Meet the dazzling researchers speaking on steampunk and fans for A Festival of Dangerous Ideas week 8

Bringing retrofuturistic realness and a complex look into the relationships between art and fans, A Festival of Dangerous Ideas week 8 has plenty to enjoy.


A Festival of Dangerous Ideas goes back to the future in week 8 with an electric conversation about all things steampunk, fans, and separating art from the artist.

Following on from last week’s phenomenal talk about queering bodies with Dr Francis Ray White, A Festival of Dangerous Ideas propels itself into week 8 with a scintillating topic about art and steampunk. Audience members are invited to explore the world of Victorian science as well as question what does it mean to be a fan?

Without further ado, let’s meet the thrilling speakers leading A Festival of Dangerous Ideas week 8:

Professor Lisa Hager

Hager works as an associate professor of English and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha, where they also direct the LGBTQIA Resource Center. Their recent article on ‘female husbands’ gained critical acclaim after being awarded the Surridge Prize for Best Article Published in Victorian Review and the North American Victorian Studies Association. They are currently developing a book project examining the intersections of trans studies and Victorian studies.

What can people expect from your section in A Festival of Dangerous Ideas week 8?

Informal, lively, and slightly scandalous conversation about steampunk, LGBTQ+ involved in steampunk, and steampunk (and Victorian!) literature’s depiction of diverse genders and sexualities. I’m especially looking forward to questions and comments from attendees! 

Do you feel that the steampunk style has a large appeal for the LGBTQ+ community – and why do you think this is?

Steampunk is about revising and reinventing Victorian literature culture and, for me and a lot of other awesome folks, bringing marginalized voices to the fore. So, I think that LGBTQ+ folks find this openness to making what you need and/or imagine to be welcoming in ways that the “normal” ways of various societies are not.

Steampunk also has its roots in punking and rebelling, which is something that many LGBTQ+ people have to do in order to understand their genders and sexualities (which are often not visible in popular culture) and find sustaining and supportive communities.

What made you interested in looking at Victorian science and its relation to gender?

The nineteenth century is when much of what we consider to be part of the sciences, like chemistry, geology, and electromagnetics, are being defined as fields. Much the same is true of gender in that this is when much of what we consider as typical of women, men, and their relationships is sorted out.

As such, these two cultural discourses often have bizarre and curious connections, and this is what I’m interested in looking at. This work has also increasingly become centered on Victorian trans identities, like “female husbands.”

Ellen Reid

With funding from the Department of Sociology at the University of Limerick, Ellen Reid has embarked on a research study into the experiences of bi+ people in Ireland pre- and post- Marriage Equality referendum, in a thesis entitled, What the Yes Lost, and What the Yes Won: A Qualitative Analysis of the Impact of Strategic Essentialism on Bisexualities in Ireland.

What can people expect from your section of this seminar?

I’m going to try to tease out the question in a series of three acts: looking at the artists, looking at fans, and looking at communities ourselves. The reason why I’ve chosen to do this is because there are multiple actors involved within this question of separating art from artist – it’s not just the artists themselves.

Fans can interpret and work with art, and make something new from it, which can speak truth to power in some ways. Using creative agency to demonstrate your (changed/changing) relationship to the art/artist can be a wonderful thing. I’m going to talk about Harry Potter, JKR and Potterheads, as well as talk about my own (waned) relationship with Morrissey. 

As well as this, there can be negative reactions towards fans from individuals within communities, LGBTQIA+ or otherwise, whereby the character of fans is often equated with the views of an artist. This is obviously a very complex and complicated relationship, and differs between fans and fandoms, so I would like to tease that out a bit more also. This is obviously a very complex and complicated relationship, and differs between fans and fandoms, so I would like to tease that out a bit more also.

And as it’s fandom evening, I will also be dressing up!

Why do you feel it has become important to discuss topics about separating the art from the artist?

In recent years, there have been so many abuses of power that have come to light in mainstream discourse, which has been really empowering for people who have survived abuse, or have been marginalized or maligned. Understanding that everyone is capable of harm – even women and the so-called soft boys – is really crucial. 

I also think it’s really important that we look at ideologies and discourses from within artistic texts – nothing is ever neutral! In fandom and fan culture, there can be a tendency to idolise and a reluctance to critique people we admire. You should always be willing to critique the very things you hold dear to yourself. Practicing self-criticism is a really valuable and beneficial thing to do – and I think that everyone should do it. 

Being a fan is a really complicated thing – it can be empowering, or it can be very constraining. And every fan and fandom are different. I think it is important to have these conversations because we can all be complicit in supporting problematic ideologies and actions in many different ways. Having these conversations about how fans interact with art and artists can reveal a lot about how power and privilege works within society, what we can do to challenge it, and how we can best support people who are affected by harmful ideologies. 

You are researching the experiences of bi+ people in Ireland pre- and post- Marriage Equality Referendum, what have you learned from undertaking this topic?

So my research looks at how bisexualities are negotiated in an Irish context, and I am using marriage equality as a lens to look at this as it captures the intersection between LGBTI+ communities and wider Irish society. Due to COVID-19, my fieldwork has been delayed, but I am hoping to start interviews in January! Any interested people can keep an eye on my Twitter for when I release recruitment for the project.

One of the most interesting things I have come across in reviewing literature on bisexualities is how they shift between different contexts – in relationships, in LGBTI+ communities, in workplaces, and in wider society. People tend to prefer not to disclose their bisexual identity to people for fear of losing people, as bisexualities remain incredibly stigmatized. 

My study is focused on gathering the experiences of individuals who identify with bisexualities in Ireland. From my own experience, I have felt like I kind of live in-between places a lot of the time, and in some past relationships I have performed gender and sexuality in ways that have not been true to my gender or sexual identity. 

I am interested in doing this work because individuals who identify with bisexualities in Ireland (and the wider world) have often been ignored, invalidated and erased, or may also find themselves living in limbo in a world that insists on binaries.

I hope that with my research I can centre individuals who identify with bisexualities in Ireland, so that their experiences, concerns and needs be heard. I also intend on making the research findings accessible and available after the thesis is finished (whenever that may be!!) so that people can understand and learn from the experiences of bisexualities in Ireland, and hopefully bring to light better ways to support them.

If you want to join in on A Festival of Dangerous Ideas, tickets can be found at this link. All 12 sessions are free.

The recordings for the past sessions and transcripts can be found at festival of dangerous

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