Pembroke Center

Current Faculty Seed Grants

The Pembroke Center's competitive seed grant program supports collaborative research initiatives that involve Brown faculty from the humanities, social sciences, creative arts, and health sciences.

2022-23 Pembroke Center Seed Grants

These grants were awarded during the 2022-23 academic year for 2023-24 projects.

As we recover from the social, economic, and political upheaval endured throughout the pandemic, fantasizing about futures beyond work has never been more urgent. Although feminists and domestic labor organizing have long advocated anti-work politics as a theoretical framework for the critique of capitalism, these conversations have largely missed the ways that sex workers and care workers have always integrated these politics as part of their strategies for getting by. Those excluded from the traditional categories of not only “labor” but also “human” and “citizen” are the ones who are, by necessity, imagining new political imaginaries and political subjectivities that can  account for their marginality. This working group weaves together perspectives on erotic exchange and feminized labor across geography (the U.S. south, Cuba, China, New York City, and Thailand), industry (porn work, domestic labor, rehabilitation work, full service sex work, and commercial BDSM), time (histories of slavery from19th century to the present), and discipline (history, anthropology, sociology, media studies, ethnic  studies, and poetry)

Some of the core research questions this working group will pursue include: 1) What anti-work practices and post-work futures have sexualized workers developed and how have these created solidarity and freedom? How do these perspectives demand rethinking contemporary neoliberal policy responses to migrant labor and commercial sex, as well as dominant assumptions around consent and legitimacy in sex work? 2) How does transactional  eroticism bear on questions of freedom, work agency, and legitimacy? How might the destabilizing effect of eroticism on transactional encounters open up new perspectives of freedom, work, agency, and legitimacy? How are these relations racialized and constituted through white anxieties of xenophobia and miscegenation? 

The symposium’s participants inquire into questions of anti-work in sex work across a vast diversity of experiences, ranging from Black full-service sex work in the Southern United States to Cuban jineteras who practice Santería to porn performers across the world to independent Professional Dominatrixes in New York City. The symposium will leverage the different methodologies and theoretical approaches spanning political theory, anthropology, history, sociology, and poetry and encompassing an interest in ethnography, oral history, community-based research methods and a vested interest in exposing archival silence.  

The envisioned outcome of this convening is to collectively write a special feature for Open Democracy’s Beyond Trafficking and Slavery editorial platform on the themes covered. This initial convening will also assist our application for an NEH Collaborative Research Grant (due Dec. 2023) and a Russell Sage LOI for the Future of Work Research Program. Future proposals will aim to share our dialogue into different platforms including as an edited collection, but also as a digital exhibition that includes the contributions of artist and cultural organizer collaborators. 

Project Directors

  • Elena Shih, Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies, Brown University
  • Emily Owens, David and Michelle Ebersman Assistant Professor of History, Brown University

The field of Black internationalism has rapidly grown in the last several decades—with scholars in various fields exploring the interplay between national and global affairs and interrogating the diverse ways people of African descent have linked their political struggle with other nonwhite people across the globe. Most recently, scholars have worked to center women’s voices and experiences in the Black internationalist story. At the heart of this scholarship is a close gender analysis—not solely focusing on women’s ideas and activism but also thinking deeply about how women’s lives compare to and contrast with their male counterparts.

This symposium will feature new and groundbreaking scholarship in the field. It will bring together early-career and established scholars, graduate students, and independent scholars working on various aspects of Black women’s internationalism from the 19th century to the present day. Presentations will reflect the geographical breadth of the African Diaspora including Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Presenters and attendees will evaluate the state of the field and envision its future–theoretically, thematically, and methodologically.

Project Directors

Keisha N. Blain, Professor of Africana Studies and History, Brown University

Shaun Armstead, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Africana Studies, Brown University


Ashley Everson, Ph.D. student, Africana Studies

Kiana Knight, Ph.D. student, Africana Studies

Katharina Weygold, Ph.D. student, American Studies

Mickell Carter, Ph.D. student, Africana Studies

In the last half century the categories of fiction and autobiography have been destabilized by a series of practices that center a more and more loosely identifiable first person. Classic forms of fiction and autobiography appear increasingly marginalized in favor of “creative nonfiction,” “auto-fiction,” “auto-theory,” and “critical fabulation.”

Overlapping with this literary trend is a troubling of the distinction between truth and fiction, evident in phenomena as different as the credibility of documentary and mediatized fact and challenges to authentic creation by artificial intelligence. It might be argued that the convergence of auto-inflected writing and fictionalized fact signal an epistemic shift as significant as Descartes’s thinking “I.”

The “Why Me?” project will convene a two-day colloquium that assembles writers and thinkers to examine the intellectual and epistemological impact of a reliance on first-person narration, or relation, that operates on the shifting sands of both subject formation and objective reality. Additional activities will include a subsequent series of seminars involving Brown faculty and students from History, Political Science, English (including the Non-Fiction Writing Program), the Data Science Initiative, and Literary Arts that build on the colloquium by analyzing the relation between first person writing and the crisis of documented fact.

Project Directors

Applications for the Pembroke Center’s faculty seed grants are reviewed each spring. Check the Interdisciplinary Faculty Seed Grants page for requirements and deadlines.

Contacts for Questions