Thoughts on Paris is Burning (1990) and queer methodologies

“An unblinking behind the scenes story of fashion obsessed New Yorkers who created “voguing” and drag balls , and turned these raucous celebrations into a powerful expression of personal pride. The world within a world is instantly familiar, filled with ambitions, desires and yearnings that reflect America itself is an intimate portrait of one urban community, a world in which the allure of high fashion, status and wealth becomes an affirmation of love, acceptance and joy”.

The rest of the film is also online. Jenny Livingston’s film, especially with the ‘behind the scenes’ factor, appears as an ethnography of an existing culture rather than an interpretation or, better and since this is a text and not an academic piece, a representation. Here, the academic world came to dicuss the importance of positionality as an indispensable aspect of queer methodology. Jin Haritaworn (2008) in Shifting Positionalities: Empirical Reflections on a Queer/Trans of Colour Methodology gives an account of the conflict that emerged. Judith Butler‘s ‘Gender is Burning’ (1993) has been criticised (Prosser 1998) as mis-representing the working class trans women of color and this was because she did not reflect on her privileged position (non-trans, white). Haritaworn explains,

“Butler’s ‘inclusion’ of trans identities under the queer umbrella caused particular epistemic violence to the participating working-class MTFs of colour, Venus Xtravaganza and Octavia St. Laurent, whom Butler represented as gay men who merely wanted to pass as heterosexual”.

The lesson learned from this for Haritaworn is that emancipatory projects need to be involved, empirical, personal in order to be political. Knowledge is, in queer methodologies, a joint production of researchers and subjects.

I hardly see this as any different from what feminist methodologies are all about. Apart from that, the question for me here is how far positionality for Haritaworn is a matter of self-reflexivity or a matter of actually being part of what you talk about in order to avoid ‘queering-down’. For Sandra Harding in later versions of standpoint feminism (situated and multiple), the subject of knowledge is the marginal, even as the researcher (or the director in the case of Livingston) does not identify as such.

Clearly here the implications of ‘positionality’ for methodology are confusing. They, to me, have an essence of ‘coming-out’ and a hint of guilt. The essence of ‘coming-out’ is the pressure to justify oneself and their own experiences as a researcher to the wider community, and possibly queer studies community, by giving personal accounts of oppression, relating to ethnicity, race, and, foremost, sexuality. Queering ‘down’ and queering ‘up’ are also confusing terms because they contruct a system of status difference between researcher/ subjects of research, which then Haritaworn tries to deconstruct by emplying the concept of positionality.

I guess the confusion lies at the understanding of the word and the use of the word ‘queering’. Haritaworn concludes:

“Queering can be a shared grammar to communicate a shared experience of being treated differently. It can also be an extension of solidarity to those who are pathologised through gender and sexuality discourses other than homophobia. It is contextual and situational”.

‘Queering’ thus here is used with emphasis on the sharing component- as an identifying tool for the link between people, which adds up to their experience of oppression. To me ‘queering’ as a research strategy has the meaning of keeping distance (Teresa de Lauretis talks about this attitude to research) from practices and meanings in order to understand, analyse and eventually change normativity. Hence the positionality that is needed in a project is actually about the use of ‘queer’, as an identity, like in Haritaworn, or as a methodological tool.

BUTLER, Judith (1990), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge: New York.

HARDING, Sandra (1991), Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

HOOKS, bell (1992), ‘Is Paris Burning?’ Black Looks: Race and Representation, London: Turnaround, p. 145-156.

PROSSER, Jay (1998), Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality, New York: Columbia University Press.


feminist epistemology

I am at the moment working on how feminist epistemology influences the choice of a social research method.

What is feminist epistemology and philosophy of science? Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it as the study of the ways gender influences our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification. The history of epistemology is one of clash between committment to struggle and to philosophy (Alcoff and Potter 1993). Initially, it aimed to show how women have been traditionally disadvantaged and excluded from systems of knowledge production. While this project of critique still goes on, feminist epistemology has moved on to reconstruct this dominant tradition and its practices so that they serve the interests of subordinate groups (ie women).

