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Article

Julie Thompson Klein

The relationship of interdisciplinarity and literary theory is marked by the boundary work of competing practices deemed inside and outside of the discipline, conflicting claims of specialization and generality, and shifting representations of the concept of interdisciplinarity. The line between text and context has been a recurring point of debate, amplified by tensions between traditional practices and new approaches. The earliest warrants for interdisciplinarity included a synoptic view of knowledge and the social and moral purpose of literary education. Even after institutionalization of the modern system of disciplinarity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advocates upheld related claims. Other interests, though, were also apparent, including the practice of borrowing from social sciences, the synchronic paradigm of periodization, interart criticism, and the work of polymaths who posited a broad view of culture. Guides to practice published by the Modern Language Association from the late 1960s through the early 1980s reinforced the power of intrinsic criticism. Yet, as new interests beyond formalist criticism took root, representation of interdisciplinarity changed. The 1992 guide was marked by a heterogeneity of movements that broadened the scope of literary study while shifting theorization of interdisciplinarity in literary studies from earlier warrants to critique and historical, political, and sociological turns in scholarship. Transdisciplinary and transnational redrawings of boundaries are extending the scope of both interdisciplinarity and literary theory. Counter to popular characterization of movements rising and falling, hybrid methodologies combine older and newer approaches, such as combining close readings of texts or deconstructionist analysis with questions of gender or power. Relations of literary studies with other disciplines and interdisciplinary fields also exhibit a growing momentum for intersectionality apparent in the 2007 guide to practice.

Article

Pelagia Goulimari

Feminist theory in the 21st century is an enormously diverse field. Mapping its genealogy of multiple intersecting traditions offers a toolkit for 21st-century feminist literary criticism, indeed for literary criticism tout court. Feminist phenomenologists (Simone de Beauvoir, Iris Marion Young, Toril Moi, Miranda Fricker, Pamela Sue Anderson, Sara Ahmed, Alia Al-Saji) have contributed concepts and analyses of situation, lived experience, embodiment, and orientation. African American feminists (Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Hortense J. Spillers, Saidiya V. Hartman) have theorized race, intersectionality, and heterogeneity, particularly differences among women and among black women. Postcolonial feminists (Assia Djebar, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Florence Stratton, Saba Mahmood, Jasbir K. Puar) have focused on the subaltern, specificity, and agency. Queer and transgender feminists (Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, Susan Stryker) have theorized performativity, resignification, continuous transition, and self-identification. Questions of representation have been central to all traditions of feminist theory.

Article

Amritjit Singh and Aaron Babcock

Racial patterns at any given time have been intertwined with local contexts, economic and political conditions, technological change, and a growing awareness of the socially constructed nature of race and gender. Race in the modern sense of the term emerged first in the 18th century amid the transformative changes of the industrial revolution, a growing slave trade, and the spread of European settler colonialism and imperialism in Asia, Africa, and the Western hemisphere. As a means of categorizing populations, race was a useful tool in justifying both slavery and imperialism. A further solidification of racial taxonomy developed over the course of the 19th century in which peoples and nations were grouped as genetically distinct. Race was thus essentialized and difference became widely accepted as biological and measurable. In the early decades of the 20th century, the view of race as biologically determined and immutable gradually gave way to sociological and anthropological reconsiderations of previously held assumptions. Contemporaneous to this reorientation of thinking on race was the growth of ethnicity as a related but distinct form of grouping populations that reframed identity as rooted in a shared national and sociopolitical history. In the 20th century, race across scholarly disciplines began to be divested gradually of its biological and genetic aspects and a recognition of race as a legal and social construction had emerged, especially in Postcolonial Theory and Critical Race Theory (CRT). In fact, what was viewed as “race” around 1900 (e.g., the Irish race, the Jewish race) came to be defined as “ethnicity” in the 20th century. For centuries, however, race has been used as a means for exercising power and control and as a defense of a racial caste system that privileges select groups. Through their many creative uses of memory and history, writers and artists in the United States and elsewhere have long responded in multiple genres by offering their own versions and visions of individual and community, complicating in the process our understandings of race, ethnicity, gender, nation, majoritarianism, and citizenship—the tangled issues that continue to haunt Americans and many others around the globe. Historians, literary scholars, and theorists have also played an active role in challenging old orthodoxies on race and ethnicity through multiple overlapping approaches, including African American Studies, Ethnic American Studies, Black Feminism, Postcolonial Studies, and Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Article

