Queer theory

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Queer theory is a field of critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of queer studies (often, formerly, gay and lesbian studies) and women's studies.[1] The term can have various meanings depending upon its usage, but has broadly been associated with the study and theorisation of gender and sexual practices that exist outside of heterosexuality, and which challenge the notion that heterosexual desire is ‘normal’.[2] Following social constructivist developments in sociology, queer theorists are often critical of what they consider essentialist views of sexuality and gender. Instead, they study those concepts as social and cultural phenomena, often through an analysis of the categories, binaries, and language in which they are said to be portrayed.


Informal use of the term "queer theory" began with Gloria Anzaldúa and other scholars in the 1990s, themselves influenced by the work of French post-structuralist philosopher Michel Foucault,[3] who viewed sexuality as socially constructed and rejected identity politics.[4] Teresa de Lauretis organized the first queer theory conference in 1990; in the early 1990s, the term started to become legitimized in academia.[3] Early queer theorists include Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michael Warner, Lauren Berlant, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich, and David Halperin.[3][page needed]


According to Jay Stewart, "Queer theory and politics necessarily celebrate transgression in the form of visible difference from norms. These 'Norms' are then exposed to be norms, not natures or inevitabilities. Gender and sexual identities are seen, in much of this work, to be demonstrably defiant definitions and configurations."[5]

In an influential essay, Michael Warner argued that queerness is defined by what he called ‘heteronormativity'; those ideas, narratives and discourses which suggest that heterosexuality is the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation. Warner stated that while many thinkers had been theorising sexuality from a non-heterosexual perspective for perhaps a century, queerness represented a distinctive contribution to social theory for precisely this reason. Lauren Berlant and Warner further developed these ideas in their seminal essay, "Sex in Public".[6] Critics such as Edward Carpenter, Guy Hocquenghem and Jeffrey Weeks had emphasised what they called the ‘necessity of thinking about sexuality as a field of power, as a historical mode of personality, and as the site of an often critical utopian aim’.[7] Whereas the terms 'homosexual', ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ which they used signified particular identities with stable referents (i.e to a certain cultural form, historical context, or political agenda whose meanings can be analysed sociologically), the word ‘queer’ is instead defined in relation to a range of practices, behaviours and issues that have meaning only in their shared contrast to categories which are alleged to be 'normal'. Such a focus highlights the indebtedness of queer theory to the concept of normalisation found in the sociology of deviance, particularly through the work of Michel Foucault, who studied the normalisation of heterosexuality in his work The History of Sexuality.[8][9]

Because this definition of queerness does not have a fixed reference point, Judith Butler has described the subject of queer theory as a site of ‘collective contestation’. They suggest that ‘queer’ as a term should never be ‘fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes’.[10] While proponents argue that this flexibility allows for the constant readjustment of queer theory to accommodate the experiences of people who face marginalisation and discrimination on account of their sexuality and gender,[11] critics allege that such a 'subjectless critique', as it is often called,[12] runs the risk of abstracting cultural forms from their social structure, political organization, and historical context, reducing social theory to a mere 'textual idealism'.[13]

Analysis of same-sex partnerships[edit]

Queer theory deals with the micro level - the identity of the individual person, the meso level - the individual in their immediate groups such as family, friends, and work, and the macro level - the larger context of society, culture, politics, policies and law. Accordingly, queer theory not only examines the communities surrounding the queer people, but also the communities they form. Same-sex living communities have a significant priority in the formation of a queer theory. The standard work of Andreas Frank, "Committed Sensations",[14] highlights comprehensively the life situation of coming-out, homosexuality and same-sex communities to the millennium.

