an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 4, November-December 2007, ISSN 1552-5112




Queering Space for New Subjects


Catharina Landström




Cyberqueer spaces are constantly reconstituted as points of resistance against the dominant assumption of the normality of heterosexuality in ways which are familiar to activists engaged in other struggles against heterosexism. (Wakeford 2000: 408)




This paper takes the notion of “cyberqueer spaces” as an invitation to revisit issues of subject formation, identity and politics. It aims to connect feminist thought, science and technology studies, and queer theory. The objective is to begin to piece together a vision of politics after identity.


That identity can no longer serve as the foundation for the political subject became increasingly obvious in the last decades of the 20th century. This period saw numerous debates about how to re-think political subjects in ways that avoided ascribing essence to identity, while still promoting struggle for social diversity. This paper connects related, but distinct, academic deliberations on identity which all take critical stances towards modernity. It explores critical approaches to “the subject” which do not abandon political struggles for the rights of marginalized identities.


The first sections of the paper introduce ideas on identity and subjects elaborated in feminist theory and history of sexuality. This is followed by a presentation of some of the insights gained from internet research and science studies, which account for the materiality of, and context for, subject formation. Finally, the paper turns to queer theory as a source of inspiration for finding ways to critique dominant ideas about identity and subjects without constructing new binaries.


Feminism’s subjects


In the late 20th century poststructuralist critiques of identity posed a serious challenge to feminism.[1] One important issue causing debate was the perception that feminism risked losing its political foundation in the subject position “women”, predicated on a shared gender identity. With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to appreciate the generation of ideas this confrontation resulted in. Of particular interest for the present paper are recent feminist works which re-think approaches to identity and the subject.


In an analysis attempting to put to rest feminist fears about the loss of “women”, Moya Lloyd (2005) argues that the poststructuralist challenge provided an opportunity to “problematize[s] feminism’s assumption that it requires a stable subject in order to justify and ground its politics” (Lloyd 2005: 2). She undertakes a conceptual analysis that clarifies the radical reconfiguration of politics brought about by viewing the subject as “being in-process”, rather than a fixed entity. Her summary of feminist re-conceptualisations of the subject in the late 20th century is illuminating.


Lloyd constructs a typology that distinguishes between five different feminist approaches which view the subject as “mobile”, “lack”, “deferred”, “constituted” and “performative” respectively. The “mobile” subject is a figure exemplified with the “cyborg” and the “nomad”, metaphors that capture “the complex interleaving of the multiple dimensions of identity” (Lloyd 2005: 17). In comparison, the subject as “lack” revolves around a dyad of self versus other, an idea that explains the intrinsic instability of subjects and “how subjects endeavour to overcome that instability, through identification” (Lloyd 2005: 20). The idea of the subject as “deferred” focuses on representation, claiming that “subject productions are always susceptible to dissolution” (Lloyd 2005:20). This subject is an uncertain accomplishment, inherently unfixed. These three perspectives address the character of the subject while the remaining two focus on its production. The approach Lloyd calls “constituted” views the subject as emerging from ideologies, social practices and technologies of the self, combined in the “interplay of competing discourse and practices” (Lloyd 2005:23). Not all subjects are constituted as equal, they “may be differentially positioned, such that some are authorized to speak while others are deemed incompetent, and where the knowledge of some is deemed superior to the knowledge of others, thereby creating matrices of inequality and patterns of pathology and normality that encode populations” (Lloyd 2005:23). Those who view the subject as “performative” put the emphasis on everyday speech and conduct. In this perspective subjects are produced in acts of reiteration that produce selves that are mutually comprehensible. Despite its own activity being the force, the performative subject has no essence it “is an entity produced in the complex interplay of discourse, norms, power relations, institutions and practices” (Lloyd 2005: 27).


The importance of Lloyd’s analysis for the present paper lies in bringing out the similarities of different feminist conceptualisations of the subject. She connects approaches that have often been understood as conflicting, even as mutually exclusive. In seeing them as variations on a theme, produced in the confrontation with poststructuralism, Lloyd is able to retain the different insights they bring, which enables further reflections drawing on all of them.


