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Department of Politics and International Studies

Queer Politics in Asia, Africa and the Middle East

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Term 1

Queer theory is ‘for’ and ‘about’ everyone. Although frequently assumed to be a branch of social and political theory preoccupied with the study of sexual minorities, the insights of theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler into questions concerning the constitution of identities, subjectivities, resistance and the operation of power, have travelled widely, informing scholarship in a host of ostensibly unrelated terrains. Yet like many other kinds of social and political theory, queer theory has been Eurocentric and has only recently begun to engage seriously with the world outside the North Atlantic. 

This course is intended to provide both an introduction to queer theory, as well as to engage with the question of its relevance in contemporary Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. As queer identities have become ever more visible in these parts of the world, queer politics has become implicated in a host of questions that are central to the disciplines of political theory and international relations. LGBT rights have recently become a centrepiece of Western human rights diplomacy as well as a major priority for UN human rights advocacy. Conversely, conversations about LGBT rights have become a major point of tension between Western and non-Western states. In some discourses, acceptance of LGBT rights has become a new signifier of the age-old divide between the civilised and the savage. Tensions have emerged within queer movements between purveyors of such orientalist tropes and their radical critics invested in a politics of intersectionality involving sex, race, class, nation and other forms of subjectivity. 

This course will use struggles for sexual self-determination as a prism through which to consider broader questions about the constitution of modernity, the proliferation of identities, rights and claims for justice, the consolidation and deconstruction of postcolonial national identities, the aspirations and anxieties of postcolonial elites, etc. These questions will be studied contextually, with topics in many weeks focusing on a single area case-study, or a comparison of two or more country-contexts.

Method of assessment

Assessment is 70% coursework, 20% seminar presentation, 10% seminar participation