Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

Jacque Lacan as Queer Theorist: Is There a 'Beyond' to Identification Politicis in Education?

Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

Jacque Lacan as Queer Theorist: Is There a 'Beyond' to Identification Politicis in Education?

Article excerpt

Pre-Facing the Situation

Identity politics remains the dominant discourse in postmodern societies despite its many limitations. Historically, such a stance has been justified by the often quoted, but highly misunderstood concept "strategic essentialism," which was coined by Spivak (1990) as a deconstructive devise. Nowhere did she ever suggest that an essentialist strategy was to be maintained in any sort of permanent basis, rather by particularizing the narrative of an abjected subaltern group through a self-naming 'autobiographication,' such a marginalized group could succeed in unraveling and exposing official hegemonic history, and so forth. This strategy itself, however, has become entrenched as 'the' way politics of identity are to be played out within the dominant heteronormative society. The play is to have it both ways; by belonging to an identifiable group enables a subject position to be established which then exposes the dominant Other. Then, by shifting ground through a partial dis-identification with that group once the concessions have been won, enables the territory to be occupied by the dissident group in the name of "equal rights," causing its own inequalities to arise as a select group of people are forwarded as the new representatives of the disenfranchised group. Their newly acquired contradictory position rests on being representatives of both an identifiable group and now operating within the larger dominant order, acquiescing to the new re-framed structures of agreement. University professors with secure tenure posts in the various representative departments of International Studies, Diasporic Studies, Sexualities, Women's Studies, and so on, are obvious examples. Cornel West (1990) once dubbed this situation to be the new paradox surrounding difference.

By virtual of disenfranchisement, the abjected group can assume the moral high ground, with the dominant Other generally relegated to a position as being distinct and oppressive in its policies. Given that race is one of the key identity bearing signifiers, from the turmoil of identity politics has emerged what is referred to as "White Studies" where it is argued carte blanche that privilege is maintained by this "colorless" mass. The more insidious side of White studies, of course, is its reification as yet another form of identity politics as historically maintained by the nationalistic fervor of the KKK, the fascism of the neo-Nazi hoard and the rise of Right Wing gangs in countries like Russia where, since Perestroika, 'foreigners' are severely beaten, maimed or killed. Otherwise "white" becomes an all-encompassing metonym for privilege and (usually) masculinity.

This game of identity politics rests at the level of a particular imaginary fantasy that polices its borders through a string of key identifying bearing signifiers based on sex, gender, ethnicity, ableism, visible color, race and so on, to form the specificity of belonging. Usually, one or several master signifiers can bind a secondary level of signifiers together to form the imaginary identification. Without having possession of these key signifiers, entry into the group becomes impossible. So, men must keep out of Women's Studies, Whites are not permitted a voice in Black Studies, and so on. A good example of this is illustrated by Diana Jeater (1992), a white British academician, who talked about the problems of her white identity in the British context during the 1990s. Jeater studied African politics at university; she wrote her doctorate about the construction of moral discourse in white settler occupied Zimbabwe and taught courses on black history. She lived in Brixton, her lover was Black as well as the woman she stayed with; she could cook sadza or curry at the drop of a hat but didn't have a clue how to make Yorkshire pudding or cook roast beef. She occasionally read the "Voice" and listened to Choice FM (black British radio station). Despite her protests, such a lifestyle earned her the status of being called an "honorary Black. …

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