Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 14, August 17, 2011


Queering Paradigms

edited by Burkhard Scherer
Oxford et al.:
Peter Lang. 2010. (pbk.). 350 pp.


Queering Paradigms II: Interrogating Agendas

edited by Burkhard Scherer and Matthew Ball
Oxford et al.:
Peter Lang. 2011. (pbk.). 355 pp.

Reviewed by Anja Finger, University of Aberdeen, anja.finger@abdn.ac.uk


These two volumes are for the most part based on papers given at the Queering Paradigm conferences, which were held in Canterbury, UK, and Brisbane, Australia in 2009 and 2010. The contributions encompass a broad range of both topics and authors, many of whom are at an early stage in their academic careers. This makes for a welcome variety of voices, all orchestrated to the theme of 'queering paradigms'. In his introduction to the first volume, Religious-Studies scholar and editor Burkhard Scherer explains this theoretical framing. Well-rehearsed arguments, such as the challenge queer theorising poses to heteronormativity, meet points worth remembering (e.g., the non-conformist character of this way – or rather these ways – of thinking and the dangers inherent in a homonormative discourse of identity politics). The plurality of academic disciplines represented in the volume is stressed and also holds true for the second in the series. What binds the chapters together is the idea of 'queering paradigms,' succinctly defined by Scherer as “to challenge the hetero-/homonormative and gender binarist assumptions of any given academic discourse” (QP, page 2). In both volumes, the articles have been grouped into sections, and this arrangement allows us to get a grasp of the project: 'Queered Identities,' 'Queer Politics,' 'Queering Public Discourses,' 'Queering the Classroom,' 'Pop Queer,' and 'Queer Readings' are the sections comprising the first volume. It is not altogether clear why for some areas 'queer' has been chosen as an adjective, while for others it appears in its gerund form, yet this is a minor issue. The second volume, with sections called 'Interrogating Queer,' 'Queer Subjectivities,' 'Queer Spaces,' 'Queer Impacts,' 'Politics and Social Institutions,' and 'Policing, Violence and Justice,' seems to have grown a little tired of the term towards the end. Anyway, there is a lot of queer/ing going on in these books!

Queering Paradigms

A closer look at the first volume reveals that a theoretically sophisticated piece on meanings of 'queer' sets the scene. This is appositely complemented by a chapter on lesbian performances of identity in and through everyday conversations. Burlesque bodies and transgender forms of self-identifications are further subjects dealt with in the identity section. Moving on to 'politics', we hear a plea for linking queer theory with political activism which is illustrated by examples drawn from a US American background. By contrast, looking at the situation of gay and lesbian people in contemporary Botswana teaches us that queering exercises are not only pursued from the comfort of one's [Northern] university desk or armchair: In Southern Africa, 'queering the heterosexist paradigm is done at the potential cost of health and life' (p. 201), as Elizabeth Pulane Motswapong puts it in her contribution. Male homosexual practices have been known in mining communities, reminding the reader of ancient Greek and Roman pairings between older/active/masculine and younger/passive/feminine male partners. Motswapong's main interest, however, is in the legal status of homosexual activity. Same-sex sexual behaviour is punishable by imprisonment, and it was only in the late 1990s that the law was extended to include female 'offenders' – a strange version of equality before the law, compared to the recognition increasingly found in other parts of the world. This chapter also ponders the ambiguous legacy of Christianity, a topic the author is well-placed to discuss given her background in Religious Studies. Instead of enacting their message of love and compassion, the churches foster homophobia and thus culturally reinforce the legal situation. Motswapong places her hope in legalisation of homosexual acts, but, we may ask, would that change the churches' discourse? Fittingly, the matter of 'queering public discourses' is approached by the following chapters. The issue of the recognition of same-sex marriages contracted abroad in England, where only the institution of civil partnerships exists, poses questions of equality. Another chapter reconsiders the medicalisation of homosexuality through the prism of 'the suicidal homosexual' in psychiatric discourse. This is a discourse that personalises and individualises something social. An article on intimate partner violence (IPV) opens a theme that is developed through other contributions to the series. Here, differences between heterosexual and LGBTI relationships and their bearing on IPV are highlighted from an Australian perspective. According to the authors, Matthew Ball (who serves as co-editor of the second volume) and Sharon Hayes, queering the phenomenon means overcoming the heteronormative model of violence that posits an abusive male versus a passive female. This can be done by pointing to instances of mutual violence in relationships as well as, in a more general vein, differently gendered relationships. These authors also open the sequence on 'Queering the Classroom' with a piece on how Law and Justice students conceptualise queer identity. It makes for an original contribution to the learning-and-teaching literature in the field. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, their 'students only came to think of themselves as having a sexuality when faced with non-heterosexuality' (p. 187). Fear of contagious homosexuality and ignorance of related life-styles are found to be rife. Another Australian voice, Angela Dwyer's, applies discourse analysis to online discussion of banning of same-sex partners from a school ceremony. While Dwyer claims that in the subjects of her case study, 'religious knowledge was vague and failed to enunciate an unambiguous religious perspective' (p. 207), her chapter shows that bits and pieces of Judeo-Christian tradition are assimilated for homophobic purposes (e.g., by stressing the God-given nature of heterosexuality or portraying homosexuals and their acceptance as in defiance of God's laws). The section on 'Pop Queer' takes up the thread of online presences and performances and has Hayes and Ball analysing power and gender discourses in slash fan fiction. A chapter rich in its material base and critical especially of 'race' issues focuses on gay sexual cinema and asks how a 'non-metropolitan, hypermasculine homoerotic subject' has emerged, while another one looks at the TV series The Wire. From this, we turn to literature and a sequence of 'queer readings': Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, Paul Magrs’s magical realism, and two German-language authors are examined for exercises of queering in respective chapters. The last one draws on philosopher Antke Engel's work and her queering strategy of Veruneindeutigung, which renders things ambiguous or equivocal, and thus links philosophical concerns with those of literary criticism.

