Vargas, Deborah

Vargas SquareAssociate Professor and Henry Rutgers Term Chair in Comparative Sexuality, Gender, and Race


Tel: 848-932-8428

Office: RDJC 212








Ph.D. Sociology, The University of California, Santa Cruz

Research Interests

Vargas’s research interests draw from areas including queer of color studies, critical race feminisms, sound studies, and chismography to pose questions related to sexuality, Latinidad, Chicanidad, cultural productions, and aesthetics. 

Vargas is the author of Dissonant Divas in Chicana Music: The Limits of La Onda (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) a feminist queer analysis of Chicana/Mexicana singers in the twentieth century. Drawing on alternative and multi-sited archives including performance, oral histories, ephemera, and recordings, among others Vargas argues for a queer sonic imaginary of the borderlands, one that pushes against the heteronormative limits produced in Chicano canonical musical genre constructions.  Dissonant Divas was awarded three book prizes: The Woody Guthrie Prize for Best Book in Popular Music Studies, International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Best Book in Chicana/o Studies, The National Association for the Study of Chicana and Chicano Studies. Honorable Mention, Outstanding Book in Latino Studies, Latin American Studies Association (Latino Studies Section).  Vargas’s feminist biographies of Chicana singers have contributed to a number of public cultural projects including the Smithsonian Institute’s Latino Music Oral History Project and the Lydia Mendoza USPS Commemorative Stamp.  

Biographical Notes

Currently, Vargas is working on two manuscripts. The first proposes a queer feminist notion of “brown soul” that reimagines Chicanidad/Mexicanidad by tracing Blackness through musical sounds, visual aesthetics, and performances by artists including the duets of Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville, Sheila E, Quetzal, Mexican revolutionary corridos, and Mexican folkloric songs such as “La Negra” among others. The second book considers the notion of “Latin@ sabor” to theorize  suciedad as sociedad or the socialities that emerge through sensorial constructions of the déclassé, the foul, the bad, the offensive, the impure, the dirty, the nasty, the uncivil, the non-hygenic — and how such socialities may enact queer modes of endurance, longevity, and perseverance as alternatives to the kinds of visibility and recognition discourses that are central to liberal constructions of Latino citizenship. The Latin@ texts explored include, the figure of la cantinera, el grito mexicano, las malandrinas de Jenni Rivera, and photography of Xandra Ibarra.

Selected Publications

Vargas has published in a number of journals including Feminist Studies, Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory; Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies; Social Text; American Quarterly.  She is co-editor with Nancy Raquel Mirabal and Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes of Keywords for Latina/o Studies (New York University Press, 2017):

Book Webpage:
Vargas, Deborah R. “Un desmadre positivo: Notes on how Jenni Rivera Played music” (eds) Arlene Davila and Yeidy Rivero. Latin@ Media Now (New York: New York University Press, 2014)
Vargas, Deborah R. “Ruminations On Lo Sucio as a Latino Queer Analytic,” American Quarterly 66.3 (September 2014): 715‐726.

Vargas, Deborah R. “Punk’s Afterlife in Cantina Time,” Social Text 31, no. 3 (Fall 2013): 57‐73. 


Vargas’s fellowship awards include: The Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Smithsonian Institute’s Latino Initiates Fellowship (American History Museum),  University of California Humanities Research Institute, University of California Office of the President Postdoctoral Fellowship.  Vargas serves on the editorial boards of: Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies and Women and Music:  A Journal of Gender and Culture