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Beyond Bare Life: Onto-epistemic Archives, Precarity, and the Praxis of Being Human

Johnson, Dominique (2017) Beyond Bare Life: Onto-epistemic Archives, Precarity, and the Praxis of Being Human. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation argues that mapping undercommon appositionality—as an epistemological and ontological formation—provides a complementary corrective to identitarian “subject positions.” It does this by accounting for structural and institutional displacements that are simultaneously constitutive of and oppositional to black (queer) femme [B(Q)F] subjectivities. In this project, I study B(Q)F subjects’ everyday negotiations with structural order that present as forms of cultural expression responsive to three systemic structural patterns: antiblackness, misogyny/misogynoir, and queer antagonism. I analyze the ways that intersectional activism and scholarship inform lived experience and, in so doing, can catalyze ontological and epistemological affirmation. For black queer women and femmes, surviving the ongoing violence of dispossession requires the creation and discursive circulation of pro-black, pro-queer, and pro-feminine knowledges without which social death is ontologically substantiated as the dominant organizing logic reducing social life to bare life.

The dissertation’s case studies are organized into conceptual onto-epistemic archives: Liberation, Refusal, Exception, and Intimacy. In the first case study, I follow the work of activist-scholar Barbara Smith as it overlaps with the efforts of London’s Black Lesbian and Gay Centre. I begin with a discussion of black LGBT activism and scholarship highlighting the contemporary beginning of an explicitly black queer femme topos of political action in the 1980s US and UK. The next chapter explores black queer femme advocacy by illuminating the ways that one queer dandy style movement further complicates how gender functions to delimit social relationships. The third study takes up social relationships, thinking through B(Q)F socialities by exploring the ways that legal policy, media representation, and cultural ideologies reproduce structural violence impacting the everyday lives of trans and gender non-binary persons. Finally, I turn toward the interiority of B(Q)F affective discourse to think through what dispossession entails in the realm of interpersonal, erotic intimacy as themes emerge in autoethnography, oral history, and two black women’s creative works: Solange Knowles's A Seat at the Table and Gayl Jones’ Eva’s Man. This progression of OEAs moves from the formation of community to the autonomous recognition of subjectivity, generating a narrative of black (queer) femme sociality along the way.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Johnson, Dominiqueddj6@pitt.eduddj60000-0002-3828-8674
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairZboray,
Committee MemberBruce,
Committee MemberJohnson,
Committee MemberChávez,
Date: 24 September 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 August 2017
Approval Date: 24 September 2017
Submission Date: 11 August 2017
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 266
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: anti-blackness, misogynoir, ressentiment, queer antagonism, black queer femme, undercommons, appositionality, anti-black misogyny, social death, bare life, social life
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2017 21:26
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2022 05:15

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