Queer Theory is an established, but expanding field of critical theory, which has been named as a distinct discipline since the 1990s. Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality is often considered a foundational axiom for queer theory. While there are in fact a diverse variety of theoretical approaches to be found among queer theorists (including poststructuralist thought, psychoanlaytic theory and gender theory) what these approaches tend to share is a recognition of the need to challenge essentialist understandings of, among others, "gender" and "sexual identity" - along with the dominant hegemonic practices (heteronormativity) that shore up such understandings. In the process, it is intended to free up a space in which entirely new trajectories can unfold.
The term 'queer' is therefore employed not so much in the sense of dissident sexualities that might be named, but in the sense of a resistance to containment in such legible identity categories, as "a refusal of every substantialization of identity" (Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Duke University Press, 2004)).
A number of queer theorists are playing an important role in re-conceptualizing 'childhood sexualities', and more particularly with a goal of 'queering the child'. As in much queer theory, the term 'queer' is used here precisely for its indefiniteness. The figure of the queer child could be viewed as "that which doesn't quite confirm to the wished-for way that children are supposed to be in terms of gender and sexual roles. In other circumstances, it is also the child who displays interest in sex generally, the same-sex erotic attachments or in cross-generational attachments." Academics theorizing the queer child aim to "tease out the range of possibilities that exist for child sexuality", while looking to "the dominant heteronarrative to see how normalizing language itself both produces and resists queer stories of childhood sexual desire."
Queer theorists are of crucial importance, since their challenge to developmental models of childhood, along with (more broadly), their opposition to biological, medical and psychological reductionism, not only creates possibilities for new narratives, but unsettles all entrenched presumptions relating to childhood, sexual desire and cross-generational intimacies.
Key thinkers (and early influencers) of what has fallen under the general umbrella term, 'queer theory', include:
- all quotes from: Bruhm & Hurley (eds), Curiouser (University of Minnesota Press, 2004)