This article argues that the development of queer theory as a field has been critically shaped by a desire to dissociate the studies of gender and sexuality from material concerns. Though what is meant by “the material” varies wildly from context to context, queer critiques of materialism have produced an entrenched impression of the incommensurability between queer theory and Marxism. Tracing the varied ways in which the notion of the material has been deployed by queer critics to pose questions about the economic reductionism of Marxism, empiricism, and corporeality, this article demonstrates that the material has functioned as a kind of spectral presence in queer theorizing, an enabling form of haunting that keeps critics worrying productively about the best way to stay true to the radically anticipatory orientation of early queer theory. The specter of the material provides the epistemological foundation for canonical texts in queer theory that do not appear to be concerned with Marxism, such as those of Butler and Sedgwick; it also serves as the conceptual fulcrum for a number of “queer Marxist” projects that attempt to synthesize these two traditions. This article concludes by suggesting that, instead of viewing queer theory and Marxism as intellectually incompatible or historically successive projects, we might productively reconceptualize them as subjectless critiques commonly concerned with the problem of social structuration.
Queer Theory and the Specter of Materialism
Petrus Liu is associate professor of comparative literature and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Boston University. He is the author of Stateless Subjects: Chinese Martial Arts Literature and Postcolonial History (2011) and . He is completing a book on the problem of alterity in queer Marxism.
Petrus Liu; Queer Theory and the Specter of Materialism. Social Text 1 December 2020; 38 (4 (145)): 25–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-8680426
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