Department of Sociology
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I am a Lecturer in Sociology. My research explores gender, sexuality and identity. I am interested in how these are negotiated and contested both in contexts of everyday life and across life courses, as well as within different cultural and political settings. I have primarily worked with queer men and masculine identified people in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United Kingdom (UK).
I work ethnographically and from phenomenological perspectives, exploring how people understand themselves though their relations to others and how those relations are situated in and shaped by specific political, spatial, temporal, technological and economic contexts.
Before joining the Department of Sociology at the University of York, I was an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology at Newcastle University developing publications from my earlier research with gay men in the PRC. Prior to that, I worked as a Senior Research Associate on the Digital Intimacies project at the University of East Anglia and King’s College London, which explored relationships between intimacy and smartphone technologies for queer men and masculine identified people in the UK. I continue to collaborate with this research team. Earlier still, I was a Research Associate on the METADAC project at Newcastle University, conducting ethnographic research into data governance across several UK-based health and social data banks.
In 2018, I completed my PhD in Sociology at Newcastle University, focusing on the everyday lives and self-understandings of gay men in Hainan, an island province of the PRC. In addition to living in Hainan for 18 months, fieldwork for this research involved working in a local gay bar and with the Hainan branch of True Self – the PRC’s largest LGBTQ+ organisation.
My PhD was preceded by an MLitt in Chinese Studies and a BA in Modern Languages (Chinese and Spanish), both at Newcastle University.
My research interests are in gender, sexuality and identity. I explore how these are negotiated and contested both in contexts of everyday life and across life courses, as well as within different cultural and political settings. I use ethnographic methods, including qualitative interviews, and work across sociology and anthropology while employing phenomenological, interactionist, queer and feminist insights.
My ESRC-funded doctoral research explored the everyday lives of gay men in Hainan, an island province of the People's Republic of China (PRC). I focused on experiences of community, the embodiment and spatial performance of sexual identities and narratives of the future. The research was based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork. During this time, I was a Regional Co-ordinator for the Hainan branch of True Self – the PRC largest LGBTQ+ organisation. I continue to collaborate with this group. I also worked as a dancer in a local gay bar.
A key finding of this research was that gay lives in Hainan are often characterised by deep uncertainty, both in terms of what it means to ‘be gay’ and what kinds of lives are possible outside of heterosexual marriage and parenthood. Uncertainty could, at times, underpin playful performances of identity and claims to belonging.
However, it also curtailed gay men’s abilities to imagine futures outside of heterosexual marriage and reproduction. Such uncertainties resulted from a lack of non-heterosexual life course narratives and the material role of children as care providers for their parents in later life. This meant that participants often conceptualised ‘a gay life’ as temporary and unsustainable.
These and other findings will be published as a book with Palgrave Macmillan in 2022. This was completed through an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, which I undertook in Sociology at Newcastle University.
Following my doctoral research, I contributed to an ethnographic exploration of data governance across several UK-based health and social data banks as part of the METADAC project at Newcastle University. While this was a change of direction, it spoke to my sustained interest in how new technologies produce new ways of knowing which, in turn, present new ethical challenges. After this, I worked on the Digital Intimacies project at the University of East Anglia, which explored relationships between intimacy and smartphone technologies for queer men and masculine identified people in the UK. I continue to collaborate with this research team on publications and dissemination activities.
My work with gay men in Hainan led to several new lines of inquiry that I hope to pursue in future research. These include exploring discursive and material limitations on imagining and living lives outside of heterosexual marriage and reproduction in the PRC, the involvement of gay men in the PRC in transnational surrogacies and the changing dynamics of gay bar drag shows and transgender sex work in the PRC.
Cummings, J. (in press, 2022). The Everyday Lives of Gay Men in Hainan: Sociality, Space and Time. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Vears, D., Minion, J., Roberts, S., Cummings, J., Machirori, M. & Murtagh, M. (2021). Views on genomic research result delivery methods and informed consent: a review. Personalized Medicine, 18(3), 295-310.
Hakim, J., Young, I., & Cummings, J. (2021). Sex in the Time of Coronavirus: Gay Men Negotiating Biosexual Citizenship During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Continuum
Cummings, J. (2020) “Look how many gays there are here”: Digital technologies and non-heterosexual space in Haikou. Urban Planning, 4(5): 347-357.
Peng, A., Zhang, I., Cummings, J., & Zhang, X. (2020). Boris Johnson in hospital: A Chinese gaze at Western democracies in the COVID-19 pandemic. Media International Australia, 177(1): 76-91.
Peng, A., Cummings, J., & Li, Y. (2020) Post-reform gender politics: How do Chinese Internet users portray Theresa May on Zhihu. Feminist Media Studies, epub ahead of print.
Cummings, J. (2020) ‘Now You Can See Who’s Around You’: Gay Male Intimacies and Geo-Social Networking Applications in the People’s Republic of China. In J. Cabañes, C. Uy-Tioco (Eds) Mobile Media and Social Intimacies in Asia, pp.15-30, Springer, Chennai.
Lanka, F., Hakim, J., Young, I., Cummings, J., Redfern, L., Clarke, L. (2021) Digital Intimacies Zine. Challenging stereotypes of queer men’s smartphone use. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SHz9_3nPHogXc4EwrUxRpn-Kp8hocUND/view
Cummings, J. (2021) ‘The double lives of gay men in China’s marginal provinces’ in The Independent, 12th Jun 2021: https://www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/long-reads/life-gay-men-china-hainan-b1861145.html
I am module convenor for Introducing Social Psychology (SOC00004C/8C), spring and summer terms, 2022.