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Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

cymene howe 2016

Cymene Howe 
Associate Director, CSWGS

Undergraduate Adviser, CSWGS

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Fall 2016 Office Hours: by appointment, please email 

Sewall Hall 566

(713) 348-4982

Through human rights and the climatological challenges of the present, I have centered my research 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. 

The project I am currently developing concerns the social life of ice in the Arctic and, specifically, in the country of Iceland. Following my work on renewable energy transitions-which has analyzed the role of "mitigation" strategies in forestalling further anthropogenic harms to the earth's aqua-, litho-, bio- and atmospheres, this project centers on "adaptations" to climate change. Ice has clearly become our climatological canary. It can be measured, its retreats photographed, its historic depths plumbed and its duration-or life span-calculated. And it is melting: nowhere faster, and faster than expected, in the Arctic region. Ice's physical changes and the geohydrological implications associated with it are now featured regularly in the media, especially as displacements increase and permafrost withers. However, scant attention has been given to the social and cultural meaning of changing ice formations in the frozen places where it has dominated landscapes, shaped lives and conditioned accounts of land, weather and subjective experience. This project prioritizes the social and political significance of ice, the values associated with it, and the implications of its expiration; it is an inquiry into the social sentiments and consequences of melt and the metamorphosis of ice. In the simplest terms it is a study of cryohmuan relations.     

My second book Ecologics: Wind and Power in the Anthropocene (forthcoming Cornell University Press 2017) is based on a collaborative research project (with Dominic Boyer) in Oaxaca, Mexico and focuses on the political and social contingencies of renewable energy development. Home to some of the best wind on the planet, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec 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. Conflicts surrounding renewable energy transitions are, on the one hand, deeply political economic in nature, concerning dispossession and persistent inequalities. But they are also summarily ethical projects that hold out a promise for a greater global good, while often demanding localized concessions. The book chapters are structured to oscillate between an emphasis on material entitles and other lives (Wind, Trucks, Species) and the human intraconnections within and among them. In this project and others, I am aiming 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 and material 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. 

Based on my research in Nicaragua I have served as an expert witness for several successful sexual asylum cases in the United States. 



Ontologies, Vitalities, Things

Culture and Climate in the Anthropocene

The Social Life of Clean Energy


Anthropological Directions from mid-Century to the Present

Cultures of Sexuality

Anthropology of Activism

Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology

Ethnographic Research Methods

Gender, the Disciplines and Interdisciplinarity

Transnational Sexualities



*all of my published articles are available at: