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Article

An emerging critical theoretical framework, queer liberation theory attempts to understand the relationship between queerness and capitalism, and more specifically, anti-capitalist movements. It seeks to update and reinvigorate the structural analysis of the earlier gay/queer liberation movement (1960s and 1970s) with the benefit of the insights of queer theory and empirical queer experiences of neoliberal capitalism. Queer liberation theory recognizes and celebrates diverse sexual orientations and gender identities or expression, including essentialist identities such as gay, lesbian, and trans. Within a realist, structural framework, queer liberation theory is interested in how social movements can move beyond identity formation to produce progressive, structural change. To date, three main tenets of the theory have been noted: anti-assimilationism, solidarity across social movements, and the political economy of queerness. The use of the word “queer” signals a progressive, critical, sex-positive, anti-assimilationist, liberationist perspective as opposed to an assimilationist perspective that strives for respectability, acceptance, prestige, and monetary success on capitalism’s terms. The second tenet, solidarity across movements, is an attempt to transcend to the divisiveness of single-issue politics without sacrificing intersectionality. For example, queer liberation theory seeks to recognize, expose, and dismantle social structures that oppress all communities, albeit in different ways. The political economy of queerness refers to a class analysis of structural inequalities. A genealogy of queer liberation theory’s development shows where it reflects, incorporates, or rejects aspects of various theories including a social constructionist perspective, with its debates about essentialism and identities; social movement theory, with its political tensions between recognition and redistribution; queer theory, with its focus on fluidity and ambiguity; materialism, with the strengths and shortcomings of its class analysis; and intersectionality with its focus on a matrix worldview of interlocking systems of oppression; and feminist political economy, with its focus on social reproduction, but adequate recognition of queer sexuality. Indeed, feminist political economy offers something of a pink road map to discover what aspects of the economy will be important for queer liberation theory to explore. Feminist political economy is helpful in the development of queer liberation theory because it has long claimed sexuality and identity as legitimate, as opposed to frivolous, sites of scholarship and political struggle. Feminist political economy, like queer liberation theory, seeks to understand oppression based on sexuality in everyday life. However, the feminist political economy road map takes us only so far, because the focus of the analysis can be seen as gendered, and often cisgendered, lives. Queer liberation theory attempts to draw from these theories to better understand the relationship between queerness and capitalism and provide a basis for political action.

Article

Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer

The question of LGBT rights was first examined as part of gender and sexuality studies in the 1980s, predominantly in the United States. This was a result of the LGBT movement that had articulated the demand for equal rights and freedom of sexual and gender minorities a decade before. Since then, the examination of LGBT rights has traversed multiple theoretical and methodological approaches and breached many disciplinary frontiers. Initially, gay and lesbian studies (GLS) emerged as an approach to understand the notion of LGBT identity using historical evidence. GLS emphasized the objectives of the LGBT movement in articulating its identity as an issue of minority rights within the ambit of litigation and case law. However, the definition of LGBT identity as a homogeneous and fixed category, and the conceptualization of equality rights as the ultimate project of emancipation, was critiqued on grounds of its normative and assimilationist tendencies. Queer theory emerged in the 1990s as a counter-discourse to GLS, using the individual-centric postmodern technique of deconstruction as the method of analysis. This approach opened up scope for multiple identities within the LGBT community to articulate their positionality, and reclaim the possibilities of sexual liberation that GLS had previously obscured. Subsequent scholarship has critiqued GLS and queer theory for incomplete theorization and inadequate representation, based on four types of counter-argument. The first argument is that queer theory, with its emphasis on self as an alternative for wider social interaction, concealed constitutive macrostructures such as neoliberal capitalism, as well as the social basis of identity and power relations. The second argument highlights the incomplete theorization of bisexual and transgender identities within the LGBT community. For example, understanding bisexuality involves questioning the universalism of monosexuality and postmodern notions of linear sexuality, and acknowledging the possibility of an integrated axis of gender and sexuality. Theorization of transgender and transsexual rights requires a grounded approach incorporating new variables such as work and violence in the historiography of transgender life. The third critique comes from decolonial scholarship that argues that intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, and nationality brings out multiple concerns of social justice that have been rendered invisible by existing theory. The fourth critique emerged from family studies and clinical psychology, that used queer theory to ask questions about definitions of all family structures outside the couple norm, including non-reproductive heterosexuality, polyamorous relationships, and non-marital sexual unions. These critiques have allowed new questions to emerge as part of LGBT rights within the existing traditions, and enabled the question of LGBT rights to be considered across new disciplinary fronts. For example, the incorporation of the “queer” variable in hitherto technical disciplines such as economics, finance, and management is a development of the early-21st-century scholarship. In particular, the introduction of LGBT rights in economics to expand human capabilities has policy implications as it widens and mainstreams access of opportunities for LGBT communities through consumption, trade, education, employment, and social benefits, thereby expanding the actualization of LGBT rights.

Article

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.

Article

The field of empirical scholarship on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) political and social movements that developed in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century has much to contribute to analysis of these movements and their political and cultural contexts. Empirical studies have examined LGBTQ movements in comparison to other types of social movements, finding similarities and alliances as well as distinctive elements. We have learned how LGBTQ movements operate in different global and local contexts, as well as how they interact with different kinds of political systems. Scholars have studied how broader social attitudes have evolved and responded to LGBTQ movements, and the way that backlash to these movements operate in different times and places. At the same time, the theoretical literature that grounds and interprets these studies contributes not just to the epistemology of social movements, but to understandings of the purposes of social and political theorizing. Scholars have examined the utility of different frameworks for understanding social movement organizing, such as the use of civil rights, human rights, and sexual citizenship frameworks. Scholars from the social sciences and humanities have at times brought different theoretical approaches to bear on our understanding of LGBTQ movements, evident in different perspectives regarding the theory of homonationalism. Among the exciting intellectual developments of the late 20th and early 21st century is the burgeoning field of trans studies and trans theory, of social and political theory informed by Global South and Indigenous perspectives, and from the queer of color critique literature.