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Sampling the ‘new gender studies’ at Patna University

A collection of university teachers and postgraduate students of English literature attended a presentation on 'Queer Theory' at Darbhanga House. For most, the topic was decidedly unfamiliar and strange. Others had a nodding acquaintance with the term, and shrugged it off as a western literary fad of some kind.\n

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

8th April 2013 06:44

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Asia

In fact, queer theory has long been on the fringes of academic life in India, and is on the way to gaining respectability in a few universities across the country. In recent years, queer theory has become one of the most popular fields for graduate students in English literature worldwide.
Queer theory is grounded in gender and sexuality. Simply put, it is an extension of feminist studies which were in turn the ‘mother’ of gender studies. Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study. It is an academic field devoted to gender identity and gendered representation as central categories of analysis. It includes women’s studies (concerning women, feminism, gender and politics), men’s studies and LGBT studies. These disciplines study gender and sexuality in the fields of literature and language, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, cinema and media studies, human development, law, and medicine. It also analyses race, ethnicity, location, nationality and disability.

Due to this association, a debate emerges as to whether sexual orientation is natural or essential to the person as an essentialist believes, or if sexuality is a social construct and subject to change. Queer theory is a prism through which scholars examine literary texts. Queer theorists scorn traditional definitions of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’. There is no strict demarcation between male and female, they argue. Instead, queer theorists taking cue from the historian Michel Foucault say, sexuality exists on a continuum with some people preferring sex partners of the opposite sex while others preferring partners of both sexes. Only since the 19th century, queer theorists argue, have sexual definitions become rigid. And along with this rigidity, they say, have come anxiety, panic and intensifying homophobic attitudes.

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