Amber Jamilla Musser

Amber Jamilla Musser
Professor of American Studies
609 22nd St. NW, Room 202
[email protected]

Areas of Expertise

Full CV


Queer Theory, Feminist Theory, Critical Race Theory, Queer of Color Critique, Race and Aesthetics 


Dr. Musser has  published widely on race and critical theory, queer femininities and race, race and sexuality, and queer of color critique. She has an MSt in Women's Studies from Oxford University and received her PhD in History of Science from Harvard University. She has held fellowships at New York University's Draper Program in Gender Studies and Brown University's Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. Her research has been supported by grants from the Ruth Landes Memorial Fellowship and the Arts Writers’ Grant from the Warhol Foundation. She previously taught gender studies at New York University and Washington University in St. Louis. She also writes art criticism for The Brooklyn Rail. 

Current Research

Her first monograph, Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (NYU Press, 2014) uses masochism as a lens to theorize different felt relationships to power. The book beings together debates on masochism within feminism, discussions of masochism from psychoanalysis and critiques of colonialism, literary presentations of masochism, and performance and visual art that draws on masochism's repertoire in order to make an argument about the relationship between sensation and knowledge production and the racialization of our current episteme of sexuality. 

Working against the framing of black and brown bodies as sexualized, objectified, and abject, her second monograph, Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (NYU Press, 2018) turns toward sensation and aesthetics in order to imagine epistemologies of sensuality that emerge from fleshiness. The book offers multiple inroads into thinking with and through brown jouissance and the pornotrope. Using analyses of particular works of art, each chapter draws attention to specific aspects of pornotropic capture that black and brown bodies must negotiate. These technologies differ according to the nature of the encounters with white supremacy, but together, they add to our understanding of the ways that structures of domination produce violence and work to contain bodies and pleasures within certain legible parameters. In relation to this, the book also identifies and analyzes moments of brown jouissance that exceed these constraints. This move outward offers a way to think with the ways that aesthetic forms might rearrange knowledge by engaging differently with fleshiness and how we apprehend it. This is a three-pronged approach designed to help us understand brown jouissance as robust, political, and fleshy. In addition to containing critiques of normativity and proffering epistemologies of sensuality against those of sexuality, this project of minoritarian knowledge production is designed to enable one to sit with opacity and uncertainty.

She is currently beginning a research project on noise. 



BA Harvard University 2002
MSt Oxford University 2003
PhD Harvard University 2009



Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (2014) New York University Press.

Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (forthcoming—October 2018) New York University Press

Special Journal Issues

“Queer Form,” co-edited with Kadji Amin and Roy Perez  ASAP Journal 2.2 (May 2017)

Journal Articles

“Surface-Becoming: Lyle Ashton Harris and Brown Jouissance,” Women and Performance (2018) 28(1): 1-12.

“Queering Sugar: Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx and the Intractability of Black Female Sexuality,” Signs: Journal of Women and Culture (2016) 42(1): 1-22.

 “Black Hair and Textures of Defensiveness” Palimpsest (2016) 5(1): 1-19.

“Queering the Pin-Up: History, Femmes, and Brooklyn” GLQ (2016) 22(1): 55-80.

 “Specimen Days: Diversity, Labor, and the University,” Feminist Formations (2015) 27(3): 1-20.

 “Fifty Shades of Grey, The Story of O, and the Possibilities of Critique,” Feminist Theory (2015) 16(2): 121-136. DOI: 10.1177/1464700115585723

 “Lesbians, Tea, and the Vernacular of Fluids” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory (2015) 25(1): 1-18. DOI: 10,1080/0740770X.2014.994841

 “Object of Desire: Towards an Ethics of Sameness” theory and event (2013) 16(2). (online)

“On the Orgasm of the Species: Female Sexuality, Science, and Sexual Difference" Feminist Review (2012) 102: 1–20.

 “Anti-Oedipus, Kinship, and the Subject of Affect” Social Text (2012) 30(3): 77-95.

“Reading, Writing, Masochism: The Arts of Becoming” differences (2012) 23(1): 131-150.

“Reading, Writing, and the Whip,” Literature and Medicine (2009) 27(2): 204-222.

 “From Our Body to Your Selves: The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and Changing Notions of Subjectivity, 1969-1973,” WSQ (2007) 35(1&2): 93-109.

“Masochism, A Queer Subjectivity,” Rhizomes 11, Fall 2005. (online)

Essays in Books

“Sheree Rose, the Maternal, and the Erotics of Care,” Rated RX: Sheree Rose with and after Bob Flanagan (Ohio University Press, forthcoming).

“All About Our Mothers: Race, Gender, and the Reparative,” After Queer Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)

“Bette Davis Eyes and Minoritarian Survival: Camp, Melodrama, and Spectatorship,” Critical Concepts: Affect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

“On Pins and Needles: Punks, Dandies and Spectacularity” Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture (forthcoming)

“Consent, Capacity, and the Non-Narrative,” Queer Feminist Science Studies Reader (Seattle: University of Washington, 2017); 221-233.

“Thinking Precarity and Sexuality with Queer Theory,” A Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory. Edited by Imre Szeman, Sarah Blacker, and Justin Sully (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017); 243-254.

“Re-membering Lorde: Adding Lesbian Feminist Mother Poet to Black,” No Tea, No Shade (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 346-361.

“On the erotic” Gender: Sources, Perspectives, and Methodologies. Edited by Renée C. Hoogland. Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Gender (Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016); 69-82.

Review Essays, Short Essays, and Book Reviews

"Tracey Moffat's Vigils and Travellers," co-written with Maureen Catbagan, Brooklyn Rail, July/August 2018 <<>>

“Mammy’s Milk and Absent Black Children,” Studies in Gender and Sexuality (forthcoming)<< .>>

Return of La Argentina, Black One Shot, ASAP-J online, June 4, 2018 <<>>

 “Architectures of Blue: Race, Representation, and Black and Brown Abstraction,” Brooklyn Rail, October 2017 <<>>

Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality by Shaka McGlotten reviewed in Screen Bodies, June 2017

“The Mess We’re In” Public Books, Roundtable on Future Sex, March 24, 2017 << >>

“Sex, Sensation, and Funky Pleasures,” Funk the Erotic Symposium, Syndicate Lit March 8, 2017 <<>>

 “Black Women, Pornography, and Economies of Desire,” (review of A Taste for Brown Sugar)GLQ 23:1 (January 2017): 160-162.

“Race, Pornography, and Desire: A TBS Roundtable,” The Black Scholar (online—September 2016) DOI:10.1080/00064246.2016.1223484

Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human by Alex Wehilye reviewed in philoSOPHIA (2016) 6.1: 156-160.

“How to Be a Credit to Your Race,” Review of Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, The Common Reader, January 26, 2016. (online)

 “The Short and Happy Life of Robert Peace” The Common Reader, June 1, 2015 (online)

“Sadomasochism, domination, and submission,” The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015) (online)

“Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics” African American Review (2014) 47(1): 201-204.

“Desire, Belonging Touch” review of The Erotic Life of Racism, WSQ (2014) 42(3-4): 312-3.

Racial Camouflage: Thinking Race Apart from Sexuality,” Studies in Gender and Sexuality (2012) 13(3): 231-5.

“The Politics and Erotics of Time” (review of E. Freeman Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer HistoriesReviews in Cultural Theory (2011) 2(1). (online)

Classes Taught

The African American Experience

Biopolitics, Intimacy, and Precarity