Roberto defends dissertation

KR Roberto
K.R. Roberto

Doctoral candidate K.R. Roberto successfully defended their dissertation, "Description Is a Drag (and Vice Versa): Classifying Trans Identities," on December 11.

Their committee included Associate Professor Kathryn La Barre (chair and research director), Associate Professor Carol Tilley; Toby Beauchamp, Gender and Womens Studies, University of Illinois; and Melissa Adler, Faculty of Information & Media Studies, University of Western Ontario.

Abstract: General controlled vocabularies that are used in traditional library and archival settings are lacking in adequate terminology for works about transgender, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary identities; my research builds on a long tradition of cataloging and classification from a social justice perspective. This work uses a mixed methods approach as a way to interrogate how LGBTQ identities, especially those named as queer or trans, have been articulated and defined from the 1950s to the present. I examine the classificatory structures found in thesauri used in medical contexts, namely the DSM and ICD, and historically used to label queer identities, to define trans identities, and to police gender boundaries. In order to compile a body of contemporary trans language and concepts, I surveyed trans-identified adults in the United States about the terminology that they are both familiar with and use to define themselves. I then interviewed some of my survey respondents, and subsequently supplemented this qualitative data with social media content, in order to assemble a portrait of how trans people view gender classification and the ways in which that classification can be applied. Using José Esteban Muñoz’s model of disidentifications, Deleuze & Guattari's rhizome concept, and community-centered research as a framework, I argue that language used for trans identities is non-linear, non-hierarchical, and cannot be contained within traditional LIS classificatory frameworks.  I also propose trans knowledge organization as a new area of research. In order to both document and denature trans classification, this dissertation will address three research questions: 1) How have trans identities historically been controlled and classified in cataloging practices? 2) What language do trans individuals in the United States use to self-describe their identities and lived experiences? 3) How do socially constructed gender identities engage with classificatory practices within library and information science? 

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