Queer STS: Part 1

Blog December 4, 2013 11:36 pm

 This is a two-part blog post, the first part focusing on provocations, and the second part on assembling a “reading list” for STS students interested in queer studies. Jose Esteban Muñoz passed away today, and these posts are inspired by his work. 


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“Queer is not yet here…we are not yet queer…We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future…Queerness is a structuring and educating mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house”

–      Jose Esteban Muñoz (2009) Cruising Utopias: The Then and There of Queer Futurity


In some ways it may seem redundant to have the designation “Queer STS”—within either Feminist Studies or STS in a larger sense. As a student interested in feminist theory, queer theory, postcolonial and critical race studies, I view “Feminist STS” as motivated by the illumination of, and the destabilization of, borders and boundaries erected by technocratic institutions that police gender, sexuality, race, and class. STS is similarly concerned with boundaries. So where and why does something like “Queer STS” come in?

The question is a fairly recent one. The earliest mention of Queer STS was at a 2012 4S panel on “Unruly Matters: The Queer Side of Things”

The unruly side of materialities has been the focus of much of feminist science and technology studies as well as queer theory. From the cyborg woman (Haraway 1991) and bodies that matter (Butler 1993) to queering the non/human (Giffney & Hird 2008) and queer phenomenology (Ahmed 2006) the queer side of things provided a pathway into materialities and their meanings for life worlds. This open panel wants to pose the question of unruly matters anew and seeks to explore contemporary intersections of queer theoretical perspectives and STS approaches to research on science, society, and technologies. How do materialities open up a possibility for queering the normalized? What normative frameworks are set up in order to regulate the inherently queer nature of things? What are the queer dimensions of technologies? How are technologies appropriated in queer settings? How can and do technologies queer research? Do materialities put restraints on a queer research agenda and if so, in which ways? How do technologies enable interventions in heteronormative scripts of gender and sexuality? And what could queer STS mean?

The group organizing the panel identifies themselves as a working group on Queer Perspectives in/on Science & Technology Studiesinterested in challenging “heteronormative and hegemonic points of view in science and technology studies.”

At the more recent 4S Meeting (Oct 2013), which I attended, a panel was convened on “Queer Feminist Science Studies” featuring the provocative work of four professors studying biomedicine and neuroscience from a queer studies lens, including medico-legal designations of mental disorders, asexuality, disability studies, intersexuality, sex determination testing, and genetic research on monogamy. The biomedical studies influence on queer studies (and vice versa) is undeniable, but I found the discussion lacking in a stringent critique of how race and criminalization played a major role in the development of queer studies of this nature. So can we have it all? What does Queer STS look like, what does it do for us, and how can we grow it both inclusively and expansively? Science and technology studies are replete with desire, restrictions, and possibilities: queering our critiques allows for a more rich engagement with the then, the now, and the “futurity” of objects, persons, and nonhumans we think (and play) with.

In the next part of this post, I’ll present some arguments for developing a Queer STS list — and provide my own list! Stay tuned.

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