Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of Washington
Nascent Moves: A Comparative Ethnography of LGBT and Hijra Political Spheres in Bangladesh

This research is an ethnographic study of queer politics in Bangladesh. Taking the murders of two gay activists – Xulhaz and Tonoy in 2016 as the entrance point, the research explores the logic and capacity of possibilities for gender and sexual minority work in the current context of political orthodoxy and constraints in Bangladesh. By comparatively looking at LGBT and Hijra organizing sites, across relationalities with critical actors such as development/academic institutions and the State, the research sheds light on how queer actors formulate aspects of subjectivity, agency, and belonging. Tactics informed through ephemeral modes of careful and ethical practice to circumvent backlash, and through institutionalized sites of law and development to demand human rights, queer actors demonstrate legible and illegible politics around gender and sexual diversity work in Bangladesh. I formulate the framework of ‘nascent’ to examine how queer movement in Bangladesh experienced violence, and then reorganized tactics to become a new kind of movement, which now demands scholarly attention that can help theorize how queer movements unfurl in global south and Muslim majority contexts. ‘Nascent’ will also help move beyond frameworks of success and teleological progress to understand social movements, and do productive readings of erasures, silences, and failure in relation to queer movement making. To understand how activists work with each other locally and transnationally, and with institutions to navigate and negate the State and empower communities, I will conduct participant observation, oral histories, in-depth interviews, focus group discussions/ informal conversations and archival work with two queer organizations, two development organizations and one academic institution in Bangladesh. By attending to how queer actors create small pockets of resistance and open-ended possibilities in political and cultural contexts that are unsafe and violent, my research will critically disrupt monolithic, incomplete, and victimized assumptions of queers in global south contexts.