Exploring the Potential of Cultural Drag


  • Martha Johnson University of Minnesota
  • Anders Larsen University of Minnesota




drag, body, education abroad, study abroad advising


This article illustrates the problematic nature of the use of intercultural, international exchange as the primary or singular mode of understanding the study abroad experience and proposes alternative ways of talking to students about their study abroad experiences. While the focus on cultural exchange may be a practical trope, it creates a clear understanding of them-versus-us in terms of values and behaviors. It also glazes over some central features of the postmodern study abroad experience. We argue that the study abroad can be understood through the metaphor of drag, i.e., the act of putting on a costume and performing an identity. ”Cultural drag” gives students the opportunity to experiment and play with their identity and explore how their privilege may change depending on where and how they present themselves. The article examines the strengths and weaknesses of this metaphor and explores how to advise students so they have an awareness of the role of their body once they enter the experience.

Abstract in Danish

Denne artikel illustrerer problematikkerne ved at benytte interkulturel og international udveksling som den eneste eller primære måde til at forstå studerendes udenlandsophold. Samtidig foreslår artiklen alternative måder til italesættelse af de studerendes oplevelse.  Branchens fokus på kulturel udveksling er praktisk da det etablerer en modpol de studerende kan spejle værdier og handlinger i. Dog ignorerer dette fokus centrale aspekter af det postmoderne udenlandsophold for studerende.

Denne artikel argumenterer at metaforen kulturel drag, altså at iføre sig et kostume og spille en identitet, kan kaste lys på de studerendes oplevelse. Kulturel drag giver de studerende mulighed for at eksperimentere og lege med deres identitet, samt at undersøge hvordan deres privilegier ændrer sig alt efter deres positionalitet og fremtoning. Artiklen undersøger styrker og svagheder ved føromtalte metafor og undersøger hvordan studerende kan rådgives før udenlandsophold så de bliver bevidste om deres krops performativitet.



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Author Biographies

Martha Johnson, University of Minnesota

Dr. Martha Johnson is the Assistant Dean for Learning Abroad at the University of Minnesota. She has worked in international education since 1991 for organizations in the US, Ireland, Australia, and the United Kingdom. She holds a BA in English literature and theatre arts from St Mary’s University of Minnesota, an MA in English literature from University of St Thomas, and a PhD in American Studies with an emphasis in drama and the performance of gender, race, and cultural identity from the University of East Anglia, UK.

Anders Larsen, University of Minnesota

Anders Larsen, Cand. Mag. has a background in cultural studies. He is specialized in the formation of contemporary national identities in Europe. For the past decade he has been working in international education at DIS – Study Abroad in Scandinavia. His work has focused on the cultural experiences of students, but he has also been teaching various classes within cultural history and visual culture. Anders is a seasoned drag performer.


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How to Cite

Johnson, M. ., & Larsen, A. (2020). Exploring the Potential of Cultural Drag. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 32(3), 51–71. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v32i3.579