Research

Methodology

My research on translocal feminist, transgender and queer activist cultural production lives at the intersection of performance, visual, literary and digital media studies. I am interested in the mutually constituting relationship between expressive culture, social/sexual life and political activism as ways of hybrid-embodied living, being and knowing. My program of research is characterized by a feminist interdisciplinary “cabaret” methodology that blends solo work, with paired writing and large collaborative projects. Through this  distributive, open and collaborative model of research and teaching I seek out a wide range of academic, artist-run and community-based publishing and presentation venues for my solo and collaborative projects, in order to engage as broad an audience as possible.

Research & Teaching Areas

 

Trans- feminist and queer performance, literature and media praxis; feminist digital pedagogies and online activist cultures; digital labor and cultural economies; critical disability studies/crip theory; critical race feminisms, queer settler colonial studies, queer indigenous studies; translocal cultural studies; first-year curriculum and writing-across-the curriculum; collaborative writing and interdisciplinary methods.

The Cultural Economies of Cabaret – Trans- Feminist and Queer Performance and Cultural Studies

My current major solo project is a critical monograph provisionally entitled Sliding Scale: The Cultural Economies of Trans- Feminist and Queer Cabaret – Mexico City, Montreal, New York City. Sliding Scale pursues what Adrienne Rich has called a “contextual present” for the translocal genealogies of trans- feminist and queer cabaret in Mexico City, Montreal and New York City, and seeks to tell the stories of how artists and activists continue to (re)invigorate their politics, scenes and communities through the formation of ad hoc cultural and political collectives, innovative textual and visual literacies, one-off performance ensembles, and online networks based on the variety format. Moving across late 19th– and early 20th-Century European cabaret cultures to the Karpa Theater tradition in Mexico, to American Vaudeville, to cabaret as a manifestation of aesthetic and cultural ‘social disorganization’ in the Harlem Renaissance, to post-war transsexual cabaret cultures in Montreal, to contemporary variety show culture and the street demonstrations known as ‘mass cabaret,’ this book studies cabaret—the live variety show—as a translocal phenomenon in which sexual and racial minorities push back against the individualist, exemplary modern/colonial subject, cultivating instead tactical cultures of collaboration, shared resources and coalition politics.

Through this work I develop a theory of cabaret methodology as an extension of feminist theories of intersectionality and assemblage; that is, as a proliferating dialectic of feeling and action characterized by montage, contradiction, risk, challenge, amateurism, camp, fractal perspective and transformative politics. My theory of a cabaret methodology informs my work on feminist networks and digital pedagogies and design, and as a tactic for creation-based research, distributed expertise, mutual care, and social justice activism. In particular, I look to the ways that cabaret methods are reproduced in much activist DIY digital cultural production, and examine how so many “live” performance artists, due to lack of resources, are unable to constitute a robust digital existence. Finally, as a montage practice, my work on cabaret methods is reflected in my research and teaching on histories and contemporary practices of montage, and I analyze the digital aesthetics and politics of mash-up and re-mix cultures as part of this project.

Related Publications:

 

Digital Studies & Archival Pedagogies

Operating adjacent to my monograph project is The Cabaret Commons, a digital archive that will circulate the visual materials and results of this research while also importantly operating as a collaborative, interactive, user-generated, anecdotal encyclopedia or ‘memories and feelings bank’ and gossip rag for trans-, feminist and queer artists and audiences. In particular, this project is meant to make possible user-friendly digital archiving capacities for the many grassroots artists who are not able to circulate their material digitally, due to lack of resources and still largely inaccessible digital archiving technologies, and considers these barriers as a social justice issue. The collaborative research project informing the creation of The Cabaret Commons, is entitled “Feeling Speculative in Digital Space,” which interrogates the problematics of digital humanities scholarship and seeks to develop new models for queer, feminist and transgender online cultural research production. Through this project, my collaborators and I are working towards The Cabaret Commons as a digital environment designed to accommodate the liminal, improvisational, and DIY politics and aesthetics of trans- feminist and queer expressive cultures. Inspired by Johanna Drucker and Jerome McGann’s ’pataphysical methodology—based on Alfred Jarry’s science of “imaginary solutions”—the research/creation/development of this digital space will be, necessarily, improvisational and agential. Furthermore, “Feeling Speculative in Digital Space” and The Cabaret Commons, engage critically with Web 2.0 labor practices, especially in the Humanities—critically questioning ‘the labor of being studied’ in trans- feminist, queer cultural economies of exchange—in order to consider the ways that a “user-generated” digital workplace impacts archival practices, scholarship and cultural production.

