Please join us on March 11th for “Queer Futures,” the first session in Future Tense, the 2016 Gender and Cultural Studies Seminar Series at the University of Sydney!
Queer Counterpublic Health in Digital Times
Kane Race (University of Sydney)
Queer counterpublics have been seen as a significant resource for gay men’s HIV prevention in the critical literature, where they tend to be conceived as rhizomatic structures consisting of relays among various forms of media circulation and visible, accessible inhabitations of urban space. While the theorisation of counterpublics can be criticized for its metro-centricity as well as its tendency to characterise digitally-arranged sex as ipso facto privatising, this paper argues that creating contexts for collective reflexivity about private sexual exchanges persists as an important problem for HIV community education and a priority for counterpublic health in the digital context. Concerns about counterpublic health are particularly topical right now, given the intense governmental assault on ‘nightlife’ in Australian urban centres (a traditional locus of LGBTI socialisation); not to mention the proliferation of homonormative discourses which are characteristically HIV, sex and drug phobic and fail to register the significance of digital sexualities for their constituents. Compared with previous generations of gay men, the sexual subjectivities of upcoming generations of same-sex attracted individuals are being formed in substantially altered conditions, which creates a range of pedagogical challenges – not least the question of how to promote acknowledgement of (and non-vitriolic reflexivity around) a range of hidden, widely engaged in, but presumptively illicit sex/risk practices.. Referencing a range of empirical examples drawn from common sexual media engagements among gay and MSM, this paper argues that some trajectory from private to public – or what I call ‘frame-overflowing’ – is a necessary precondition of counterpublic activity, even while it intrinsically runs the risk of breaching ethical sensitivities.
Kane Race is Associate Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. His book, Pleasure Consuming Medicine: the queer politics of drugs (2009, Duke University Press) draws on gay community responses to HIV/AIDS and drug harm reduction to promote what he calls ‘counterpublic health’. Other publications include Plastic Water: the social and material life of bottled water (with Gay Hawkins and Emily Potter, MIT Press, 2016). Kane is an active volunteer for Unharm, a Sydney based grassroots organisation committed to drug law reform, where he has worked recently to mobilise queer supporters around questions of the government of nightlife as a key formative space for queer life. His work is also recognised for its policy impact: it has changed practices of HIV education and prevention in Australia and internationally.
The Queer Future of Normality: Rethinking Anti-Normativity in Contemporary Critical Theory
Elizabeth Stephens (Southern Cross University)
Critiques of normativity and normalisation have played a central role in recent critical writing on sexuality, gender and the body. Queer studies has long been identified with “non-normative logics and organisations of community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity” (Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place 6). Queer is often defined as a sustained opposition to the normal (eg Warner, The Trouble With Normal). For Rosemary Garland Thomason, the “normate” body is the ableist bodily template against which all bodily difference is measured and assessed. In critical race studies, the “normal” body is that of the (middle-class) white body which has erased its own cultural specificity (eg Carter, The Heart ofWhiteness). In queer theory, disability studies and critical race studies, the normal is usually assumed to function as a disciplinary standard. Despite its central importance to critical theories of sexual, gender and the body, however, this understanding of the normal and the concept of normativity that underpins it, is itself rarely subject to close examination. This paper draws on my recent research on the cultural history of normality to rethink the meaning of normativity in contemporary theory, by drawing attention to its specificity and the conditions of its emergence into the popular sphere. Through an analysis of the large-scale studies of “normal” people undertaken from the end of the nineteenth-century, this paper argues that the normal functions as a dynamic, a principle of organisation, rather than a binary standard. The contradictions and inconsistencies evident within the concept of the normal, and the cultural networks within which it circulates, are an important source of its cultural strength and authority, rather than a challenge to them. This paper considers the implications of this historicised understanding of the normal for future work in these areas of critical theory.
Elizabeth Stephens is Associate Professor of Culture Studies and Deputy Head of School (Research) in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Southern Cross University. Her publications include Queer Writing: Homoeroticism in Jean Genet’s Fiction (Palgrave, 2009) and Anatomy as Spectacle: Public Exhibitions of the Body from 1700 to the Present (Liverpool UP, 2011). She is currently completing a new book, co-authored with Peter Cryle, entitled A Critical Genealogy of Normality.
Friday March 11
The Refectory, Quadrangle A14
Please join us after the seminar for drinks at the Holme Courtyard café/Bar