: Queer Social Change in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry

Monica Barra - Performance, Space, and the Bittersweet Narratives of Women in the City

Erin Eckhold Sassin - Gendered Spaces in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Germany

Maryam Eskandari - (Re)Constructing the Place of Gender in the Space of Religion: Women’s Places and Spaces in the Contemporary American Mosque

Faye Antonia Hays - Freedom to Dwell: Gendered Aesthetics of Informal Settlements

Asimina Ino Nikolopoulou - Urbanism, Transgression, and the Feminist Re-appropriation of the Gaze: Contesting Gender Roles in A Question of Silence

Conference Proceedings
Conference Schedule & Panel Summaries
Conference Participant Bios

Closing Statement

Editorial Committee


This inaugural collection of working papers represents a selection from the presentations at the Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies (GCWS) fourth graduate student conference: “Gender, Sexuality and Urban Spaces” held March 11-13, 2011. The conference explored how living in urban spaces marks, as well as produces, gendered and sexed bodies and how gender, class and race relations, performances and sexualities, in turn, make their marks on urban spaces. The aim of the conference was to begin a cross-disciplinary and cross-vocational conversation about the theoretical implications and lived experiences of urban spaces. The overwhelming interest and positive response to the conference led conference organizers to envision a way of continuing the conversation. And so, by soliciting, editing, and making public this digital collection of working papers, it is our intention to spark further dialogue by making conference participants’ work available to a wider audience. 

The three-day conference attracted more than two hundred attendees, including fifty graduate student presenters. Graduate students, community activists, professors, teachers, and others from three continents, forty-five schools, and more than twenty-five different disciplines gathered in Frank Gehry’s Ray and Maria Stata Center at the heart of MIT’s campus. MIT’s proximity to the vibrant urban center of Boston impacted both the atmosphere and activities of the weekend: the conference program wove together academic oral presentations with musical and artistic performances, panel discussions with tours of the city, and academic poster presentations with outreach from local community organizations.

Ten panels featuring thirty different student papers and ten poster presentations, given by graduate students from disciplines as varied as urban planning, neuroscience, theology, and sociology, were selected from more than 150 submissions. The diversity of presentation topics ranged from a queer analysis of urban planning for the post-modern city to a sociological analysis of the New York burlesque scene, from an examination of the theatricality of public space in eighteenth-century Paris to an exploration of white fear and the creation of the “Black Male Criminal” in/by urban space.

Our goals for this online collection are threefold: first, to archive and showcase the spectacular work of presenters attendees may have missed; second, to facilitate further collaborations between researchers; and finally, to continue a conversation about the complex network of relationships between gender, sexuality, and urban spaces. We chose to publish this collection under a creative commons copyright license in order to enable and encourage the circulation of these papers, that they may be used to further creativity, innovation, and inquiry in other scholarly endeavors. This license enables universal access to valuable research, while protecting the rights of the authors.

The six papers in this collection represent the diverse responses presented at “Gender, Sexuality and Urban Spaces” and reflect the GCWS’s dedication to interdisciplinary inquiry, innovative thinking, and epistemologically self-conscious investigation. The essays included here provide examples of research in progress and exciting new approaches to studies of urban spaces.

Dagmar Van Engen’s paper, “Howling Masculinity: Queer Social Change in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry,” provides a nuanced reading of Ginsberg’s poem through her focus on urban spaces that are constituted in and by queer performances in Howl. Van Engen’s reading of Howl provides a possible response to the “problem” of reconciling “the poststructuralist critique of essential gender and sexuality” with the very real concern of some gay activists, “who find performative theories of identity impractical or pernicious in the current political situation.”

In her essay “Performance, Space, and the Bittersweet Narratives of Women in the City,” Monica Barra explores how performativity and narrative work to “simultaneously consecrate and destabalize” urban spaces. Barra’s research focuses on two urban projects based in Newark, New Jersey: the Blacklight Project, a youth arts and activism group, and the Body in the City, a multi-generational interview project. Weaving together both ethnographic and artistic materials, Barra argues that “personal narratives and struggle are performances of becoming in the city, as opposed to a condition or consequence of a particular urban condition.”

Erin Eckhold Sassin’s paper, “Gendered Spaces in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Germany,” addresses how access to urban spaces and the position of the Ledigenheime, or homes for single workers, within the city produced gendered spaces that were more flexible than has been commonly thought. Her work troubles the historical conception of separate public and private spheres organized around gender through an examination of an architecture and its impact on gender, class, and social history.

