An interview with Deborah Cohler, guest editor of a recent Feminist Formations special issue on Homefront Frontlines

Submitted by l_kinnamon on Mon, 05/22/2017 - 15:09


Feminist Formations: Why was the topic of "Homefront Frontlines" important to you, and how did you come to this topic?

Deborah Cohler: Homefront Frontlines captures the constant interplay between ideas of war and peace, safety and danger. The "homefront" is a deeply gendered construct, one that I have been working on for much of my career.

I came to this specific topic first when organizing session for the 2012 National Women's Studies Association conference. Then, a decade into the “War without End” in Afghanistan, and two years following President Obama’s announcement of a troop drawdown, US culture was in the turbulent waters of war, redeployments, military contractors, and discussions of the signature wounds of twenty-first century warfare. Simultaneously, the rise of non-state actors in war and the ever-broadening definitions of terrorism, meant lines between “homefront” and “warfront” were becoming increasingly arbitrary.

I wanted to develop the 2012 conference session into a larger discussion that brought together the long, as well as more immediate, impacts of imperial violences and war; to put into dialogue a range of work considering the gendered, racial, material, embodied, cultural, and geopolitical consequences of state and non-state violent conflicts. The result is this special issue!

FF: Why is it necessary to engage with the idea of "homefront frontlines" at this moment in time? (How is it relevant to both the US context and larger global and transnational contexts?)

DC: Today, ideas of “home” are increasingly under attack in many locations around the world. With nationalism and populism on the rise, as well as with the omnipresence of neoliberal strategies across political spectrums, I think it is crucial to understand how ideas about “home,” “sovereignty,” and “community” are being mobilized in progressive as well as conservative rhetorics in many locations and nations.

Transnationally, the “homefront’ has historically been a tool of empire and nationalism. Today, some decolonial activists (such as those in the Mariana Archipelago, as Sylvia Frain demonstrates) and anti-imperialists writers (such as Nuha al-Radi) take up the tropes of home or homefront as resistant strategies.

I think that we need to grapple with the origins and legacies of the homefront/warfront duality if we are to understand how war-making functions ideologically as well as geopolitically and materially.

FF: What do the articles, poetry, and book reviews in this special issue offer us within the current political crisis we find ourselves in?

DC: The pieces in the special issue remind us that we are in this thing for the long haul. Together, the six essays, two Poesia contributions, and four book reviews provide historical scope and context, as well as close readings of specific examples of homefront ideologies at work in a range of geopolitical, ideological, material, and generic settings.

For example, we can see how Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group participated in eugenic homefront politics between the wars, how maternalist rhetorics bolstered women’s anti-communist nationalisms in Cold War Turkey, and also how the long affective traces of the US-Vietnam war have shaped Asian American queer subjectivities. And the pieces that focus on more recent warfronts and homefronts demonstrate the ongoing impacts of imperialist ideologies and geopolitics om individuals and communities, from my own piece on the role of white womanhood in contemporary US war-making, to the affective genealogies of violence in Hassen’s poetry, to Frain’s discussions of indigenous women activists and Mesok’s review of Wool’s book on US veterans.

I also hope that in totality, the special issue also offers a few models of hope and engagement for these difficult political times. The dualism of homefront/frontlines can be understood as an ideological as well as geopolitical strategy. To think through the uses of this strategy allows us to understand its intended and unintended consequences, to see its rendering in a range of political spaces, and also, perhaps, to mobilize resistance.