Lloyd is joined by Elizabeth Grosz (2005) in viewing the poststructuralist critique of the subject as an opportunity for further conceptual development, rather than a threat. Grosz’s focus is on the relationship between identity and temporality, which she regards as especially troubling in feminist politics. Her discussion also links the issue of subject formation to sexuality; her argument refers to lesbian and gay politics which have drawn on feminism, as well as influenced it.


Grosz argues that all identity politics have in common a “received view” of identity as a process of stabilisation over time that determines the subject. Identity is believed to have different dimensions, eg gender, sexuality, ethnicity, which stabilise the subject and determines future choices. Grosz considers this belief as a constraint because it generates a tendency “to understand identity as the synthesis of one’s past (one is where one was born, what class, race, and sex one was born into, the events or history that constitute one’s life) rather than a synthesis oriented to an open or indeterminable goal, a trajectory or direction” (Grosz 2005:213). In contrast to this she argues that identity also ought to be understood as being shaped by an orientation towards the future, “[O]ne’s sexuality is contained in the next sexual encounter, rather than in the synthesis of all one’s past sexual activities” (Grosz 2005:213). This does not mean that the past is irrelevant, but that it is not the singular, causal, determinant “[O]ne is what one has done, but also what one can do, what is actualised but also what is virtual” (Grosz 2005:213). That the future is not within individual control does not make it irrelevant to the processes taking place in the present.


Brought in contact, Lloyd’s and Grosz’s analyses demonstrate some of the productive effects poststructuralism has had on feminist thought. Their discussions bring to the fore the need to rethink the political struggle for equality, hitherto based in a notion of a causal relationship between individual identity and the political subject. Both focus on the issue of how identity and political subjects can be conceptualised in new ways, which will contribute to, not disable, feminist politics. Both analysts are also influenced by discussions in the history of sexuality of the 1980s, another field of interest to the present paper.


The epistemology of the modern subject


Two of the most influential authors in the cultural history of sexuality, Michel Foucault and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, have had significant impacts on the understanding of the subject.[2] In the following I will briefly touch on their respective works in relation to the issues under consideration.


Foucault’s work on sexuality has been a key to thinking of the subject as constituted, it also provides a possibility to argue that the modern construction of the subject through individual biography is a consequence of governance. Foucault (1981) analysed “the homosexual” as a subject constituted in the medical and legal discourses emerging in the 19th century. Both these discourses account for the subject in terms of past actions, read as signs caused by an internal core, a true self. This epistemology of the self constructs a subject that can be managed by law and medicine.


Informed by Foucault’s (1989) understanding of discourses as not only linguistic, but also material practices we can postulate that the technologies available at the time played a role. Involved in this particular construction of the subject were, for example, medical instruments believed to tell about an individual’s sexual desires. However, much more important were existing and new, technologies for communication - print, radio and cinema - that made the discursive knowledge defining the homosexual widely available in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is not to imply that technology was determined by homophobic ideologies, on the contrary, it also served the social movements of the 20th century which reformulated the homosexual subject into a positive position. The bar, the newspaper advertisement, the telephone and the car[3] were crucial for the creation of social community and political activists who struggled for the re-evaluation of the sexual identities defined as deviant by the powers that be. Regardless of its valuation the subject made possible in these constellations of institutions, technologies and ideas took on features that appeared intrinsic to humans, until poststructuralism provided new ways to question the “natural”.


Foucault focussed on the relationships between knowledge and power in science and law, but his analyses had wider implications. Literary scholar Eve Kosovsky Sedgwick, inspired by his work, has brought attention to literary fiction as a cultural technology for subject production. In Sedgwick’s view an adequate understanding of any aspect of Western culture requires critical analysis of the binary definition of humans as necessarily embodying one of two possible directions of desire, aimed at either the same or the other sex. Her book The Epistemology of the Closet, elaborates Foucault’s idea of power/knowledge, arguing that knowledge also produces ignorance, and that ignorance generates power. Sedgwick employs “the closet” as an analytical term that signals the dynamics of “privileged ignorance” in a society that subordinates and oppresses the homosexual side in the structuring binary of heterosexual-homosexual. The oppression of homosexuals is reproduced through the propagation of a privileged ignorance that structures a cultural “not-knowing”, denying knowledge of, by, and to non-heterosexual subjects. This “epistemology of the closet” is a discursive formation that shapes Western thinking and defines subject positions. The presumption of universal heterosexuality, allowing for a few exceptions, is made possible by the active production of ignorance about non-heterosexual people and life.


