Friday, November 14, 2008

Queer Theory

Rubin, G. (1993). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In H. Abelove, M. Barale, D. Halperin (Eds.), The lesbian and gay studies reader (pp. 3-44). New York: Routledge.

Eng, D.L., Halberstam, J., Munoz, J. E. (2005). Introduction: What’s queer about queer studies now? Social Text, 84-85, 1-17.

Puar, J. K. Queer times, queer assemblages. Social Text, 84-85: 121-139.

Rubin’s article highlights the special focus law, religion, and medicine have had upon sexuality. She compares the decision to engage in a specific sexuality activity to the choice one makes with food, a metaphor that the more I think about it, the increasingly apt and profound I find it to be. She illustrates the sexual essentialist perspective’s hierarchy of sexual acts, starting wit the acceptable down to the tolerable, and those that are stigmatized, pathologized and criminalized. She calls for the development of “a radical perspective on sexuality” (p. 275)* and outlines the constructivist perspective, stating that it is important to located what we see in the groupings of erotic acts with the trends of erotic discourses. The most important of which is sex negativity. This propagated ideas of “healthy” and “unhealthy” sexuality. She focuses on the criminalization of homosexuality and sodomy, the prohibition of sex with children, and the use of s/m pornography in feminist’s anti-porn rhetoric. The last example is used to illustrate that “feminism” is not the panacea to sex negativity and in fact can play an active role in propagating it. Though this is followed by the problematic challenge that this only a “so-called feminist discourse” (p. 302). She closes her argument with the idea that “Western culture” is caught in the conundrum of taking sex too seriously while not taking sexual persecution seriously enough. In order to ameliorate this we must recognize how erotic life is shaped by political dimensions.

Decades after Rubin’s piece was first published, the introduction to “What’s queer about queer studies now?” addresses the changes in the breadth of material covered by queer studies. This text draws attention to the parochial view of sexuality in Rubin’s piece, representative of it time, which does not thoroughly engage with race, transnationlalism, the global market and labour structures, diasporas, or citizenship, topics taken up by more recent queer publications. Eng Halberstam, and Munoz critique previous gay and lesbian activism that bought into queer positivism and led the way to queer liberalism, which they describe as the exogenous and endogenous workings of the queer community that have lead to the “normalization” of gay and lesbian identities. Through teasers to the following essays in this volume we are offered the following insights into queer studies:
1) Theorists need to reconsider the intersectionality of identifications such as race, sexuality, and class, and demand more than just our rights in order to keep our freedom of mobility;
2) Different identity categories cannot be collapsed as equal in their relationship to domination;
3) The increase in pop culture’s representation of queer identities has come with the price of the ascribing heteronormative gender roles to those representation;
4) Counter-homophobic discourses have been used to shift focus from American atrocities in war to the prejudices of the “enemy”;
5) The term queer often signifies and symbolizes gay white men; this conflates homonormativity with whiteness
6) We ought not confuse the fruits of gay rights advocacy, such as gay marriage, with freedom.
The introduction ends with a reference to Rubin who is quoted as calling for “gay humility” (p. 15) where sexuality does not need to be the central or singular focus of queer studies. Instead those writing in queer theory must acknowledge their “ethical attachment to others” and cease locating sexuality as the centre of queer studies (p. 15).

Puar’s article was a very dense read and I will try my best to do it justice. She is making three arguments. In the first she argues that queer liberalism has contributed to post-9/11 Islamophobia. We see this in queer scholars’ responses to Abu Ghraib Arabs and Muslims were homogenized and academics focused on Islamic homophoboia, diverting attention from the inhumane and unethical treatment of Muslims by American soldiers. Secondly, Puar utilizes Deleuze’s interpretation of the assemblage in juxtaposition to intersectionality. She argues that the terrorist is queered through his failed masculinity and the association of his body with perversion and deformity. She uses the example of the suicide bomber to demonstrate how the terrorist’s body destabilizes temporarily and space. The bomb is intimately strapped to the terrorist’s body hidden beneath clothing. When the bomb detonates the body does not carry the weapon but merges with it and the other bodies in close proximity; the terrorists shifts from being to becoming. Lastly, she applies the terrorist’s being and becoming to the turban. The turban works to both hide and reveal the terrorist body; it is infused with cultural and religious meaning, but also a refusal to assimilate into western dress. I must admit I am struggling with how this then connects to her reading of Axel’s queer diasporas and then to the notion that through the sex based torture in Abu Ghraib the terrorist is left religious impotent and is no longer a threat to the nation. The terrorist troubles the stability of identity categories.

Questions (in no particular order):
Does the push for queer theory to gain some “humility” and shift it’s focus from sexuality to broader issues such as transnational identities, diasporas, and the global economy imply that we have exhausted where queer theory can go in conversations of sex?
What is the difference between sexuality studies, lesbian and gay studies, and queer theory?
Can we compare Puar’s notions of being and becoming to Butler’s and other feminism notions of performativity?
How do people feel about Rubin’s call for the destigmatization of “cross-generational” romances or sexual relationships? I have read a number of feminist’s writing coming out of the 1980s and 1990s that made similar claims but none since then, and Patrick Califia in fact changed his mind. Where does this leave us?
In terms of advocacy how does a queer activist address the fact that much of the major issues on the agenda are in fact very heteronormative ones? Gays and lesbians have fought have to be let into an arguably repressive structure of marriage. EGALE (a GLBT advocacy group in Canada) who once opposed the censorship of Little Sister’s Book Store has more recently lobbied to censor the sale of the music of artists with homophobic lyrics. How to queers claim a desire not to be discriminated against while still repudiating heteronormativity?

