Associate Professor of Gender & Women's Studies and Vice Chair for Research; Director, Center for the Study of Sexual Culture
Office: 624 Barrows Hall (Fall 2016 Office Hours: 10:30-12:30)

Mel Y. Chen is Associate Professor of Gender & Women's Studies at U.C. Berkeley and Director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture. Mel is also an affiliate of the Center for Race and Gender, the Institute for Cognitive and Behavioral Science, the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society, and the Haas Disability Studies and LGBTQ Citizenship Research Clusters. 

Their research and teaching interests include queer and gender theory, animal studies, critical race theory and Asian American studies, disability studies, science studies, and critical linguistics. Chen’s 2012 book, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke University Press, winner of Alan Bray Award from Modern Language Association’s GL/Q Caucus), explores questions of racialization, queering, disability, and affective economies in animate and inanimate “life” through the extended concept of “animacy.” A second book project concerns the relationships among the conceptual territories of “toxicity” and “intoxication” and their involvement in histories of the shared interanimation of race and disability. Further writing on topics such as cognitive disability and method, animal gendering in film, the racialization of pollution, and queer intimacies can be found in the journals Women’s Studies Quarterly, GLQ, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, Transgender Studies Quarterly, Discourse, Women in Performance, Australian Feminist Studies, Amerasia, Worldviews, and Medical Humanities (forthcoming). A co-edited special issue (with Dana Luciano) of GLQ on “Queer Inhumanisms” appeared in early 2015. With Jasbir K. Puar, Chen coedits a book series entitled “Anima,” highlighting scholarship in critical race and disability post/in/humanisms at Duke University Press. Chen served a three-year term on the Board of Directors of the Society for Disability Studies, ending in 2016.

In the Fall of 2009, Mel convened "Species Spectacles", a U.C. Humanities Research Institute Residential Research Group focused on animality, sexuality and race. Chen's short film, Local Grown Corn (2007), explores interweavings of immigration, childhood, illness and friendship; it has played in both asian and queer film festivals.

  • Mel Chen's Animacies book wins MLA's Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize
    Jan 6 2014 - 11:10am

    Professor Mel Chen's beautiful, provocative and inspirational book Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke Univ. Press, 2012). has won the MLA's Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize. This prize is given for an outstanding book in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer studies in literature and cultural studies. Congratulations Mel!

Selected Publications

Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke University Press, Perverse Modernities series). 2012.

Entry in “A Questionnaire on Materialisms,” in October 155 (Winter 2016): 21-22.

“Unpacking Intoxication, Racializing Disability,” in Critical Medical Humanities special issue of Medical Humanities 41: 25-29, 2015.

Dana Luciano and Mel Y. Chen, “Introduction: Has the Queer Ever Been Human?” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, “Queer Inhumanisms” special issue (coeditors: Mel Y. Chen and Dana Luciano). 21:2-3, 183-207, 2015.

“Interview with Mel Y. Chen.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, “Tranimalities” special issue (coeditors: Eva Hayward and Jami Weinstein). 2:2, 317-323. 2015.

“The Reproduction in/of Disability and Environment,” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology, “Religion, Disability, and The Environment” special issue (coeditors: Julia Watts Belser and Sharon Betcher). 19: 79-82. 2015.

“Lurching for the Cure? On Zombies and the Reproduction of Disability.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, “On the Visceral” special issue (coeditors: Marcia Ochoa, Kyla Tompkins, Sharon Holland). 21:1, 24-31. 2015.

“Cripping Brain Fog, Fogging Cripistemologies.” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, “Cripistemologies” special issue (coeditors: Robert McRuer and Lisa Merri Johnson). 8:2,171-184. 2014.

“Asian American Speech, Civic Place, and Future Nondisabled Bodies,” Amerasia Journal, 39:1, 91-105. 2013.

“Masked States and the ‘Screen’ Between Security and Disability.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, 40:1-2, 76-96. 2012.

“Toxic Animacies, Inanimate Affections.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 17:2-3, 265-286. 2011.

“Animals without Genitals: Race and Transsubstantiation.” Women in Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 20:3, 285-297. 2010.

“Everywhere Archives: Transgendering, Trans Asians, and the Internet.” Australian Feminist Studies. 25:64, 199-208. 2010.

“Queer Vibrations.” In Media Res. May 6, 2010.

“Racialized Toxins and Sovereign Fantasies.” Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. 29:2, 367-383. 2007.

“Affect in Language Interpretation.” In Michael Achard and Suzanne Kemmer, eds. Language, Culture, and Mind. Stanford: CSLI Publications, 37-54. 2004.

“The Space of Identity: A Cognitivist Approach to ‘Outsider’ Discourses.” In Anna Duszak, ed. Us and Others: Social identities across languages, discourses and cultures. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 87-110. 2002.

“Crossing Performativities: ‘Reclaiming’ as Both Utterance and Gender Construction.” In Celia Rothenberg and Gail Currie, eds. Feminist (Re)visions of the Subject. Oxford and New York: Lexington Press, 239-260. 2000.


Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect
Mel Y. Chen
Duke University Press, Perverse Modernities series, 2012

In Animacies, Mel Y. Chen draws on recent debates about sexuality, race, and affect to examine how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, or deathly animates cultural lives. Toward that end, Chen investigates the blurry division between the living and the dead, or that which is beyond the human or animal.

Short film: Local Grown Corn (2007), digital video
  • Queer and feminist theory
  • Critical race studies
  • Disability theory
  • Asian American studies
  • Critical animal studies
  • Materiality studies
  • Cultural politics of race, sexuality, ability, and immigration
  • Critical linguistics
  • Paradigms of inter- and transdisciplinarity