The notion of an epistemology of the closet ties in with the two approaches to the subject that Lloyd called the “constituted” and the “performative”, and it implies the importance of “coming out” as lesbian or gay. In Sedgwick’s understanding of knowledge and ignorance, “the homosexual” is a discursively produced subject position that gets occupied by a performative act. In the later decades of the 20th century declaring oneself homosexual became a speech act that laid claim to a subject position, an act necessary for being seen as lesbian or gay, because heterosexuality is assumed to be the default human position. The speech act of “coming out” defies the powerful ignorance, the resulting knowledge about homosexual desire assigns a specified subject position.


Declaring oneself lesbian or gay in public has also been a way to get access to the social networks of homosexual life. This “coming in” counteracts the continuing de-stabilisation of the homosexual subject by the epistemology of the closet that reproduces an assumption of heterosexuality, until explicitly rejected. However, just when heterosexual and homosexual subjects appeared to become equally stable things began to change again, with new technologies playing a crucial role:


…since the mid-1990s the meaning of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer identity has been challenged by the ways in which new technologies have become part of many people’s experiences of being a member of a sexual minority. (Wakeford 2002:123)


New spaces for modern subjects?


Researchers have documented how lesbians and gay men did rapidly seize the possibility to communicate and represent themselves when the internet presented the opportunity. Already in 1995 Randal Woodland noticed:


Computer-mediated communication has had a particularly dramatic impact on the lesbian and gay community, whose members may live in geographic or psychological isolation. Through email lists, USENET groups, and private BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems), communication across the Internet and on other computer networks has been a source of information, friendship, and support for many lesbian and gay people. (Woodland 2000:416)


The development of on-line social spaces, a process fuelled by a desire for belonging, demonstrates the importance of technology for the constitution of lesbian and gay subjects. Until the late 20th century literature, political and educational groups and bars were the crucial non-heterosexual spaces. Lesbian and gay history abounds with biographies of young women and men trying to find representations of, and social communities constructed by others who, like them, felt attracted to people of the same sex. Today young lesbians and gay men often have their first contact with others like them on-line. In front of the home computer, in school, at internet cafés, or libraries, wherever you can access the internet you can find representations of homosexual life, you can interact with other gays and lesbians online, and you can arrange to meet for social and/or sexual reasons.


In many respects constructing on-line community was similar to claiming space for lesbian and gay subjects off-line. Nina Wakeford (2000) describes the political struggles necessary to create safe online spaces. Lesbians and gay men experienced difficulties with being allowed to name newsgroups and email lists in ways that addressed the intended audience explicitly. There were also continuing battles to keep prejudiced intruders out of chat rooms. The concerted efforts by lesbians and gay men resulted in cyberspaces in which non-heterosexual identities could be performed.


Wakeford discusses a tendency of many internet researchers to analyse the new, on-line space in terms of the modern subject. She notes that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cyber studies have “assumed that issues of identity can for the most part be reduced to issues of self-presentation” (Wakeford 2002:123). This assumption takes the stability of identity as a given in a way that produces a linear understanding of on-line subjects. Off-line identity is simply relocated, becoming the definitive determinant for on-line subjects, and the analysis revolves around whether on-line subjects are truly liberated from all bodily constraints or fraudulently concealing their real identity. In contrast Wakeford, and many other internet researchers, argue that lesbian and gay subjects are produced in new ways on-line.


The non-heterosexual spaces brought about by lesbian and gay internet activity make visible the limits of coming out as a performative act that produces an epistemic break. When performed in a non-physical context the declaration of homosexuality does not break with a prior identity ascribed by a surrounding heteronormative community. Among the participants in an on-line lesbian and/or gay community there is no powerful ignorance to challenge. To become a subject in this context pivots on establishing sameness, not difference.


Sameness is much harder to validate than difference, something documented by Jamie M. Poster (2002) in a study of a lesbian internet chatroom. The creators of LesChat wanted it to be a space for online interaction between lesbian feminists over the age of 30. This requires that the identity traits of gender, sexuality, political affiliation and age can be kept stable across different contexts. This turned out not to be the case and LesChat experienced difficulties with determining who is a lesbian on-line. The members of the virtual community came to spend much effort attempting to authenticate identity, to make sure that all participants were really lesbians. Poster’s study documents the development of strategies to ascertain lesbian feminist identity in the chatroom, referencing distinctly female physiology, as well as lesbian politics.


Taking the conditions for on-line interaction into consideration the difficulties with authenticating identity become obvious. The identity “lesbian” is produced in particular bodily practices and relationships. Lesbians are created, and stabilized in local practices which are not the same on-line and off-line. The ways in which this identity has been produced off-line does not seamlessly translate to on-line reality.


Because the chatroom was successful the case study shows the negotiated character of identity. In LesChat “lesbian” came to be a speaking position that could answer particular questions in ways that the other participants deemed to be correct. Poster’s account points to the fact that authentication of subjects on-line is an issue of negotiation of what constitutes the sameness on which the interaction is premised.


Recalling Grosz’s discussion of temporality we may argue that successful on-line interaction shows that knowledge of the past of the subject is not a condition for social community. Validating the authenticity of the on-line subject does not refer to temporal continuity, but to the quality of its speech acts. The study of LesChat shows that performative language use can work as the only tool to establish an identity acceptable to others. Virtual community is done in language. Poster points out that the “community of a given chat room is composed entirely of its participants. Without users’ words there would simply be an empty screen” (Poster 2002: 237). The view of identity as performative references speech act theory as a metaphor for social action, but in internet studies this becomes literal. As a space in which subjects act, an internet chatroom is constituted by digital technologies and language, and without performative acts nothing will happen.


In cyberspace interaction words override the visible, even if we see a person through a web camera we will not see them in a social context that could contradict their “speech”. The written, or spoken, word becomes the utterance that produces a subject with an identity that is socially comprehensible. In this instance, identity does not function as a cause for subject formation, but as an effect of language performances in a common space.


Internet theorist Mark Poster has also elaborated on language and subjects in case studies. A central feature of his analysis is a broad conception of language as “all mediated symbolic structures, comprising in addition to language, images (both still and moving), animations, and sounds” (Poster 2001: 153). Drawing on speech act theory he argues that the subject emerges in “repeated enunciations” in which “individuals become interpellated and recognized as coherent selves who function in a social world” (Poster 2001:9). This theoretical platform enables him to ask about how the “form in which language is exchanged between individuals and groups affects the cultural construction of the world and subject positions within it?” (Poster 2001:153).


In the presentation of a case study Poster describes himself as a non-practising Jew, living an ethnic identity produced in the intimate practices of his family. His objective is to explore the listserver CyberJew to understand if “the fixity of ethnicity as an attribute of the self would appear to be the opposite of the identities constructed in the virtual space” (Poster 2001: 166). On the mailing list he finds a sophisticated meta-discourse on what Jewishness is, with participants discussing the transposition of ethnicity from physical space to cyberspace. Countering academic arguments that the internet leads to further individualisation of ethnicity, away from collective experience Poster cites a discussion on the list in which one participant argues that the internet “is not a dissolvent of ethnicity but represents a new stage in the history of the Jews” (Poster 2001: 167), another thinks that the Internet “enables all Jews, wherever they are on the planet to connect with each other” (Poster 2001: 167).


Poster observes that the list members regard the internet as “a neutral instrument of community, connecting pre-established ethnic identities” (Poster 2001: 167) which he is not prepared to accept. In contrast he sees two disjunctions that the move to cyberspace produces in the production of ethnic subject production. The first concerns identity: if membership in an ethnic category in physical space is constituted by being born into it, on-line communities based on identity must have their own dynamics. Poster suggests that it is the participation in the virtual community that produces on-line ethnicity. The second question is about space and time, important in a religion that proscribes prayer at specific hours and defines some locations as diasporic: can “traditional practices of Judaism subsist in cyberspace?” (Poster 2001: 168). The list members present many different solutions to this, none of which is final, but all workable.