Lens for power[edit]

Queer theory is the lens used to explore and challenge how scholars, activists, artistic texts, and the media perpetrate gender- and sex-based binaries, and its goal is to undo hierarchies and fight against social inequalities.[15] Due to controversy about the definition of queer, including whether the word should even be defined at all or should be left deliberately open-ended, there are many disagreements and often contradictions within queer theory.[15] In fact, some queer theorists, like Berlant and Warner[16] and Butler, have warned that defining it or conceptualizing it as an academic field might only lead to its inevitable misinterpretation or destruction, since its entire purpose is to critique academia rather than become a formal academic domain itself.[17]

Fundamentally, queer theory does not construct or defend any particular identity, but instead, grounded in post-structuralism and deconstruction, it works to actively critique heteronormativity, exposing and breaking down traditional assumptions that sexual and gender identities are presumed to be heterosexual or cisgender.[3][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chandler, Daniel; Munday, Rod (1 January 2011). "queer theory". A Dictionary of Media and Communication. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-956875-8.
  2. ^ Warner, Michael (2011). Fear of a queer planet: queer politics and social theory. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-2334-1. OCLC 934391034.[page needed]
  3. ^ a b c d Goldberg, Abbie E. (ed.) (2016). The SAGE encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies. SAGE publications. page 915.
  4. ^ Downing, Lisa (2008). The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault. Cambridge University Press. pp. 104–117. ISBN 978-0-521-86443-5.
  5. ^ Stewart, Jay (2017). "Academic Theory". In Richards, Christina; Bouman, Walter Pierre; Barker, Meg-John (eds.). Genderqueer and Non-Binary Genders (PDF). Critical and Applied Approaches in Sexuality, Gender and Identity. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-137-51052-5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 September 2020. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  6. ^ Berlant, Lauren; Warner, Michael (1998). "Sex in Public". Critical Inquiry. 24 (2): 547–566. doi:10.1086/448884. JSTOR 1344178. S2CID 161701244.
  7. ^ Warner, Michael (1993). Fear of a queer planet: queer politics and social theory. ISBN 978-0-8166-2334-1. OCLC 28634756.[page needed]
  8. ^ Epstein, Steven (1994). "A Queer Encounter: Sociology and the Study of Sexuality". Sociological Theory. 12 (2): 188–202. doi:10.2307/201864. JSTOR 201864.
  9. ^ Foucault, Michel; Foucault, Michel; Foucault, Michel; Foucault, Michel; Foucault, Michel; Hurley, Robert; Gros, Frédéric (1978). The history of sexuality. ISBN 978-0-394-41775-2. OCLC 4004090.[page needed]
  10. ^ Butler, Judith (2020). "Critically Queer". Playing with Fire: Queer Politics, Queer Theories. pp. 11–29. doi:10.4324/9780203760505-3. ISBN 978-0-203-76050-5.
  11. ^ Eng, David L; Halberstam, Jack; Muñoz, José Esteban (2005). What's queer about queer studies now?. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-6621-8. OCLC 835806226.
  12. ^ Green, Adam Isaiah (March 2007). "Queer Theory and Sociology: Locating the Subject and the Self in Sexuality Studies". Sociological Theory. 25 (1): 26–45. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2007.00296.x. S2CID 144197617.
  13. ^ Seidman, Steven (1997). "Identity and politics in a 'postmodern' gay culture". Difference Troubles. pp. 109–138. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511557910.008. ISBN 978-0-521-59043-3.
  14. ^ Frank, Andreas (2020). Committed Sensations - An Initiation to Homosexuality: The gay & lesbian Handbook & Compendium on Coming-Out & same-sex Partnerships. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-7519-0786-6.[page needed][self-published source?]
  15. ^ a b Barber, Kristen; Hidalgo, Danielle Antoinette (2017). "Queer". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  16. ^ Berlant, Lauren; Warner, Michael (May 1995). "Guest Column: What Does Queer Theory Teach Us about X ?". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. 110 (3): 343–349. doi:10.1632/S003081290005937X. S2CID 155177456.
  17. ^ a b Jagose, Annamarie (1996). Queer Theory: An Introduction. NYU Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8147-4234-1.

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