Queering Paradigms II: Interrogating Agendas

The second volume seeks to extend and deepen the trajectory laid out by the first. Hence the editors’ introduction endeavours to define queering as a constructive effort, one of 'interrogating agendas' as the subtitle has it.

'Interrogating Queer' questions assumptions of queer authenticity that are imposed on popular culture, an imposition that, as we learn from Anita Brady, violates the idea of queer. This is thought-provoking, for it adds a further twist to debates about forms of queer critique. Such critique is embodied by the next chapter’s student activists and their queer-Marxist orientation. While to a strict critic this may look like an oxymoron, Jessica Rodger’s sympathetic reading discovers creative potential. Pip Muratore’s reflections on the Moulin Rouge can be read as a critique of Brady’s approach: Neither the place nor the movie ‘offer an atmosphere in which queerness is accepted, celebrated or welcomed in any meaningful sense, sacrificing egalitarianism not so much to patriarchy as to capitalism’ (p. 58). In the 'Queer Subjectivities' section, a linguistic look at lesbian erotica offers insights into the eroticisation of power, especially through butch masculinity. This is followed by a timely analysis of gay men’s trans-misogyny and a study of the diversity of gender-identifications chosen by trans individuals. In the 'Queer Spaces' section, Hongwei Bao takes us to China and to debates about queer citizenship in a context where there are not any LGBT rights and a preference for non-confrontational strategies persists, which is quite different from the ‘in-your-face’ nature of a lot of Western activism. Similarly challenging to the latter are Ghanaian ways of living as tacit, sexual subjects. From an Australian point of view, we then go on to see that the concept of Genderqueer can be used to question lesbian and gay identities as well as identity-based politics, such as banning from pubs and bars. Starting out on 'Queer Impacts,' Sonja Vivienne uses Foucault’s theorem of parrhesia or ‘fearless speech’ to explore digital story-telling and related issues of privacy and acting in public. She Hawke and Baden Offord’s reflections on teaching sexuality add to those found in the first volume and make gripping reading for anyone engaged in teaching activities. Equally entertaining are articles on punk rock as queer activism and the article opening the part on 'Politics and Social Institutions.' It presents a queer look at Silvio Berlusconi and the type of Italy he stands for, including Roman Catholicism with ‘its ideology, its superstitions, and its dogma’ (Ricatti, p. 236). Well-roared, lion, but we would like to know a bit more about how this actually works and what the scholar’s reasons for the verdict of superstition are. Another text describes how paedophilia is often conflated with homosexuality and amalgamated into a contemporary ‘discourse of childhood that is in reality all about adults’ needs’ (Riggs, p. 256), followed by a text on same-sex ways of ‘doing family’ and the legal situation in Australia. Finally, 'Policing, Violence and Justice' assembles an article on policemen’s and (mostly) -women’s coming out in a culture of machismo and two that resume the thematic thread of IPV and the inadequacies of related, heteronormative discourses mentioned above.


In sum, the two volumes form an intriguing collection of original articles, measuring the breadth and depths of queer studies. That being said, there is always something broader or deeper one could wish for. Many more voices are needed, as so far those of religious studies, history, philosophy but also critical approaches to science are low, while those of legal and cultural studies come across loud and clear. Sociology, not only social policy, law-oriented, or selectively cultural, and social theory might also have something to say on queering paradigms, at least more than their presence in this series to date suggests. However, there are desiderata beyond a broader scope of academic disciplines. Can we simply use standard research techniques, such as interviews, or does queering paradigms encourage us to develop alternative methods? Or is the very notion of method, perhaps, something altogether un-queer? If the latter is true, then declarations of method could never aspire to being more than fig-leafs draped for the acquisition of academic respectability.

This reader would like to see how the different takes on the relation between queer approaches and anti-capitalism speak to each other. What would the advocates of conflicting views have to tell each other? Yet, that is what conferences are, or should be, for. Within the constraints of a sequential format, the volumes work very well. Australia is disproportionately represented, over-represented perhaps, but we also read about backgrounds that are not automatically associated with queer theorising, such as Chinese and African contexts. It is to be hoped that the project of Queering Paradigms will continue. ‘Grow and prosper’ may not be the right form of well-wishing in this case due to the capitalist connotations of the phrase, but that is an issue for further, necessary debate. For now, we are encouraged to queer our self-reflexivity by immersing ourselves in these books.

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