IAS Fellow at the College of St Hild and St Bede, Durham University (January – March 2019)

Staci Newmahr is an ethnographer whose training draws from both anthropology and sociology. Her substantive foci are gender, nonconformity (deviance), risk and emotion. Within these contexts, she is particularly interested in phenomenologies and narratives of limit, or “edge,” experience. She has studied a wide range of activities and spaces, including sadomasochism (BDSM), Renaissance Faire devotees, feederism and asexuality. She has published in Journal of Contemporary EthnographySymbolic InteractionQualitative Sociology and Qualitative Sociology Review.

As a symbolic interactionist, Dr Newmahr is primarily concerned with systems of meaning and meaning-making processes. Her work has re-conceptualized edgework from a feminist perspective by extending consideration to emotional risk-taking, and framed Renaissance Faires as erotic spaces. She is the co-editor of Selves, Symbols and Sexualities, an anthology of original, contemporary work theorizing sexuality from an interactionist perspective. She has also written on ethnographic methods; her interests in this area include field practices, inductive analysis and issues of subjectivity in ethnography. Most recently, as part of a larger conversation about challenges to ethnography in the current academic climate, she co-conceived and co-proposed “surrogate ethnography.”

Dr Newmahr’s four-year immersive ethnography in a BDSM community in the U.S. resulted in her book, Playing on the Edge (2011), in which she illustrates that feelings of intimacy are the outcome of collaborative or co-present boundary transgression. The analysis of the public BDSM scene as a serious leisure pursuit has led her to a broader interest in transgressive leisure practices and geek culture.

She is currently studying women involved in New Age healing practices. This project analyzes life histories of shamans, reiki practitioners and energy workers, to explore the experiences and appeal of New Age spirituality from a feminist leisure perspective.

Her fieldwork at Durham will continue her inquiry into nonconformity, edgework and leisure. Her multi-site ethnographic study of transgressive leisure practices and groups across the North seeks to shift the focus beyond specific leisure practices to nonconformity itself, and link contemporary theories of risk and leisure across regions and continents. She situates this fieldwork in conjunction and collaboration with Durham’s Professor Fiona Measham’s research on gender and transgressive leisure, and aims to further bridge this literature between the U.S. and the U.K.

Dr Newmahr earned her PhD at Stony Brook University (New York) in 2007. A keynote speaker in the U.S. and internationally, she served as Associate Editor of Symbolic Interaction from 2011-2016, and is currently on the editorial board of the Journal of Positive Sexuality. She is Associate Professor of Sociology at State University of New York at Buffalo State, where she was the 2013 recipient of the Presidential Award for the Promotion of Equity and Diversity.