Queering Philosophy—How can queer theory inform and transform the practice of philosophy?

Linda Martin Alcoff - LecturerWithin philosophy, queer theory remains marginal and mostly invisible. Often it is relegated to the philosophical sidelines as “activism, not philosophy,” as a special personal concern of demographic minorities that remain underrepresented in the profession. However, as Linda Alcoff argued in her Presidential Address to the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2012 (text: http://www.alcoff.com/articles/presidential-adress-apa-eastern-2012; video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ud2yh6dV2I), the problem of demography is not coincidental to the issue of bodies of knowledge, canonical archives and questions, and preferred methods of inquiry. The goal then has to be not to establish queer theory as a recognized subfield in philosophy, but to elaborate how the questions and methods of queer thought can more generally inform and transform the practice of philosophy and its standards for knowledge production.

Even if we accept this goal, it is far from clear how exactly we might pursue it and put it into practice. We need a large toolbox of inroads and strategies. What strategies do you propose?

One starting point, to my mind, needs to be to reject the rhetorical gesture that renders queerness as something that “is studied only out of personal interest” or something studied “objectively” from a distance. This gesture positions the “ideal” philosophical authorial voice at a distance to queerness, taking shelter in an implied straightness and consequently leaving heteronormativity intact at a deeper level. My point here is not about requiring the personal self-identification of an article’s or book’s author. It is instead about questioning the institution of the academic authorial voice, namely, how the implied perception of an author’s gender, sexuality, age, race, institutional and geographic context shape how much authority is attributed to them proleptically.

Marginalized minority voices tend to have to render proof of their academic competence and must first refute the suspicion of being “purely personally politically motivated” rather than writing “proper research.” The standard of “proper” academic writing turns out not to be as neutral and universal, as we often like to assume, but rather a male, white, European, and heteronormative “voice” of knowledge and competence. This is the case even though the actual bodies inhabiting that academic voice can look preciously little like a straight white European man. The point is that queerness and queer method are irreducible to individual bodies and desires. Queerness and queer method pertain just as much, if not even more, to structures, practices, and institutions.

Rather than observing and studying the queerness of others elsewhere, we need to subject the straightness of our institutions and institutional privilege to critique. We need to ask how to develop a structural, institutional queerness that is not reducible to personal identity or preferences. We might ask how not to write about queerness, but how to write as a queer we.

Annika Thiem
Villanova University
Local Board Member of Hypatia

Author: klynch618

I <3 the Humanities & life-long learning.

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