My dissertation project builds on intersectional feminist approaches to care. Feminist care ethics is a moral theory that values dependency and nurturing, and holds that caring is vital to issues of justice, politics, and everyday life. My dissertation, “Time Will Tell: Dystopian Cultural Production and Queer Ethics of Care,” argues that contemporary dystopian LGBTQ+ cultural production forwards a radical queer ethic of care predicated on interconnectivity, solidarity, and alternative kinships. As Jill Lopre writes, the United States has seen an unprecedented rise in recent years in the creation of dystopian cultural production, particularly those by queer authors and artists. This preponderance of dystopian queer cultural production has been marked by a thematic embrace of care, community, and relationality, which has not always been the case for American queer cultural production.
My radical ethic of queer care raises salient research questions: How and why does recent queer dystopian cultural production force us to rethink concepts of futurity and relationality that have been articulated in queer theory and care ethics? How do these new conceptions of futurity and relationality change our understandings of the relationship of minorities to dystopian fiction and the relationship of minorities to the future within and outside the genre? And, finally, how does recent queer dystopian cultural production reimagine care, belonging, and collectivity and even what counts as care, belonging, and collectivity? To answer these questions, I perform close readings—what some may call discourse analyses—of sundry queer dystopian cultural productions, including the 2018 Broadway restaging of Angels in America, the Hulu television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Janelle Monáe’s emotion picture Dirty Computer, and Charlie Jane Anders’ novel All the Birds in the Sky.
My dissertation project is significant to scholars, students, and those outside academia for a variety of reasons. Queering care ethics means privileging care that does not reproduce heteronormative desires or power imbalances, and searching for care in unexpected areas, e.g., an all-boys military academy, a brainwashing conversion camp, a funeral for HIV/AIDs victims. Doing so, I help fill in the gap created by care ethics’ traditional neglect of queerness, as early care ethicists like Carol Gilligan and Sara Ruddick conceived of care narrowly, modeling caring relationships after those between the heteronormative housewife and child, middle-class teacher and student, and white nurse and patient.
Central to my queering is dystopia. Beginning with Thomas More’s Utopia, utopia has long been the domain of white, masculinist thinking; conversely, minority writers have used dystopia to comment on their precarious presents and annihilative pasts. Because care ethics has disproportionately focused on caregivers with access to wealth and power, I turn to dystopias in which the queer characters are powerless, and care and solidarity emerge as survival strategies. Consequently, I move away from the traditional model of care, which is hierarchal and unidirectional, toward an understanding of care as affect, i.e., as encounter. My new multidirectional definition encompasses caring relations across different sexualities, genders, and species, and focuses less on abilities belonging to the few and rather on the subtle, surprising interconnections that allow for each of us to give and receive care. This new understanding of care is useful to all, for a radical queer ethics of care can address the United States’ current care deficit by pinpointing gaps in care and promoting mutually beneficial, life-sustaining relationships.