Theorising Heterosexuality: Telling It Straight

Theorising Heterosexuality: Telling It Straight

Theorising Heterosexuality: Telling It Straight

Theorising Heterosexuality: Telling It Straight


"...a very interesting and stimulating collection of essays, written in clear and accessible language." - The Lesbian Review of Books

Little attention has traditionally been given to theorising heterosexuality. Heterosexuality tends to be taken-for-granted, as something that is 'natural' and 'normal'. Theorising Heterosexuality questions this assumption and demonstrates how much of our understanding of ourselves and the social worlds we inhabit is based upon unquestioned assumptions about the nature of heterosexuality.

• In what ways does heterosexuality encode and structure everyday life?

• How does heterosexuality shape our sense of identity?

• What is the nature of heterosexual desire?

• What is the relationship between heterosexuality and feminism?

In addition to addressing these questions, the contributors to Theorising Heterosexuality provide a critical examination of recent debates about heterosexuality, in particular within postmodern, feminist and Queer theory.

Well written in a clear and lively style, this book brings together leading authors in the field, who represent a variety of differing approaches and viewpoints. Heterosexuality is theorised in terms of its institutionalisation within society and culture, as practice and as identity. The result is an impressive and exciting collection, whose insights invite a radical rethinking of many of the concepts we use to theorise social relations.

Theorising Heterosexuality will be of interest to a wide range of students in the social sciences and humanities, especially in: sociology, cultural studies, lesbian and gay studies, social psychology and women's studies.


… an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be,
not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it
does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition.

(Sedgwick 1990: 1)

Within social and political theory little attention has traditionally been given to theorising heterosexuality. Although it is deeply embedded in accounts of social and political participation, and our understandings of ourselves and the worlds we inhabit, heterosexuality is rarely acknowledged or, even less likely, problematised. Instead, most of the conceptual frameworks we use to theorise human relations rely implicitly upon a naturalised heterosexuality, where (hetero-)sexuality tends either to be ignored in the analysis or is hidden from view, being treated as an unquestioned paradigm. Where sexuality is acknowledged as a significant category for social analysis it has been primarily in the context of theorising the ‘sexual other’, defined in relation to a normative heterosexuality. Perhaps more surprisingly is the failure of a great deal of feminist work, even when writing about the family, to question a naturalised heterosexuality. Monique Wittig (1981) and Susan Cavin (1985), for example, have criticised feminist theories which attempt to explain the origins of women’s oppression for assuming the universality and normality of heterosexuality.

More recently there have been significant attempts by both feminists and proponents of queer theory to interrogate the way that heterosexuality encodes and structures everyday life, and to recognise the impact that ignoring or excluding heterosexuality has had on the development of social theory. In this chapter and in those that follow we shall be exploring and furthering these debates. Ultimately, this requires not only a commitment to theorising . . .

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