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Imagine Otherwise by Ideas on Fire

Author: Cathy Hannabach

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A podcast about bridging art, activism, and academia to build more just futures. On each episode, host Cathy Hannabach interviews the scholars, dancers, authors, artists, and filmmakers imagining collective freedom and creating it through culture.
151 Episodes
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews Black visual studies scholar Jasmine Nichole Cobb about haptic blackness and the cultural politics of Black hair in US visual culture. Jasmine is a professor of African and African American studies and of art, art history, and visual studies at Duke University. Her recent book New Growth: The Art and Texture of Black Hair traces the history of Black hair in visual culture across documentary films, portrait photography, advertising, sculpture, and television. In the episode, Jasmine shares how haptics—or the mixing of touch and vision—has been central to how blackness has been lived, represented, and imagined across historical periods. Jasmine and Cathy also discuss why the 1990s and early 2000s were such a rich period for independent documentaries about Black women’s hair in particular and how more recent series like The Hair Tales and Hair Love adapt this genealogy to our contemporary moment. Finally, they close out the episode with Jasmine’s vision for a haptic Black futurity centering Black embodiment and freedom. Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews women’s and gender studies professor Mairead Sullivan about the histories and futures of lesbian feminism. Mairead is the author of the new book Lesbian Death: Desire and Danger between Feminist and Queer, which offers a love letter to lesbian feminist world building while also refuting the weaponization of lesbian identity against trans lives and trans communities.  In their conversation, Mairead and Cathy explore how the political and economic project of lesbian feminism has evolved over time and how different generations of queer and trans folks have remade what the identity of lesbian can and does mean.  They also delve into our experiences of aging, anxieties over the loss of the lesbian bar scene, and the complex ways ambivalence and nostalgia play out in contemporary queer and feminist politics. Finally, they close out the interview with a vision for a lesbian feminist future, one grounded in intersectional, trans-inclusive, and capacious ways of imagining otherwise.  Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews ethnic studies and women and gender studies professor Josen Masangkay Diaz about US–Philippine relations during the Cold War and how that history shapes Filipino America today. In their conversation, Josen and Cathy explore the role of race, nation, and gender during the Cold War, particularly how they were renegotiated in the wake of decolonization and the postcolonial nation-building projects that followed. They discuss Josen’s research into how postcolonial projects undertaken during the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship as well as during various US presidencies transformed relations in the Transpacific. These projects bound together cultural diplomacy, immigration law, and humanitarianism with struggles over political and economic influence in the region. They also delve into the politics of what it means to name and remember the intimate interactions between fascist authoritarianism and liberal democracy. Memory is something we get into in detail, both the power relations inherent in what is remembered and how—on both national and transnational scales—but also how memory and memorialization are key sites for resistance as folks remake what Filipino America means today. Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews anthropologist Erin Durban about the past and present relationship between the United States and Haiti as it shapes the lives of queer and trans Haitians. In their conversation, Erin and Cathy talk about the history of US occupation and imperialism in Haiti and how it shapes the work international LGBTQ organizations began doing there in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Erin also shares how their approach to ethnographic research has shifted over their career, particularly in terms of challenging colonial unknowing even when it appears in one’s own family narratives and community. They close out the episode with Erin’s vision for a queer disabled university, one that centers the needs and liveability of not only those working within the academy but also those whom it affects, including folks we write about. Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews feminist studies and ethnic studies professor Jennifer Lynn Kelly about her new book Invited to Witness. In their conversation, Cathy and Jennifer talk about the temporality and pace of doing ethnographic research for this book while also navigating state visa politics, job search demands, and family commitments can pull in multiple directions. Jennifer also shares the importance of letting a writing project change itself and change its writer over time, and why slowing down and listening to where our research wants to go makes for richer scholarship. They close out the episode with a vision for a demilitarized and decolonized future, as well as how we can make space for joy while building that world. Transcript and show notes:
Cathy Hannabach interviews digital media scholar Josef Nguyen about the promises and perils of flexible planning, why cultural anxieties over uncertain futures are so often routed through debates over flexible educational technology, and ways to put flexibility to use in the classroom, on the page, and in our daily lives in ways that center collective support and more just worlds. Transcript and show notes:
