March 12, 2008 – Sara Ahmed: “Happiness: A Cultural Study”

Wednesday, March 12 / 12 PM / Humanities 210

Graduate Student Seminar
Thursday, March 13 / 2 – 3:45 PM / College Eight, Rm 201

Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College. Before coming to Goldsmiths in 2004, she was based in Women’s Studies at Lancaster University for 10 years. She works at the intersection of feminist theory, critical race studies, postcolonial theory and queer studies. Her publications include: Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism (Cambridge, 1998); Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (Routledge, 2000); The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh, 2004) and Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Duke, 2006). She is currently writing a book, The Promise of Happiness, for Duke University Press, as well as a collection of essays on racism, diversity, and language. 

The Promise of Happiness explores how happiness works as a promise that directs us towards certain objects, as if they could provide the necessary ingredients for a good life. Ahmed poses the questions: who is seen to bring happiness to whom? How do bad feelings get converted into good ones? Who promises to overcome unhappiness, and what does it mean for some to be seen as the bearers of this promise? She will investigate how feminist, queer and anti-racist politics work by exposing the “unhappy effects” of the promise of happiness. She will consider how various figures, as “affect aliens” (the feminist kill-joy, the unhappy queer, the melancholic migrant, and the angry black woman), may offer us an alternative social promise as embodiments of the struggle for a bearable life.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Sociology and History of Consciousness, with additional funds provided by Anthropology, Feminist Studies, Literature, and the Institute for Humanities Research.