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20 MUST-READ QUEER THEORY

TEXTS
OCTOBER 4, 2013 EUGENE WOLTERS 3 COMMENTS

Queer theory is a rapidly growing field in the critical theory tradition.


Often examining the intersection of capitalism, gender, heterosexism
and the state, queer theory is constantly seeking to break down norms
and question the status quo. We spoke to a few queer theory aficionados
and came up with this list of 20 must-read queer theory texts.
Weve provided links to articles where available. All book links are to
Amazon.

#1 Rosemary Hennessy Profit and Pleasure:


Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism

Profit and Pleasure is a groundbreaking attempt to understand the


relationship between capitalism and sexual identity. Rosemary Hennessy
boldly reorients queer theory away from its preoccupation with
psychoanalysis, language, and performance, instead insisting upon close
analysis of the structures of late capitalism, labor, and commodification.
She argues that sexual identity has always been linked to gender, race,
and nationality, but these identities themselves arise from capitalism. As

globalization transforms capitalism, it also transforms sexual identity,


opening up both new forms of commodification and new opportunities
for agency. On the one hand, middle-class gays and lesbians are
enjoying unprecedented visibility, but on the other, society still relies on
the gendered division of labor that renders certain subjects unequal.
Drawing on an international range of examples, from Che Guevarra to
The Crying Game, Profit and Pleasure leads the discussion of
sexuality to a consideration of material reality and the substance of men
and womens everyday lives.
Get it here.

#2 Judith Butler Gender Trouble

Arguing that traditional feminism is wrong to look to a natural, essential


notion of the female, or indeed of sex or gender, Butler starts by
questioning the category woman and continues in this vein with
examinations of the masculine and the feminine. Best known

however, but also most often misinterpreted, is Butlers concept of


gender as a reiterated social performance rather than the expression of
a prior reality.
Buy it here.

#3 Nancy Fraser Heterosexism,


Misrecognition and Capitalism: A Response to
Judith Butler

Nancy Fraser, while agreeing with Judith Butler, diverges from the queer
theorist in several important ways.
Read the article here.

#4 Kevin Floyd, The Reification of Desire

A new theoretical approach to the relationship between Marxism and


queer studies the Reification of Desire takes two critical perspectives
rarely analyzed togetherformative arguments for Marxism and those
that have been the basis for queer theoryand productively scrutinizes
these ideas both with and against each other to put forth a new
theoretical connection between Marxism and queer studies.
The Reification of Desire makes surprising and important connections
between Marxism and queer theory, and Kevin Floyds analyses are to be
commended for their ability to move skillfully from abstract theory to the
most detailed histories of socio-economic dynamics and masculine
culture.
Buy it here.

#5 Jasbir Puar Terrorist Assemblages

In this pathbreaking work, Jasbir K. Puar argues that configurations of


sexuality, race, gender, nation, class, and ethnicity are realigning in
relation to contemporary forces of securitization, counterterrorism, and
nationalism. She examines how liberal politics incorporate certain queer
subjects into the fold of the nation-state, through developments
including the legal recognition inherent in the overturning of antisodomy laws and the proliferation of more mainstream representation.
These incorporations have shifted many queers from their construction
as figures of death (via the AIDS epidemic) to subjects tied to ideas of
life and productivity (gay marriage and reproductive kinship). Puar
contends, however, that this tenuous inclusion of some queer subjects
depends on the production of populations of Orientalized terrorist
bodies. Heteronormative ideologies that the U.S. nation-state has long
relied on are now accompanied by homonormative ideologies that
replicate narrow racial, class, gender, and national ideals. These
homonationalisms are deployed to distinguish upright properly
hetero, and now properly homo, U.S. patriots from perversely

