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NWSA, A History 2015 – 36th National Conference

Friday, June 12, 2020  
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Cover of the 2015 conference program book

36th National Conference | "Precarity” | November 12-15 | Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Program Highlights

With "Precarity" as its theme, the 2015 NWSA National Conference sought to "[draw] attention to the experiences, structures, and relational aspects of systemic inequality," as then-NWSA President Vivian May put it. In suit, Sara Ahmed, whose work "is concerned with how bodies and worlds take shape; and how power is secured and challenged in everyday life worlds, as well as institutional cultures," gave the conference's Keynote Address. The Plenary Sessions and the returning Presidential Sessions also expanded on the meanings and constructions of precarity and the feminist duty to lift up and redistribute resources and power to "precarious" communities:

    Plenary: "Precarity and the Politics of Nation: Settler States, Borders, Sovereignty"
    Speakers: Elora Chowdhury (mod.), Jodi A. Byrd, Lisa Marie Cacho, and Jasbir K. Puar
    This plenary examines the role of neoliberal settler-state practices in perpetuating systemic inequality. Evidence of precarity and deep structures of disparity exists all around us—in the precaritization of labor, the heightened criminalization of borders and illegalization of bodies and populations, and the intensified privatization of land, resources, and knowledges. Drawing on decolonial, Indigenous, women of color, Black feminist, and transnational feminist scholarship, speakers in this plenary draw on their wide-ranging work to illuminate differential vulnerabilities, to question asymmetrical violation and harm, and to expose the force and function of law in settler colonial contexts. Collectively, their insightful work offers a range of ways to witness and contest these violent legacies.

    Plenary: "Action/Resistance/Action: Intersectional Activism and Praxis"
    Speakers: Treva Lindsey (mod.), Karma R. Chávez, Nirmala Erevelles, and Mia Mingus
    This plenary features three outstanding scholar-activists who will discuss their contributions to radical intersectional justice work and to combating systemic inequality across a range of contexts. In different ways, each speaker practices intersectional ways of knowing/being, contests lived injustices, and works in solidarity to meaningfully transform material reality. Together, their work offers a compelling vision of a more just world, demonstrates how the lived conditions of oppression are differentially experienced and resisted, and illuminates how myriad inequalities can be contested and transformed. Longstanding forms of inequality continue to shape contemporary life, but there are also legacies of ongoing resistance that can be drawn on to effect change. Speakers in this plenary explore how we might best understand and dismantle inequality and examine how intersectional work can be employed to address and counteract precarity.

    Presidential Session: "Contesting Precarity, Engaging Intersectionality"
    Speakers: Beverly Guy-Sheftall (mod.), Kimberlé Crenshaw, Sirma Bilge, Elizabeth R. Cole, and Vivian May
    Precarity, this year’s conference theme, highlights how multiple forms of structural subjugation saturate our time, one marked by violence, dispossession, conquest, and suffering. This presidential session explores how intersectionality remains essential for deciphering and challenging oppressive power relations. It approaches intersectionality as a multidimensional justice orientation and counter-hegemonic way of knowing that can be drawn on to collectively pursue a transformed world. Session participants take up three key dimensions of intersectional work:
    • Dismantling structural inequalities: how does intersectionality help to name and address the root causes (structural, philosophical, affective, psychological, representational) of discrimination?
    • Widening (or transforming) the scope: how can intersectionality be used to alter analytical and political frames so that distinct forms of oppression at the “intersections” of lived identities and matrices of relational power are rendered visible, rather than absented, ignored, or erased?
    • Demanding accountability for all lives mattering: how can intersectionality be engaged to push for comprehensive justice orientations and strategies for change?

The conference's subthemes built out key aspects of how precarious conditions are constructed by those in power. To better understand how scholars and activists approached these constructions (and deconstructions), below are the subthemes and examples of relevant sessions and papers.

