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Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potentia

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Edward Ndopu

on 28 March 2014

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Transcript of Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potentia

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?
Cathy J. Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science and chair of the department. She has served as the Deputy Provost for Graduate Education and is the former Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Cohen is the author of two books: Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford University Press 2010) and The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University of Chicago Press 1999) and co-editor with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto of Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (NYU, 1997). Her work has been published in numerous journals and edited volumes including the American Political Science Review, GLQ, NOMOS, and Social Text. Cohen is principal investigator of two major projects: The Black Youth Project and the Mobilization, Change and Political and Civic Engagement Project. Her general field of specialization is American politics, although her research interests include African-American politics, women and politics, lesbian and gay politics, and social movements.
"Limits of Lesbian and Gay political agenda based on a civil rights strategy, where assimilation into, and replication of, dominant instructions are the goals."

"...A new political direction and agenda [that] does not focus on integration into dominant structures but instead seeks to transform the basic fabric and hierarchies that allow systems of oppression to persist and operate efficiently."

"Instead of destabilizing the assumed categories and binaries of sexual identity, queer politics has served to reinforce simple dichotomies between heterosexual and everything "queer."

--- "politics where the non-normative and marginal position of punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens, for example, is the basis for progressive transformative coalition work."

The Promise of Queerness as a Political and Theoretical Intervention:


--- contest hegemonic constructions of sexuality

--- challenge the putative immutability of categorizations of sexuality.

--- interrogate/problematize the regulation of sexualities.

--- critically explore the production of subordination of sexual subjects.

"A potential movement of young anti-assimilationist activists committed to challenging the very way people understand and respond to sexuality."

--- foregrounds fluidity and movement of people's sexual lives.

--- sexual expression entails possibility of change, redefinition, and subversive performance.

--- confrontation of normalizing power through an intensification of and emphasis on anti-normative ways of inhabiting space.

"Thus queer politics, much like queer theory, is often perceived as standing in opposition, or in contrast, to category-based identity politics of traditional lesbian and gay activism."

"At the intersection of oppression and resistance lies the radical potential of queerness to challenge and bring together all those deemed marginal and all those committed to liberators politics."
The Problem with Queerness as a Political and Theoretical Intervention.
--- has not emerged as an encompassing challenge to systems of domination and oppression, especially those normalizing processes embedded in heteronormativity.

--- "Despite a surrounding discourse which highlights the destabilization and even deconstruction of sexual categories, queer politics has often been built around a simple dichotomy between those deemed queer and those deemed heterosexual."

--- sexuality as the primary frame through which queer politics is constructed and articulated.

Binary mode of thinking that produces all heterosexual subjects as dominant and controlling and all queers subjects as marginalized and invisible ---> obscures operations of power.

--- central argument: "It is the disjuncture, evident in queer politics, between an articulated commitment to promoting an understanding of sexuality that rejects the idea of static, monolithic, bounded categories, on the one hand, and political practices structured around binary conceptions of sexuality and power, on the other hand, that is the focus of this article."
Revisiting Queerness through an intersectional lens:

"The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that women of color face." --- Combahee River Collective (272)

"...there must also be an understanding of the ways our multiple identities work to limit the entitlement and status some receive from obeying a heterosexual imperative. For instance, how would queer activists understand politically the lives of women -- in particular women of color -- on welfare, who may fit into the category of heterosexual, but whose sexual choices are not perceived as normal, moral, or worthy of state support? Further, how do queer activists understand and relate politically to those whose same-sex sexual identities position them within the category of queer, but who hold other identities based on class, race and/or gender categories which provide them with membership in and the resources of dominant institutions and groups?"
Cautions against mapping the power and entitlement of normative heterosexuality onto the bodies of all heterosexuals.

"A monolithic understanding of heterosexuality and queerness has come to dominate the political imagination and actions of many queer activists."
Queer Potentiality; Or, Toward a Transformational Politics of Radical Coalition Work

"I am suggesting that the process of movement-building be rooted not in our shared history or identity, but in our shared marginal relationship to dominant power which normalizes, legitimizes, and privileges."

Discussion Questions:

Cohen invokes Crenshaw's formulation of intersectionality as a political and theoretical intervention to re-conceptualize or problematize the identities that are "home" to us. Staying on the notion of home: what are the possibilities of re-signifying identity not as "home", but rather, as "diasporic"?

Cohen contends that perhaps one of the biggest challenges to the project of radical coalition building is the fact that our political consciousness is built around simple dichotomies such as powerful/powerless; oppressor/victim; enemy/comrade. How might intersectionality, taken up by Cohen as a political and theoretical intervention with seemingly more expansive possibilities than queer theory/politics, undo the dualistic and dichotomous modes of thinking and organizing inherent in movement building?
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