sexualized and racialized terrorist look-a-likesespecially Sikhs,


Muslims, and Arabswho are cordoned off for detention and
deportation.
Puar combines transnational feminist and queer theory, Foucauldian
biopolitics, Deleuzian philosophy, and technoscience criticism, and
draws from an extraordinary range of sources, including governmental
texts, legal decisions, films, television, ethnographic data, queer media,
and activist organizing materials and manifestos. Looking at various
cultural events and phenomena, she highlights troublesome links
between terrorism and sexuality: in feminist and queer responses to the
Abu Ghraib photographs, in the triumphal responses to the Supreme
Courts Lawrence decision repealing anti-sodomy laws, in the measures
Sikh Americans and South Asian diasporic queers take to avoid being
profiled as terrorists, and in what Puar argues is a growing Islamophobia
within global queer organizing.
Buy it here.

#6 Andrea Smith Queer Theory and Native


Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler
Colonialism

Queer studies highlights the importance of developing analyses that go


beyond identity and representational politics. For Native studies in
particular, queer theory points to the possibility of going beyond
representing the voices of Native peoples, a project that can quickly
become co-opted into providing Native commodities for consumption in
the multicultural academic-industrial complex. The subjectless critique of
queer theory can assist Native studies in critically interrogating how it
could unwittingly re-create colonial hierarchies even within projects of
decolonization. This critique also sheds light on how Native peoples
function within the colonial imaginaryincluding the colonial imaginary
of scholars and movements that claim to be radical. At the same time,
Native studies can build on queer of color critiques engagement with
subjectless critique. In the move to go postidentity, queer theory often
reinstantiates a white supremacist, settler colonialism by disappearing
the indigenous peoples colonized in this land who become the foils for
the emergence of postcolonial, postmodern, diasporic, and queer
subjects. With respect to Native studies, even queer of color critique
does not necessarily mark how identities are shaped by settler
colonialism. Thus a conversation between Native studies and queer
theory is important, because the logics of settler
colonialism and decolonization must be queered in order to properly
speak to the genocidal present that not only continues to disappear
indigenous peoples but reinforces the structures of white supremacy,
settler colonialism, and heteropatriarchy that affect all peoples.
More info here.

#7 Cathy Cohen Punks, Bulldaggers, and


Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of
Queer Politics?

From Queer Strokes:

Cohen looks at the failed features of queer political


activism, as evolved from queer theory, and discusses how
intersectionality is the key to not merely ushering in
inclusive political activism, but forming collectives based on
transformational agendas. In other words, for queer to
really do the work, it must transform not just
heteronormative oppression, but systemic domination that
overlaps sexuality, race, gender, economic class, etc. We
must reject a queer politics which seems to ignore, in its
analysis of the usefulness of traditionally named categories,
the roles of identity and community as paths to survival,
using shared experiences of oppression and resistance to
build indigenous resources, shape consciousness, and act
collectively. Instead, I would suggest that it is the
multiplicity and interconnectedness of our identities which
provide the most promising avenue for the destabilization
and radical politicalization of these same categories (
Read it here.

#8 Jose Esteban Muoz Disidentification

There is more to identity than identifying with ones culture or standing


solidly against it. Jos Esteban Muoz looks at how those outside the
racial and sexual mainstream negotiate majority culturenot by aligning
themselves with or against exclusionary works but rather by
transforming these works for their own cultural purposes. Muoz calls
this process disidentification, and through a study of its workings, he
develops a new perspective on minority performance, survival, and
activism.
Disidentifications is also something of a performance in its own right, an
attempt to fashion a queer world by working on, with, and against
dominant ideology. By examining the process of identification in the
work of filmmakers, performance artists, ethnographers, Cuban choteo,
forms of gay male mass culture (such as pornography), museums, art
photography, camp and drag, and television, Muoz persistently points
to the intersecting and short-circuiting of identities and desires that
result from misalignments with the cultural and ideological mainstream
in contemporary urban America.
Buy it here.

