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Boellstorff, Thomas


Tom Boellstorff (Ph.D., Anthropology, Stanford, 2000) is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. His research projects have focused on questions of virtual worlds, sexuality, globalization, nationalism, language, and HIV/AIDS. He is the author of The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia (Princeton University Press, 2005), winner of the 2005 Ruth Benedict Award from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists; A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia (Duke University Press, 2007); and Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human (Princeton University Press, 2008). He is also coeditor of Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalization and Gay Language (University of Illinois Press, 2004), co-editor of a theme issue of Ethnos, “Bodies of Emotion: Rethinking Culture and Emotion through Southeast Asia” (Volume 69:4, 2004) and co-editor of a theme issue of Anthropological Forum, “East Indies/West Indies: Comparative Archipelagos” (Volume 16:3, 2006). He is the author of publications in many journals, including American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist (twice), Cultural Anthropology, Annual Review of Anthropology, Journal of Asian Studies, Law and Society Review, PoLAR: The Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Games and Culture, and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (three times). He is also a Core Faculty member for the Culture and Theory Ph.D. program at Irvine, as well as a Program Faculty member for the Arts, Computation, and Engineering graduate program. He has worked as a consultant for the Intel Corporation, and sits on the advisory boards of two community-based HIV/AIDS organizations in Indonesia (Gaya Nusantara in the city of Surabaya (East Java province), and Gaya Celebes in the city of Makassar (South Sulawesi province)).


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My primary research to date has been at the intersection of sexuality and gender studies, Southeast Asia studies, postcolonial theory, and the anthropology of globalization. This research has been published in a number of articles (see below) and two sole-authored books, The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia (Princeton) and A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia (Duke). This work begins from the apparent puzzle of Indonesians who identify with the ostensibly Western terms gay and lesbi and consider these to be "authentically Indonesian" concepts, demonstrating how these subjectivities have originated at the conjuncture of globalization and post-colonial nationalism. Under conditions ranging from grudging tolerance to open bigotry, gay and lesbi Indonesians reach halfway across the world to appropriate these terms, transforming them to interpret their local experiences. At the same time, members of this network of organizations, friendship circles, and intimate relationships describe their struggle as a national movement, in accordance with government ideologies of nationalism that represent Indonesia as an "archipelago" of diversity in unity. Beyond the national level, they also portray themselves as linked to international gay and lesbian movements elsewhere in Asia and in the West, envisioning Indonesia itself as one "island" in an global archipelago. How are we to understand subjectivities that connect and confound traditional social scientific levels of analysis (and, arguably, lived experience in the West) such as local, regional, national, and international?

My work asks how this case demands a rethinking of Western assumptions about contingency, hegemony, and belonging beyond the specific case of Indonesian sexual subjectivities. Indonesia, at the center of vast changes in the Pacific Rim, the fourth largest nation on earth and the world's largest Islamic society, presents challenges to contemporary frameworks for understanding the relationship between subjectivities and structures of power, but much more. This nation's gay and lesbi citizens have much to teach us about how cultural citizenship is linked in unexpected ways to nationalism, consumerism, and globalization. Scholarship on sexuality outside the West tends to cast subjectivities like Indonesian lesbi and gay as either evidence for global homogenization, or evidence for a deeply universal human sexual nature. Classically anthropological scholarship ignores these sorts of subjectivities altogether in a search for "authentic," "indigenous" sexualities. I show that the false dichotomy of either celebrating "global homosexuality" as revealing a hitherto hidden essence, or condemning it as a homogenizing force obliterating local diversity, is grounded in the modernist belief that sexuality is a self-contained, ahistorical domain.


Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. Winner of the Media Ecology Association’s 2009 Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture; Honorable Mention for the 2008 PROSE Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence in Media and Cultural Studies, Association of American Publishers. (Click here for the publisher's webpage.) Some of my favorite reviews of this book include those by Marilyn Strathern in The European Legacy, David Robson in Nature, Paul Manning in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, and Debbora Battaglia in American Ethnologist.

A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. (Click here for the publisher's webpage.) One of my favorite reviews of this book was by Deborah Amory in American Ethnologist.

The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. Winner of the 2005 Ruth Benedict Prize, Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists. (Click here for the publisher's webpage.) Two of my favorite reviews of this book were by Ara Wilson in GLQ and by Keith Foulcher in Indonesia.