Palgrave MacMillan Publishes Two Books by PhD Graduates in CEU's Comparative Gender Studies

Two books by graduates of the PhD in Comparative Gender Studies have recently been published by Palgrave MacMillan. 

The Department of Gender Studies organized a joint book launch to celebrate the publication of Dorottya Redai‘s Exploring Sexuality in Schools and Rita Beres-Deak’s Queer Families in Hungary

In her welcome, Francisca de Haan, head of CEU’s Department of Gender Studies remarked that for any scholar, being published by Palgrave is an accomplishment, but “for someone who has just graduated from a PhD program this is remarkable.” Adding that the two authors have been core members of the LGBTQ activism in Hungary, she expressed the Department's pride in both.

Sexuality, ethnicity, class and kneading dough in a high school

Dorottya Redai gave a brief introduction to her monograph Exploring Sexuality in Schools: The Intersectional Reproduction of Inequality (Palgrave MacMillan 2019).

The book explores the place of sexuality in a Hungarian combined vocational, technical, and grammar school. Redai spent two years at the school, talking to students, attending classes and collecting an “enormous amount of field material.” She revealed several vignettes from the book, including an example of sexuality entering the classroom: students learning how to handle dough created shapes that looked like sexual organs. The teacher [male] also resorted to sexuality, suggesting to the students [presumably male] they should handle dough “as gently as you would handle your girlfriend.”

The book is based on ethnographic research using a post-structuralist and intersectional theoretical framework. It critically discusses key issues around schooling and sexuality, addressing such themes as LGBTQ+ youth and teachers, institutional hierarchy, the intersections of gender, ethnicity and class in the constitution of sexualities, and the role of sexuality in the re/production of social inequalities through education. 

Eva Fodor, Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Pro-Rector for the Social Sciences and Humanities at CEU was Redai’s supervisor. She stressed the “amazing access” that Redai was granted to the students and also remarked on the fact that she was able to win the confidence of teenagers who in turn shared stories and were willing to talk about their sexual lives openly. As Fodor said, “This is the mark of a true ethnographer”. 

Erzsebet Barat, Associate Professor at the Department of Gender Studies at CEU and at the Department of English Studies, University of Szeged suggested that it would be really useful if the book were to be published in Hungarian and distributed in Hungary because teachers should be able to access this research, especially the government has been enacting legislation against proper sexual education in public schools since 2010. 

Same-sex couples and their families of origin: rethinking what family means

Rita Beres-Deak spoke of her book Queer Families in Hungary: Same-Sex Couples, Families of Origin, and Kinship (Palgrave MacMillan 2019). Set against the backdrop of a country that upholds a heteronormative and restricted view of family, this book provides valuable insights into the lives of Hungarian same-sex couples and their heterosexual relatives. 

Beres-Deak utilizes the theoretical framework of intimate citizenship, as well as findings from ethnographic interviews, participant observation and online sources. Instead of emphasizing the divide between non-heterosexual people and their heterosexual kin, the author recognizes that these members of queer families share many similar experiences and challenges. Queer Families in Hungary looks at experiences of coming out, negotiation of visibility, and kinship practices, and offers valuable insights into how individuals and families are able to resist heterosexist constraints through their discourses and practices. The book is unique in many ways, including how it does not only speak to the same-sex couples but also their parents, children and siblings and thus integrates two perspectives.

“I met couples who were outraged that the Hungarian government considers the family as based on a heterosexual couple. But they also consider themselves a perfect family, and their extended family also does so, even heterosexual family members. The latter also started to re-think what marriage meant for them and realized that the taken-for-granted notion of family no longer applies to them” Beres-Deak recalled. “Most often these people tried to re-think what family means for them in a way that the same-sex couple is also considered a family” she explained. 

Katalin Rahel Turai, a fellow graduate of the PhD program in Comparative Gender Studies at CEU, and CEU Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at the Gender Studies MA Program at Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) stressed that Beres-Deak’s monograph is important because a lot of LGBTQ studies concentrate on the rainbow families themselves and not the families of origin. 

“I also appreciate that the voices of rural people are included here. The book overcame the limitations of a lot of LGBTQ studies which concentrate on white, middle-class Budapest residents.”

Judit Takacs, Research Chair at the Centre for Social Sciences - Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence said that “both books represent ethnography at its best” and pointed out that Beres-Deak’s book was published in Palgrave’s series on family and intimate life: “not in a special LGBTQ section, but in mainstream social science.”

Takacs emphasized that the book also showed wonderfully how agency can be captured, how the people Beres-Deak talked to adopted “the family forms available to them to their own needs, and that one can adapt one’s environment to one’s needs.” Redai and Beres-Deak are both currently working as independent scholars.