Related Publications:

 

FemTechNet, the Distributed Open Collaborative Course (DOCC) and Digital Pedagogical Publics

In my connected positions as Chair of Pedagogy for the Feminist Technology Network (FemTechNet) and FemTechNet Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies at The New School, I lead a large collaborative multi-university research team in designing digital pedagogical platforms, projects and policy. As a major component of my research practice, I study Digital Pedagogical Publics—social-media-driven feminist, anti-racist, decolonizing, crip and trans- public education initiatives (on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Wikipedia, etc.); university-run online education; and community-based efforts in radically accessible “open” teaching and learning. This work will culminate in a co-authored book (with my frequent collaborator, Jasmine Rault), entitled Checking In: Feminist and Queer Labor in Networked Economies. This book thematizes social justice labors in hybrid digital and face-to-face organizing spaces, and builds on the work that Rault and I have developed in the fields of trans-feminist and queer cultural studies and digital labour studies

Related Publications:

 

Spoken Word Poetry & Text-based Performance

 

In my book, Poetry’s Bastard: The Illegitimate Genealogies, Cultures and Politics of Text-based Performance (a revised version of my dissertation, under contract with Wilfrid Laurier UP), I put text-based and performance-based literary cultures into conversation with each other in order to pursue what I call the “critical practice of cabaret.” I blend interdisciplinary methods and priorities in order to account for spoken word performance – an emerging cultural form in the 1990s and early 2000s – as an intermedial writing and performance practice. As a deeply rhizomatic text which incorporates spoken word’s many aesthetic and political trajectories—including generic connections to poetry, griot cultures and dub, performance art, film & video, hip-hop, rant, evangelism, slam poetry, punk, storytelling, digital arts and agit-prop theatre—Poetry’s Bastard illustrates the ways that spoken word performance and other hybrid cultural practices necessitate useful proliferations, extensions and elaborations within literary and performance scholarship. I particular, I argue that spoken word performance animates the tensions between the “literary” and “anti-literary” in poetry scenes in the United States and Canada. Ultimately, this work includes textual analysis, archival research of performance events, ethnographic research, anecdotal theory and genre theory, and digital media as my final chapter takes up DIY digital videos as the contemporary chapbook.

Find a list of my publications as well as my up-coming work in my CV .

You can also find much of my work here https://newschool.academia.edu/TLCowan

Teaching

In addition to the work associated with this research, I am also committed to thinking about and contributing to the intellectual and social histories and cultures of trans feminist and queer scholarship and pedagogy through and beyond the institution of the university. In particular, in my classes I encourage students to take themselves seriously as transformational thinkers, as cultural critics, as theorists, artists and scholars, and to enthusiastically participate in public culture; I aim to broaden the ways in which students come to new knowledges, and to simultaneously to be attentive to the ways these critical knowleges are produced.

My courses, like my research, reflect my method of ‘critical interdisciplinarity’ across Gender Studies, Inter-Arts, Performance Studies, Cultural and Media Studies and Digital Studies.

Courses and Independent Studies Include:

Assisted Living: Crip Theory & Cyborg Culture, Eugene Lang College.

Designing Digital Knowledges: Production, Action, Labor, Eugene Lang College.

Arts Criticism in Practice: Building a Freelance Portfolio, Eugene Lang College.

Transgender Cultural Studies: Theory, Activism & Cultural Production, Eugene Lang College.

Race, Gender, Cultural Politics: Reading bell hooks, Eugene Lang College.

Discourse Analysis, School of Media Studies, Graduate.

Indigenous Queer Theory & Cultural Studies, School of Media Studies, Graduate.

Dialectical Materials: Montage in Literary, Visual & Performance Cultures, Eugene Lang College.

Performativity & Powerlessness: Embodiments of Social Action from Below, Eugene Lang College.

Creative Resistance & Everyday Life, Eugene Lang College.

HIV/AIDS on Screen – Readings in Crip Theory, School of Media Studies, Graduate.

Small Genres: Shorts, Tweets, Skits and Zines, Eugene Lang College.