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Cymene Howe 
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Associate Professor  and Director of Graduate Studies

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Ph.D. University of New Mexico, 2003


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Sewall Hall 566

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From human rights to the climatological challenges of the present, my field research has centered on understanding our shared and shifting ethical commitments. From a theoretical point of view, I have been interested in exploring the overlapping conversations between feminist and queer theory, new materialisms, ontologies and social movements, and more specifically, to work toward developing an ecologics of the Anthropocene.

In Nicaragua and the United States, historic triumphs and profound social anxieties have been embodied in the ongoing process to establish sexual rights for LGBTQ individuals and communities. As sexual rights have tested moral authorities in both the global north and the global south I have hoped to determine how activists serve as arbiters of these unfolding social and political processes. The multidimensional crises engendered by climate change and energy transition provoke a similar series of apprehensions, as they signal concerns about ecological equity in an era that many have dubbed the Anthropocene-a time of unprecedented human effects upon earth's atmosphere, aquasphere, biosphere and lithosphere. Climatological threats to humanity and the greater planetary bios are, as I explore in my current work, diagnostic of ethical quandaries about how the future ought to proceed and whose rights, responsibilities and modes of survival should be prioritized. In these contexts, the larger themes that I have been interested in pivot upon how certain phenomena surface ethical tensions and test our collective social and ecological sense of well-being.

My second, forthcoming book, Ecologics, is based on a collaborative research project (with Dominic Boyer) in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Oaxaca, Mexico) and focuses on renewable energy projects and their political and social contingencies. Home to some of the best wind on the planet, the Isthmus has been the locus for a booming wind energy industry. While wind park development across the Isthmus has been animated by state and corporate initiatives that purport to enhance regional economic development, generate a green profile for the Mexican state and suspend, to a degree, a quantity of carbon dioxide contamination, local resistance to projects has been significant and is deeply conditioned by histories of state abandonment and suspicions regarding transnational capital. In this case study, I am exploring how ethical claims to enhance global climate mitigation measures are bracketed by another set of ethical standards that demand local forms of determination and sovereignty. Conflicts surrounding renewable energy transitions are, on the one hand, deeply political economic in nature, concerning dispossession and the debilities of development. But they are also summarily ethical projects that hold out promises for a greater global good, while often demanding localized adaptations and concessions; they therefore indicate very different gauges of success and sustainability. In this project and others, I hope to think through the ways in which ecological authority is constituted as well as how anthropogenic climate change calls for new ways of imagining our collective biotic futures. 

I have spent over a decade working in Nicaragua and my first book, Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua (Duke University Press 2013) analyzes how sexual rights activists have reformulated their country's revolutionary history to create new models of sexual subjectivity and rights. During the time of my field research, Nicaragua maintained the most repressive antisodomy law in the Americas. In the wake of the Sandinista Revolution, neoliberalism and social conservatism combined to create an unprecedented anti-gay juridical climate. I wanted to understand how this had occurred, and more critically, how activists-many of whom were reared on the revolutionary ethos of Sandinismo-were attempting to overturn the law and to shift the moral coordinates of the country using the political tropes of human rights and autological liberalism. I focused attention on how recombinant politics emerged as (nominally) northern political forms were recast in the global south. These qualities of movement, flow, mediation and adjacency are of continuing interest to me. Based on my research in Nicaragua I have served as an expert witness for several sexual asylum cases in the United States.


I teach courses in Anthropology and the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.

ANTH 201 Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology

ANTH 332/532 & ENST 332/532 The Social Life of Clean Energy

ANTH 449/649 & SWGS 449/649 Cultures of Sexuality

ANTH 398/598 Ethnographic Research Methods

ANTH & SWGS Capstone and Honors Theses

ANTH 600 Anthropology of Activism (IS)

ANTH 650 Pedagogy: Graduate Training

ANTH 507 Anthropological Directions from the Second World War to the Present

ANTH 477/677 Ontologies, Vitalities, Things


Selected Publications

 Intimate Activism: The Struggle for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua, Duke University Press, 2013.      

New Books in Gender Studies (New Books Network) podcast interview about "Intimate Activism."

21st Century Sexualities: Contemporary Issues in Health, Education and Rights, Routledge, 2007, ed., with Gilbert Herdt.

"Queer Anthropology" in The International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd Edition. London: Elsevier ( pdf )

[forthcoming] "Grids" in Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics, Imre Szeman, ed. New York: Fordham University Press

[forthcoming]  "Los márgenes del Estado al viento: autonomía y desarrollo de energías renovables en el sur de México" Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Special Issue, "Energy, Transition and Climate Change in Latin America," 2015

"Anthropocenic Ecoauthority: TheWinds of Oaxaca" Special Issue, "Energopower and Biopower in Transition" Anthropological Quarterly, 2014

 "Sexual Adjudications and Queer Transpositions" Journal of Language and Sexuality, invited Special Issue, "Queering Borders: Language, Sexuality and Migration," 2014

"Epistemic Engineering and the Lucha for Sexual Rights in Postrevolutionary Nicaragua"Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, 2013

"Queer Pilgrimage: The San Francisco Homeland and Identity Tourism," Cultural Anthropology Reprinted, 2011, in Curated Collection on Ritual:

"Transnationalizing Desire andCommodified Sexualities," Ethnos 2009, ed., with Jakob Rigi.

"The Legible Lesbian: Crimes ofPassion in Nicaragua," Ethnos, 2009.

"Spectacles of Sexuality:Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua," Cultural Anthropology, 2008.

"Transgender Sex Workers and SexualTransmigration," with Susanna Zaraysky and Lois Lorentzen, Latin American Perspectives, 2008.

"Sexual Borderlands: Lesbian and GayMigration, Human Rights, and the Metropolitan Community Church," Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 2007.



Summary/Research Interests

Environmental ethics and energy politics; ontologies and vitalities; activism and human rights; gender and sexuality; Latin America; United States.