Queer STS: Part 2

Blog December 4, 2013 11:54 pm

 This is a two-part blog post, the first part focusing on provocations, and the second 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. 

jasbirpuar octavia butler boellstorff



Start Here, Then Iterate:

An STS student interested in the theme of “Queer STS” might start by reading Catharina Landstrom’s critique of Feminist STS, “Queering Feminist Technology Studies” (2007). Landstrom critiques the heteronormativity of feminist constructivist technology studies, which she argues reinforces gendered binaries in its focus on masculinist regimes and assumption of what qualifies as masculine. Her main argument is that gender and sexuality are co-produced with technology. She describes how earlier queer theorists have described heteronormativity, from “compulsory heterosexuality” (Adrienne Rich 1980) in practice, to the semiotics of heteronormativity in Butler’s description of “the heterosexual matrix,” a “hegemonic discursive/epistemic model of gender intelligibility” (Butler 1999:194).

Landstrom suggests that Haraway’s useful material-semiotics of cyborg selves has been glossed over, and “it seems to appear only as a ‘buzz word’ used without ‘effort to think through what it adds to call something a cyborg’ or ‘what difference it makes’” (16). Landstom also discusses the theoretical origins of thinking about subjectivity through “assemblages,” from Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) critique of the modern subject as an effect of actions performed on assemblages of humans and non-humans. Elizabeth Grosz critiques Deleuze and Guattari’s “assemblages” theory as masculinist and ignorant of their sexual standpoints (Grosz 1994:182). Yet, Landstrom concedes, assemblages are a useful way for thinking about subjectivity, because they “reject the semiotic order of the heterosexual matrix” by their instability, and refigure subjectivity as constituted in complex relationships with technology—this relationship between subjectivity/technology ought to be central, not “identity” itself. By paying attention to co-production, Landstrom argues, drawing from Grosz, the “temporality of identity politics” is opened up toward an interminable direction. I liked this description of identity in flux, as it rejects the static view of identity as something stable that can be “claimed” or declared—instead it is in flux (iterative or performed, Butler would say). The sense of infinite possibility is echoed in many queer studies (I discuss this more below).


Lineages: Queer Theory & Feminist Theory:

I would then move to read the abundant feminist and queer theory from the 1980s-90s (mostly referenced, and while it is certainly not exhaustive I tried to represent critical race theory alongside emergent queer studies, e.g. bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua). One might explore the ways these scholars are concerned with the body, its materiality, and embodiment—and how these works, when considering technology, then give way to moving external to the body, to “posthumanism.” I also wanted to have a list that is not exclusively focused on “hegemonies” of heteronormativity, as described by the working group on Queer Perspectives in/on Science & Technology Studies and in Landstrom’s article, but that considers the ways in which critical perspectives on race, ethnicity, class, and the environment/space are tightly linked to understanding relationships between technology and sexuality. This compilation also shows how many queer theorists think about queer bodies as themselves technologies of transgression: Haraway’s cyborg/monster, Halberstam’s “gothic monster,” Puar’s “terrorist.” They position queer bodies as already representative of technological tinkering and subjectivity-in-progress. But what does it mean to think of the body so instrumentally?

To keep the list bounded I focused the next part as much as possible on works that dealt with intersections of queer studies and “place” through computer/Internet technologies (although there is quite a bit of work dealing with mobile phones and media studies, especially film and television). I pulled out a few works in ethnographies of new media and the internet that mention, even if they don’t foreground, queer identity, subjectivity, and sexuality in virtual worlds (Helmreich 2000; Boellstorff 2008; Gray 2009).

A critical component of much of queer theory is temporality and a sense of “queer futurism.” These are utopic potentialities of ‘queer time’ and ‘queer space’ that emerge directly from queer theory’s groundedness in activism (and not unlike critical theorists like Anzaldua and hooks who describe various feminist “visions” for the future). Queer time is discussed and critiqued by Halberstam (2005) and “queer futurity” by Munoz (2009), who writes that, “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” (1).

What happens when we bring technoscience studies to the analysis of queer subjectivity and futures-making?

Does a queer future necessarily involve technology? Is there a tendency to view technology one-dimensionally and instrumentally as a sort of “tool” enabling rich and nuanced portrayals of queer identity and subjectivity?


* * *


A Reading List (A Work in Progress):

A. Overviews:

  • Wajcman, Judy. 2004. Technofeminism. Malden, MA: Polity Press.
  • Landstrom, Catharina. 2007. “Queering Feminist Technology Studies.” Feminist Theory 8(1): 7–26.
  • Boellstorff, Tom. 2007. Queer Studies in the House of Anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 16: 17-35.
  • Wajcman, Judy. 2010. “Feminist Theories of Technology.” Camb. J. Econ. 34 (1): 143-152.
  • Bromseth, Janne and Jenny Sunden. 2011. “Queering internet studies: Intersections of gender and sexuality.” In The Handbook of Internet Studies. Ed. Mia Consalvo and Charles Ess.

