GWS Spotlight

Mimi Nguyen Faculty Spotlight

8/23/2017  8:00 am



GWS Faculty Spotlight: Mimi Thi Nguyen

Mimi Thi Nguyen is Interim Chair of Gender and Women's Studies and Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first book, called The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages, focuses on the promise of “giving” freedom concurrent and contingent with waging war (Duke University Press, 2012; Outstanding Book Award in Cultural Studies from the Association of Asian American Studies, 2014). She is also co-editor with Fiona I.B. Ngo and Mariam Lam of a special issue of positions on Southeast Asian American Studies (20:3, Winter 2012), and co-editor with Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu of Alien Encounters: Pop Culture in Asian America (Duke University Press, 2007). Her following project is called The Promise of Beauty. She has also published in SignsCamera ObscuraWomen & Performancepositions, and Radical History Review. Nguyen was recently named a Conrad Humanities Scholar for 2013-2018, a designation supporting the work of outstanding associate professors in the humanities within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois.

Nguyen has made zines since 1991, including Slander (formerly known by other titles) and the compilation zine Race Riot. She is a former Punk Planet columnist and Maximumrocknroll volunteer. She is also co-author of the (mostly retired) research blog on dress and beauty threadbared. In June 2013, Sarah McCarry's Guillotine ("a series of erratically published chapbooks focused on revolutionary non-fiction") released PUNK, a conversation between Nguyen and Golnar Nikpour. She toured with other zine makers of color in 2012 and 2013, and continues to organize events and shows with and for POC punks.


Classes being taught regularly at the University of Illinois (course number and title)

GWS 350 Feminist and Gender Theory

GWS 485 Politics of Fashion

GWS 550 Feminist Theories and Methods

GWS 575 Transnational Feminisms


Research Specialization

Transnational feminist cultural studies, feminist theory, war and empire studies, beauty and fashion studies


Current research projects

The Promise of Beauty argues the significance of beauty as a politics for intervening in history (the conditions under which beauty endures) and life itself (what meaning beauty lends). I ask how the concept of beauty is posited as fundamental to an idea of life and its continuation, which includes its governance, especially when promise narrates a particular historical consciousness of future action, whether with or against everyday despair or spectacular crisis. Considering the promise of beauty ranging from beautiful objects, persons, or scenes, which might hold out to us clusters of real or ideal objects such as romantic love, spiritual transcendence, economic mobility, or political transformation, mine is a minor historiography of a concept of beauty as an imperative discourse, one that determines what conditions beauty requires to flourish, with and against the threat of its disappearance or destruction; and about the transformation of those conditions to sustain such life that the beautiful promises to us.


What drew you to the department of gender and women’s studies? (1-2 sentences)

I was a gender and women’s studies major as an undergraduate, and that experience changed my life. Not only do feminist theories and methods inform my intellectual genealogy thoroughly, but my institutional commitment to the field and to departments like ours follows from this early formation as well.


Favorite places on campus

My office in the Gender and Women’s studies building.

Red Herring!