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Redirecting Societal Norms


Subhashim Goswami

HANDBOOK OF LESBIAN AND GAY STUDIES
Edited by Diane Richardson and Steven Seidman
Sage Publications, London, 2005, pp. 471, £75.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 1 January 2005

The entire collection of essays in this volume is a modest reverberation of the debates that one has been trying to tackle over the last four decades in the field of Lesbian and Gay studies, yet, the most striking part of these twenty-six essays, collected in this handbook, is their contemporaneity. The ideas and debates tackled through these essays are indicative of ever new grounds that are being approached by Lesbian and Gay studies as a distinctive field of study in the social sciences today. Whether it be the idea of exploring a “queer cyber space” (pp. 115-145) or talk about the “cultural visibility” of a minority homosexual population vis-à-vis their political freedom as “sexual citizens” of a nation state (p p. 183-199, 231-253, 427-443) or thwart basic stated assumptions of defining one’s identity and status through the norms of heteronormativity (pp.73-83, 253-271). The underlying thematic of almost all these essays, I would say, undertakes a social approach to sexuality, where basic assumptions of what constitutes the social have been challenged and new paradigms have been suggested.   The erudite articulate introduction, presented by Richardson and Seidman, very clearly lays out the polemic that one expects to encounter in the essays to follow. A social approach to sexuality has been seen and defined as a movement (emphasis mine) from the 1960’s and 1970’s where homosexuality and one’s sexual orientation became a marker of a social and political identity and created a platform for such identities to organize themselves and seek a legitimation of such distinctive identity patterns. The emergence of such a new distinct identity definitely saw its formation through shared experiences of a minority population, but instead, what came to the fore, rather compellingly, were the inimitable patterns of difference and distinctions that each individual and each distinctive homosexual community felt. “Specifically, sexual identity cannot be separated from other identities such as race, class, nationality, gender or age. Any specific definition of homosexual identity is restrictive” (p.3). Thus, what became the order of the day was the idea of multiplicities. (emphasis mine). Sexuality may have been the overarching organizing principle, but what became significant and exciting (especially, with the advent of such theoretical fields as queer theory) were these new articulations and interrelationships of a diverse range of issues associated with lesbian and gay studies. With wider political and social change around the world, understanding of ...


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