WOST 393 Queer Theory
Lecturer: Kreimild Saunders
Bartlett 212
Tu/Th 9:30-10:45

Office Hours: Tu 12:30-1:30
Tel. 413-545-2433
Bartlett 381
University of Massachusetts--Amherst

Queer Theory: A Reconceptualization of Gender and Sexuality

Queer theory defies rigid definitional limits but has been typified by a tendency to emphasize incoherencies in sex, gender and sexual desire. It articulates the post-structuralist view of subject positions as multiple and unstable with a strong focus on the complexities of gay and lesbian identities and practices. The currency of the performative as a category within this discourse is indicative of the play of identities. Since queer theory ostensibly resists consolidation, it emphasizes critique and openness.

The first section of the course presents an outline of the development of queer theory. It begins with an examination of the impact of the resistance of groups at the margins of the gay and lesbian movement who persistently demanded a radical transformation of the sex/gender system rather than a project of mainstreaming. It also looks at the rebellion against notions of an essential gay and/or lesbian identity. This challenge to orthodoxies was the context for the emergence of queer theory and practice. This section goes on to do a brief genealogy of queer as a developing set of ideas, underscoring the impact of post-structuralism on our understandings of subjectivity and identity (provisional, contingent, heterogeneous, unconscious and unstable among others). It ends with a discussion of contestations of queer understandings of identities such as its putative destablization of identities as reactionary and apolitical, a questioning of its political efficacy and its potential to further a masculinist agenda.

The other sections of the course look at the emergence of various sexual identities and practices (namely, butch-femme, transgender/transsexual identities, male lesbian identities and identifications, bisexual identities, the challenge of race, ethnicity and class, sadomasochistic identities and practices, cross-generational sex, and the effects of cultural/national differences) and invite students to trace the application of queer approaches and to think these identities and practices from a queer perspective. This requires that careful attention be paid to its productive possibilities and limitations.

Required Readings:

Course Requirements

Midterm: Oct. 29
Students can elect to do a group (3-4 persons) paper. In this case there will be a group evaluation. The assignment will be based on a critical and analytic examination of a question or issue that emerges through the readings. I will identify a question or a set of questions that would be the basis of the group project. Students are allowed to recommend questions, issues and problems. Alternatively, an individual student can select an issue that emerges from the readings for a paper. A one page narrative outline should be submitted for approval. Individual papers should be limited to 10-12 pages (12 pt., double-spaced). Group papers should be limited to 20-25 pages. Groups are encouraged to make presentations limited to 20 minutes. Presentations are not part of the mid-term grade.

Final: Dec. 12
The final will consist of an individual term paper (10-12 pages, 12 pt. Double-spaced). Each student is required to submit a one page narrative outline of the paper for approval. The paper should be analytical (not simply descriptive) and address a problem or issue that emerges in the course of the readings.

Course Grade: mid-term paper (50%) and final paper (50%)
Attendance: no grade penalty for non-attendance.
Participation: Students are expected to attend classes regularly and discuss readings.
Academic Honesty: See Undergraduate Rights and Responsibilities 2001-2002.