How can the field of queer studies improve the work lives of CUNY’s majority working-class and poor students? How can it make these students, who are already part- and full-time workers, better workers right now? And how can queer studies contribute to students’ future “social mobility,” an increasingly prominent measure of success at institutions of higher education such as CUNY?
Against the grain of a queer studies field that has developed elaborate critiques of the consumerist, anti-labor, neoliberal university, this talk tries to hold two educational constants in mind: poor and working-class students’ desire to learn, and their desire to earn a better living. I use the term “vocational queer studies” to name a queer-class pedagogy capable of integrating intellectual growth and job training, the product of which is something larger: queer work. Pivoting between the two common uses of vocation—a job and a calling—this model accommodates the realities that underclass queer studies students seek employment, that they feel called to queer intellectual labor, that they are paid and unpaid workers already, that a life of the mind and queer work life are only artificially separated, and that class-conscious queer studies pedagogies can be transformative in helping workers not only to develop queerer ideas but also to apply those ideas at the intersection of work and desire. I argue that “Poor Queer Studies”—a class- and race-based reorientation of the field—can integrate queerness and class without simply reproducing the for-capital system that characterizes today’s managed university and without reverting to an idealized liberal arts model of education that takes neither queer poverty nor student employment into account. What might work mean and be for students who have taken queer studies courses that train them not simply to do but also to make queer work?
Matt Brim is associate professor of queer studies and English at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His research interests include black queer studies, working-class studies, and critical university studies. He is author of James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination (University of Michigan Press, 2014) and coeditor of Imagining Queer Methods [nyupress.org] (New York University Press, 2019). His next book, Poor Queer Studies, reorients the field of queer studies away from elite institutions of higher education and toward working-class schools, students, theories, and pedagogies. It will be published by Duke University Press in spring 2020. Brim is former general editor of WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly [feministpress.org] and is a contributing editor for the James Baldwin Review. He served for six years on the board of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies and is currently academic director of CUNY’s Faculty Fellowship Publication Program.