Usha Iyer's research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of cinema, performance, and gender and sexuality studies, with a specific focus on film and performance histories, body cultures, and Global South cultural traffic along the vectors of race, gender, caste, and religion.
Iyer (she/they) is the author of Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2020), which examines constructions of gender, stardom, sexuality, and spectacle in Hindi cinema through women’s labor, collaborative networks, and gestural genealogies to produce a corporeal history of South Asian cultural modernities. Through a material history of the labor of producing on-screen dance, theoretical frameworks that emphasize collaboration, aesthetic approaches to embodiment, and formal analyses of cine-choreographic "techno-spectacles," Dancing Women offers a variegated, textured history of cinema, dance, and music. The book was awarded the British Association of South Asian Studies (BASAS) Book Prize, and shortlisted for the Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research by the Dance Studies Association.
Iyer’s next book project with the working title, Jammin’: Black and Brown Media Intimacies between India and the Caribbean, studies the deep affective engagement of Caribbean spectators with Indian cinema in relation to discourses of belonging and citizenship that have developed around the histories of African enslavement and Indian indentureship in Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Guyana. The book equally attends to the impact of Caribbean cultural forms on Indian film industries, which, through pirate and informal networks appropriated and adapted soca, chutney, and other musical and performance forms that were products of a creole modernity. Through a study of this cultural “jamming” of two media ecologies that meet and grind and develop their own logics and languages of negotiation, the book maps multi-directional, transregional, cross-racial flows and blockages. Spanning film, radio, television, and digital media, this multi-generational, and multi-sited (moving between India, the Caribbean, and Caribbean diasporas in North America) project engages with crucial questions of racial, religious, gender, and caste frictions and solidarities across locations that are not often studied alongside each other.
Iyer is co-editing a volume on the cinemas of the Indian New Wave with Manishita Dass.
Iyer's essays have appeared in journals like Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Feminist Media Histories, South Asian Popular Culture, BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, as well as in anthologies and edited collections, including, The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, A Companion to Indian Cinema, Industrial Networks and Cinemas of India, Figurations in Indian Film, among others. Iyer is Associate Editor of South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.
Iyer is the Annenberg Faculty Fellow, School of the Humanities and Sciences (2022-2024), and serves as affiliate faculty in Stanford's Center for South Asia, the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), and in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) program. Their research has been supported by fellowships from The George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, Stanford Humanities Center, Clayman Institute of Gender Research, CCSRE, FGSS, and Stanford Global Studies.
More information on publications at: https://stanford.academia.edu/UshaIyer)
Queer Cinemas around the World; Love in the Time of Cinema; Decolonizing Theory; Gender & Performance; The Body in Film and other Media; Global Melodrama; Art Cinemas of India; Hollywood/Bollywood; History of World Cinema; Introduction to Film Study, Indian Cinema.
Select Recorded Talks and Interviews
New Books Network, 2022: https://newbooksnetwork.com/dancing-women
South Asian Studies at Stanford podcast interview, 2020: https://shows.acast.com/south-asian-studies-at-stanford/episodes/usha-iyer-dancing-women
"Folded Corporeal Histories of the 1950s-60s Hindi Film Dancer-Actress" (UC Santa Cruz, Center for South Asian Studies, 2020): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7DtbnT15QE&feature=emb_logo
"Dancer-Actresses as Choreographers of New Mobilities" (Columbia University, South Asia Institute, 2020): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUtuSdX8c3A&t=4381s
Society for Cinema and Media Studies Aca-Media podcast interview, 2019: http://www.aca-media.org/episode50
"Teaching Indian Cinema in Trinidad: Rethinking Globalization Paradigms" (Stanford Global Studies, 2018): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiXzCU-oo3c&list=PLmsK9JBJBwlI7KmlP6lPAH3-MgD-B5Ih0
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