A Discussion with Professor Cyril Ghosh

Professor Dr. Cyril Ghosh is a part-time faculty member at the Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School, as well as a full time faculty member at Wagner College. He is the author of “The Politics of the American Dream: Democratic Inclusion in Contemporary American Political Culture” (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013) and the newly released “De-Moralizing Gay Rights: Some Queer Remarks on LGBT+ Rights Politics in the US” (Palgrave-Pivot, 2018). We spoke to him more about his new book, his research process, and what students can expect from his courses at SGPIA.

SGPIA: I’d love to know more about the process of and methods for researching this book – how did it differ from your process on your previous book on American political culture?

Dr. Ghosh: Hmm…let’s see. There are so many things to say in response to a question like this.

To start with, my first book – the one on contemporary American political culture/American Dream as ideology – began as a Ph.D. dissertation.

It is much broader in scope than this one and the methods I use in it are a hybrid of analytic theory, concept-formation, and what you might even call American Studies.

The methodological approach I use in this one is queer/critical theory. So, this book strikes a completely different register. I didn’t plan this. This is just how things worked out.

I sometimes wonder about a hypothetical scenario in which a person read both books and did not know I wrote them both. I think there is a small chance they may not know that the two manuscripts have the same author.

One other thing: I did not select the methodological approach first in either project. I always thought of the subject matter first. The methods are simply the ones that I judged to be the most suitable approach to treating the subject matter.   

SGPIA: Can you elaborate a little bit on the three central distortions discussed in the book (for example, what is Yoshino’s theorization of the concept of gay covering)?

Dr. Ghosh: Each of the distortions relates to scholars and activists advancing binary tropes in the discourse on LGBT+ rights. Each relates to a pattern of rhetorical constructions that are intended to shame the intended audience into agreement. Each constitutes what Lee Edelman has called an “an ideological Möbius strip.”

Thus, for example, when I theorize the idea of Radical Theory Creep, I invite us all to think about the question of scope and the ways in which radical theorists frequently transgress their intended scope in order to offer totalizing critiques. You either agree with the theorist offering the critique or you are somehow a person with terrible politics.

Radical Theory Creep occurs all the time. But I focus on pinkwashing as a – sort of – case study, if you will. In so doing, I point out the ways in which some of these scholars and activists writing about pinkwashing end up blurring the distinction between writing theory and performing what can be described as virtue signaling.

The second distortion appears in the rhetoric of marriage equality – most iconically represented in Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). The “conception of the good” the Court advances in this opinion is indefensible. And yet, the Court soldiers on – as if it were oblivious of the insidious effects of its “family values” rhetoric.        

And the final one is Kenji Yoshino’s idea of gay covering. Drawing upon Erving Goffman’s work, Yoshino points out how legal and cultural demands to “cover” are routinely placed on gays and lesbians. He is entirely correct about this. Covering – in case you are not familiar with the concept – is a set of actions adopted by a person to de-emphasize a stigmatized identity. One might say it is the opposite of “flaunting” one’s stigmatized identity.

It has been said, for example, that FDR was always early for meetings because he did not want to have to come in at a time when everyone else had already arrived because he did not particularly want to draw attention to his wheelchair.

I have great respect for Yoshino’s work. But I do disagree with parts of it. And the chapter on covering identifies the ways in which his analysis ends up doing less of analysis and more of shaming gays (also lesbians, but particularly gay men) who cover.  

SGPIA: Here at SGPIA, you teach a course on International LGBT rights. What can students expect from the course? How has teaching the course impacted your research and writing of your book?

Dr. Ghosh: International LGBT+ Rights is an interdisciplinary graduate seminar I have now taught twice at SGPIA. And I intend to offer it again in Spring 2019. It focuses on the global struggle of sexual orientation and gender identity (and gender expression) minorities for both rights and recognition. The course has three modules. We begin with some discussion of international human rights law and some political theory scholarship on rights claims and recognition claims. We then focus on some case studies of these struggles in the Global North. In the final module, we examine some cases from the Global South.

I must say I have learned a lot about LGBT+ rights politics from my students and I have also benefited from their constructive criticism of my writing. In this book, in fact, I acknowledge the contributions made by my Spring 2018 class in particular! They were phenomenal: heaping praise on me when they thought I deserved it; but also very acutely – yet always politely – criticizing some parts of the writing. I will always be grateful to them for this!