The central concept is that of  situated knowledge. How does gender situate the subject? According to Sandra Harding’s classification (1986), three main approaches have been articulated by feminist philosophers: feminist postmodernism, feminist empiricism and feminist standpoint theory. This paper examines these approaches and, moreover, addresses the recent trend of intersectionality. Gender, for contemporary feminist philosophers, does nor function as single and universal category or the primary axis of oppression. The term ‘woman’ does not have an analytic credibility and it cannot be separated from class, race, sexuality, culture, age and other contextual categories. This school of thought has significantly transforms the methodological framework of the social research undertaken.

Alcoff, Linda, and Elizabeth Potter, (eds.) 1993. Feminist Epistemologies. New York: Routledge
Benhabib, Seyla, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell and Nancy Fraser, 1995. Feminist Contentions. New York: Routledge
Butler, B. and Scott, J. (eds.), ‘Feminists Theorize the Political’, New York and London: Routledge
Haraway, Donna, 1991. “Situated Knowledges”. In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge
Harding, Sandra, 1986. The Science Question in Feminism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press
E. Grosz  ‘What is feminist theory?’ in C, Pateman, E Gross (eds) Feminist Challenges (Allen and Unwin, 1986)
M. Hawkesworth ‘Knower, knowing, known: feminist theory and claims of truth’ Signs 14(3), 1989.
J.W. Scott (1992) ‘Experience’, in Judith Butler and Joan Scott (eds.), Feminists Theorize the Political. New York and London: Routledge.
C.T. Mohanty (2002) ‘”Under Western Eyes” Revisited: Feminist solidarity through anticapitalist struggles’, Signs 28(2): 499-533.
L. Stanley (1993) ‘The Knowing Because Experiencing Subject: Narratives, lives, autobiographies’, Women’s Studies International Forum 16(3): 205-215.
Umut Erel, Jin Haritaworn, Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Christian Klesse (2007) ‘On the Depoliticisation of Intersectionality Talk. Conceptualising Multiple Oppressions in Critical Sexuality Studies’.

time management lesson

I attended the 3-day Personal Skills Course from GPA Partnership on campus which I found unusual. I did however reflect on my own tactics and how I tend to approach tasks and people. The DPhil was presented as a manageable project that needs clarity, setting objectives, interim realistic aims and strategy. A good tip for prioritizing was to keep different material spaces for different priority tasks, which is not particularly useful to me because I don’t have that much space. Additionally, I don’t like paper to take up that space so I usually strip letters, notes etc to their core volume, which can be a note in my notebook.

A good tip that I am piloting and seems to work is: Use 10 minutes at the start of the day to plan (jot down 5-10 things that have to be done today). Use the plan. And spend another 10 minutes at the end of the day reflecting on own failure to accomplish the tasks, move for next day etc.

impressions from the feminist history conference

Reflections on the event

This is not intended to be a review of the Conference, and it does not function as a minutes document either. It consists more of a personal reflection and always within the framework (which is still shaping) of my research. In this light, I will refer to the various talks and presentations but it will be my interpretation of the arguments presented, in the sense that there may be a point more pertinent to the presenter’s discussion which I may have overlooked here. Continue reading “impressions from the feminist history conference”

In Depth:Feminism and History Conference and Update

The Artists page has been updated , with some more names and a few resources. This week I am looking at

intersections of feminism and technoscience and also searching for artists using computer media that focus

on gender/body/identity.

On Saturday Bishopsgate Institute is holding a one-day-conference in Feminism and History (organised by the History of Feminism Network in partnership with the Raphael Samuel History Centre, Goldsmiths, University of London-History and Politics Departments and the Graduate School), which I will be attending.

From the site:

“This one-day conference will explore the relationship between feminism and the making and writing of history. Postgraduates and early career scholars will present papers on many different aspects of the history of women’s movements since 1800, including ‘women of letters’, feminism and religion and re-thinking the first and second waves of feminism. The day will also discuss the rise of feminist history in the context of the women’s liberation movement and ask whether there is still a future for feminist history.

Speakers include Professor Barbara Taylor (University of East London), Dr Lucy Bland (London Metropolitan University), Dr Kathryn Gleadle (University of Oxford), Dr Lucy Delap (University of Cambridge) and Dr Margaretta Jolly (University of Sussex)”.
Booking and info here.
The Feminist Acivist Forum will also have a presence there, presenting their work on ‘Outwrite’ newspaper.