#9 Roderick Ferguson Aberrations In Black:


Toward A Queer Of Color Critique

The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an


intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is
missing from the picturesexual differencecan be as instructive as
what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals
how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial
difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology
Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan,
and William Julius Wilsonhas measured African Americanss
unsuitability for a liberal capitalist order in terms of their adherence to
the norms of a heterosexual and patriarchal nuclear family model. In
short, to the extent that African Americanss culture and behavior
deviated from those norms, they would not achieve economic and racial
equality.
Buy it here.

#10 Lee Edelman No Future

In this searing polemic, Lee Edelman outlines a radically


uncompromising new ethics of queer theory. His main target is the allpervasive figure of the child, which he reads as the linchpin of our
universal politics of reproductive futurism. Edelman argues that the
child, understood as innocence in need of protection, represents the
possibility of the future against which the queer is positioned as the
embodiment of a relentlessly narcissistic, antisocial, and future-negating
drive. He boldly insists that the efficacy of queerness lies in its very
willingness to embrace this refusal of the social and political order. In No
Future, Edelman urges queers to abandon the stance of accommodation

and accede to their status as figures for the force of a negativity that he
links with irony, jouissance, and, ultimately, the death drive itself.
Buy it here.
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GENDER STUDIESLISTSQUEER THEORY

Sarah Ahmed - Queer Phenomenology


Sarah Ahmed - The Cultural Politics of Emotion
Gloria Anzaldua - Borderlands/La frontera
Gloria Anzaldua - "now let us shift...the path of conocimiento...inner work,
public acts"
Paola Bachetta & M. Maese-Cohen - "Decolonial Praxis: Enabling
intranational and queer coalition building"
David Bell and Jon Binnie - The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond
Lauren Berlant - The Queen of America Goes to Washington City
Allan Berube - "How Gay Stays White and What Kind of White It Stays"
The Bridge Called My Back (Eds. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua)
Combahee River Collective - "The Combahee River Collective statement"
Qwo-Li Driskill - "Stolen from our bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/queers
andt the journey to a sovereign erotic"
David Eng - The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of
Intimacy
U. Erel, J. Haritaworn, E. G. Rodriguez, & C. Klesse - "On the depoliticisation
of intersectionality talk: Conceptualising multiple oppressions in critical
sexuality studies"
Richard Fung - "Looking for my penis: The eroticized Asian in gay video
porn."
Gayatri Gopinath - Impossible Desires: Queer diasporas and South Asian
Public Cultures
Deborah Gould - Moving Politics: Emotion and Act Up's Fight Against AIDS
Michael Hames-Garcia - "Three dilemmas of a queer activist scholar of
color"
J. Haritaworn, T. Tauqir, and E. Erdem - "Gay Imperialism: Gender and
sexuality discourse in the 'War on Terror'"
A. Jenicek, E. Lee, and A. Wong - "'Dangerous shortcuts' - Representations of
LGBT Refugees in the Post-9/11 Canadian Press" (yes, it's one of my own,
but there's very little if any on this particular topic out there)
Gary Kinsman - The Regulation of Desire: Homo and Hetero Sexualities
Kevin Kumashiro - "Queer students of color and antiracist, antiheterosexist

education: Paradoxes of identity and activism"


Audre Lorde - Sister Outsider
Maria Lugones - Pilgrimages/peregrinaje: Theorizing coalition against
multiple oppressions
Joseph Massad - Desiring Arabs
Cherrie Moraga - Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca paso por sus labios
Viviane Namaste - Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and
Transgendered People
Viviane Namaste - Sex change, social change: Reflection on Identity,
Institutions, and Imperialism
Elspeth Probyn - Outside Belongings
Jay Prosser - Second Skins: The body narratives of transsexuality
Adrienne Rich - "Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence"
Marlon Ross - "Beyond the closet as raceless paradigm"
Chela Sandoval - Methodology of the Oppressed
Alan Sears - "Queer anti-capitalism: What's left of gay and lesbian
liberation?"
Makeda Silvera - "Man royals and sodomites: Some thoughts on the
invisibility of Afro Caribbean Lesbians"
Carl Stychin - A Nation by Rights: National Cultures, Sexual Identity Politics
and the Discourse of Rights
Evan Towle and Lynn Morgan - "Romancing the Transgender Native:
Rethinking the use of the 'Third Gender' concept"
Rinaldo Walcott - "Outside in Black Studies: REading from a Queer Place in
the Diaspora"
Kath Weston - Families We Choose: Lesbians, gays, kinship
see more
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Alan of Montreal 10 months ago

Incredible list, thanks!

