De-centering Queer Studies: Queer Histories on the Fringes of Europe and on the American South

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The aim of the planned interdisciplinary hybrid series of lectures is to raise an academic debate about the ways in which histories of queer communities and queer individuals are told. The series will address both the theoretical frames of the narratives we are constructing and the meaning of local case-studies for the rethinking of the increasing universalization and condensation of the discourse on sexuality.

The theoretical engagement of the series of lectures is inspired by the corresponding concepts on queer history of Heather Love and José Esteban Muñoz who invite researchers in the field of queer studies to switch the focus of their attention from recuperative studies of sexual liberation and political empowerment towards the histories of misfitting discourses, political disengagement and troubling queer stories of suffering and failure. This theoretical inspiration is only a point of departure for further critical rethinking of Love’s and Muñoz’s concepts in the context of the archival turn in cultural studies and on the backdrop of the queer histories told from the fringes of Europe and America.

The original contribution of the series of lectures to the development of the discipline of queer studies is first of all its departure from the well-established Anglo-American axis of analysis in gender and sexualities studies. All invited researchers have contributed immensely to the queer historical research from the perspective of so called “Small Europe” (Malečková 2020), i.e. outside of the central and colonial vantage point of the ‘big three’ – France, Germany and Great Britain. Professor Tone Hellesund, amongst her other projects, is engaged in studying and writing comprehensive history of LGBTQI activism in Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1948-2018 period (NordiQueer – A Nordic Queer Revolution?), professor Bogdan Popa investigates the Cold War queer histories in Romania (2022), professor Mihail Gruev presents the history of the marginalized groups in socialist Bulgaria (2021). Their dialogue problematizes the dynamics and tensions between the modern discourse on sexuality, modelled in cultural and economic centers of Europe and its local understandings, contesting narratives and translations on the fringes of Europe (Scandinavian region and Balkan peninsula). Moreover, the unique points of view of prof. Hellesund, prof. Popa and prof. Gruev are questioning and breaking up the centre-periphery binary.

Secondly, the series of lectures will contribute to the development of the field by de-centering not only the geo-political map of queer studies but also its class and space map. Does the widely accepted contemporary concept of sexuality as crucial expressive of the essence of identity hold true outside the metropolis and urban areas? We seem to know very little about how queer intimacy and same-sex desire are expressed and constituted in the rural areas of both Europe and America. In this regard the research projects of Professor Amy L. Stone (2018), who has already answered the question why sociologists should study the American South, rural queers, and ordinary cities comply and dialogue with professor Tone Hellesund’s studies of ‘queer domesticities’ and intimacy in Norway rural areas investigated through the intersecting lenses of time, space, class, and gender (Researching queer domesticities and intimacies in Norway 1842–1972).

Thirdly, the troubling queer history of the period of Cold War and communist regime is at the focus of all four researchers. They are questioning the already existing narratives about the period formed from the perspective of the central western cultures and their pre-emancipation – post-emancipation chronology. From different perspectives prof. Hellesund, prof. Popa, prof. Stone and prof. Gruev show how this chronology fails to take into account the specificity of queer histories on the fringes.  On one hand, as Bogdan Popa puts it “eastern communist sexuality has been erased as an alternative epistemological and ideological formation” (2022). On the other hand, both Amy L. Stone (2016) and Mihail Gruev (2021) are not so interested in communist sexuality in contrast to gender, but trace the impact of gay visibility in public spaces on Cold War everyday gay life. Tone Hellesund discusses the problem of pre- and post-emancipation chronology from the perspective of transformations in institutional norms about same-sex sexualities focusing on the period from the late 1960s to the present date (2013). Bringing together all those different perspectives is one of the main goals of the project.

Last but not least, Hellesund, Stone and Gruev are engaged in creating and researching queer archives. Their studies are crucial for the memory about and the intelligibility of lives of people identifying as queer. They show the lack of records and the clash between the traditional archives’ conceptions of space, time and provenance and the queer archives’ ways of dealing with records. Hellesund’s and Stone’s (2015) studies point out a new direction for scholarship and pay attention to the ways in which the space of the archive requires a different kind of deeply personal, embodied research. This archival practice is one of the possibilities for de-centering queer studies by their contextualizing and historicizing.

To sum up, the aim of the planned interdisciplinary series of lectures is to start a dialogue between the concepts and ideas of four outstanding scholars and to create a space for a discussion about the possibilities of decentering queer studies from the intersecting perspectives of queer historiography, periphery spaces, social class, gender and the experiences of Cold War modernity. The series will be also a place for creating future collaborations.

17th of October 2023 - Examining Different Places, Archives, and Cultural Forms to Understand the Queer Social World in the United States, prof. Amy L. Stone.

12th of December 2023 - Queer Stories from the Northern Fringe. Silence and Neglect, prof. Tone Hellesund.

16th of January 2024 - Queer Theory travels to the East: How does Judith Butler’s dialectics work in Romania?, prof. Bogdan Popa.

23rd of February 2024 - Homosexuals in Bulgaria and the Communist Regime, 1944-1989, prof. Mihail Gruev.

We will be meeting at 9:30 am Chicago Central Time - 4:30 pm in Poland and Norway - 5:30 pm in Bulgaria and Romania.