In Conversation with Adi Saleem Bharat
July 30, 2020
In Virtual Activism: Sexuality, the Internet, and a Social Movement in Singapore (Toronto UP, 2020), cultural anthropologist Robert Phillips provides a detailed, yet accessible, ethnographic case study that looks at the changes in LGBT activism in Singapore in the period 1993-2019. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted with activist organizations and individuals, Phillips illustrates key theoretical ideas—including illiberal pragmatics and neoliberal homonormativity—that, in combination with the introduction of the Internet, have shaped the manner by which LGBT Singaporeans are framing and subsequently claiming rights. Phillips argues that the activism engaged in by LGBT Singaporeans for governmental and societal recognition is in many respects virtual. His analysis documents how the actions of activists have resulted in some noteworthy changes in the lives of LGBT Singaporeans, but nothing as grand as some would have hoped, thus indexing the “not quite” aspect of the virtual. Yet, Virtual Activism also demonstrates how these actions have encouraged LGBT Singaporeans to fight even harder for their rights, signalling the “possibilities” that the virtual holds.
Robert Phillips is an assistant professor of anthropology at Ball State University. He lectures on ethnographic methods and the anthropology of technology and religion. His early fieldwork was in south India, but most of his empirical research was conducted in Singapore, focusing on how interactions on the Internet affect national and sexual subjectivity. More recently, Phillips has been conducting research in Brooklyn, NY and Jerusalem, Israel, focusing on religious subjectivity among Orthodox Jewish men.
Adi Saleem Bharat is an LSA Collegiate Fellow in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. He is also a co-founder and coordinator of the Jewish-Muslim Research Network.