Subtheme: "Debility/Vulnerability"

    "Practices of Care"
    Papers: "Critical Genealogies of Care: Precarity, Vulnerability, and Collective Transformation in U.S. Addiction Treatment Systems;" "Living with a Stigmatized Chronic Illness: Experiences of Managing Relationships among Women with Fibromyalgia;" "Mothering, Care Practices, and Autism: Stories of Precarity;" and "Queering Reproductive Futurity: Fictional Representations of Lesbian Carework Vulnerability"

    "Narratives of Debility: The Construction of the Vulnerable Subject in Policies, Representations, and Social Justice Projects"
    Papers: "Religion and the State: Sex Work and the Policies of Vulnerability;" "Promoting Paternalism in a Neoliberal Regime: Same-Sex Marriage Campaigns and Media Representations;" and "Gender and Race in the Construction of the ‘Struggling Middle Class’"

    "The Precarity of Care—Disability Constructions and the Rhetorics of Support"
    Papers: "Cripping Narrative Precarity: Reframing Autism through Debility and Capacity;" "‘It Wasn’t Out There, So I Had to Create It’: Adults with Down Syndrome, Their Parents, and Cultural Change;" "Self-Constructed Worlds: Social Networks, Motherhood, and the Creation of ‘Childrearing Support’ in Contemporary Japan;" and "Two Volcanoes Under One Roof"


Subtheme: "Institutions/Containments"

    "Precarious Labor and Historical Transformations: Institutional Containment’s Contradictions and Possibilities"
    Papers: "From ‘Socialist State Owner’ to ‘Precarious Laborer’: Gendered Labor History of Forestry Workers in South China;" "Socio-Spatial Reformations and Contingent Precarities in Southern Mozambique;" "The Precariat as Class-in-struggle: Testimonials of Female Janitorial Workers in South Korea;" and "Vicious Precarity: Economic Deportability and U.S. Trans Latina Lives"

    "The Academy as Precarious Space in an Age of Adjuncts, Decreased Funding, Careerism, and Social/Religious Tension"
    Papers: "The Muslim Professor: Holding on to Faith and Feminism in the Search for an Ummah;" "The Feminist Ph.D. Candidate and Adjunct Professor Paradox;" "What is the Goal Here?: The Precarity of the Tenure System, the Humanities, and Effective Online Education;" and "Teaching Outside the Academy: Women’s Studies and Activism in the Public Sector"

    "Vulnerability, Human Rights, and Political Asylum"
    Papers: "Transnational Circuits of Accountability and Precarity: Ugandan LBTI Activists’ Responses to Anti-Homosexuality Legislation;" "The Uncomfortable Meeting Grounds of Different Vulnerabilities: Disability and the Political Asylum Process;" and "Queering Vulnerability: Re-conceptualizing the Erotic in Queer Refugee Performance"


Subtheme: "Affect/Eros"

    "Fraught With Feeling: Affect, Activism, and Vulnerability in Networked Counterpublics"
    Papers: "Choose Not to Warn: Affect and Pedagogy Across Fannish and Academic Feminist Networks;" "Raising Fannish Consciousness: Accountability, Vulnerability, and Allyship in the Formation of Feminist Science Fiction Fandom;" Hacking the Discourse: Queering Online Gaming Culture;" and "TW: Trigger Warnings, Trans Counterpublics, and the Production of Social Norms Online"

    "Gendered Spaces, Precarious Bodies: Affective Labor in Neoliberal Japan"
    Papers: "Maid Cafes: The Affect of Fictional Characters in Akihabara, Japan;" "Consuming Female Masculinity: Affective Labor in Japan’s Drag Cafes;" and "Cat Labor in Precarious Japan"

    "Uneven Regimes of Productivity: Girls’ Affective Capacities and Postfeminist Imaginaries of Exceptionality"
    Papers: "Pay with Lovin’: Disabled Girls’ Immaterial Labor and Economies of Affective Intelligibility;" "Cruel Futures, Past Hauntings: Affects of Modern Female Success and the Neoliberal Imperative of ‘College’ Discourse;" and "Precarious Pushback: How Teen Moms Use Instagram to Re-narrate Their Maternity Through Consumption"