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Guest 5 months ago


I'll get on these. Puar and Butler are good, but as I began to fumble through
Fraser's essay I remembered the overwhelming verbiage. I truly believe
these authors could do better for readability. Sure, this is an art form as well
but a lot of these sentiments are not so difficult to spell-out. Nietszche was
a rambler but he didn't constantly invent terms. If he had invented terms,
he would've done his best to explore and define them. I get phenomenology
and all, and that their describing a "movement," I guess that's why I turn to
Faulkner. I think his queer theory is very advanced actually.
From the mouth of a white southerner:
"a [black] is not so much as a person as a form of behavior; a sort of
obverse reflection of the white people he lives among"

#11 J.K. Gibson-Graham Queer(y)ing Capitalism in


and out of the Classroom

J.K. Gibson-Graham explore ways that break down capitalism using


queer theory in the classroom.
More info here.

#12 Eve Segwick Epistemology of the Closet

From Wikipedia:

In Epistemology of the Closet, Sedgwick argues that


virtually any aspect of modern Western culture, must be,
not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central
substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a
critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition.
According to Sedgwick, homo/heterosexual definition has
become so tediously argued over because of a lasting
incoherence between seeing homo/heterosexual definition
on the one hand as an issue of active importance primarily
for a small, distinct, relatively fixed homosexual minority
[and] seeing it on the other hand as an issue of continuing,

determinative importance in the lives of people across the


spectrum of sexualities.
Buy it here.

#13 Jack Halbsterstram Female Masculinity

Masculinity without men. In Female Masculinity Judith Halberstam takes


aim at the protected status of male masculinity and shows that female
masculinity has offered a distinct alternative to it for well over two
hundred years. Providing the first full-length study on this subject,
Halberstam catalogs the diversity of gender expressions among
masculine women from nineteenth-century pre-lesbian practices to
contemporary drag king performances.
Buy it here.

#14 Michael Warner The Trouble with Normal: Sex,


Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life

Is gay marriage good for gays? Are queer people better off when they
see themselves as normal Americans? What is lost when gays go
mainstream? What, after all, is The Trouble With Normal?
Here,Michael Warner, one of our most brilliant social critics, argues
that gay marriage and other moves toward normalcy are bad not just for
gays but for everyone. In place of the sexual status quo, Warner offers a
vision of true sexual autonomy that will forever change the way we think
about sex, shame, and identity.
Buy it here.

#15 Jasbir Puar Prognosis Time

This article brings into conversation theories of affect, particularly


thosee merging from technoscience criticism that foreground bodily
capacities for affecting or being affected, for change, evolution,
transformation,and movement, and studies of disability and debility
which complicate these notions of capacity, even while privileging
identity-based rights and representational politics that might reinscribe
other forms of normativity.I argue for a deconstruction of what ability
and capacity mean, affective and otherwise, and to push for a broader
politics of debility that puts duress on the seamless production of abledbodies in relation to disability.Central to my discussion will be
formulations of risk, calculation,prognosis, statistical probability, and
population construction, whereby identity is understood not as essence,
but as risk coding. Affect is thereforea site of bodily creative
discombobulation and resistance but one that is also offered up for
increasing monitoring and modulation
Read it here.

