SOAS University of London

Centre for Gender Studies

Queer Politics in Asia, Africa and the Middle East

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

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 non-normative sexual identities have become ever more visible in these parts of the world, the politics of sexuality has become freighted with apparently unrelated baggage. 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 old divide between the civilised and the savage. Tensions have emerged within LGBT movements between purveyors of such orientalist tropes and their radical critics invested in a politics of intersectionality implicating 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.

The course aims to give students:

  • Understanding of the political, social, economic, demographic and other factors underlying the expression of sexual minority identities in postcolonial Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
  • Ability to analyse the anxieties and phobias that such expression arouses on the part of postcolonial states and elites, and to contextualise these developments in relation to the consolidation of postcolonial identities more generally.
  • Knowledge of the strategies of advocacy that queer social movements have developed in struggles for sexual self-determination.
  • Understanding of how and why the issue of LGBT rights has become a recent centrepiece of Western human rights diplomacy, and of UN human rights advocacy.
  • Appreciation for how struggles for queer self-determination can shed light on central questions of international relations and political theory: the constitution of modernity, the proliferation of rights and claims for justice, the consolidation and deconstruction of postcolonial identities, the endurance of imperial civilising missions, etc.

Method of assessment

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


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules