Partnerships: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research
cute studies, aesthetic theory, neutrality, whiteness, race, gender
This essay explores how feminization and a particular aestheticization thereof is called upon to attempt to mitigate, veil, and neutralize whiteness in libraries and librarianship. It looks specifically at cuteness, an aesthetic category historically shaped by, and deeply invested in, hegemonic formulations of gender, race, and consumption. This paper explores the types of projects cuteness might abet in librarianship—particularly aspirations of political neutrality—by positioning itself as for all and against none. Indeed, by calling forth its purported timeless appeal and assuming an aesthetic that no one can resist, cuteness positions the whiteness central to it as both harmless and universal. This essay explores how this category, with its claims of innocence, utilizes a nostalgic white femininity to gesture to a romanticized yet fabricated past that subsequently precludes acknowledgment of and engagement with the present, including race, gender, and other axes of difference. It also addresses how this aesthetic has surfaced in critical and progressive library spaces, drawing attention to the ways in which it has been celebrated, subverted, and made politically productive. Finally, this paper demonstrates the importance of exploring aesthetics and material culture, however tangential they might seem to both the practical and theoretical work of libraries. We must ask after what cuteness and other aesthetic categories that mark librarianship invite us to do, as well as the types of work that they preclude.
Schlesselman-Tarango, Gina, "How Cute! Race, Gender, and Neutrality in Libraries" (2017). Library Faculty Publications. 37.