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Queer Activism

Workshop Leaders: Jeff Bennett, University of Iowa; Erin Rand, Syracuse University

Workshop Leaders:

Jeff Bennett, University of Iowa
Erin Rand, Syracuse University

This session explores the relationship among LGBT/queer studies, rhetorical theory and criticism, and public activism.

Rhetorical scholarship and LGBT/queer studies have long emphasized activism, both as an object of study and a participatory form of cultural critique. Historically, the focus on activism (in the form of social movements or acts of resistance) has produced a corpus of work that has combatted sodomy laws, brought attention to the government’s neglect of people with HIV/AIDS, resisted the pathologizing of transgender bodies, given light to homophobic immigration policies, and entered into countless conversations to help make the lives of LGBTQ people more livable. Recent commentary by some queer scholars suggests that disciplinary apparatuses, such as queer theory, may have run their course, prompting questions about the ways scholars can intervene in public culture to fight against homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. This session pursues several questions:

  • How might rhetorical studies help to invigorate the projects of LGBT studies and queer theory?
  • What role should public activism play in imagining the relationship between LGBT studies/queer theories in rhetorical scholarship?
  • How might we expand on (or think past) canonical critiques of normativity to make such interventions more public?
  • What institutional and disciplinary norms and expectations interfere with performing political critiques in the academy?

In asking these questions, the session invites broad speculation across identities and intersectionalities, bodies, practices, media, and cultures. The group will begin with some readings on the relationship between activism and LGBT/queer studies. Readings will be drawn from authors invested in the intersections of theory and practice, coming from both rhetorical studies and scholars in cognate disciplines (such as Christopher Castiglia, Judith Halberstam, David Halperin, and Valerie Traub). The session will mainly focus on workshopping short papers produced by institute participants. Papers should be approximately four pages long. The brevity of the papers will allow authors to receive feedback on initial arguments and in turn develop essays based on session conversations.

Questions should be directed to Jeff Bennett at

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