Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Epistemology of the Subject: Queer Theory's Challenge to Feminist Sociology

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Epistemology of the Subject: Queer Theory's Challenge to Feminist Sociology

Article excerpt

The place of queer theory in social research-particularly feminist research-is contested (Seidman 1996). Specifically, queer theory's attempts to deconstruct the subject provides an epistemological challenge to sociology (Green 2007), and queer theory's approach to gender and sexuality is often perceived as at fundamental odds with feminist objectives (Jagose 2009). Within a larger context of diverse epistemological perspectives within sociology, this article examines the intersections between feminist sociology and queer theory methods with regard to locating the subject. This article first considers the question of what it means to undertake feminist sociology and common issues arising in discussions of the subject category "woman." Using the work ofJudith Butler as an exemplar of where feminism meets queer theory, this article outlines a possible avenue that pays heed to feminist and other sociological approaches and adopts a queer method at the same time. Butler highlights the risks of re- inscribing the subject in discussions of gender and sexuality, a point that has particular resonance when considering ethnographic methods which place lived experience at the center of research. This article argues that although there may be divergences between the various perspectives, queer theory offers a new outlook on epistemological questions in research, which broadens the horizons of sociological understandings of the subject. Specifically, it argues that queer methods involve queer orientation. In this way we see queer methodology as involving a queering of methods, which directly involves challenging discrete subject positions.

Feminist Sociology and the Category of "Woman"

The question of whether a distinctive feminist sociology can be said to exist is contentious, given that "feminism" is itself a contested term. Feminism is often categorized as emerging in various-though disputed-"waves" over time (Garrison 2000; Snyder 2008; Renegar and Sowards 2009; Munro 2013), and there is also recognition of global feminisms that differ from these Western "waves" (Harding and Norberg 2002). As Clare Hemmings argues, splits and differences in feminism are not a reflection of a more recent postmodern turn; rather, these have always occurred: "[C]ontests over meaning . . . characterize feminist debate at all points of its history" (2005, 116). As Annamarie Jagose also highlights:

Feminist theory, no less than queer theory, is a broad and heterogeneous project of social critique that works itself out across provisional, contingent and non-unitary grounds, unconstrained by any predefined field of inquiry and unanchored to the perspective of any specifiable demographic population. (2009, 172)

Although feminism often broadly offers a focus on women and issues of gender, within this there are multiple approaches to what specifically is subject to critique (such as the law, capitalism, the state, or patriarchy) and what methods ought to be employed when undertaking "feminist" research. Therefore, in asking the question "What is feminist sociology?" we must first take into account that this broad-ranging term encompasses a plurality of perspectives. As such, it is difficult to locate a distinctive feminist sociological approach (Howard and Rosenberg 2008). There are multiple "forms" that feminist sociology might take including liberal, Marxist, radical, psychoanalytic, socialist, existentialist, and postmodern feminism (Crotty 1998, 162) and also "methodological diversity" within this field (Rosenberg and Howard 2008, 683). This is not to mention the many transnational feminisms which exist and which may be overlooked from a Western perspective (Mohanty 1988; Costa and Alvarez 2014) and the demand for feminism to decolonize (see for example, Hunt and Holmes 2015). Given this, it is useful to discuss some popular themes in feminism's treatment of the subject in research and the epistemological problems that arise from some feminist perspectives, while keeping in mind that this is a review of particularly Western traditions and is not exhaustive of all (or even the majority of) feminist thought but, rather, some dominant strands. …

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