Mel Y. Chen

Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies and Director, Center for the Study of Sexual Culture

Mel Y. Chen (they/them+) is Professor of Gender & Women's Studies and Director for the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley as well as Director of the Disability Studies Minor. 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 forthcoming book, scheduled for December 2023, Race, Disability and Chemical Intimacy Across Empire (Duke UP), 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).

Research interests: 
  • 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