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the spatiality of queer youth activism: sexuality and the performance of relational literacies through multimodal play

dissertation abstract
University of Arizona School of Information Resources & Library Science 1515 East First Street Tucson, AZ 85719 office phone 520.621.0242 email web skype londie.martin

My dissertation and developing book project—tentatively titled Taking Play Srsly: Youth, Multimodal Activism, and Queer World-Making—emerge from my work with the Crossroads Collaborative and one of its community partners, Eon Youth Lounge—a drop-in space for queer youth. Through a series of multimodal workshops drawing on arts-based inquiry methods, I worked with youth to prepare for Queer Monologues, a multimedia community performance through which queer youth explored lived experiences.

value of research

I use arts-based inquiry, action research methods, and spatial rhetorics to analyze the role of play and relational literacies within multimodal community performance focused on the exploration of queer youth sexuality and gender expression. To disrupt dominant, crisisdriven, and reductive representations of youth, my project asks: How might a revaluing of the play of community performance through a spatialized, embodied, and sensate analysis help researchers move beyond the flat and flattening risk-resilience binary and pursue more nuanced representations of the needs, desires, dreams, and lived realities of specific communities of queer-identified youth? How can arts-based inquiry—studied and practiced through sensate engagement—offer queer youth communities meaningful, everyday ways to resist imposed pathologies and practice relational literacies through which they might recognize themselves and make themselves recognizable to others? I establish the need for and value of arts-based, asset-driven, participatory studies with queer youth across contexts of sexuality, health, and rights. Through an introduction to the spatial turn in cultural and rhetorical studies, I highlight the value of space as an analytic for understanding and re/ inventing social relationships in the context of social justice and community performance.

argument of dissertation

I argue that play—as a complex critical thinking practice—offers a way to understand queer community performance as a moment of critique that reimagines everyday spaces outside of oppressive cultural logics. I propose and illustrate the value of sensate engagement as an embodied, performative rhetoric and research practice that opens up an awareness of the transformative potential of everyday play in the con/texts of multimodal community performance. Specifically, I argue that an embodied, multisensory engagement with multimodal performance can make recognizable—but not singularly knowable—the value of play as a critical, everyday practice for performing provisional, queer/ed utopian spaces of youth community. In a neoliberal climate that shrinks the space of cultural politics through rhetorics of privatization and personal responsibility that erase difference and naturalize racialized, sexualized, classed, and gendered normativities, I argue that it becomes all the more important to attune ourselves to the ways in which we also erase difference/s by failing to account for spaces, bodies, and futures as open. Informed by geographer Doreen Massey as well as the queer scholarship of Judith Butler and José Esteban Muñoz, I look at queer youth community performance through a conception of space as simultaneous multiplicity, and I argue that such an analysis can help us understand utopia as a radical form of play and as a potentially transgressive outcome of queer youth engaging in community performance.

chapter précis

Prologue: “A Meditation on Space, Sexuality, and Youth” As I worked with youth on Queer Monologues, I encountered representations of the risk-resilience binary as a lived demarcation experienced in the everyday lives of queeridentified youth from Eon: Are you the risky youth? The youth made known to the world through a haze of statistics that inscribe suicide, STIs, homelessness, and isolation across a future denied as quickly as it is conjured, abstracted, and decontextualized? Or are you the resilient youth? The youth who stands above the rest, embodying our neoliberal dream of the

individual who rises alone and proves, finally, that there is nothing queer to see here? Chapter One: “Politics and Culture at Play in Sexuality Research: The Crossroads Collaborative and Queering Avenues of Inquiry” Chapter one describes the Crossroads Collaborative (its origins and relationship to my project) and situates it within a larger context of youth sexuality research in the US. The review of sexuality research literature, along with a case study of Abstinence-Only-UntilMarriage sex education curricula, helps me argue for more attention to neoliberalism’s effects on histories of sexuality research. I also discuss my research site, data collection, and research methods which draw from action research methodologies, performance ethnography, artsbased inquiry, and rhetorical analysis. Chapter Two: “Playing Utopia: Making Space Matter in Queer Youth Studies” Chapter two opens with a map of Henri Lefebvre’s contributions to understandings of space and moves forward with an analysis of the impact of feminist/queer theories of relationships among spaces and bodies. I examine dominant cultural constructions of youth, noting the ways in which spatial rhetorics impact critical youth studies. After illustrating the chapter’s core spatial tenets through a spatialized history of Eon’s development, I bridge play theory and performance studies in order to illustrate how renewed attention to space as simultaneous multiplicity—and in the context of play as a spatio-temporal method for performing utopia—can encourage more nuanced representations of queer youth lives. Chapter Three: “Space, Community, and Youth Sexuality in the Context of Everyday Multimodal Performances” In chapter three, I explore Queer Monologues as a series of interrelated events that collectively perform a temporary, imperfect, queer/ed utopia. I offer my understanding of multimodal expression as a rhetorical performance that actively engages an audience in reflection and/or meaning-making through a consideration of/across multiple, multisensory ways of composing. The chapter extends current understandings of multimodal expression by articulating a vision of multimodal play as an everyday rhetorical strategy for practicing relational literacies and reimagining the reductive spaces of racialized neoliberal heteronormativities. I argue for an understanding of relational literacies as practices through which we learn to exist simultaneously, practices through which we make our differences recognizable to each other. Chapter Four: “Spatializing the Play of Disidentificatory Multimodal Performances through Sensate Engagement” In chapter four, I articulate a vision of sensate engagement—a critical, embodied method for engaging with multimodal performances. Through a spatialized, sensate analysis of Queer Monologues performances, I illustrate how an awareness of the relationship between spaces and bodies can make recognizable new visions of play as a critical method for performing provisional utopias, working with differences, and sustaining activist community. I forward an understanding of embodied, sensate engagement as a spatialized method of inquiry that actualizes the body as itself a multimodal tool for engaging with multimodal performances. Chapter Five: “Queer Monologues: I Am .” Chapter five is an experimental digital film that brings together still and moving images, sound, alphabetic text, and digital manipulation to connect theory to practice and to provide rhetoricians, youth, and adult-allies with a nonrepresentational lens through which to experience sensate engagement and think critically about the politics of spaces, bodies, and identities in motion.
LONDIE T. MARTIN, PH.D. dissertation abstract fall 2013


Epilogue: “Feeling Space: Youth, Sexuality, and Sensate Engagement” Composed as a paper zine, the epilogue is an instantiation of the public scholarship spirit that guides the dissertation project. Thus, the chapter five film and the epilogue zine that close my study are also openings through which I share multisensory, embodied strategies for witnessing and practicing space, for recognizing differences (and making differences recognizable), and for valuing the radical potential of play within spaces of queer youth communities.