B. Bodies

  • Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
  • Haraway, Donna. 1991. “The promises of monsters: A regenerative politics for inappropriate/d others,” in L. Grossberg, C. Nelson and P. A. Treichler (Eds.), Cultural Studies. New York, Routledge, 295-337.
  • Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex.


 This is Performativity part 2! 

“Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death controlling and compelling the shape of the production, but not, I will insist, determining it fully in advance” (Butler 95).

<OK, Keep going!>

  • Halberstam, Judith. 1995. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Terry, Jennifer. “The Seductive Power of Science in the Making of Deviant Subjectivity.” Halberstam, Judith and Ira Livingston, Eds. 1995. Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Wajcman, Judy. 2004. Technofeminism. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
  • Giffney, Noreen and Myra Hird. 2008. Queering the Non/Human. Ashgate.


Teases out “the trace of the nonhuman in every figuration of the Human. … [This] also means being cognizant of the exclusive and excluding economy of discourses surrounding what it means to be, live, act or occupy the category of the Human (3).” Human and nonhuman do not exist separately from each other, but are mutually constitutive.


C. Queer Times, Places, & (Cyber)Spaces

  • Helmreich, Stefan. 2000. Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artifical Life in a Digital World. Berkeley: UC Press.

[“My argument is that Artificial Life scientists’ computational models of ‘possible biologies’ are powerfully inflected by their cultural conceptions and lived understandings of gender, kinship, sexuality, race, economy, and cosmology, and by the social and political contexts in which these understandings take shape. Ideas and experiences of gender and kinship circulating in the heterosexual culture in which most researchers participate, for example, inform theories about ‘reproduction,’ ‘sex,’ ‘relatedness,’ and ‘sexual selection’ in artificial worlds, and notions of competition and market economics in the capitalist West shape the construction of ‘artificial ecologies’ in which populations of programs vie to ‘survive’ and ‘reproduce.’ (11)…“The compression of organisms into information is not only serviced by masculinist disidentifications with things bodily but also enacted within a decidedly heterosexual frame, one that reduces to a recombining code all that organisms are, conflating reproduction and sex, and rendering uninteresting those aspects of life that do not have to do with reproduction (218).”]

  • Kember, Sally. 2003. Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life. New York: Routledge.
  • Halberstam, J. 2005. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2005.
  • Gopinath, Gayatri. 2005. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Puar, Jasbir K. 2007. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Suchman, Lucy.  2007. “Feminist STS and the Sciences of the Artificial.” In New Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. MIT Press. 139-164.
  • Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Gray, Mary L. 2009. Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America. New York: NYU Press.


D. Can’t forget!

  • hooks, bell. 1984. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. South End Press.
  • Anzaldua, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Press.
  • De Lauretis, Theresa. 1987. Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. Indiana University Press.
  • Wajcman, Judy. 1991. Feminism Confronts Technology. University Park: Penn State Press.
  • Stone, Sandy. 1995. The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Bell, Genevieve and J. Kaye. 2002. “Designing technology for domestic spaces: A kitchen manifesto. Gastronomica.
  • Prieur, Annick. 1998. Mema’s House, Mexico City: On Transvestites, Queens, and Machos. University of Chicago Press.
  • Kulick, Don. 1998. Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Treichler, Paula. 1999. How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Munoz, Jose Esteban. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics.
  • Faulkner, Wendy. 2001. ‘The Technology Question in Feminism: A View from Feminist Technology Studies’, Women’s Studies International Forum 24 (1): 79–95.
  • Holly Wardlow. 2006. Wayward Women: Sexuality and Agency in a New Guinea Society. UC Press.
  • Suchman, Lucy. 2009. “Agencies in Technology Design: Feminist Reconfigurations.” Open source.
  • Munoz, Jose Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopias: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press.

E. Speculative Fictions 

  • Butler, Octavia. 1987-1989. The Xenogenesis Trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago). Warner Books.
  • LeGuin, Ursula K. 1969. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books.


Yeah! This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’m especially focused on developing the “Speculative Fictions” bit.

Thoughts? What would you add or omit?


  • ozden@mit.edu' Canay Özden-Schilling

    Very happy to see Octavia Butler on this list. I think each one of her novels is race&gender theory at its prime: though Fledgling is probably my favorite, the Xenogenesis Trilogy is excellent too. For a long while Butler and Samuel Delany were probably the only African-American sci-fi writers who could make it to the mainstream of sci-fi and I’m very happy to see that that’s no longer the case. For example, Nalo Hopkinson’s Caribbean folkloric sci-fi is not like anything else: very refreshing for any sci-fi nerd who’s tired of the recurrent gender and race bias of the twentieth-century sci-fi.
    I have yet to read Jewelle Gomez and Tananarive Due but from all I understand they definitely belong in this genre. And for a review, how about “Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora”?
    Definitely a lot to explore here – I think I’ll be doing my part during the winter break.

  • mitalit@mit.edu' Mitali Thakor

    Thank you, Canay! I am adding Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, and Tananarive Due to my personal reading list!

Leave a reply