In conclusion Poster argues that the internet offers new forms of collectivity rather than individualization. Jewishness in internet communities is not the same thing as Jewishness in New York, Melbourne or Israel, the unique character of each space in which subjects are produced shapes the outcome. In addition, the social world generated on the internet is not homogenous; when he chooses an example to discuss ethnic identity on-line the case is particular, addressing only one way in which jewishness can be translated from the “micropractices” of physical everyday life to on-line performances. The specific characteristics of subjects belong with the particular spaces in which they are produced.


These two case studies of very different minority subjects are interesting because they display so many similarities and lead the researchers to the same conclusions regarding language and subject production. The studies show how identity aspects believed to be “natural” and constitutive for political subject positions are open to re-formulation relative to changing sociotechnical circumstances. The internet case studies tell about social interaction in ways that make obvious the importance of technology for the production of reality. Cyberspace is a social reality generated by digital computer technologies. Today few would claim that it is not real, but nobody would claim that it is real in the same way as, for example, a hospital. The physical and virtual realms are not opposed, neither separate, but cyberspace has meant that “[I]ncreasingly the process of interpellation occurs through mediations of information machines in addition to face-to-face interactions” (Poster 2001:9). The “cybersubject” has not, and will not, replace the physical subject, but entails a multiplication of the sites of interpellation and enunciation, acts constitutive of and propelling subject production. Cyberspace is a sociotechnical construction that extends human reality. Like other environments it comes before, and exists independently of, each user. Unlike many other environments the beginning of cyberspace is in the memory of now living humans, something that cannot be said about many other sociotechnical environments, such as a city.


Reality multiple


The implications of computer technologies for identity and subject formation have also been discussed by feminists. Cybertheorist Dianne Currier (2003) mobilises the notion “assemblage” to think about the on-line subject. Her discussion theoretically aligns observations of subject production on-line with the thinking of poststructuralist theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987), who emphasise change and emergence as ontological conditions.


Currier, like other poststructuralist internet theorists, rejects the idea that the subject, the entity that acts in an on-line environment, is determined by the computer user’s identity. Instead she argues that the subject on-line is the effect of many heterogenous elements and that the resulting entity cannot be explained by, or predicted from, any singular part, but that “the question of the form and function, status and substance, of a component of the assemblage must be addressed through an examination of the linkages and connections between it and other elements” (Currier 2003:333). There is no essence “to be found in the interior depths of the component itself” (Currier 2003:333). Currier does not reject identity as such, but thinks that “it does become peripheral: it is a by-product, which may appear within the operations of assembling” (Currier 2003:333). In assemblages “identity may be produced and take on a particular formulation /…/ but equally it may not” (Currier 2003:333). In her view this approach “indicates a shift of epistemological framework, where identity no longer functions as the ordering framework, but rather is itself a product of historical circumstance” (Currier 2003:333). The assembled on-line subject cannot be understood as being caused by its previous experiences, it changes with context, it is produced in the here and now. This subject is constituted in the material structure of computer-mediated-communication, combined with the specific patterns of interaction of the virtual community, and it is also a result of performative acts.


The fusion of poststructuralist perspectives on the subject as an effect with arguments based on cybertheory has been challenged by feminists who perceive it as disregarding real women’s sexed bodies in asymmetrical power relations (eg Braidotti 1994). To address this argument, without simply restating the poststructuralist ideas philosopher of science Annemarie Mol’s recent work on the “body multiple” is useful.


In an ethnographic study Mol (2004) discovers that a patient is many bodies. The enactment of body parts, symptoms, and disease differs between clinical, laboratory, and specialist settings within the same hospital, treating the same patient. She describes how bodies undergoing medical treatment are produced in different ways in specific practices. Mol insists that the differences are not perspectives on the same body, but multiplicity of the real. Each enactment of body and specialism is as real as the other. She is adamant that the varying ways in which the body is produced in different practices are not reducible to one, even in principle: “no object, no body, no disease is singular. If it is not removed from the practices that sustain it, reality is multiple” (Mol 2004:6). The singular body is a result of abstraction, not reality. The belief in singularity and unity is imaginary, according to Mol bolstered by a modern desire for stability and causal linearity.