And lastly, though this does not stem from the articles, I would like to ask something about the problematic use of the word queer to, in theory, describe the GLBTT2IQ population, when it is in fact being used to describe gays and lesbians (who are also white, middle class, non-immigrants)? I would say that very rarely does the writing on “queer” people apply to bisexuals, trans-identified individuals, two-spirited persons, or those who are intersex. In the name of inclusion have we (queers) homogenized ourselves?

*Sorry I was working with a different source of the Rubin article, my page numbers come from.
Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking sex: Notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality. In C. S. Vance (Ed.) Pleasure and danger: Exploring female sexuality (p. 267-319). Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feminism and Gender Theory

Feminism and Gender Theory

Butler, J. (1990). Subjects of sex/gender/desire in Gender trouble (pp. 1-34). New York: Routledge.

Bartky, S. L. Foucault, femininity, and the modernization of patriarchal power. In R. Weitz (Ed.), The politics of women’s bodies: Sexuality, appearance, and behavior (pp. 25-45). New York: Oxford University Press.

Hammonds, E. (1994). Black (w)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality. differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies.

Connell, R. W. & Messerschmidt, J.W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society, 19, 829-859.

It could just be that its been a very long week and I'm extra agreeable at this point, but I enjoyed all the articles and had no qualms or disagreements anywhere! This was an interesting collection of work from authors who approached the idea of gender identification from a different angle in each article.

In her very dense article: “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire”, Judith Butler is responding in large part to the notion of feminism put forth during the second wave. She is responding to the idea that feminism is supposed to be extending the representation of “women” in politics and language, but has largely missed how the category of “woman” is “produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought.”(2) Her critique questions how effective the feminist movement is if it seeks greater political representation for the notion of “woman” as a subject when it is a category constructed by politics itself. Butler argues that politics and language have constructed the idea of gender categories in a system of compulsory heterosexuality, which naturalizes the position of the male and creates the subjecthood of “woman” in relation to man. To Butler, the “being” of a gender is an effect which is a product of a binary heterosexual hegemony, which if disrupted, according to Foucault, would dissipate the category of sex and therefore gender too.

Next up Sandra Lee Bartky presents a Foucaultian argument of how feminine gender roles are created and maintained today. Her argument stems from Foucault’s work on Bentham’s panopticon which we looked at earlier this year. The disciplinary state of “conscious and permanent visibility” of the panopticon which induces self discipline is applied to the body. Bartky examines the Foucaultian self-disciplinary practices that construct and maintain visible femininity in three ways. First are the practices that produce a body of a small effeminate proportions by means of dieting and exercise to meet the requirements of femininity. She supplements this with a discussion of women’s exercise being relegated to aerobics and calisthenics; not lifting weights like men do because women are working out with a different purpose than men.

Women’s requirement to remain petite and not gain muscle mass is related to Bartky’s second practice of self-discipline regarding the spatiality in which women feel socially constrained to carry themselves in a far more closed and spatially restricted manner than men. Lastly, women ornament their bodies through a variety of “feminine” practices such as makeup, fashion selection, hair dressing, shaving and waxing. Always under the patriarchal panopticon which imposes these feminine standards, women undergo much self-discipline to fit into society’s institutionalized heterosexual masculine-feminine binary.

In Black (W)holes and the geometry of Black female sexuality. (More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets Queer Theory), Evelynn Hammonds engages with the silenced subject of Black female sexuality. Struggling with the White normative state of existence, and the seeming need to identify as a Black lesbian rather than just a lesbian (which on its own would connote a White lesbian), Hammonds wants to revisit feminism with a new look from Queer theory. Part of the problem Hammond argues, is “a question of knowing about the production of black female queer sexualities.”(4) Yet since black female sexuality has been largely a product of silence, erasure and invisibility in dominant discourse, Hammonds asks: “are black lesbian sexualities doubly silenced?”(4) In other words, the visible White female sexuality inadvertently shapes the invisible Black female sexualities which are inseparable.

Hammond is looking for Black feminist theorists to reclaim their sexuality through a counternarrative and power analysis that positions the black female as the subject. Her goal is not only to make black females more visible, this would not undo the history of erasure or challenge the power structures that created that invisibility; Hammond wants to create a “politics of articulation” whose focus would be black female agency to interrogate the power constraints that created the “politics of silence” from which their sexualities have been produced.

In the final article of our diverse collection of gender theories, RW Connell maps the recent history of hegemonic masculinities. Having got its start as a generalized “male sex role” theory in social psychology, the concept came under criticism with increased recognition of varying levels of masculinity and oppression between men, especially between straight men and gay men. These themes of power and differences were coupled with Gramsci’s idea of hegemony in the context of masculinity, which helped understand masculinity as a practice of dominance over women as well as other men. This hegemonic masculinity was not enacted by many men, nor was it violent in nature; the hierarchy was constructed through culture, institutions and persuasion.

Approximately twenty years after the term was coined, Connell, as one of the founding scholars, sought to review the concept and suggest several reformulations. The most interesting of these reformulations concerns gender hierarchy, and the need for more focus on gender relations rather than on the sole activities of men because “gender is always relational, and patterns of masculinity are socially defined in contradistinction from some model…of femininity.”(848) Most feminist research would contextualize femininity as only subordinate to masculinity in gender relations under patriarchy, but Connell reminds us that women are central in helping to construct masculinities as well; women are the mothers, schoolmates, girlfriends, sexual partners and wives.(848) In other words to better understand hegemonic masculinity we need to understand the holistic relationship of gender relations, and to recognize “the agency of subordinated groups as much as the power of dominant groups in the mutual conditioning of gender dynamics…”(848)

What do you think Hammond would have to say about this suggestion of Connell's? Hammond is looking for counternarratives and politics of articulation to better define the marginalized subjecthood of Black female lesbians, and here Connell is suggesting that you cannot separately analyze genders, they are always relational and must be looked at in terms of their dynamics.

Can a gender be considered exclusively from others, can a gender be independently defined as theorists like Hammonds seem to advocate for, or are gender relations inextricable and formulated completely in relation to each other? Where would each of these theorists sit on the subject?

Could the Foucaultian self-discipline model presented by Bartky work in terms of keeping various masculinities in gendered roles in a way similar to her femininity argument?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Critical Race Theory

Omi, M. & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation. In Racial formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s (pp. 53-76). New York: Routledge.

Frankenburg, R. (1999). Introduction. Displacing whiteness: Essays in social and cultural criticism (pp. 1-34). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Farred, G. (2007). The event of the black body at rest: Mêlée in Motown. Critical Inquiry, 66, 58-77.

Omi and Winant start with the premise that alone and collectively we are shaped and haunted by race. And yet, we are unsure of what race and racism really denote. Historically and socially the dominant discourse oscillates between constructing race as an intrinsic essence versus an extrinsic illusion.

Race is defined as “a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (p. 55). The role of critical race theory is then to explain the representation and structuring of race in the social world; this is bound to the evolving understanding of hegemony. This should be done without essentialist premises or imaginary utopias extraneous of racial identities and prejudices. Racial formations describe the creation, transformation, and destruction of racial categorization. Racial projects seek to amalgamate race’s position in multiple discourses and the mechanisms that facilitate the penetration of these discourses into individual and structural experience.

To address macro-level racial formation Omi and Winant outline how race is integrated into the political rhetoric of neoconservative, far right, new right, and left wing ideologies. Similarly race is understood through common sense, large-scale meaning, and policy, each influencing everyday individual experiences. However, these knowledges about race are destabilized through social struggle. The development of modern racial comprehensions are traced from European exploration and Christian understanding of the human being, suggesting that different races may instead be different species. Yet, as biological race claims were disavowed social elucidations are offered in their place. As the USA moved from “racial dictatorship” to “racial democracy” the concept of racism is demarcated as separate from bigotry.

Frankenburg provides a number of descriptors for whiteness including: an empty signifier, pluralistic, a daily practice, a social construction, in flux, a cultural assemblage, and cite of identification and identity. From this perspective scholars in this anthology articulate that whiteness can only operate because of its invisibility, which facilitates its position as the hegemonic standard juxtaposed against all persons of colour, non-whites, racialized individuals and groups who are located as the “Other.”

From the onset of racializing discourses, race has been attached to hierarchical power structures. This was accomplished by naming whiteness as Anglo-Saxon, superior to non-whiteness, and as a stable, readable, and exclusive category against all Other races. Other races became named against whiteness, and were decreed inferior. Thus, from the emergence of race as a social construction it has been enmeshed with racism. Over time whiteness accomplished invisibility by defining itself by what it is not: such as black or enslaved.

Frankenburg outlines that critical whiteness studies have been picked up across myriad disciplines, each finding unique ways of incorporating whiteness their analyses. Critical whiteness studies facilitate unveiling the mechanisms by which whiteness is inaccurately naturalized. This work has the potential to affect the cultural understanding of immigration policies, crime crackdowns, social welfare, and hiring policies. By denaturalizing whiteness we can broach the question of how the nation (in this case the US but also Canada) constructs citizens and Others. However, Frankenburg warns us of potential pitfalls of critical whiteness studies put to poor use including the risk of: privileging white narratives, “me-too-ism,” and forgetting the varying degrees of power available to white bodies.

In “The Event of the Black Body at Rest: Melee in Motown” Farred is employing Badiou’s philosophy of the non-event to analyze the violent eruption that took place between basketball fans and Ron Artest (Pacers player) in a game against the Pistons. Firstly, for a quick and assessable outline of Badiou’s philosophic work I recommend visiting Farred draws our attention to the way that temporality is experienced differently in sport than other areas, by players as well as sports fans.

Farred is particularly interested in the moment of the Melee in Motown after Artest committed a foul against Ben Wallace, which Wallace responded to by violently shoving Artest. Artest responded by walking away from his confrontation, and laid down upon the score’s table. This is the moment of non-event, which Farred cautions us against confusing with an interstice and instead challenges us to see the symbol of this moment in and off itself. Farred argues that by examining this moment and the violent response white fans had to it, we can see how the black athletic body interacts with space. In the case of this sporting event it points to the role of the black body as spectacle; one that need always be in motion and be performing for its audience. Farred alludes to Artest’s body upon the score table as reminiscent of the historic ways that rest has been utilized as points of resistance (Rosa Parks seems the most obvious example, though he does not mention her by name). This moment had the power to change, if only for the moment it lasted, the way that sport was understood.

Given the thematic nature of these readings my questions did not often discretely respond to a single article and instead came from the way they followed after one another, so I have decided to not separate the questions by article and instead let them flow one after the other.
Who does the discourse of colour blindness serve and why does dominant discourse still cling to it as the answer to racism?
In addressing the history of racist perspective Omi and Winant point out that several of the founders of Western intellectual thinking espoused racist propaganda masqueraded as philosophy and fact; how do we address this in curricula that still draws on these thinkers but seeks to erase this history?
Is it important, and if so why, to delineate between different kinds of oppression; separating classism, racism, ableism, homophobia, sexism, and more rather than discussing bigotry and prejudice?
Can we compare Artest’s body at rest as a site of resistance to the resistance of actions such as die-ins over HIV?
Is it ever appropriate to compare resistances across different kinds of oppressions?
Thinking back to a few years ago where a student dressed in black face for Halloween on Queen’s campus, what does it mean to wear race as a costume?
To reiterate one of Frankenburg’s questions “What, or who, do white people want to be?” (p. 16).
What do people think about the move from whiteness as a racial categorical to a cultural one?
Why is it that a crowd responds more violently to rest than acts of violence between players? Is it that we hate laziness and quitters more than aggressors, or is it something else? Or is it as Farred postulates that it is too paradigm shifting for a white audience to see the black body resting?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Postcolonial and Critical Race Theory

Stoler, A (2002). Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power (pp. 1-78). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Berry,E (2008). The Zombie Commodity: Hair and the Politics of its Globalization. Postcolonial Studies, 11 (1), pp. 63-84.

Bannerji, H (2000). The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender (pp. 1-86). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Stoler starts off with a Georges Hardy quote: “A man remains a man as long as he stays under the gaze of a woman of his race” (p.1) that highlights the main themes of gender roles, racial segregation and virility, and sexuality (regulation/ vulnerability/ control) which will be the focus throughout the first three chapters. Stoler implies that Hardy’s quote suggested a prescription that was not practiced, and reminds us that “the colonial “gaze” was to be at once broad, reflexive, and intimate” (p.1) and very much ingrained in the regulation of sexuality.

Stolers analysis of colonial race, sexuality and gender and the control exerted upon these “identities” is based heavily on Foucauldian theory and very much links to the ideas of power and (sexual) regulation that we looked at last week. Looking to question why sexual politics (specifically surrounding inter racial relations) were a primary concern in colonial policy, Stoler uses her research of the Netherlands Indies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to “trace how frequently the political and personal were meshed, to identify what was created as private and public, and to ask what affections were perceived as cultural defections on colonial terrain (p.7). Stoler argues for a deeper historical engagement with the range of practices in which racism was produced (p.13) and calls to re-examine colonial ideas and to “challenge certain givens of colonial histories” (p.21).

Until the 20th Century colonial administrators had imposed marriage restrictions and “promoted” relationships between European men and native women. They believed local women could help European men become acclimatized to the native culture, language, etc and that they would be invaluable in not only doing the domestic work, but also in minimizing the need of prostitutes (as well as preventing male homosexual relations). However, in the early twentieth century white women were introduced into the colonies to control male sexuality by preventing “mixed race” children, and therefore enforcing certain divisions between colonizer and colonizee based on race. Stoler shows that women were also strictly controlled and that “a denser spread of European women did not inadvertently produce stronger racial divisions” (p.33), suggesting that white endogamy was a strategic policy used to counter the social and political “problem” of mixed-blood children who could potentially blur the line between the superior “white colonial” race and the inferior “native colonized” race.

We see examples of race and gender discrimination in the sections on eugenics, on medical discourse, on race-specific rape laws (which only prosecuted black men) and on the social and political dilemma of how to educate white children born outside of Europe. We see that sexual control was a “fundamental class and racial marker implicated in a wider set of relations of power” (p.45) that was at the “core of defining colonial privilege and its boundaries” (p.39). Stoler ends by suggesting that further investigation into sexual control might show that it was “an instrumental image for the body politic… and itself fundamental to how racial policies were secured and how colonial projects were carried out” (p.78).

I was surprised to enjoy this reading as much as I did, not having much previous experience with postcolonial theory, and wrongly assuming a lack of interest. Being interested in Foucault I really enjoyed that Stoler often seemed to work through a Foucauldian lens and I would love to spend time discussing how this can be a positive, and a negative, way of looking back at colonial history.

I was also interested in what seemed to be the many contradictions that colonial administrators presented to their staff… that what was “socially lauded at one time (was) seen as a political menace at another” (p.54) seemed to be a common theme and I feel that it must have been incredibly confusing to be a European man living and working under those changing rules.

I’m always interested in how the personal becomes so public, and how sexual control seems to seep into just about everything we discuss – although I am biased being obviously interested in sexuality and any attempt to regulate or control “it”. Reading about sex tourism and globalized sex markets (for Health 333) this week I kept thinking about how Hardy’s quote, discouraging the globalization of sexuality, often seems to still be prevalent to a certain extent today…

In both essays by Bannerji she looks at Canada, as a nation, in relation to multiculturalism, sexism, racism, and imperialism/ globalization through an “antiracist feminist Marxist” lens of analysis. She looks at the current political scene in Canada (as well as speaking about the U.S., Britain, and India) and speaks of the gathering strength of right wing politics, here in Canada and abroad. She looks at Western capital and third world labour and talks about the alienness or “otherness” of hidden labour, and uses Marx’s idea of “hidden struggles” to analyze cultural political identities. She argues that globalization is threatening liberal democracies, especially in third worlds, and says that “popular multiculturalism… must articulate itself through a politicized understanding of cultural representation using antiracist and feminist class politics” (p.5). Concentrating on the politics of historical and cultural reifications that have created our current racist capitalist state Bannerji suggests that we have to work within the realities of colonial and Canadian history to express the inequalities of class and gender and race.

Bannerji argues that Canada’s “official” multiculturalism actually sets apart “immigrants of colour”. She looks at the history of the language of “women of colour” and some of the problems that arise in surrounding discourse. Looking at the idea of “otherness” Bannerji shows how “Canadian” status is not obtained through official citizenship, as individuals are still labeled as immigrants and minorities and talks about the paradox of belonging and non belonging. She states that “the making of Canada is accomplished through the exclusion and marginalization of women” (p.67) and looks at gendered issues such as the regulation of motherhood both within and between white and non-white women and the idea that poverty is “feminized” by the state and media (p.71). Bannerji ends the second essay by stating that “by its very organization of social communities in “race” and ethnic terms, the state constantly creates “Canadians” and “others”… this “racist culture” is in a mutually constitutive relationship with the state” (p.72).

I found these two essays to be full of excellent examples of how the history of colonialism is so intertwined with our culture today. I also found it interesting to see how current issues in Canadian politics can be looked at and analyzed differently. I think that Bannerji is trying to articulate a critique in order to challenge our current cultural inequalities surrounding race, class, and gender – possibly to start a “social revolution” that she alluded to earlier. I could be reading this entirely wrong, but in her critique of current Canadian politics it sounded like she was condemning us to live in a racist sexist culture indefinitely…

Berry uses the example of Victoria Beckham’s hair extensions to show readers how the “female body has become part of multidirectional global flow” (p. 63) where the exchange of human hair has become a commodity in the global capitalist arena. Berry suggests that bodily products exist as much outside of bodies as within or on them (p.64) and shows how the Global West’s desire to express a “femininity” that needs to be produced and consumed might contribute to reinscribing colonial boundaries.

Berry looks at one of the largest multinational hair extension companies, Great Lengths International, who obtain all their hair from Indian Temples, (excluding any non-Indian hair in a “hierarchy of beauty and femininity” p.73) and who have patented “the world’s only pre-bonded extension system” (p.64). Berry suggests that in the sanitation/ depigmentation/ pigmentation process a de-ethnicization occurs in which “ethnic differences in looks are fabricated in the interests of both social control and commodity innovation” (p.79). Berry shows how hair has historically been associated with femininity, youth, sexuality, etc and that in self-governing their hair females may perceive an “incompleteness” that they can attain through consumption of third world hair and a sense of control over their own bodies. Berry talks about the invisible labour behind the hair-market and uses Marxist ideas and reification to analyse the transnational hair market. She looks at the idea of cultural cannibalism, as well as at the state of hair, between life and death (hence “zombie” commodity) and how saving the “life” fails as the hair extensions can never last forever.

Berry theorizes that the global hair trade might be read as post imperialism and that mixed emotions towards wearing the hair of an “other” might reflect the “conflicted nature of colonial desire” (p. 80).

I found Berry’s practical application of gender and race in colonial theory to be a very useful way to look at global hair trade, and a fun article in general to read. I would be interested to discuss the idea of cultural cannibalism and Luce Irigary’s suggestion that it “implies an adoration and absorption of the other precisely because one identifies with the other” (p.77) as I really like this idea but am not sure that I understand it correctly…

Happy Blogging :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Foucauldian Theory

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish (part 3: “Discipline”). New York: Vintage.

Foucault, M. (1978). History of Sexuality, vol. 1 (part 4: “The deployment of sexuality”). New York: Vintage.

Jette, S. (2006). Fit for two? A critical discourse analysis of Oxygen fitness magazine. Sociology of Sport Journal, 23, 331-351.

This week’s readings on Foucauldian Theory are dense and complex and I will do my best to touch on and summarize the key ideas covered. Written in 1975 Foucault’s Discipline & Punish is very much about the changes in power that were seen through the prison system and it focuses on the control of the body through different kinds of power.

Docile Bodies starts off by looking at the evolution of the bodies of soldiers where the docile body was one which could be “subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (p.136). Foucault looked at the scale of the control of the individual body, at the object of the control through exercise, and at modality where the body is controlled through time, space and movement. These controls of the body are what Foucault considered to be the “disciplines” and were considered a way to “master” individual bodies. The rise of factories showed the importance of distributing individuals in space and time in order to supervise them, and the control of activity became an important concept so that the coding of the body and controlling of time were possible.

In The Means of Correct Training Foucault demonstrated the importance of observation in the exercise of power. We were introduced to the “gaze” that could “see everything constantly” (p.173) and the idea that factories need intense continuous supervision. As we have seen in previous weeks’ readings, time, under capitalism, is strictly regulated as any loss of time can result in lost capital – therefore “surveillance becomes a decisive economic operator both as an internal part of the production machinery and as a specific mechanism in the disciplinary power” (p.l75). Disciplinary power, along with being everywhere and always alert, must also be corrective. This is where the idea of “normalization” comes in as an instrument of power that imposes homogeneity and that can punish individuals who deviate from the “norm” (we also see the idea of the “abnormal” here). Individuals undergo examinations, in hospitals/ schools/ barracks/ and workshops to determine these norms which then become used as reference points.

