Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect


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by Mel Y Chen

In Animacies, Mel Y. Chen draws on recent debates about sexuality, race, and affect to examine how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, or deathly, animates cultural lives. Toward that end, Chen investigates the blurry division between the living and the dead, or that which is beyond the human or animal. Within the field of linguistics, animacy has been described variously as a quality of agency, awareness, mobility, sentience, or liveness. Chen turns to cognitive linguistics to stress how language habitually differentiates the animate and the inanimate. Expanding this construct, Chen argues that animacy undergirds much that is pressing and indeed volatile in contemporary culture, from animal rights debates to biosecurity concerns.Chen’s book is the first to bring the concept of animacy together with queer of color scholarship, critical animal studies, and disability theory. Through analyses of dehumanizing insults, the meanings of queerness, animal protagonists in recent Asian/American art and film, the lead toy panic in 2007, and the social lives of environmental illness, Animacies illuminates a hierarchical politics infused by race, sexuality, and ability. In this groundbreaking book, Chen rethinks the criteria governing agency and receptivity, health and toxicity, productivity and stillness—and demonstrates how attention to the affective charge of matter challenges commonsense orderings of the world.

Mel Y. Chen is Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Animacies is a book about ‘reworldings,’ as Mel Y. Chen traces the myriad ways that objects and affects move through and reshape zones of possibility for political transformation and queer resistance to neoliberal biopolitics. At the same time, Animacies itself generates such transformations: grounded in a generous, expansive understanding of queer of color and disability/crip critique, Chen’s study reworlds or reorients disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, critical race theory, animal studies, affect studies, and linguistics. In all of these critical spaces, Animacies might be described as the breathtaking and revivifying book we have been waiting for.”—Robert McRuer, author of Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability