Since the 2000s, forms of articulation between materialist and Marxist theory and queer theory have been emerging and have thus created a “queer materialism.” After a predominance of poststructuralist analyses in the social sciences in the1980s and 1990s, since the late 1990s, and even more so after the economic crisis of 2008, a materialist shift seems to be taking place. These recompositions of the Marxist, queer, and feminist, which took place in activist and academic arenas, are decisive in understanding how the new approaches are developing in their own fields. The growing legitimacy of feminist and queer perspectives within the Marxist left is part of an evolution of Marxism on these issues. On the other side, queer activists and academics have highlighted the economic and social inequalities that the policies of austerity and capitalism in general induce among LGBTQI people and have turned to more materialist references, especially Marxist ones, to deploy an anticapitalist and antiracist argument. Even if nowadays one cannot speak of a “queer materialist” current as such, because the approaches grouped under this term are very different, it seems appropriate to look for a “family resemblance” and to group them together. Two specific kinds of “queer materialisms” can thus be identified. The first, queer Marxism, seeks to theorize together Marxist and queer theories, particularly in normalization and capitalist accumulation regimes. The second, materialist queer feminism, confronts materialist/Marxist feminist thought with queer approaches and thus works in particular on the question of heteropatriarchy based on this double tradition.
Queer as Materialism
Sophie Noyé and Gianfranco Rebucini
What’s a “Norm” After Queer Movements?
The question of “norm” is central to queer theory. As this reading of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990), regarded as one of the pioneering texts in queer theory, shows, queer theory has consistently discussed the actual power of the norm, how it works, and how it is appropriate for minority movements to position themselves in relation to norms to abolish them. As many writings and discussions on this subject suggest, the reflection on the norm is based on an internal feminist discussion of identity. Just as there is no naturalness of sex, there is also no natural, preexisting identity. Denaturalizing identity by asserting that identities do not preexist when they are invoked calls for strategic use of identity while at the same time conducting a critique of how identities are produced. More fundamentally, the discussion of norms is linked to a reflection on “priority.” By asserting that there is no being or ontology that precedes socialization and the application of social norms, Butler denies any relevance to the project of reconnecting with practices and identities that have not been shaped by these norms and are thus considered free, escaping power. Postulating that there is no state prior to law, norm, and power calls for strategies of resistance and subversion. There is a need to place oneself within the normative devices and structures produced by power to subvert them. The notion of “performativity” condenses this conclusion by describing the possibility of producing acts that, within the normative system, displace normative meanings. Resistance and subversion lie in the parodic game, in the displacement of gender norms within the structure that produces them. The assertion that “there is no political position purified of power, and perhaps that impurity is what produces agency as the potential interruption and reversal of regulatory regimes” leads to a radical redefinition of politics. All subversive politics thus remain dependent on prevailing norms and structures, within which it acts to contest them. Subversion can only ever be local and never total, as much temporally as geographically. It can only intervene in a place, at a given moment, with reference to a given normative apparatus. Insofar as it remains necessary always to draw on a norm in order to challenge and resignify it, it will never be possible to contest all social norms definitively; it will only be possible to weaken certain ones from time to time. It then remains to identify, at some point, the power with which one wishes to fight, and the most effective strategies to weaken it.