PaperHive Conversations: Jyoti Puri

Jyoti PuriJyoti Puri
Source: Simmons College

Jyoti Puri is Professor of Sociology at Simmons College; her teaching coincides with the fields of sexuality and queer studies, and postcolonial feminist theory. In her new book, Sexual States: Governance and the Struggle against the Antisodomy Law in India, she describes the battle to decriminalize homosexuality in India and unfolds the relationship between sexuality and the state.


What papers/projects are you working on next?

Even as I was analyzing the Indian context in Sexual States, I was interested in the nexus of sexuality and the state as it plays out in the U.S. Therefore, my next project shifts to the U.S., examining the mundane as well as more unusual aspects of this nexus.


Who has influenced you the most? (Current/past researchers?)

The defining influences for me have been feminist postcolonial theory that is attentive to issues of sexuality as well as poststructuralist literature on the state.


Your About Me section for Simmons College states that you find a “transnational and postcolonial approach to be most useful to understanding the interconnections between” sexuality, gender, nationalism, and state. What are the benefits of these approaches?

To begin with, transnational/postcolonial approaches are to be credited with drawing attention to the interconnections between sexuality, gender, nationalism, and state, which significantly revised existing understandings of these concepts. These approaches have helped analyze how nationalisms, state policies, and state discourses represent and regulate sexuality and gender, even while they show that sexuality and gender are not just relevant at the level of individuals and groups but also shape nationalisms and states. The second point I would note is that transnational/postcolonial approaches emphasize the importance of histories, such as colonialisms, imperialisms, and enslavements to the forging of sexuality, gender, nationalism, and state in their particular contexts. This means that issues of sexuality and gender, or for that matter, nationalists and states should not be seen as insular or autochthonous but in relation to relevant discourses and policies in other settings; for example, the antisodomy law in India was introduced by the British colonial state and can be best understood by holding together what was happening in the British context alongside the intentions of the colonial state in the Indian territory. Thus, by placing the issues within the light of history and culture, transnational/postcolonial approaches help us see the linkages among and between contexts. Lastly, I would add that by inviting more complex understandings, these approaches continually help overturn conventional wisdom and deepen our analyses of power, inequality, and injustice.


 Being open access, your book is now available to the entire world.
Besides academic experts, who should definitely read it? Why?

We see the issues of sexuality and sexual regulation by state officials, agencies, and institutions play out routinely–whether in terms of containing sex trafficking, providing sex education, punishing deviant sexualities, and so on–and this book provides a broader framework for how to understand these issues. Therefore, I expect that this book would be of wide interest and it is written in an accessible way. I believe that this book will be particularly relevant to people who are interested in questions of how states govern our lives and the extent to which legal reform can help resolve sexual injustices. It will also be of specific use to readers specifically interested in the ongoing efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in India.


PaperHive would like to know if the reader had only 5 minutes, what specific pages or sections should they definitely read to gain insight into your research?

I would say that the reader with only a few minutes to spare should read the first eleven pages of the book (pages 3-to the top of page 14).
My favorite paragraph is on page 13.
In sum, a critique of the sexual state advances radical appraisals of state, sexuality, and governance. This theoretical turn keeps states in the analytical foreground and demystifies them by drawing attention to the subjective and especially sexualized governance practices, laws, policies, and discourses that help realize them. Analyzing how states are constituted partly by the mandate to contain sexuality’s putative threat to the social order, this stance looks at the ways sexuality easily affects every aspect of the assemblage abbreviated as “the state.” Highlighting the banal as well as multiple iterations of governance actually giving substance to states, it encourages awareness of how race, gender and expression, and social caste and class are implicated in the exertions of power. Not least, this approach underscores that it is not only the nitty-gritties of governing that help produce state-effect but also the quests for sexual reform that (are obligated to) pivot around the state.

The reader could also skip forward to the concluding discussion and read pages 150-to the middle of page 152. The opening paragraph of the conclusion, “Afterlives,” is another of my favorite paragraphs.


Did you encounter any difficulties while working on the book? How did you resolve them?

Nothing specifically, but of course in the process of analyzing and writing–holding together complex ideas and rendering them in a way that would be compelling and accessible. Writing this book was not easy but it has been a truly rewarding process.

About the Author

Lisa Matthias
Studies North American Studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Her research interests are Media Studies, Political Communication, and US Foreign Policy.