Clare Hemmings is Professor of Feminist Theory. She has been working at the Department of Gender Studies (formerly Gender Institute) since 1999.
I have two main areas of research focus – feminist theory and sexuality studies – and am particularly interested in thinking through the relationship between these, as well as the ways in which both fields have been institutionalized at national and international levels. This interest has led me to think about how participants in these fields tell stories about their history as well as current form, and to explore how such stories resonate with (rather than against) more conservative agendas. I am particularly concerned with the ways in which ideas travel (or do not) across geographical and temporal borders, and shift when considered from a black feminist or queer perspective. Throughout my work I have been concerned with the relationship between nationalism, feminism and sexuality, and with form as well as theory. This latter interest means that all my work – from the book emerging out of my PhD Bisexual Spaces (2002) to my current work in progress – uses multiple methodologies and methods to explore how knowledge is produced and how we might make it work for us.
Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory was published by Duke University Press in 2011. It explores how feminists tell stories about feminist theory's recent past, why these stories matter and what we can do to transform them. Challenging the frequent assumption that take-up of feminist narratives for conservative agendas is a lamentable co-optation, I suggest that the form of feminist stories produces such amenability. Critical of dominant narratives of progress, loss or return in feminist studies, I highlight the ways such stories whiten and straighten the histories we inherit and retell. The part of this work that I like the most, though, is where I seek to intervene in these stories, to realign their political grammar to allow a different vision of a feminist past, present and future. This pleasure is partly because it best reflects my interdisciplinary background in literary studies which combines with my sociological approach. Why Stories Matter won the FWSA (Feminist and Women's Studies Association UK and Ireland) Book Award in 2012, and I continue to give public lectures on its main themes.
My recent monograph, Considering Emma Goldman: Feminist Politics of Ambivalence and the Historical Imagination, was also published by Duke University Press. The book considers the significance of the work and life of the anarchist activist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) for contemporary feminist theory and politics. An archive-based project, I initially wanted to continue the work in Why Stories Matter to explore a new way of telling a different set of stories about feminism's present: ones that do not rely on identity, do not separate sexuality and economics, and have long been internationalist and/or intersectional. But in the course of my research I realized that I am at least as interested in the strands we would prefer to leave behind in Goldman's thinking: her essentialism, her viciousness to women (and men), and her vexed relationship to race and racism. Attention to these aspects of her thought interrupt contemporary feminist thought in rather different ways, and suggest a feminist politics that addresses directly some of the difficulties – of femininity, race and sexual poliics – that I believe need urgent attention. The project returns me to my literary theory roots in a different way to the 2011 project, insofar as it includes a creative letter-writing project that seeks to animate and intervene in the sexual archive in invested political ways.
I am now embarking on two new projects. The first engages questions of gender, sexuality, nation and generation through a series of short stories drawing on and corrupting family histories. Combining fantasy with memoir, the project seeks to foreground the moments in family dynamics that challenge what we think we know about gender roles, sexuality and citizenship. Working from the multiple stories told about key characters, and inventing a range of my own, I hope to use fiction to dramatise the unevenness of (queer feminist) history, the power of affect to shape lives, and to critique easy teleologies of progress or loss from another angle. This intervention is the third book in the series on the life of feminist stories, and does not as yet have a title. The second project reads the archive of Feminist Review collective members’ writing for what it can offer in terms of an ‘open, curious, methodology’. While feminist epistemology and methodology are often evaluated for what evident and politically aligned change they can provide, my own reading of effective feminist knowledge focuses on how theorists manage to keep open a range of possibilities. What happens when we read an archive for its uncertainty, its rigorous openness in terms of likely findings, its intersubjective possibilities, and its affective resonance. This project is tentatively entitled Feminist Knowledge Struggles.