In Panopticism Foucault starts off by looking at the strict spatial partitioning that was enforced during the plague, and we see how the idea of the “central gaze” was prominent – people needed to be accounted for and had to appear in windows while a centrally located inspector did visual roll-calls. This leads us to the introduction of Bentham’s Panopticon – the architectural figure that we now relate to certain prison systems that is also all about a central gaze and the control of space. The main idea of the Panopticon is that of centralized and (in)visible power. There is a central circular tower that everyone (e.g., prison inmates) can see, and from which everyone can be seen, and it is impossible to tell by looking at the tower who is inside or where they might be looking (“he is seen but does not see” p.200). This gives the impression of generalized surveillance where visibility is a “trap” and forces individuals to “self-monitor” and to exert control over their own behaviours.

Being very personally interested in the control of bodies, I found it really helpful to go back to this primary text and to see the context in which Foucault is basing a lot of his ideas. Having been exposed to Bentham’s Panopticon, and knowing how prominent this architectural theory still is (e.g., the Kingston Penitentiary down the street was built around this concept), it was really great to see how this idea can create a niche for the regulation of bodies outside of prisons. How often do we “self-monitor” our own bodies, by deciding what to eat (and imagining the “consequences” of “bad” foods) and when to exercise, in order to maintain the bodily norms that are so prominent in our capitalist consumer society and which are exploited by the media and advertising industries? Can we imagine a body that is not an object and target of power, a body that isn’t manipulated and shaped, a body that doesn’t obey or conform to the norm?

In the History of Sexuality Foucault starts by looking at the prohibitions on sexuality in the seventeenth century and the change to more relaxed views of sexuality in the twentieth century. By highlighting some important historical moments Foucault shows the emergence of a new “technology of sex” at the end of the eighteenth century that made sex a concern of the state and required individuals to place their bodies under surveillance. We can see connections to Foucaults “Discipline” here, as the technology of sex was regulated by medicine, normality and the problem of life and illness: “The medicine of perversions and the programs of eugenics were the two great innovations in the technology of sex of the second half of the nineteenth century” (p.118).

Foucault questions the repressive hypothesis and shows that the history of sexuality was less about repression and more about class dominance. He looks at the control over the mind and body by the bourgeoisie, first over themselves, and then over the proletariat. If repression had only been trying to increase capitalist production then young men and the working classes would have been the “most repressed”, but Foucault shows us that the bourgeoisie were more interested in their own sexualities and in the “purity” of their family lines. Here we see how ideas of pure bloodlines could have “created” an opening for eugenics as the bourgeoisie “placed its hopes for the future in sex… as the bourgeoisie’s ‘blood’ was its sex” (p.124). Foucault shows us that the bourgeoisie considered their own sex as important and fragile, as an affirmation of the self and the body which allowed the working class to escape the “deployment” of sexuality (though still being subjected to the “alliances” (e.g., the exploitation of legitimate marriage and fertility, p. 121)). Sexuality is thought to have been deployed on the working class slowly, through the problems of birth control, the ideas of family, the control of the perversions, and finally, the control of the body and sexuality through constant surveillance. Foucault finishes by connecting psychoanalysis to the dissolution of the “taboos” of sexuality and by stating that the changes in sexual behaviour represented nothing more than a shift in the deployment of sexuality.

Seeing some of the contexts in which sexuality has been socially constructed gave me some good insights into how sexuality might continue to evolve and change over our lifetimes. We’re already seeing the deinstitutionalization of power, and like Foucault suggested, power seems to be everywhere and nowhere. However, we are still placing an incredible amount of “trust” in medicine and in science, and were reminded how female sexuality especially was regulated and controlled. It seems as though we are in a medicalization epidemic, trying to label everything as (ab)normal in order to control and regulate (female) sexuality. This is something I would be interested in discussing in a broader context – what are some ways we might link this regulation to some of our other weeks’ topics?

In Fit for Two Shannon Jette examines Foucaults notions of power and discourse surrounding “fit” pregnant female bodies by looking at six consecutive colums of the “Fit for Two” from Oxygen Magazine in early 2005. She looks at the notion of self-management of risk and the idea of individual (female) responsibility of health that suggests pregnant women are responsible for guaranteeing a healthy population. She uses Foucault’s ideas of discipline and the model of panopticism to show how women are encouraged to self-regulate and discipline their bodies, through ideas of medicalization and healthism, to reach the feminine bodily “norm”. Jette suggests that this regulation of pregnant bodies shows that the female body remains a site of control and her analysis aims to “recognize the complex nature of power” (p.338). By looking at personal responsibility, moderate exercise as responsible exercise, expert advice and consumer culture, and the “yummy mummy” Jette shows how medical expertise and (female) body norms are used to turn the pregnant body into a “fit” body through both self discipline and consumption.

I found it fascinating to see Foucaults work applied in such a practical application in this analysis. Jette challenged the idea that individuals choose how to wear their bodies, and made it apparent that stigma might surround a pregnant body that didn’t conform to the “norm”. I also found it interesting that the idea of “training for labour” came up a few times – did anyone else connect this to Hargreaves or Inghams articles on the sporting body? Do we think that by “training” for something, by imposing self discipline through practice and exercise, pregnant women will feel more in control of their bodies and be more likely to participate in the process of consuming whichever products are marketed to help them increase this feeling of control?