#16 Jose Esteban Muoz Cruising Utopia

The LGBT agenda for too long has been dominated by pragmatic issues
like same-sex marriage and gays in the military. It has been stifled by
this myopic focus on the present, which is short-sighted and
assimilationist.
Cruising Utopia seeks to break the present stagnancy by cruising
ahead. Drawing on the work of Ernst Bloch, Jos Esteban Muoz recalls
the queer past for guidance in presaging its future. He considers the
work of seminal artists and writers such as Andy Warhol, LeRoi Jones,
Frank OHara, Ray Johnson, Fred Herko, Samuel Delany, and Elizabeth
Bishop, alongside contemporary performance and visual artists like
Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian, Luke Dowd, Tony Just, and Kevin
McCarty in order to decipher the anticipatory illumination of art and its
uncanny ability to open windows to the future.

Buy it here.

#17 Lisa Duggan Twilight of Equality

By now, weve all heard about the


shocking redistribution of wealth thats occurred during the last thirty
years, and particularly during the last decade. But economic changes
like this dont occur in a vacuum; theyre always linked to politics. The
Twilight of Equality?searches out these links through an analysis of the
politics of the 1990s, the decade when neoliberalism-free market
economics-became gospel. After a brilliant historical examination of how
racial and gender inequities were woven into the very theoretical
underpinnings of the neoliberal model of the state, Duggan shows how
these inequities play out today. In a series of political case studies,
Duggan reveals how neoliberal goals have been pursued, demonstrating
that progressive arguments that separate identity politics and economic
policy, cultural politics and affairs of state, can only fail. Ultimately, The
Twilight of Equality? not only reveals how the highly successful rhetorical
maneuvers of neoliberalism have functioned but, more importantly, it
shows a way to revitalize and unify progressive politics in the U.S. today.

Buy it here.

#18 Robert McRuer Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of


Queerness and Disability

Crip Theory attends to the contemporary cultures of disability and


queerness that are coming out all over. Both disability studies and queer
theory are centrally concerned with how bodies, pleasures, and identities
are represented as normal or as abject, but Crip Theory is the first
book to analyze thoroughly the ways in which these interdisciplinary
fields inform each other.
Drawing on feminist theory, African American and Latino/a cultural
theories, composition studies, film and television studies, and theories of
globalization and counter-globalization, Robert McRuer articulates the
central concerns of crip theory and considers how such a critical
perspective might impact cultural and historical inquiry in the
humanities. Crip Theory puts forward readings of the Sharon Kowalski

story, the performance art of Bob Flanagan, and the journals of Gary
Fisher, as well as critiques of the domesticated queerness and disability
marketed by the Millennium March, or Bravo TVs Queer Eye for the
Straight Guy. McRuer examines how dominant and marginal bodily and
sexual identities are composed, and considers the vibrant ways that
disability and queerness unsettle and re-write those identities in order to
insist that another world is possible.
Buy it here.

#19 Eli Clare Exile and Pride

In these interconnected essays, Eli Clare vibrantly describes the


rednecks and clearcuts she grew up among, the freak shows of the
nineteenth century, and the transgender warriors of today. Her

intelligence and wit illuminate her ruminations on cerebral palsy, child


abuse, nature, pornography, sexuality, and class.
Exile and Pride is grounded by Clares childhood memories of playing in
the Oregon mountains and of her increasing realization of the
environmental destruction caused by the logging and fisheries industries
that employed her neighbors. This disillusionment with trusted sources
of safety and belonging echoes with the prejudice she experiences due
to her cerebral palsy and with the terror of sexual abuse that filled her
childhood. Her self-imposed exile from her hometown remains a tangle
of grief and relief, but Clare highlights the pride she has built through
participating in the liberation movements of disabled people and queers
of all stripes.
In Exile and Pride, Eli Clare uses her own multiple loyalties as a lens to
examine identity politics and political agency in the face of systemic
oppression and interpersonal abuse. Imaginative and engaging, Exile
and Pride will appeal to a wide array of readers.
Buy it here.

#20 Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality

Buy it here.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.
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GENDER STUDIESLISTSQUEER THEORY