Maryam Eskandari’s paper, “(Re)Constructing the Place of Gender in the Space of Religion: Women’s Places and Spaces in the Contemporary American Mosque,” analyzes the space(s) allocated for Muslim women within places of worship. She argues that the “transplanted Middle Eastern architectural idioms” visible in mosques in America contribute to tensions among Muslim men and women because they do not always allow equal access or adequate space for Muslim women in the American city. Using an inter-disciplinary and mixed methods approach she uses architectural studies and religious texts to illuminate the gendered aspects of devotional spaces in the American context.

Faye Antonia Hays’ paper, “Freedom to Dwell: Gendered Aesthetics of Informal Settlements," investigates the aesthetic components of gender and power relations in informal settlements in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Using qualitative methods and photography to document aesthetic choices, Hays’ data reconceptualizes poverty in these dwellings and traces how well-being is impacted by aesthetic freedom.

Asimina Ino Nikolopoulou’s paper, entitled “Urbanism, Transgression, and the Feminist Re-appropriation of the Gaze: Contesting Gender Roles in A Question of Silence,” presents a film analysis of gender roles and patriarchal conventions, against the backdrop of urban spaces of consumerism. By focusing on the film’s female protagonists’ murder of the male shop owner and subsequent silence, Nikolopoulou argues that the women exert their agency by defying patriarchal norms. Their personal narratives and the disruptive effect of their silence is a conscious attempt to reconfigure the ways in which they are envisaged by society.

These collected papers and panel summaries represent the commitment of the editorial board and Program Manager of GCWS to both interdisciplinary dialogue regarding women’s and gender studies and the promotion of graduate student learning, discourse, and collaboration. The editorial board represents four distinct universities and colleges and six different graduate programs, including Library Science, Sociology, Occupational Therapy, English, History, and Gender and Cultural Studies. The editorial board met over 50 times in person and countless times online over the course of two years. We discovered the challenges and rewards of truly interdisciplinary work, and we are proud to present our collaborative effort.


Howling Masculinity: Queer Social Change in Allen Ginsberg’s Poetry
Dagmar Van Engen, MA student, English Department, Boston College
Click *here* for PDF of full text

This paper examines Allen Ginsberg’s (1959) Howl as it redefines queer spaces through performance in the city and resonates with a certain conflict between activism and queer theory.  Howl’s characters break taboos on public representation and performance of sexuality as they violently and joyfully stake out queer territory: bursting from walls, invading subways, “ball[ing]” in parks (Ginsberg, 1959, l. 18), and “waving genitals” on roofs (l. 35).  Their ecstatic performances reveal gender and sexuality as already-performed (Butler, 1993) and dependent on a silencing heteronormative privacy (Berlant and Warner, 2010), widening already-existing cracks in concepts of gender and sexuality, yet still scoring an explosive victory in identity politics. As it envisions a transformation of spaces, Ginsberg’s poem suggests a bridge from the poststructuralist critique of essential gender and sexuality to the need for political solidarity, addressing concerns of some gay activists who find performative theories of identity impractical or pernicious in the current political situation. 

Performance, Space, and the Bittersweet Narratives of Women in the City
Monica Barra, PhD Student, American Studies Department, and Fellow, Center for Migration and the Global City, Rutgers University
Click *here* for PDF of full text

This paper reflects on the findings of two research projects focused on women, performance, and urban space: the BlackLight Project, a youth arts activism and performance group and the Body in the City, a multi-generational interview project that explores Black women's relationships to urban space. Both projects are based in Newark, New Jersey and broadly explore how performance and narrative simultaneously consecrate and destabilize notions of: 1) the physical conditions of the city, 2) popular narratives of urban life, especially how this is tied to being a young Black woman, and 3) the affective and effective aspects of collaboration between the two groups through the literal transformation of interview-based materials into artistic performances.

From a range of ethnographic and creative material, this paper forwards arguments about how personal narratives and struggles are performances of becoming in the city, as opposed to a condition or consequence of a particular urban condition. Drawing upon performance theory, anthropology of space/place, and feminist geography, this paper makes larger theoretical claims about how a place is performed by its inhabitants. It concludes by way of questioning how epistemologies of space (a particular city) are formed and how creative processes can reveal: 1) how particular ways of knowing the Black, female urban experience are known and 2) how collaborative and multi-generational performances produce new knowledges (and imaginings) about cities and their inhabitants.

Gendered Spaces in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Germany
Erin Eckhold Sassin, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture Department, Brown University
Click *here* for PDF of full text

This paper addresses how access to urban spaces and the position of a specific building type within the city produced gendered spaces that were far more flexible than has traditionally been thought. The Ledigenheime, or home for single workers, was a building type developed by German industrialists and reformers in the middle of the nineteenth century to house single workers while combating the "lodger problem" endemic to working class life. However, the result of the development and position of this building type within the city also radically altered long-held conceptions of gender within the city.