The massive changes we’ve collectively experienced over the past two years of a global pandemic have caused many of us to ask some big questions about who we are and what we want to be doing. It’s also pushed us to embrace our embodied capacity and make conscious changes to nourish our spirit as well as our creative, professional, and communal goals for the future. It seems only fitting that we close out 2021 with an episode about intuition, or how we learn to listen for and heed that internal voice, that internal sensation, that tells us what we really need. In episode 144 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Anima Adjepong. Anima is the author of Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra and their wide-ranging activist and scholarly work focuses on identity, culture, and social change. In their conversation, Anima and Cathy chat about letting go of a scarcity mindset to make a big career leap before knowing how it will all play out. Anima also shares how to use intuition to identify the book you really want to write rather than the one that feels more disciplinarily safe. Finally, we wrap up the episode with a discussion of how we can embrace intellectual promiscuity to build a world in which community means being together in our differences. Transcript and show notes:
We’re reaching that time of year when the days shorten and we start to wonder if we’ll get everything done we wanted to this year. In this season, many of us yearn for more balance in our daily routines and the second year of an ongoing global pandemic has made that feeling even more intense. What does balance even mean in this context and how can we cultivate it in ways that feed our collective desires for justice? In episode 143 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Nitasha Tamar Sharma, whose scholarly, pedagogical, and creative work demonstrates the worldmaking possibilities that live at the intersections of movements for racial, gender, and sexual justice. In their conversation, Nitasha and Cathy chat about what balance means during a pandemic as well as across the course of interdisciplinary careers. Nitasha shares how she has learned to recalibrate her work and life to better align with the impact she wants to have on the world, including privileging holistic mentoring and collective care in how she approaches publishing and book promotion. Finally, they close out the episode with Nitasha’s vision for forging solidarities that can extend beyond the present and into more just futures. Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews digital studies scholar and professor Catherine Knight Steele, whose work reveals the central role Black women and Black feminists have played in developing, challenging, and transforming our digital technologies. Approaching Black digital studies holistically, Catherine shows how marginalized groups build lasting community through online, in-person, and hybrid practices, including sustainable models for mentorship and mutual support. In their conversation, Catherine and Cathy chat about why extensions of grace and collaboration are so crucial to building the future of Black digital studies as well as a supportive world more broadly. They also explore the nonlinear paths that bring us to our areas of research and how learning to value that nonlinerarity can often be the key to writing a book or creating a project that feeds your soul, not just professional requirements. Finally, they close out the episode with Catherine’s techniques for redefining the history and future of technology in ways that place Black women at the very center. Transcript and show notes:
Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic, access to reliable, high-performance broadband internet was a necessity for many of us to be able to meaningfully participate in our workplaces, schools, and communities. The pandemic has made this even more apparent. The digital divide separating those with access from those without is hardly a new issue but what is less often discussed is how that digital divide looks different in rural versus urban spaces. In episode 141 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Christopher Ali, who argues that rural broadband access and connectivity is a crucial social justice concern—one with implications for everything from education and healthcare to the food available for us to eat. In the conversation, Chris and Cathy chat about why federal policy has so consistency failed to bring broadband to rural communities and what a rural broadband plan would look like that put the needs of local populations first. Chris highlights the community groups that are connecting themselves and offering creative infrastructure models in the process. They also discuss Chris’s unique interdisciplinary research methodology that involved a 3,600-mile road trip with his adorable hound dog Tuna. Finally, they close out the episode with a vision for a more connected world and what it would take to get there. Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews filmmaker and media studies scholar Sandra Ristovska about the complex ethical, political, and legal relationship between imagery and human rights. They discuss the role of video evidence in simultaneously exposing and reproducing injustice, the often life-and-death stakes of critical visual interpretation, and what it means to turn the act of seeing each other into a practice of human rights. Transcript and show notes:
Publishing plays a central role in higher education, primarily through the hiring, tenure, and promotion process. Because of this, transforming academic publishing means transforming how scholarly knowledge itself is produced, circulated, and applied. The research process, writing process, and publishing process are all deeply intertwined and all offer opportunities to build the kinds of worlds we want to inhabit. To explore how this process works and the worldmaking possibilities it opens up, in episode 139 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Dena’ina musician-scholar Jessica Bissett Perea. Jessica is the founder of the Indigeneity Collaboratory, an Indigenous-led and Indigeneity-centered research collective that advances relational ways of being, knowing, and doing. She’s also an associate professor in the Department of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. In the conversation, Jessica shares various entry points for decolonial intervention that both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, editors, and publishers can explore. First up, Cathy and Jessica chat about Jessica’s experience switching research topics early in her career. She shares practical tips on how to find the research topics that inspire you and give back to the communities you care about as well as how to think critically about your specific positionality in relation to your research. They also tackle the writing process. As they discuss, everything from stylistic choices like capitalization and italicization to the citation politics of bibliographies offer opportunities to remake how intellectual labor is exchanged and valued. Finally, Jessica and Cathy turn to academic publishing itself. This is a field that has seen some encouraging progress lately but still has a long way to go toward equity and inclusion. They chat about what faculty journal editors, professional copyeditors, and authors can do to build a more justice-focused publishing world. Transcript and show notes:
We’ve all experienced a LOT of change over the past year and a half. Many of the things we assumed to be stable anchors suddenly turned out not to be, as everything from the global economy and education to politics and media were irrevocably transformed. Many with privilege have responded to such upheaval by demanding a swift and complete return to the same capitalist normal that unevenly organized life in the before times. But those for whom the old normal was a source of oppression rather than comfort have had a different reaction to such changes. Folks have instead invested in practices like mutual aid, unlearning, and interdependency, all which provide models for more just social foundations. In episode 138 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews gender, sexuality, and ethnic studies scholar and professor Priya Kandaswamy. Priya has long been fascinated with how institutions and individuals shape and reshape one another in the context of power. As she details in their conversation, Priya’s career shifted dramatically earlier this year. In March 2021, one full year after COVID-19 had forced major shutdowns across the US, Priya’s employer, Mills College, announced that fall 2021 would be its last year admitting new students and the beloved liberal arts college in Oakland, California, would completely close by 2023. As a result, all faculty and staff would thus need to find other employment. Priya shares how personal upheavals (like a career change) combined with collective upheavals (like a pandemic) provide glimpses into a new normal, one that is organized around permanent change. Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as prison abolition movements, radical herbalism, feminist of color welfare histories, and the mycorrhizal bonds between trees and fungi, Priya explains how she is learning to embrace permanent transformation as a way to individually and collectively build new worlds. Transcript and show notes:
Host Cathy Hannabach interviews filmmaker and hip-hop scholar Mark Villegas, who has built his career foregrounding the power of collective abundance. Highlighting the strength, inspiration, and generosity that emerges from collaboration, Mark’s endeavors illustrate the transformations that take place when diverse ideas and cultural traditions are brought together. In the conversation, Mark and Cathy chat about why multiracial, transnational, and cross-generational hip-hop cultures have been such a vibrant model of political and artistic abundance. Mark explains how his new book Manifest Technique traces these genealogies as well as how Filipino American DJs and cultural producers use hip-hop to theorize transition and resist colonial legacies. They also talk about the new communication strategies and gathering practices that Brown and Black hip-hop communities have developed during COVID-19 and discuss how they can serve as models for life beyond the pandemic. Finally, we close out the episode with a vision for an abundant relationality, one that can shape new collaborative futures. Transcript and show notes:
Community building is a cornerstone of progressive social and intellectual movements. Resisting capitalist individualism, we know how vital social bonds are in sustaining our identities, our dreams, and even our very lives. But it’s easy to romanticize community and forget the work involved in forging and tending those social bonds—labor that often reflects the very power dynamics that we seek to dismantle. In episode 136 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Kānaka Maoli feminist scholar Maile Arvin, who explains why she approaches community building through the Native Hawaiian concept of kuleana, or a reciprocal relationship of responsibility. In the conversation, Maile and Cathy consider the racially gendered labor of community and responsibility as well how Native Hawaiian communities and curators are drawing on both to transform colonial legacies. The episode wraps up with Maile’s vision of imagining otherwise in the classroom through centering decolonization and accessibility in her Indigenous feminist pedagogy. Transcript and show notes:
Centuries of Black feminist intellectuals have demonstrated how knowledge production is always deeply political, revealing whose labor and lives we value. Publicly citing and generously engaging with the contributions that others have made to our thinking is a crucial way we remake the world. In episode 135 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Christen A. Smith, Dána-Ain Davis, and Sameena Mulla, the three co-editors of the recent ground-breaking special issue of Feminist Anthropology, which focuses on the Cite Black Women movement that honors Black women’s transnational intellectual production. The Ideas on Fire team has been privileged to copyedit the Feminist Anthropology journal from its inception, and the Cite Black Women special issue is a superb illustration of the powerful political and ethical transformations this journal and the Cite Black Women movement bring to academic publishing and everyday life. In the conversation, Christen, Dána, Sameena, and Cathy discuss the pleasures and challenges of overhauling academic publishing workflows and norms so that they can embody an intersectional, transnational feminist praxis. They also chat about what it means to honor our intellectual and communal forbearers, which this special issue does in the form of a tribute to the late Dr. Leith Mullings from colleagues, friends, comrades, and former students whose intellectual and personal lives were forever changed through her lifelong commitment to racial, economic, and gender justice. And finally, they close out the conversation with reflections on why making room for marginalized people to speak, write, and publish is a key way we all think and live knowledge production otherwise. Transcript and show notes:
Movements organized around disability justice, prison and police abolition, queer and trans feminism, and economic justice have long shown how intersecting systems of oppression require intersectional frameworks for resistance. On episode 134 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Liat Ben-Moshe, who has spent her career tracing what she calls carceral ableism, or the ways the prison industrial complex and anti-disability logics shape one another in our daily lives and our political institutions. Liat’s research and activism illustrate the vital need to foreground disability justice in our efforts to end violence. Liat points out that this kind of work produces a richer and more critical understanding of interdependency, one that neither romanticizes community nor enshrines individualism. In the conversation, Cathy and Liat discuss how community building and mutual aid have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic and what that means for a post-pandemic future. They also discuss why learning to see one’s identities as political rather than descriptive is so crucial for movement building and why creating a world beyond containment, confinement, and segregation is how Liat imagines otherwise. Transcript and show notes:
Over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more vibrant intersectional and interdisciplinary cultural production get the attention it so richly deserves. This work builds on a long history of refusing to separate the personal from the political in Third World and women of color feminism, radical Black and queer activism, and movements for economic, disability, and environmental justice. All of these traditions have valued the role of art in sparking social change, as the creative and the revolutionary are never far apart. In episode 133 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews creative writer, scholar, and professor Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, whose wide-ranging body of work demonstrates the political and ethical stakes of centering queer Black feminist pleasure in both literature and life. In the conversation, Mecca and Cathy chat about navigating intertwined affects of joy and trauma while moving across genres, the long and rich tradition of Black interdisciplinary writing, and why refusing to separate the body from the page is key to how Mecca imagines otherwise. Transcript and how notes:
Building an abolitionist university or museum requires more than just updating some policies. It requires rethinking from the ground up what we want out of our cultural institutions and renewing our commitment to bringing that abolitionist vision to fruition. In episode 132 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews scholar, performance artist, and Prince-enthusiast J. Faith Almiron, whose interdisciplinary crisscrossing of academic, artistic, and activist spaces demonstrates the power of such renewal in all its forms. In the conversation, Cathy and J. Faith chat about what it means to renew our commitment to social justice amidst ongoing state violence, why interdisciplinarity is the future of both art and education, how cultural institutions can diversify beyond tokenism, and why harnessing the radical imagination is how J. Faith imagines otherwise. Transcript and show notes:
As scholars, we often like to think we have everything under control. We work hard to meet deadlines, fulfill our responsibilities, and get everything done. So what happens when global and personal events throw all of that out the window? In episode 131 of Imagine Otherwise, host Cathy Hannabach interviews La Marr Bruce, whose La new book How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity, ended up on a much windier publication path than expected due to both the global COVID-19 pandemic and La Marr’s devastating loss of his partner David this past August. As La Marr explains in the conversation, this is a book about destabilization and derailment that also became the vehicle through which he traversed that journey, ultimately renewing his commitment to Black and mad studies, mutual care, and collective liberation. A content note: this episode discusses some difficult topics, including the death of La Marr’s partner David. If this is a topic you need to not hear about right now, for any reason, we recommend exploring some of our other recent episodes. Transcript and show notes:
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