We can see the connection between the “moderate”, “conservative” exercise that is promoted in the fitness magazine and the idea from another weeks’ readings that women should have “weak” bodies – that women’s bodies are more “at risk” then the bodies of men. Seeing how medical discourse has drastically changed, from promoting bed rest and very little physical activity while pregnant to this idea of moderate consistent exercise, do we think that one day pregnant bodies might be encouraged to participate in strenuous exercise? It’s interesting how “scientific” norms can change… when they are advertised as being concrete and all knowing…

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Psychoanalysis and SEMIOTICS!

Having suggested semiotics for the course work, I did not nearly anticipate the depth of these readings! This is the topic most relevant to my studies, but its has thus far been the most difficult to grasp mentally. I think a 15 page paper might do justice as an overview of all these readings let alone the 1000 or so words, but I’ll do my best to paraphrase each briefly without bastardizing the intense content for this week’s blog.

In Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction, Elliott intends to provide an informative overview of the contemporary relevance of psychoanalysis to theory and social practice. As may academics declare Freud’s theories dead or disproven, Elliot thinks we need to think about Freud’s continuing importance politically, culturally and theoretically. Freud’s specific theories (Oedipal complex, etc.) may have been disproven, but his identification of ideas such as the submerged, repression, projection, fantasy, repetition, etc. still have a lasting cultural impact today. Even the most post-modern anti psychoanalytic theories owe a Freudian debt to his concepts of ‘remembering’, ‘repeating’, and ‘working through’ to help define the ‘end of modernity.’(pg. 5)

We see this shift in how Freud’s work can be understood in a more post-modern context in the way we have classically understood our ‘self’ as having a stable core identity. This modern concept of the self, the Cartesian idea of selfhood as fixed, permanent, rational and unified can be dismantled through psychoanalysis as it reveals the self to have multiple dimensions that are subjectively fashioned through interpersonal relationships.

This is particularly interesting because on one hand Freud has been heavily criticized in an for being old fashioned, and disproven for patriarchal unsubstantiated theories, but on another the other hand his work has been taken to another level where his ideas in psychoanalysis have evolved into much deeper postmodern themes, positioning the self as an imaginary construct with many interpersonal subjective levels.

Next, in the The Nature of the Linguistic Sign Saussure deconstructs speech and language to their physical, psychological and social sides. Saussure defines languages as “the social side of speech…where an auditory image becomes associated with a concept.” It is a homogeneous system of signs, a set of meanings and sound-images. Language is a system of signs in which the only essential thing is the union of meanings and sound-images, and in which both parts of the sign are psychological.

These things together create linguistic signs, associations which bear the stamp of collective approval. The “linguistic sign as not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image”; not only the material sound, but the psychological imprint of the sound on our senses learned from society. The association of a ‘concept’ with a psychological ‘sound-image’ he calls a sign, which is the whole that results from associating the signifier with the signified.

In the readings by Barthes, he discusses various phenomena in French culture which he was inspired to analyze after reading Saussure. Intrigued by the language of mass culture Barthes takes a first stab at semiotic analysis. In the preface to his work he realized that by “treating ‘collective representations’ as sign-systems” he can “account in detail for the mystification which transforms petite-bourgeois culture into a universal nature.”

In our three selections Barthes looks at ‘Wrestling’, ‘Wine and Milk’, and ‘Steak and Chips’ semiotically in mini essays written as social commentaries on interests of his at the time. He shows us how these cultural images, or signs as Saussure would call them, become universalized in society.

In wine Barthes enumerates the semiotic associations with the drink in France. The French as a nation feel that they possess wine as a very own part of their culture. Wine is signified on a different level in France where it is not a drink to get drunk—as it may be in other countries—but implicit in wine is the act of drink, not with the intention to get drunk, with quintessential French gesture of decorative value. Barthes contrasts wine with whiskey. Contrary to wine, whiskey is drank for its type of drunkness—“with the least painful after effects…reduced to a causal act.” These mythologies have moral significance. Since whiskey is viewed as a drink only to get drunk it is going to be amoral vis-à-vis wine which carries connotations of sociability, knowledge, gesture and restraint which are central to the universalized culture of the French state. Here Barthes has given us more practical examples to see first hand the kind of signs that Saussure was theorizing earlier.

Lastly, we are going to need to discuss The system of Objects at length in class in the same manner as Marx’s Captial. I feel that I understood the basic concept of Baudrillard’s argument, but know that there is so much more to it that I need to better understand. As I understood it, he presents consumption from another angle. It is a Marxist viewpoint, but it does not put production at the fore of our capitalist culture. Consumption, he states, “is an active mode of relations…a systematic mode of activity and a global response on which our whole cultural system is founded.” He stresses that this consumption does not refer to material goods in the classical sense, but rather images and messages signifying our need and satisfaction, the ideas and relations signified.

Advertising is the fuel for this fire. It is no longer the physical object and its use-value that is advertized, but rather its related symbolism which is purchased and consumed: “Today every desire, plan, need, every passion and relation is abstracted as a sign and as object to be purchased and consumed…it is never consumed in its materiality, but in its difference.” (22-23) He is suggesting that there is no limits to consumption anymore because everything signified and consumed semiotically, not physically, or else we would achieve absorption or satisfaction. This new consumption is “organized as a discourse to oneself.”(54) Whereas traditionally morality required an individual to conform to a group and consume accordingly, the new idea of consumption is related to the multifaceted self and the consumption of images, ideas and relations to conform and satisfy those selves.

