Upcoming Talks

February 16, 2018. Stanford, Bill Lane Center
Professor Comer. “Between Publics: Environments, Feminisms, Wests”


Scholarly work in the fields of feminist studies and environmental humanities typically implies publics that include but are also broader than universities. Such work often also alerts us to the serious challenges of translating humanities knowledges so they speak beyond university cultures and audiences.

This talk zeroes in on environmentalism in US West contexts as it meets up with activist surfing publics and material feminist theory. I work through the problem of straddling different sites of knowledge production by considering the intellectual work of activists involved in surf movements alongside that of scholars who theorize about material feminism. What concepts and/or practices are crucial to each public, when do they overlap, what do they offer one another? Keywords across these publics to explore specifically: intersectionality (for activists) and transcorporeality (for scholars).

February 28, 2018. California Green Summit, Sacramento
Equity and Coastal Access – Overcoming the Intangible Barriers (Collaboration)


Panel prepared by Jennifer Savage, Surfrider Foundation. In collaboration with Krista Comer, Institute for Women Surfers, Olivia VanDamme, City Surf Project, Mira Manickam-Shirley, Brown Girl Surf, Dionne Ybarra, Project Wahine.

  • Despite the guarantee of “maximum access” in the Coastal Act, California’s coast is on the tipping point of being out of reach for many Californians; 2016 polling by UCLA showed that while California voters strongly value the coast, a significant majority – 62 percent –across demographics consider limited coastal access to be a problem.
  • While efforts to open physical access ways have been largely successful over time, significant challenges continue to face efforts to create more diverse and inclusive educational and recreational opportunities by increasing educational and recreational opportunities for all Californians; underserved youth continue to face disproportionate challenges in accessing California’s coast.
  • Panel participants are all striving to overcome these barriers and, particularly, to amplify the voices of women of color within beach culture.
  • To fulfill the promise of California’s Coastal Act, we must address these intangible barriers with the same determination with which we fight physical access challenges such as gates and eroding beaches.

March 4-7, 2018. Save the Waves Coalition: Global Wave Conference, Santa Cruz, CA
Professor Comer. “Women’s Access and Questions of Value at Mavericks”


This talk reports on work recently done at Stanford University by the Institute for Women Surfers, a grassroots initiative in political education.  The Institute brings together women activists, scientists, educators, artists, and non-profit leaders, for trainings in “big picture” thinking. The goal is for groups of diverse women to gather and hear one another’s ideas and challenges so we can strengthen each other’s work. Among the most pressing concerns of surfing life is the need for sophisticated activism with interests in sustainable living and just international relations — including respect for women and girls as important thinkers, surfers, and powerful environmental advocates.

In this talk I will share with Save the Wave audiences the fact that environmental law that protects or advocate for health of marine spaces can also be law that advocates for civil rights of surfers. Our case in point is that of Mavericks, which will now feature women surfers on contest day. The broader point is to build strong coalitional bonds between environmental movements and surfeminist movements.The Institute as a project grew out of a book I published, Surfer Girls in the New World Order (2010). Surfers read the book and reached out to me to suggest new collaborations. The book shows that the experience of women surfing in male-majority surf breaks in many parts of the world has had the effect of politicizing women and girls in both environmentalist and feminist directions. Surf camps for women and girls, often owned by women surfers, contributes to spreading a message and mission that supports both environment and women’s liberation. This dual consciousness held by many women surfer activists is an important feature of the contemporary political landscape and is important to share with constituencies in major organizations like Save the Waves.

The topic of the 2017 Institute, “Issues of Access,” grew out of discussions between activists focused broadly on problems of cultural access women and girls face in everyday surf and beach spaces, and activists working on the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, a campaign brought to the California Coastal Commission for inclusion of women big wave surfers in the legendary Mavericks surf competition in Half Moon Bay.

March 22, 2018.  C19, The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
Professor Comer. “Materialism for Feminist Critical Regionalism”


Seminar organizers Jennifer Tuttle and Jeannie Pfaelzer have invited my participation in this seminar – I work in the contemporary period (for me 1945-present); this is a first C-19. However one recent essay of mine, calling for a much larger feminist critical regional presence in work on the US West, is among the prompts for seminar discussions.   My contribution will be theoretical, and in conversation with the actual research interests of participants. I also see my role as listening and learning.

What seems helpful to this seminar discussion (pending reading materials) is exploring feminist critical regionalism as it interfaces the new materialisms, including environmental justice literatures, indigenous science/environment, and the complexities of “climate” for explicitly feminist calls to conversation/action on myriad topics related to Anthropocene.  Would love to include “follow the carbon” arguments of sociologist Daniel Cohen, because they bear on urban forms and housing as a crucial site of critical regionalism.

I am writing a lot now on these topics. The two projects at Stanford, one in the Public Humanities through the Institute for Women Surfers (which I direct), the other traditional research project with big wave surfers and the California Coastal Commission, may also be helpful as theory. Both address “feminist environment” broadly: decolonial practices and activism, urban environmentalism, and water knowledges interfacing with academic knowledge.

Recent Past Talks


November 17, 2017.  Stanford, Bill Lane Center
Professor Comer. “The Battle for Mavericks & Other Western Showdowns”


What does surfing as a lifestyle or a brand have to do with US Western Studies? What makes the battle over the big wave surf spot “Mavericks” in Half Moon Bay an important topic for environmental justice and women’s civil rights campaigns in California? Sharing research conducted while a Visiting Scholar at the Lane Center, Professor Comer reports on The Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS), a direct action political group founded in 2016 to contest the exclusion of women from the legendary Mavericks contest. CEWS ultimately succeeded in urging the California Coastal Commission to consider issues of gender access to the contest as conditions of granting coastal use permits. Notwithstanding the victory, however, the contest remains stalled and initial campaign organizers have faced a vicious and ongoing backlash. What is at stake in the battle for Mavericks? What might the gendered battle over Mavericks teach us about issues of authority, belonging, and “ownership” of public resources in the 21st century West?

October 27, 2017.  Western Literature Association, Minneapolis.
Professor Comer, “Experience, Situated Knowledge, Feminist Wests”


What distinguishes notions of a Women’s West from Feminist Wests? One crucial difference involves scholars’ understanding of the category of “women’s experience.” Is experience a relatively simple or knowable event? Can we read experience from literary works or daily life in anything like a transparent way?

This workshop presentation highlights, first, the important critiques that key poststructural feminists have issued about “experience” as reliable evidence for history (Joan Scott) as well as about “women” as a defensible object of theory or politics for feminism (Judith Butler, Wendy Brown). With a sense of these challenges to both “experience” and “women” in mind, we then turn to standpoint theory (Sandra Harding), the concept of situated knowledge (Donna Haraway, Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Anzaldúa, Lily Cho), and sovereign feminisms (TallBear, Million). These latter bodies of materialist work, along with feminist thinking about the coloniality of power (María Lugones), push back against poststructural critique and offer strategies for addressing charges of essentialism or naïve notions of experience while nonetheless retaining “women” as a social and political group able to produce viable knowledge.

How might the possibilities of “situated knowledge” offer a framework for thinking about both women’s lives and people in place? Situated knowledge attends to the where of our thinking, the geographies of theory, history, narrative, and politics. Situated knowledges often are the theoretical ground for women of color and indigenous feminisms moreover. How do concepts of situated knowledge apply more specifically to Western or border or indigenous feminisms? These kinds of discussion questions prompt audience members to think afresh about their own projects and theoretical moorings. They prompt us to ask about feminism itself, which feminisms, and why?