Mel Y. Chen

Associate Professor of Gender & Women's Studies; Director, Center for the Study of Sexual Culture
Office: 624 Social Sciences Building
Research AreasBioPublications
Research Areas
  • Queer and feminist theory
  • Disability theory
  • Critical animal studies
  • Materiality studies
  • Cultural politics of race, sexuality, ability, and immigration
  • Critical linguistics
  • Paradigms of inter- and transdisciplinarity

Mel Y. Chen (they/them+) is Associate Professor of Gender & Women's Studies and Director for the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley. 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. Previously, they served as Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College, and the Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University. Their training spans the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, with a doctorate degree in linguistics that they transitioned to from computer engineering. Their 2012 book, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke UP, which won the MLA GL/Q Caucus Alan Bray Award), explores questions of racialization, gender, queering, disability, and affective economies in animate and inanimate “life” through the extended concept of animacy. Chen’s second book project, which they are now completing, concerns the conceptual territories of toxicity and intoxication and their involvement in 19th century archival histories of the interanimation of race and disability. Their writing on the racialization and transing of pollution, cognitive disability and method, trans media, gender pronouns and linguistics, and more can be found in Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, Transgender Studies Quarterly, Discourse, Women in Performance, Australian Feminist Studies, Signs, Medical Humanities, South Atlantic Quarterly, and GLQ, as well as a number of arts catalogues (2022 Venice Biennale, 2021 Shanghai Biennale, Candice Lin, New Time, Lin May Saeed) and scholarly anthologies such as the Handbook of Language and Sexuality, Meat!, and Unwatchable. Chen coedits a Duke University Press book series entitled “Anima,” highlighting scholarship in critical race and disability post/in/humanisms. They are also part of a small and sustaining queer/trans of color arts collective in the SF Bay Area, and have shown work in “The Story of Our Lives: QTPOC Portraits by QTPOC Artists,” curated by Ajuan Mance at Strut!, San Francisco (2019-2020) and contributed two illustrations to Love Liberates: A Trans POC Coloring Book, a collaboration between the trans-queer arts project Peacock Rebellion and People of Coloring (2020).



Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect

Duke University Press, Perverse Modernities series). 2012.


[Forthcoming] “Broadband Epistemologies,” Journal of Gender and Language special issue (30-year retrospective on language, gender and sexuality), coedited by Rodrigo Borba, Kira Hall, Mie Hiramoto.

[Forthcoming] “It Misses You,” Venice Biennale catalog 2022.

[In Press] “Warty Pigs, Cats, and Other Theorists,” coauthored with Julia Bryan-Wilson, catalog for Candice Lin’s 2021 exhibition between the Walker Art Center and the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts.

[In Press] “Agitation.” Catalog for 2021 Shanghai Biennale.

[In Press] “Gender in Time: A Conversation.” Judith Butler and Mel Y. Chen. Exhibition catalogue for New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century, Apsara DiQuinzio, curator, Berkeley Art Museum, 2020 (delayed to 2021).

[In Press] “Matter.” Aren Aizura, Aimee Bahng, Amber Musser, Karma Chavez, Mishuana Goeman, Shona Jackson and Kyla Tompkins, eds. Keywords in Gender and Sexuality. NYU Press. 2021.

[In Press] With Kiran Asher, Kareem Khubchandani, Eli Nelson, Banu Subramaniam, “Feminisms Unbound: A Roundtable.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience.

Mel Y. Chen and Tim K. Choy, “Corresponding in Time,” solicited article for ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature and the Environment, Special Cluster on Pandemics, 27:4, Autumn 2021. Available online, print forthcoming.

“Fire and Ash,” In Sushmita Chatterjee and Banu Subramaniam, eds. MEAT!: A Transnational Analysis. Duke University Press, 2021.

“Animacy as a Sexual Device,” In Rusty Barrett and Kira Hall, eds. Language and Sexuality: A Handbook. Oxford University Press, 2021 (Online version published) and 2021 (print version forthcoming).

“The Gate and the ‘Unreachable,” catalog essay on artist Lin May Saeed, for her 2020 solo exhibition curated by Robert Wiesenberger. The Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA. 2020.

“Feminists Theorize COVID-19: A Symposium.” Signs. Published online at and forthcoming in print. 2020 (online), 2021 (print).

Mel Y. Chen and Jih-Fei Cheng, “A (Post-)Apocalyptic Call to Knowledge and Action,” In Yesomi Umolu and Lotte Arndt, eds. Candice Lin. University of Chicago Press, 2019.

“Two Tables And a Ladder.” In Nicholas Baer, Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak, and Gunnar Iversen, eds. Unwatchable. Rutgers University Press, January 2019.

Agitation.” In “Wildness” special issue, Jack Halberstam and Tavia Nyong’o, eds. South Atlantic Quarterly. 117(3): 551-566, 2018.

Interview with Cary Wolfe and Mel Y. Chen, assisted by Jan Grue. Vinduet 2, 2018. [In Norwegian.]

Julia Bryan-Wilson and Mel Y. Chen, “Art and the Unstable Grammar of Gender: A Conversation.Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon. Exhibition catalog. New York: The New Museum. 2017.

What is ‘Contagion’: A Roundtable,” with Candice Lin and Jih-Fei Cheng, Contagion inaugural issue of Sublevel,, 2017.

‘The Stuff of Slow Constitution’: Reading Down Syndrome for Race, Disability, and the Timing That Makes Them So,” in “Cripping Development” special issue of Somatechnics: 235-248, 2016.

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.

Creative Work

Short film: Local Grown Corn (2007), digital video