New faculty spotlight: Juno Salazar Parreñas

Tue, 06/30/2020

Academic focus:

I work on human-animal relations as a way to think about global political economy. Animals are often treated as apolitical subjects. Instead, I think about animals as a means to understand the pressing issues of our epoch. In my first book, Decolonizing Extinction, care for displaced and critically endangered orangutans became a way to address the problem of ongoing colonialism and the deep sexism and heterosexism that undergirds ideas about nature. In my second book project, I’m looking at different kinds of interspecies and multispecies relations as a cross-section of the global economy. It has me thinking about racial capitalism as a global phenomenon and how it might or might not have traction in Southeast Asia. It also has me continuing to think about the gendering of labor and the work of care in particular.

Current research project: 

I’m in the design stage of a new research project. Its working title waffles between “Who Gets to Retire? Human-Animal Life Histories of Labor” and “Short Stories of Long Lives.” I’m really interested in the end of work and how that is a window into global structural inequalities. Retirement is the long anticipated and joyful end of work. Yet I suspect that retirement has long been structured along lines of race and gender. Today, retirement is especially elusive to those who cobble together multiple jobs in the gig economy and to those subjected to austerity measures, including those forced to retire early. In the midst of this looming crisis, a handful of animals get to “retire,” such as ex-medical chimpanzees, rescued farm animals, and former circus lions. I don’t think the emergence of this word is a fluke, but a story about changing perceptions and realities of labor in our era.

Previous positions:

For six years, I was an assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University. I learned a lot about the work it takes to run one of the oldest graduate programs in feminist studies. I left, just as I received tenure, because I felt too severely “siloed” by the university--using the Midwestern parlance of a Big 10 school. Previously, I held postdoctoral fellowships in Agrarian Studies at Yale and at the Center for Historical Research at Rutgers.

Academic background: 

My BA was in Women’s Studies at UC Santa Cruz, which fostered my transdisciplinary approach to everything. I took classes with feminist scholars Wendy Brown, Gayle Rubin, and Anna Tsing and I learned deeply from reading the work of Angela Davis and Donna Haraway, the latter who I later convinced to be on my PhD committee. I went to the Netherlands for a Master of Philosophy in Cultural Analysis, where I spent the year reading deconstruction and contemporary continental philosophy. I definitely needed a break after that and so I worked a random job for a couple of years in Germany. The summer before I began my PhD program in Anthropology at Harvard, I happened to watch a documentary about a famous orangutan rehabilitation center. It showed Dayak women indigenous to Borneo carrying orphaned infant orangutans. But the documentary didn’t interview any of them. I wanted to know what they thought about their work and so I did a complete 180 shift to pursue this phenomenon as my PhD project. It required learning Malay, primatology, political ecology, and science studies.

Last book read:

Aftershocks of Disaster, edited by Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón, is an anthology comprising of writers, scholars, journalists, and activists grappling with the effects of Hurricane Maria. Instead of thinking of natural disasters as singular events, this book importantly shows how understanding the fallout of ecological crises necessarily entails an understanding of the ongoing effects of imperialism and colonialism. For sheer pleasure reading, I’ve been reading the comic book series Monstress.

In your own time/when not working:

I just moved to Ithaca and so I’m trying to organize my living space! It’s all consuming right now! Once my dwelling feels less chaotic, I look forward to visiting gorgeous gorges that I associate with Ithaca, Cornell, and the Haudenasaunee Confederacy.

Courses you’re most looking forward to teaching:

I’m super excited to teach Environmental Ethics for undergraduates and the first required grad-level course for FGSS, both in the spring! A course like environmental ethics can easily teeter into white supremacy. I’m designing that course in a way to show how relations with the environment, a.k.a environmental ethics, requires grappling with settler colonialism and what Donna Haraway calls “teddy bear patriarchy.” I am eager to add Food and Gender to FGSS offerings. It’s a course I developed over years at my previous institution. We start out by thinking about body image and we move to think about the racialized and gendered politics of food production and consumption. The grad class that I’m teaching in Spring 2021 is geared towards interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary feminist studies, which is increasingly becoming institutionalized at different universities. We’ll be addressing salient and emerging themes in feminist thought like decoloniality, (new/old) materialisms, and Afrofuturism (vs. Afropessimism) and revisiting what remains important in classic feminist scholar-activist writing of the 1970s and 1980s. I really want to foster an intellectual community in which feminist grad students can collaboratively think together.

What most excites you about Cornell:

I am so thrilled to be part of a robust intellectual community in which I feel that my many interests as a feminist science studies scholar, Southeast Asianist, anthropologist, and environmental humanist are fostered!

Twitter handle/blog url:

You’ll find that I infrequently tweet: @Junoishere

Juno Parrenas