Subtheme: "Distortion/Dispossession”

    "Distortion as Dispossession: Representing and Manipulating Gender Variance in Western Narratives"
    Papers: "Junk Politics: The Representational Dispossession of Transgender Men;" "Transnational Mediations of the Bacha Posh;" and "Unknowable and Unknown: Locating Gender Variant Homeless Youth in ‘Expert’ Discourses"

    "Trans/National Imaginaries: Panics, Distortions, and Dispossessions"
    Papers: "Imaginaries of Immigration;" "Panic-Inflected Imaginaries: A Focus on the Rhetorical Force & Function of the Non-Image;" and "Sex, Drugs, and Violence: Imagining Mexico in US Political-Economic Rhetoric"

    "Through a Glass, Darkly: Narrative Distortions of Precarity"
    Papers: "Amy Dunne Wrong: Entelechialization of the Accuser Killjoy in ‘Gone Girl;'" "Precarious Positions: Integrity Privilege and Being Seen;" and "The ‘Bully’ Narrative: How Creating Precarity Becomes Child’s Play"


List of 2015 program committee members

See the full program here

From the NWSA President

Dear Colleagues,

As National Women’s Studies Association president and conference co-chair (with Adela C. Licona, University of Arizona), I am delighted to welcome you to Precarity. We have over 1,500 registrants and nearly 500 breakout sessions, making NWSA 2015 one of our largest conferences ever in the continental United States! You can find the complete schedule at

As a concept, precarity draws attention to the experiences, structures, and relational aspects of systemic inequality. Focusing on diverse forms of violence, inequality, and harm saturating contemporary life, precarity names a “politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death” (Butler, 2009, p. 25). Identifying how best to understand and contest inequality is vital to our collective work as feminist scholars, educators, and activists. Interrogating precarity as an embodied, political, affective, economic, ideological, temporal, and structural condition is one approach to illuminating lived disparity and structured inequality.

In addition to our exciting keynote by Sara Ahmed and dynamic plenaries (see, Authors Meet Critics sessions, pre-conferences, receptions, and other events, I want to highlight the return of the Presidential session—Contesting Precarity: Engaging Intersectionality will take place on Friday, November 13, from 4:30 pm–5:45 pm, featuring Sirma Bilge, Elizabeth Cole, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and myself, with Beverly Guy-Sheftall moderating.

I’d also like to draw your attention to an important change in the process by which we will vote on resolutions and recommendations: this year, thanks to an amendment of the NWSA bylaws adopted by the Governing Council in June 2015, members will vote on resolutions and recommendations electronically following the conference. Along with members of the Governing Council, I’m certain that this change will allow for greater member participation in and engagement with a range of issues that come before the organization. Finally, NWSA has been engaged in strategic planning: more information on this ongoing work will be coming soon.

The conference committee and staff have worked hard to develop a dynamic program, which I hope you will find both thought-provoking and invigorating. I am excited about NWSA’s future and the role we can play together in its growth, and once again welcome you to the conference.


Vivian M. May
NWSA President 2014–16
Director, Humanities Center
Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies Syracuse University

NWSA Governance

Below are the 2015 NWSA governance members. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

2015 Governance Members 2015 Governance Members

See the rest of the history project here

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About the Writer

Victoria Agunod is the office assistant at the National Women's Studies Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program at DePaul University. Victoria received their BA and MA in Women's and Gender Studies at DePaul. They first attended NWSA in 2018 and presented their research on university students organizing for racial justice against the new alt-right galvanized by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They joined the NWSA team the following year. Their teaching emphases are on women of color feminisms, racial justice movements and organizing, and neoliberal rhetorical and cultural influences.

Please note: The information compiled in this project comes from the archived conference programs at the University of Maryland, College Park.