Stephanie Clare

Two influential approaches to understanding sexuality emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe: sexology and psychoanalysis. These approaches develop a method for thinking about human sexuality apart from religious discourse. Sexology births the concept of the congenital “homosexual,” often understanding this figure as pathological. In turn, psychoanalysis, as it was first developed by Sigmund Freud, considers infantile sexuality as polymorphous and perverse. It analyzes how this perversity develops into adult genders and sexualities, sometimes through the repression of drives that, even in their repressed form, continue to show effects. In both these models, sexuality is figured as a natural force, one that may come to be shaped by social and cultural milieus, but that is ultimately innate. Breaking from this tradition, Michel Foucault’s 1978 The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 offers a different, groundbreaking approach. Rather than arguing that sexuality is repressed, Foucault argues that sexuality, as a discrete nexus of experiences and sensations, emerges in a particular nexus of power and knowledge, one that disciplines bodies to become productive and docile while also seeking to manage populations through the human sciences. In this vision, sexuality does not oppose power, but rather sex and power spiral together, producing or inciting one another. Feminist, queer, and decolonial approaches to sexuality also consider how the organization and even production of sexuality is tied to structures of power and inequality such as patriarchy, heteronormativity, colonization, and anti-black racism. For example, black feminist and queer of color scholarship explore the ways in which racial difference and inequality has been justified through the production of gendered, sexual stereotypes. Indigenous and decolonial approaches build on this argument, looking to how colonization was often figured as a form of erotic penetration of a feminized land, considering how enforcing heterosexuality and binary gender formation have been key to both colonization and settler colonialism, and attending to the ongoing legacies of colonial sexual violence. These approaches often seek to reclaim and reimagine the erotic as a part of a project of resistance and collective survival.

Article

Queer  

Octavio González and Todd G. Nordgren

The definitional limits of the term queer have been under conceptual, political, and ethical dispute since its reclamation from its pejorative meaning during the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s. Reflecting activist recuperation, queer became a means to inspire and propel a coalitional politics oriented toward nonconformity and anti-normativity among diverse sexualities and across divisions of gender. Concomitantly, queer theory arose in academia as a way to expand upon and break what some scholars saw as the restrictive disciplinary boundaries of gay and lesbian studies, which were explicitly grounded in post–Stonewall identity politics. The term’s radical potential derives in part from its grammatical fluidity, as it operates as noun, adjective, and verb—combining action, identification, and effect into a single word. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, queer of color critique drew upon a different genealogy, beyond the postmodern rupture inaugurated by Michel Foucault’s work on sexuality and “biopower,” by foregrounding black and women of color feminisms, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies in order to analyze the intersections of race, nationality, coloniality, class, sex, and gender with a Foucauldian understanding of sexuality as a privileged mode of modern power– knowledge. Queer of color critique inspired and was mirrored in investigations of the analytic boundaries of the term, often defined as a binary distinction between a minoritizing and universalizing definition of queer.

Article

Asian American queer performance indexes racialized, gendered, and sexualized forms and modes of performance created by, for, and about Asians in an American context. Since the 1980s, queer and ethnic studies have conceptualized performance not only as object of study (e.g., staged performance, visual art, film) but also as a method of critique and hermeneutic for troubling knowledges of Asian American encounter and subject formation. Performance in this sense can be understood as Asian American and queer in its engagement with and critical rescripting of histories and ideologies of empire, nationalism, war, globalization, migration, missionizing, white supremacy, and cis-normative heteropatriarchy that constitutes themes of Asian American studies. The interdisciplinary field of performance studies offers quotidian performance, racial performativity, and gender performativity as discursive tools with which to consider social conventions and scripts that render Asian American queer formation legible and dynamic toward future rewritings.

Article

Genders  

Pelagia Goulimari

Feminist, queer, and transgender theory has developed an array of fruitful concepts for the study of gender. It offers critiques of patriarchy, the gender binary, compulsory heterosexuality, heteronormativity, and homonormativity, inter alia. New Materialist feminists have analyzed gender variance, continuous variation, and continuous transition through concepts such as rhizome, assemblage, making kin, and sym-poiesis (making-with). Feminists of color and postcolonial feminists have theorized intersectionality—that gender always-already intersects with race, class, sexual orientation, and so on—and gender roles outside the white middle-class nuclear family, such as othermothering and fictive kin. Materialist feminists have studied gender as social class, while psychoanalytic gender theorists have explored gender as self-identification and in terms of the relation of gender identification and desire. Queer theory has explored vexed gender identifications and disidentification as well as heterotopias, counterpublic spaces, and queer kinship beyond the private/public divide. Transgender theory has critiqued transmisogyny and theorized transgender and trans* identities. Indigenous feminist and queer theory has theorized Two-Spirit identities and queer indigeneity in the context of a decolonial vision. Theorists of masculinities have analyzed masculinities as historically specific, plural, and intersectional. Gender studies, in all this diversity, has influenced most fields of study—for example, disability studies in its theorization of complex embodiment, its development of crip theory, and so on. Gender studies, in turn, has greatly benefitted from the study of literature. Literature has been indispensable in the genealogy of dominant gender norms such as the 19th-century norms of the angelic/demonic woman and self-made man. In return, gender theory has offered fresh insights into literary genre, for example the Bildungsroman. Since the development of gender theory, it has taken part in an ongoing dialogue and cross-fertilization with literature, evidenced in self-reflexive and critically informed literary texts as well as in gender theory that includes autobiographical and literary (e.g., narrative, figurative, fictional, poetic) elements.