While Ledigenheime for men were intended to create a gendered space apart from the largely male-oriented street, one not associated with alcohol consumption, women, or political activity, the lives of the women who resided in Ledigenheime were far more open than those of most women of their class, not only made possible by their employment outside of the home, but by the socially progressive public-private nature of the Ledigenheime building type. Essentially, middle-class Ledigenheime residents resided, with little oversight as to their behavior, in proto apartment houses with communal facilities open to the public (basically public spaces, an extension of street life), a fact that the contemporary literature does not indicate was problematic socially or morally. This flies in the face of the commonly held belief that all women in Germany before the First World War lived in a domestic realm apart from urban life.

(Re)Construction of Women's Spaces in the American Mosque
Maryam Eskandari, MArch, Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture, School of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Click *here* for PDF of full text

Muslim-American communities, the majority of which are comprised of American-born Muslims or American converts, have transplanted the architectural lexicons of mosques located in the Middle East wholesale into the U.S. urban landscapes. This transcontinental attempt at architectural mobility from the Middle East to the U.S., however, does not come without problems. The increasingly scrutinized encounter between transplanted Middle Eastern architectural idioms on the one hand, and U.S.-based Muslim communities with their historically and geographically specific trajectories of Islamic practice on the other, gives rise to internal tensions among Muslim communities in the United States. This paper examines how architecturally designed spaces and socially negotiated places for and of Muslim women in community mosques in the United States emerge as a particularly understudied problem in the aforementioned encounter between Middle Eastern architecture and American religious practice.

Freedom to Dwell: Gendered Aesthetics of Informal Settlements
Faye Antonia Hays, PhD Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard University
Click *here* for PDF of full text

This paper investigates aesthetics as a physical and experiential component of well-being by examining its value for various residents of informal settlements in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Aesthetic manifestations in informal housing serve as visual evidence of a set of need-instigated processes and the power relations inherent in the act of dwelling. This research seeks to investigate how and why these aesthetic manifestations differ among households by individual and by gender, and to what degree they are supported or hampered by a larger scale of collective or authoritative aesthetic will. The paper follows a path laid down by current gender-disaggregated and subjectivity-informed research and by historical contributions theorizing autonomy and being as proffered by the architect John Turner and the philosopher Martin Heidegger. In addition, this work explores the consequences that a global aestheticization of pover ty, emerging through the use of universal terminology and tools of globalization, such as film, imposes upon localized contemporary conceptions of informal settlements. The fine-grain household-level inquiry adopted in this qualitative research, along with the visual research tool of photography, lead to a broader understanding of the value of aesthetic well-being as experienced by the inhabitants of informal settlements in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Urbanism, Transgression, and the Feminist Re-appropriation of the Gaze: Contesting Gender Roles in A Question of Silence
Asimina Ino Nikolopoulou, PhD Candidate, English Department, Northeastern University
Click *here* for PDF of full text

In her 1982 film A Question of Silence, Dutch feminist filmmaker Marleen Gorris poses an astute critical commentary on the performance of femininity and the enactment of gender roles within the rigid patriarchal conventions of an ostensibly liberal urban society. Through Gorris's cinematic lens, the delineation of her subjects' personal and cultural boundaries are presented as inextricably bound with the spatial and institutional realms they occupy, thus informing their repressed identities as subjects in need of personal and social gratification. Her female protagonists, who only occupy peripheral social roles and institutional spaces, commit the ferocious murder of a shop owner, when he condescendingly affirms his position as the emblem of patriarchy. By averting the transgression of shoplifting, an act committed in an erratic attempt to destabilize the sexist status quo asphyxiating the protagonists, the victim unites them in a liberating violent eruption and an idiosyncratic omerta. My paper, "Urbanism, Transgression and the Feminine Re-appropriation of the Gaze," explores the ways in which the protagonists are contained and confined by their physical surroundings, the urban landscape, their domestic environment, and the social institutions demarcated by Gorris as the cradle of patriarchy. I argue that the women's struggle to reclaim those spaces through their personal narratives and the disruptive effect of their silence and laughter is a conscious attempt to reconfigure the ways in which they are envisaged by society. Moreover, I argue that the intricate web of multiple gazes imposed on women in the film is re-appropriated by them as a means of acknowledging their denigrated status and consequently orchestrating the fatal attack. The implementation of Mulvey's theoretical assertions concerning the application of the gaze enables the possibility of redress, while the protagonists' final confinement in prison evokes Foucauldian notions of sur veillance and control, which are indicative of the meta-fictional interplay of surveillance and voyeurism inherent both in social constructs and the cinematic medium in par ticular. Finally, the paper explores the fixity of gender roles within patriarchal constructs under the scope of performativity and examines the possibility of an alternative feminist vision concerning social configurations of personal and public life.



