Undoing and the Future of LGBTQ Scholarship and Politics

How does LGBTQ scholarship expand its audience, and how can LGBTQ politics increase its influence? In an age of increasing ideological polarization and diminishing democratic control over the mechanisms of state power, how do we successfully engage with individuals traditionally thought to be arrayed against LGBTQ politics and culture? This paper argues that one track to follow when pursuing these goals is to be far more open in our pedagogy, and far more rigid in our politics. As evidence of the validity of this approach, this paper reviews four specific extended examples, based on over a decade of teaching experience at a large state university in the southern United States, to argue for an embrace of the some of the sharpest criticisms of LGBTQ scholarship as a means to strengthen that scholarship and create understanding across ideological divisions. The examples include my engagement with a religious graduate student wanting to write a far more laudatory account of nineteenth-century missionaries than what is found in most current scholarship, a former military commander’s desire to write a thesis exclusively focused on the tactical operations during the Second South African War, conservative students’ desires to have more Adam Smith and less Karl Marx in Nineteenth-Century European survey courses, and students’ criticisms over ambiguities within evidence used in classes on the history of sexuality. Following Judith Butler’s arguments in Undoing Gender and applying them to pedagogy, it will be argued that it is precisely by laying ourselves open to undoing, by making ourselves vulnerable to undoing by engaging in an dialogue without predetermined limits, that the desire for recognition can be satisfied, and both self-understanding and acceptance can be achieved. In these four examples an undoing of the self, after a fashion, was risked, leading to dialogue, community, and, I believe, strengthened LGBTQ scholarship. Yet this paper will also argue that if pedagogy is an appropriate time and space within which to risk that undoing, politics is not, and the final portion of the paper will argue that to confront the most pressing problems arising from the ascendancy of the neoliberal state, we must reject the form of decentralized politics embodied by Occupy Wall Street and celebrated in Joan Scott’s 2011 The Fantasy of Feminist History (in relation to the Women in Black movement). An ideological reluctance to embrace institutionalized politics facilitates the evisceration of both state power and progressive movements within party politics, which, while often deeply flawed, remain vital arenas from which neoliberal private corporate power can best be resisted.


Part of panel Queering Pedagogy
October 1, 2016, 14:30–16:15