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01 August 2021
Critical Aunty Studies
This special issue of Text and Performance Quarterly invites submissions that consider the globally ubiquitous and notoriously unruly aunty figures that appear in sitcoms, memes, theatre, literature, drag, politics, and our everyday lives. “Aunty” is often employed to describe women of one’s parents’ generation—you may know her as ajumma, ayi, tannie, tantie, tía, tita, cioty, khala, or mausi. She occupies the threshold of the nuclear family, whether or not she is related; she is a liminal figure who might surveil the family’s boundaries or perhaps facilitate transgressions. Aunty is a label that brings both gravity and familiarity to performers in the public sphere: Aunty Maxine, Kamala “chitthi,” Anita Yavich as “Resistance Aunty,” Smriti Irani as “Aunty-national,” drag legend Tita Aida, podcasts such as Bad Brown Aunties and Ya Gay Aunties. These aunties acquire their moniker not just through age or kinship, but through performance: melodramatic speech, maximalist fashion, searing glances, muscular femininity, and distinct hairstyles. Performance is central to portraying the aunty, but also a valuable method and analytic to keep up with her mercurial energies.
Aunties, fictional or real, have flown under the radar of critical scholarship. Though aunty is understudied, she herself is a studious figure: observant to a fault, experienced in her age, and (panoptically) watchful over her wards. The title of this special issue, “Critical Aunty Studies,” draws from the aunty as a cypher of criticism—her performances both land and incite critique. In her incarnation as the opinionated and judgmental grand dame, she takes no bullshit, defiantly lays bare her thoughts, and perhaps even basks in the precision of her cuts. But her critical tongue draws the ire of a generation that doesn’t see eye to eye with her, and #thanksgivingclapbacks read aunty’s double standards for filth. To bring scholarly attention to aunty is “critical” too because it is urgent; she requires us to take seriously inter- and intra-generational knowledge and culture-making, to scramble the study of chosen family and queer kinship that has implicitly construed family as already nuclear, and to untether (psycho)analysis from the figure of the mother.
Recent books and essays that center aunties inaugurate a field we might assemble under Critical Aunty Studies. This scholarship describes how aunties’ voices echo in the academy, in feminist gossip that protects women faculty, and in familiar femme authority that mentors young people.[i] “Aunting” can be done by anyone,[ii] and aunties appear in many genders—aunty men, disembodied newspaper columns, and sari-wearing drag artists.[iii] Intergenerational exchange is central to Critical Aunty Studies: aunties are valuable alternatives to “hipster feminism,” some are objects of pornographic fetishization, and others are divas for our protoqueer childhoods.[iv] There is still room to develop a discourse around the intra-generational nature of aunting, on the under-theorized labor between aunties. While performance—speech, voice, work, fashion, cooking, teaching—remains central to the projects referenced here, these scholars variously draw on Black feminist studies, postcolonial feminisms, queer of color criticism, and Indigenous feminism to position the stakes of their projects. Aunty necessarily looks different in each context; situating aunty figures requires that we think with racial, geopolitical, and historical specificity about how particular models of gender, desire, kinship, and care are secured and decimated by political economic projects such as gentrifications, immigration acts, partitions, apartheids, blood quantum laws, and expanding carceral systems.
Critical Aunty Studies is an opportunity to uplift knowledge, aesthetics, and figures left at the margins of scholarship and everyday life. In the spirit of aunty aesthetics, this special issue also welcomes performative writing that does not shy away from melodrama, hyperbole, contradiction, and vacillation.
Topics might include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Aunty pedagogies
- Aunty’s queer effeminacies
- Agony aunt advice columns
- (H)auntology, ancestry, and ghosts
- Aunty’s influence on drag aesthetics and kinships
- (Auto)ethnographies of aunties / aunto-ethnography
- Intergenerational desire, and aunty porn
- Aunties as intellectual, cultural, and moral gatekeepers
- Queer and trans aunties, uncles, niblings, and other kin
- Pomeranians, gardening, walks, and other aunty hobbies
- Caftans, saris, visors, fanny packs, and other aunty fashions
- Slutty, crabby, divorced, unmarried, and other unruly aunties
- TV aunties on cooking shows, sitcoms, soap operas, and talk shows
- Group chats, chain letters, rumor, and other modes of aunty communication
- Kitty groups, Mary Kay home sales, rent parties, and other aunty economies
- Fat, aging, skin, makeup, cooking, decor and other embodied sites of aunty discipline
- #problematicfave, #thanksgivingclapback, #trustnoaunty and other aunty memes
- Aunt Hester, Nina Simone’s Aunt Sarah, Aunt Jemima and Black feminist critique
[i] Lewis, Mel Michelle. "A Genuine Article: Intersectionality, Black Lesbian Gender Expression, and the Feminist Pedagogical Project." Journal of Lesbian Studies 21.4 (2017): 420-31; Shange, Savannah. "Play Aunties and Dyke Bitches: Gender, Generation, and the Ethics of Black Queer Kinship." The Black Scholar 49.1 (2019): 40-54; Lee, Erica Violet. “I’m concerned about your academic career if you talk about this publicly,” Moontime Warrior (2016): https://moontimewarrior.com/2016/02/05/im-concerned-about-your-academic-career-if-you-talk-about-this-publicly/; Ahmed, Sara “Feminist Aunties,” feministkilljoys (2016): https://feministkilljoys.com/2016/02/12/feminist-aunties/
[ii] Ellingson, Laura L., and Patricia J. Sotirin. Aunting: Cultural Practices That Sustain Family and Community Life. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2010; Ellingson, Laura L., and Patricia J. Sotirin. Where the Aunts Are: Family, Feminism, and Kinship in Popular Culture. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2013.
[iii] Cobham-Sander, Rhonda. Amital Queer: Aunts, Aunty Men and other Anansis (forthcoming); Janion, Ludmiła. "The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Drag Queen: Westernization of Cross-dressing in 1990s Poland." Sexualities 23.7 (2020); Sandhu, Arti. "India's Digital Drag Aunties: Breaking New Ground Wearing Familiar Fashions." Dress: Special Issue: LGBTQ Fashions, Styles, and Bodies 45:1 (2019): 55-73.
[iv] Khubchandani, Kareem. "Aunty Fever: A Queer Impression." Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings. Ed. Clare Croft. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 199-204; Mini, Darshana Sreedhar, and Anirban K Baishya. "Transgressions in Toonland: Savita Bhabhi, Velamma and the Indian Adult Comic," Porn Studies 7:1 (2020): 115-31; Seid, Danielle. "The "anti-hipster" Feminism of Asian Auntie Cooking Web Series." Feminist Media Studies 18: 4 (2018): 779-82.
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The suggested essay length is 6000 words; however, the journal accepts contributions up to 9000 words. Please clearly specify in your cover letter that the submission is for the “Special Issue on Critical Aunty Studies” and address your submission to Kareem Khubchandani. Feel free to send additional inquiries to [email protected].
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