Friday, March 11th: Keynote Presentation and Reception

Queerying Identity: the Tyranny of Gendered Planning

There has been some resistance in planning to the incorporation of gay and lesbian concerns into the planning mainstream. Professor Doan will begin with a discussion of the controversy created when the APA established a Gays and Lesbians in Planning Division (GALIP) roughly ten years ago. She examines the ways that planning practice reinforces binary gender norms and the impact of these norms on marginalized gender variant people. Feminist planners and geographers have criticized the gendered dichotomization of public and private space, but have failed to interrogate the rigid dichotomization of gender itself that creates a kind of tyranny for gender variant people who experience high levels of harassment and discrimination in most cities. She closes with a discussion of the way gendered expectations are written into building codes and urban design standards, especially for bathrooms and other public facilities.

Bio: Petra Doan teaches Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. In addition to researching planning in developing countries, she has conducted numerous research projects on LGBT populations in urban spaces. Her latest project is an edited book, Queerying Planning: Challenging Heteronormative Assumptions and Reframing Planning Practice.

Saturday, March 12th: Panels

Opening Reception and Performances

The keynote presentation was followed by a reception that featured three creative presentations. One, by the MIT student group Queer Students in Urban Studies and Planning (QUSP), was a large-scale visualization of the various academic, theoretical, and personal influences on all of the presenters in the conference. This large-scale world map included names, locations, and world events that tied in to the presentations students' made the next day. Additionally, D'hana Perry, an MFA student from Emerson College, presented a video installation about identity and urban queer youth of color. Lastly, slam poet and UMass Boston student Kaia Niambi Finn performed her work.

9:30 AM  – 11:00 AM: Concurrent Panels #1

Empowerment Architecture: Examining Redemptive Spaces for Urban Women
Discussant: Sagarika Suri, MA Candidate, Architecture and Urbanism, MIT
Panel Summary

Planning for Gender:  Perspectives on Urban Development
Discussant: Ryan Centner, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Tufts University

Panel Summary

11:15 – 12:45 PM: Concurrent Panels #2

Transformational Armatures: The Performance of Gender as/in Architecture
Discussant: Zenovia Touloudi, Doctor of Design Candidate, Design Studies, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Panel Summary

Perspectives on Prostitution: Fiction, History, Technology
Discussant: Sun-Young Park, PhD Candidate, Architecture and Urbanism, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Panel Summary

12:45 – 2:30 PM: Lunch and Poster Sessions

2:30 – 4:00 PM: Concurrent Panels #3

Building Community through Trust, Shelter, and Thread
Discussant: Shannon Struble, MA and MS Candidate, History and Library and Information Science, Simmons College
Panel Summary

Uneasy Landscapes:  There’s Nothing to Fear But…
Discussant: Discussant: Fatima Sattar, PhD Candidate, Sociology, and Boston College
Panel Summary

Urban Ecologies of Gender
Discussant: Marika Cifor, MA and MS Candidate, History and Library and Information Science, Simmons College
Panel Summary

4:15 – 5:45 PM: Concurrent Panels #4

Sex in the City: Reclaiming the Public Stage
Discussant: Jess Deshayes, MA candidate, Gender/Cultural Studies, Simmons College
Panel Summary

Politics, Class, and Identity in the Queered City
Discussant: Julianna Sassaman, MA Candidate, Architecture and Urban Planning, MIT
Panel Summary

Identities Under Development: Gender Identity and Modernization Projects
Discussant: Layla Brown, PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
Panel Summary

Community participation

In addition to the student presentations, two community organizations participated in Saturday’s events. Rosie’s Place, a shelter for poor and homeless women, had an information table and a booth where jewelry made by poor and formerly homeless women was available for sale.  All proceeds benefitted programs for poor and homeless women at Rosie’s Place. Additionally, members of the Beat Brigade performed. The Beat Brigate is a group that works with the organization HandReach: Joining Hands for Hope and Healing that serves as a learning laboratory for musicians, healers, youth, and trauma survivors of all ages.  HandReach is an organization whose mission is to make sure that the best practices in pediatric burn and amputee care and rehabilitation are available around the world.  Members of the Beat Brigade shared information about their work and the work of the organization throughout the day and closed the conference with a percussion circle.

