Amber Musser

Amber Musser

Research Interests

  • Critical race theory
  • black feminisms
  • queer of color critique narrative


  • Ph.D., Harvard University

Dr. Musser has  published widely on race and critical theory, queer femininities and race, race and sexuality, and queer of color critique. She has an MSt in Women's Studies from Oxford University and received her PhD in History of Science from Harvard University. She has held fellowships at New York University's Draper Program in Gender Studies and Brown University's Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. Her research has been supported by grants from the Ruth Landes Memorial Fellowship and the Arts Writers’ Grant from the Warhol Foundation. She previously taught at New York University Washington University in St. Louis, and George Washington University.

Her first monograph, Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (NYU Press, 2014) uses masochism as a lens to theorize different felt relationships to power. The book beings together debates on masochism within feminism, discussions of masochism from psychoanalysis and critiques of colonialism, literary presentations of masochism, and performance and visual art that draws on masochism's repertoire in order to make an argument about the relationship between sensation and knowledge production and the racialization of our current episteme of sexuality.

Working against the framing of black and brown bodies as sexualized, objectified, and abject, her second monograph, Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (NYU Press, 2018) turns toward sensation and aesthetics in order to imagine epistemologies of sensuality that emerge from fleshiness. The book offers multiple inroads into thinking with and through brown jouissance and the pornotrope. Using analyses of particular works of art, each chapter draws attention to specific aspects of pornotropic capture that black and brown bodies must negotiate. These technologies differ according to the nature of the encounters with white supremacy, but together, they add to our understanding of the ways that structures of domination produce violence and work to contain bodies and pleasures within certain legible parameters. In relation to this, the book also identifies and analyzes moments of brown jouissance that exceed these constraints. This move outward offers a way to think with the ways that aesthetic forms might rearrange knowledge by engaging differently with fleshiness and how we apprehend it. This is a three-pronged approach designed to help us understand brown jouissance as robust, political, and fleshy. In addition to containing critiques of normativity and proffering epistemologies of sensuality against those of sexuality, this project of minoritarian knowledge production is designed to enable one to sit with opacity and uncertainty.

She is currently beginning a research project on noise. She also writes art criticism for The Brooklyn Rail. 

recent courses:

  • Race and Psychoanalysis (Fall 2023)
  • Introduction to Doctoral Studies in English (Fall 2023)
  • 1987 or thereabouts: A Year in Black Feminist Criticism (Spring 2023)
  • Sense and Sensuality: Queer of Color Critique (Spring 2023)
  • Dissertation Workshop (Fall 2022)
  • Introduction to Doctoral Studies in English (Fall 2022)
  • Black Feminisms and the Flesh (Fall 2021)