Mol takes the physical body very seriously, that is why she follows the work of medical practitioners and their patients in a study that spans over several years. In the present context it is important to note that the body multiple emerging in her material does not correspond with the sexed body of feminism. Instead her study displays the latter as being as much of an abstraction as any other singularity produced in particular practices, and no more a final truth about human corporeality than other enactments of the body. With Mol’s understanding of multiplicity there is no one sexed body that can be disregarded by cybertheorists. Instead her ideas compel us to look closely at the ways in which all academics, and the people they study, enact bodies in their practices.


If the physical body is not the stable singular unit assumed in the received modern view but produced differently in specific local practices, it cannot serve as evidence against a poststructuralist view of identity. The body multiple cannot be the material cause of identity, it has to be viewed as co-produced with it.


Further extended to the discussion of subject formation, Mol’s idea of ontological multiplicity brings locations, practices and relationships into the picture. In relation to the irreducibility of the “body multiple” the internet subject can be understood as analogous, the subject on-line is not reducible to the subject off-line. On-line and off-line practices are linked, but neither in a linear fashion, nor reducible to one. This resonates with Currier’s analysis of the human individual who connects with technology, as one element of an assemblage that does a subject. Identity is produced when acting in a context, it is not the cause of the action. The participants in the lesbian or Jewish cybercommunities, became lesbians or Jews in this practice, by participating in ways judged authentic by the other members, regardless of whether they were considered as such off-line.


In relation to physical reality cyberspace sociality demonstrates the multiplicity of the subject. It shows ways in which different subjects can be generated from the same, yet multiple, physical body, when the relationships in which it involves differ. This subject derives from the contexts in which it emerges, it does not effortlessly travel with the body, but has to be produced anew in each encounter.


The view of identity as a by-product annihilates identity politics and it can appear to leave the political agenda wide open to fascist arguments for “re-education”, of what the majority deems as deviant minorities. It is easy to see why feminists, lesbian, gay, ethnic and transgender social movements fear this apparent consequence of poststructuralism. However, instead of losing the political subject to a hostile environment, it is possible to continue the re-thinking of identity in ways that challenge the context.


Queer against identity


Lesbian and gay studies parallel feminism in their responses to the poststructuralist challenge to identity as the guarantor for the political subject. However, in this context a new strand of theorizing emerged in the late 1980s. Teresa de Lauretis, who is attributed with introducing the notion of queer theory, identified a need to break away from an identity politics that was perceived to have had become too narrowly defining of “appropriate” political subjects. According to her, the “term ‘queer’, juxtaposed to the ‘lesbian and gay’/…/is intended to mark a certain critical distance from the latter, by now established and often convenient formula” (de Lauretis 1991:iv). Annamarie Jagose (1996) argues that this theoretical perspective marks a distinctive poststructuralist turn in lesbian and gay liberation discourses, which questions the belief sexual in identity as a stable trait, causally related to politics.


Queer theory was not an attempt to produce new identities but an attack on the idea of identity as determining for action. Recently queer has been used as another identity label, something that was explicitly rejected in the early formulation:


Queer cannot confront the logic of heterosexuality by being another kind of identity. Queer should disturb all sexual boundaries, and create sexual mayhem, so that any individual may occupy or perform any sexual or gender identity, rather than have a true identity; in this way, queer undermines the very notion of a truth of sexuality. (Kennedy 1994:140)


For the present discussion an important idea brought out by queer theory is the rejection of the idea of sexuality as interior truth. This contrasts sharply with the identity categories of homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian and gay, which are all products of the modern discourses that ascribe to sexuality the power to determine the self and its relationships with others. In this context queer signifies the end of the modern discourses of sexuality by emphasising the indeterminacy of desire. The destabilising indeterminism of queer disqualifies it as an identity category, one cannot be queer, it is a performative act of defiance.


