Faculty Spotlight: Cynthia Barounis, Lecturer Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Cynthia Barounis has worked in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department since 2012, initially as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and currently as a lecturer whose courses address disability studies, queer theory, and masculinities. She received her Ph.D. in English, with a concentration in Gender and Women’s Studies, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During her graduate studies, she was able to work alongside well-known disability studies scholars David Mitchell and Lennard Davis, who was her main thesis advisor and with whom she continues to collaborate on various research projects. Her first book Vulnerable Constitutions, and the Remaking of American Manhood is forthcoming from Temple University Press in Spring 2019. In it, she explores how disability studies can offer challenging and new reading practices to queer theory, particularly in terms of masculinities and medicalizations of queerness in 20th century American culture. In her current project, tentatively-titled The Biopolitics of Camp, she develops this conversation even further by looking at disability through the camp aesthetic, traditionally examined through queer theory.

This latter book provides fresh and often counterintuitive links between disability studies and camp, as well as innovative readings of cultural artifacts through which Barounis thinks about affective responses to disability as a source of laughter and parody. Her objects of study include popular culture representations such as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Enlightened, and the graphic comic series Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. Barounis' work is interdisciplinary and consistently maintains a feminist thrust, for example in highlighting how women’s experiences of anger and feminist humorlessness seem "often at odds with the seeming lightness of camp sensibility," but at the same time may be critically and productively reincorporated into that aesthetic and affective mode. Departing from Esther Newton's formulation of camp as a way of laughing instead of crying, Barounis asks important questions of camp and disability: "What happens when you can't laugh? What happens when that kind of psychological endurance isn't possible?" The latter question becomes particularly crucial to interrogate conceptions of psychiatric disability and to explore feelings for which camp aesthetics do not always make space.

In addition to her individual investigation, Barounis also collaborates with other scholars in spaces such as the NWSA's Asexualities Studies Interest Group, for which she currently serves as Co-Chair. Furthermore, she often uses her connections in the broad field of disability studies to bring important scholars to campus. In 2016 she and colleague Claire McKinney organized a roundtable on campus, with Mel Chen and Robert McRuer as speakers and Julie Elman as a respondent. Her research greatly influences her pedagogy, and one of her favorite courses to teach is Feminist and Queer Disability Studies, a seminar in which students often make their first encounters with disability as a category of critical analysis. When she is not teaching, researching, or writing, Barounis enjoys exploring St. Louis’ abundant nearby hiking spots with her partner. Though she misses living near a body of water, as she did in Chicago, she appreciates being closer to other outdoor spaces. She also notes that she enjoys teaching at WashU and has an excellent community of colleagues and students.