What does this do to Marx’s theories about the proletariat’s control by the means of production if consumption, not production, is now the global cultural framework? These works all concern signs and representations on multiple levels but is there a way to tie them all into one idea? Blog away, my brain is fried.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. (1948). The Communist Manifesto. New York: International Publishers.

Marx, Karl. (1867). Selections from Capital, vol. 1. New York: International Publishers. (pp. 294-329, 336-343, 384-403, 419-438)

Gruneau, Richard. (1988). Modernization or Hegemony. Two Views on Sport and Social Development. In J. Harvey and H. Cantelon (Eds.), Not Just a Game: Essays in Canadian Sport Sociology. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

This week’s readings on Marxism are thick and I will try to summarize them as clearly and succinctly as possible. In doing so, I will have to brush over some key concepts at times in order to satisfy the length requirements of the blog format. I will start with the oldest publication first, The Communist Manifesto. I love going back to this little book every once in awhile because of the tremendous impact it has had on the world since it was written. Has there been a more influential book published since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? I can’t think of one. Published in 1848, The Communist Manifesto was commissioned by the “Communist League,” because, as Marx and Engels state in the little introduction, it was about time that Communists published their views. The manifesto lays out a very basic view of the capitalist mode of production, the oppression inherent in the system, and how the proletariat will rise up against the bourgeoisie.

Marx and Engels begin by stating that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and under capitalism the two “great hostile camps” facing each other in the current struggle are the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. Focussing first on the bourgeoisie, the authors show how the capitalist class destroyed remnants of the feudal system by instituting their own system of production. However, in doing so the bourgeoisie-controlled system of capitalism that is based on the exploitation of labour “forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians.” Next, Marx and Engels discuss the nature of a post-capitalist world based on the abolition of private property among other things.

Reading the Communist Manifesto this time around I found myself thinking about the spatial relation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Historical materialism dictates that in order to survive from generation to generation people must reproduce the material requirements for life. To do this they must enter into an existing system of social relations, the relations of production, and within the capitalist relations of production the bourgeoisie exploits the labour power of the proletariat. When talking about social relations, it seems to me like Marx and Engels imagined the bourgeoisie and proletariat in the same space, next door to one another, looking at each within the same national state. However, today’s working classes, the people who manufacture our material goods, are almost entirely in other nations. How can the Chinese working class revolt against American capitalists? Has capitalism changed so much that Marx’s basic theories do not apply anymore? I don’t think we should hold Marx accountable for not accurately predicting the future. But it seems that Marxism is based on such scientific observations of capitalism, so can we use the nature of capitalism today as evidence that he didn’t exactly understand it?

In Capital, Volume One, Marx goes several levels of analysis further into understanding the actual inner workings of the system of capitalism and I will definitely not do his work any justice by summarizing it here. Capital, Volume One is not a political pamphlet like the Communist Manifesto; it’s an in-depth examination into the nature of capitalism, how it functions, and the laws that govern it. I have to admit, it is complicated stuff. He begins with the analysis of a commodity and its two factors: use-value and value (substance of value and magnitude of value). I think the most important thing to understand here is that something becomes a commodity when it is useful and any amount of useful labour has gone into it. There is a correlation between labour and value here and I think it’s that two different commodities have the same value if they have the same labour put into their construction. Every commodity is valued against all other commodities and one particular commodity, gold in our case, has taken the form of the money commodity.

I think section 4 on the fetishism of commodities is very important in understanding the contradictions inherent in capitalism. Under capitalism a commodity’s value is removed from the labour that goes into it, and is valued based on a value given to it in the past. Next, we read up on labour power and the selling of labour power, but also co-operation and how co-operation between workers actually works in favour of the capitalist. Next, he introduces us to accumulation, a very important concept that I’m becoming more familiarized with in my other class and my David Harvey readings. Does Marxist theory make sense when examining the production of non-material products like just about everything on the internet or watching professional sports? For me there’s a big leap that needs to be made between talking about producing a coat, or some linen, and producing a song or a movie.

Gruneau believes that a good analysis of the social development of sport in western societies should go beyond investigating the impact of industrialization and urbanization in order to be more broadly theorized. Taken for granted theories of industrial society have influenced sociological and historical writing on the social development of sport and, according to Gruneau, should be critically examined. And he does just that. According to the general theory of industrial society, an older pre-industrial, agrarian society based on collective ideas of community gave way to a more modern society that championed new individualist philosophies and the free market, and freed up leisure time. This theory of the change from one type of society to the other has gave many sport scholars a way of viewing the social development of western sport as a change from pre-industrial to modern forms of sport. Accordingly, sport is seen as being institutionalized and rationalized in the modern period. But Gruneau warns us that this theory is only an analytic model that “tends to be taken at face value as an essentially ’known’ set of conditions.” This thinking also makes us believe that our modern form of sport is “complete.”

Gruneau switches over to a discussion on Marxism, stating that while a great contribution of the Marxist tradition of writing on sport lies in its emphasis on power and ideology in cultural analysis, Marxist writing on sport has been one-dimensional and limiting. He states that “Marxist writing on sport employs one-sided and overly deterministic understandings of power and cultural practice.” After reading Marx’s work, can we begin to see what Gruneau means when he says that Marxism is deterministic? I really agree with Gruneau, which completely throws my own personal thoughts about Marxism out the window. He illustrates quite effectively those one-dimensional theories that over-determine our experiences are flawed. I think for class on Tuesday morning we should discuss the usefulness of Marxist theories of history and development in general. Do structural theories have a place anymore or have we moved beyond them?