Wherever queer is performed the modern sexual subject is brought into question and new configurations of gender and sexual desire. That gender is mentioned together with sexuality points to the possibility of linking queer and feminist critiques of the subject. However, the above quote expresses a preference for performativity as the key notion, which repels many feminists since they perceive it as indicating that identity is voluntarily chosen.[4] Arguments for the indeterminacy and performativity of sexual identity have also been criticised for leading to a political nihilism that renders impossible any effective struggle for the rights of oppressed minorities. However, indeterminacy and performativity can lead thought in a different direction, indicating a politics not premised on the stability of the subject, but on opening up possible subject positions. Alexander Doty (1995) suggests that queer could be used as a marker for “a flexible space for the expression of all aspect of non- (anti-, contra) straight cultural production and reception” (Doty 1995:73). In his view “various and fluctuating queer positions might be occupied whenever anyone produces or responds to culture” (Doty 1995:73). Doty’s cultural focus can be articulated with the understanding of located practices as producing the reality as multiple, as one way to approach multiplicity as an effect of context.


Queer politics for multiplicity


To reject the causal chain from identity, constructed by the past, to the political subject that will voice political interests predicated on the former, does not imply that subjects will disappear or become irrelevant, on the contrary, it means that new subjects can emerge. In the view of literary theorist Danielle Clarke this way of thinking makes it possible to “discover subjects and subjectivity” that have been “created by radically different discourses from those of modernity” (Clarke 2005:82) Clarke talks of queer as a methodology for reading pre-modern texts, but with the decline of modern discourses the pre-modern is not a defined past, it is always present but marginalized in modernity.[5]


To emphasise the spaces in which subjects become possible facilitates a re-thinking of politics, away from identity. From this position it is possible to return to the issue of the assembled non-heterosexual subject in cyberspace. Lesbians and gay men created new spaces on-line, in which identity proved not to be determined by the past of an individual, but by its future. The performative acts undertaken in on-line interaction drives the situated production of new subjects in a sociotechnical context that generates new norms, as well as novel opportunities. It is not a benevolent all-accepting utopia, some subjects are impossible in the new spaces, but these are not necessarily the same as in other contexts.


Being produced as subjects in different ways on-line and off-line is a type of multiplicity that many people manage to live in the everyday even though it is irreducible. Although modern discourse has so far been able to explain this away, as being only play or, more negatively, delusion, it is an experience that erodes the causal link between individual biography and political subject. In this context sexual identity and political subject positions do not connect in the linear fashion assumed for the modern subject.


Grounding political struggle in a desire to open up new possibilities for subject production (rather than re-enacting what is already established) clears space for thinking differently about identity and the human. In contrast to identity politics, that argue for equal rights for subjects that are already stabilised, politics for the subject multiple would aim to create spaces where subjects never seen before could be produced, in ways that do not repeat previous mistakes of defining, excluding and policing subject positions believed to derive from singular identities. This would be a minoritarian politics, desiring not to change the world in ways allowing marginalized subjects to be included in the relationships of power already existing, but to change these relationships in ways that make it impossible to establish identities that can be abstracted from sociopolitical context and made to police conduct and agency in the ways “woman”, “lesbian” or “gay” have done. Instead of clearing space for minority identities, such a politics would queer space for multiple ways of becoming subject.



an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 4, November-December 2007, ISSN 1552-5112





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[1] The 1990s saw a number of feminist works attempting to come to grips with poststructuralism, eg Ahmed 1998, Nicholson 1990.

[2] The work of these authors is implied in the feminist analyses discussed previously and they also provide some of the founding ideas for queer theory which will become clear later in the paper (cf Jagose 1996).

[3] Interesting accounts of the ways in which the car facilitated lesbian identity can be found in Virginia Scharff’s (1991) discussion of women drivers in the First World War and Georgine Clarsen’s (forthcoming) study of a garage in Melbourne in the 1920s, owned and run by women.

[4] Judith Butler (2004) addresses the belief that performative means voluntary, arguing that performing gender is an unconscious everyday practice, and if the performance is deemed inadequate by others, the repercussions can be lethal.

[5] According to Bruno Latour (1993) we have never really been modern, modernity was but a way of thinking about reality that has dominated a particular historical period.