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Department of History

Intimately material: violence, social reproduction, and queerness in transition

On 20-21 May 2024, activists, artists, and scholars from different academic disciplines gathered at the EUI for a conversation on the intersection between identity, intimacy, class, labour, and capital.

10 June 2024 | Event


Organised by the EUI Queer and Feminist Studies Working Group, the conference was divided into four panels on intimacies, labour, transitions, and (infra)structures, counting the participation of guest speakers Jules Joanne Gleeson, writer and historian, and Bogdan Popa, Professor at Transilvania University of Brașov.

Throughout the two-day conference, panellists and participants explored gender, sexuality, and queer studies within broader theoretical frameworks, including Marxism, neo-Marxism, new materialism, and critiques of capitalism.

"I think that research on queer topics has not taken Marxist approaches seriously enough. There was an emphasis on knowledge production and deconstruction, which continues to be relevant, but we need to expand the field," noted EUI History Professor Benno Gammerl, member of the organising committee.

"There is a temptation to assume that queer people resist the, at times, violent logic of social reproduction merely due to the fact that they are not included in the heteronormative framework of sexual reproduction. But that view is obviously not growing up to the real complexity of things," added Professor Gammerl. "Queer research needs to push itself on unfamiliar terrains, it needs to discuss exploitation, commercialisation, homelessness, labour migration, pension schemes, and so on. The violence queer and various people have and have had to cope with does not only comprise gay bashing by fascist or other fanatics, it often comes in much more inconspicuous economic and bureaucratic forms."

Day one of the conference began with a conversation on the material conditions that shape "intimate encounters, non-cosiness, and the potential dangers of the intimate and the close-by," explained the organising committee. "We talked about the negotiation of value and desire, learned about guerrilla epistemologies, and re-evaluated friendship as a profound political experience."

During the first panel on 'intimacies', participants discussed the idea that all relationships are inherently influenced by power imbalances and that queer forms of kinship can help us escape oppressive structures such as the nuclear family, which perpetuate economic and social control and reinforce heterosexual norms.

A following panel on labour delved into the material conditions of sex work, the connection between trafficking and moral panic, and the materials and infrastructures involved in the building of a sexual imaginarium. The conference emphasised the importance of seeing beyond the illusion of non-labour, the power of storytelling, and the relevance of delving into what happens in the hours after work.

"We talked about emotions – about pain, hope, disillusionment, and love. And about bodies – about how the transformation of post-socialist societies translates into individual bodily transitions, about emancipatory trans politics and the political currency of the body, and about the importance of trans practices of community care and mutual support," shared the committee.

The second day explored the themes of transitions and infrastructures in connection to space and time. "From gentle labour and defining work through intimate relations, to how ordinary life is structured by gender-based violence and experiences of harassment," the group of panellists and participants got a glimpse of how societal structures and power dynamics are influenced by gender-based violence and harassment, and how certain populations are marginalised or excluded as a result.

During the last panel, the participants examined the concepts of citizenship and ownership over time, as well as queer understandings of time, and investigated the impact of 'queer social reproduction' on the liveability of spaces for queer individuals.

"I think it was particularly intriguing to see time and time again how crucial the links are that connect material and intimate, queer and economic questions. And that there are, whether in the Kurdish context or in Egypt, Greece, Poland, South India, Germany, and Serbia, activist solidarities at play that address these intimately material issues," stated Professor Gammerl.

Further original perspectives emerged during the event, that added to the ongoing debates on a Marxist approach to queer studies: the Alternative State of the Union 2024 (AltSOU) and the student protests on the war in Gaza, two student-led initiatives that came to be a crucial part of the programme for the participants of the conference.

"The theme of our conference –a Marxist materialist approach to queer and gender studies– was particularly timely in this context of collective, bottom-up, and grassroots action happening at the EUI and in [Florence]. At the time of organising the conference, we did not entirely anticipate this,” shared the organising committee. “This unexpectedly embedded the Marxist theories and the academic debates that emphasised material conditions and social realities directly within this specific political and historical context, through the on-the-ground struggles and protests."

After a final workshop in which participants expressed their own experienced materialities of doing research, the organisers highlighted the importance of discussing queerness and politics in academia. "We gathered in a 15th century abbey –the paragon of an ivory tower– to talk about sex, violence, queerness, and labour. Here, we reflected critically about our own material and intimate relation to academia […] and broadened the communities that help build resistance, despite violence and rage, and allow us to find joy in shared political action."

Reflecting on the panel discussions and concluding remarks, Professor Gammerl noted, "We need to move beyond a narrow understanding of what we are working on. If we want to fully understand queerness, past and present, we also need to address capitalism. And vice versa. If we want to grasp the full complexity of capitalist dynamics, we need to include queer-feminist aspects. As Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, mother, warrior, poet Audre Lorde once said, ‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.’"

The organising committee includes Professor Benno Gammerl and History researchers Riccardo Bulgarelli, Marta Chmielewska, Moisés Fernández Cano, Kamil Karczewski, Lois Kalb, and Mónica Morado Vázquez.


This event was co-funded by the EUI Widening Europe Programme. Backed by contributions from the European Union and EUI Contracting States, the programme is designed to strengthen internationalisation, competitiveness, and quality in research in targeted Widening countries, and thus foster more cohesive European Higher Education and Research Areas.

Last update: 10 June 2024

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