Sunday, March 13th: Closing Keynote Panel

The conference closed with a keynote panel titled: Making it Real: Bridging Theory and Practice, a co-sponsored event with the Tufts University American Studies Department. This panel was created with a particular eye toward sparking a broad interdisciplinary conversation among conference participants.   

Keynote Panelists

Sharon Reilly                                                                                               
Sharon Reilly is executive director of The Women's Lunch Place, an organization that provides a safe, comfortable daytime shelter, nutritious food, and services for women who are homeless or poor. Sharon's professional career has crossed every sector, from higher education to Fortune 500. Prior to joining The Women's Lunch Place, Sharon was the Director of Community Relations at The Food Project. In  2003, Sharon moved to Boston from Ft. Smith, Arkansas where she was employed by Beverly Enterprises, Inc., a Fortune 500 company where she led corporate-wide team projects on corporate compliance and business ethics, staff recruitment and retention. A native Mississippian, Sharon also has a passion for social justice issues. She grew up on a sharecropper's farm during the 1950s and 1960s and understands the plight of poor women and the devastating effects of poverty. Her recent awards include: Boston Celtics: Heroes Among Us Award, Back Bay Association: Heavy Lifting Award, Unity First: Common Ground Award.

Gia Barboza                                                                                               
Gia Barboza is an expert on the relationship between public health indicators and social problems. Much of her research on topics ranging from racial differences in juvenile criminal behavior to bullying in schools to elder abuse in long-term care facilities is viewed through the lens of a public health approach. Her current applied research involves the African-American and Cape Verdean communities in Boston and in several New England states. Professor Barboza has published in such journals as Criminal Law Bulletin, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Journal of Aging Studies, Journal of Applied Gerontology, Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Mass Communication Quarterly and Latino Research.

Karen Tei Yamashita                                                                       
Heralded as a “big talent” by the Los Angeles Times, extolled by the New York Times for her “mordant wit,” and praised by Newsday for “wrestl[ing] with profound philosophical and social issues” while delivering an “immensely entertaining story,” Karen Tei Yamashita is one of the foremost writers of her generation. I Hotel, which took over a decade to write and research, is her magnum opus. The author of four previous novels, Yamashita is the recipient of an American Book Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award. A California native who has also lived in Brazil and Japan, she teaches at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she received the Chancellor’s Award for Diversity in 2009.

Learn about Chinatown Community Development History, a tour led by Tunney Lee, Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
Tour time: 1:00 - 2:30 PM

Spanning the bachelor society period to today’s active, vital neighborhood, this tour will address the struggle early Chinese immigrants to Boston faced in bringing and raising families after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. It will highlight family development, the effects of racial discrimination, and the roles women took on in laundries and garment factories as the community established itself and grew. Tunney Lee will take participants through the neighborhood, exploring the history and institutions that make up Chinatown’s social fabric including family associations, the Kwong Kow School, the YMCA, and the South Cove Community Health Center.

About the tour leader:
Tunney Lee was born in Taishan, Guangdong, China and grew up in Boston’s Chinatown. He has been on the board of the South Cove Health Center, is a founding member of the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) and presently serves on the Kwong Kow Chinese School board. He graduated with a B. Arch. from the Uniersity of Michigan and was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Rome. He has worked for Buckminster Fuller, I.M. Pei, and others. In the public sector, he worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is retired from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Department of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He currently teaches a studio on sustainable housing in China.




The editorial board would like to thank the Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies (GCWS) Board for the financial and intellectual support which made this conference possible. We would also like to thank MIT for the generous use of their space and the GCWS member institutions for their continued support of interdisciplinary gender and sexuality studies scholarship. Neither the conference nor this collection would have been possible without the energy and vision of Andi Sutton, Program Manager of the GCWS, whose passion and acumen continue to inspire us. We would also like to thank the community and student organizations, which enriched the conference experience: HandReach Beat Brigade, Rosie's Place, the Chinese Historical Society of New England, and Queers in Urban Studies and Planning (QUSP). Finally, we would like to thank the presenters, discussants, reporters, and volunteers whose dedication, dilgence, and intellectual rigor contributed significantly to the success of the conference.



Marika Cifor, MA/MLS, History and Library Science, Simmons College
Jess Deshayes, MA, Gender/Cultural Studies, Simmons College
Alicia Peaker, PhD candidate, English, Northeastern University
Fatima Sattar, PhD candidate, Sociology, Boston College
Shannon Struble, MA/MLS, History and Library Science, Simmons College
Vanessa Vega, MS, Occupational Therapy, Tufts University
Andi Sutton, Program Manager, Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies at MIT


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