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Making difference: queer activism and anthropological theory

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This paper examines two paradoxes. The first is ethnographic: queer activists in Bologna, Italy are concerned with defining themselves in opposition to fixed categories of identity and forms of politics based on them. In so doing however, they must engage with the risk that this endeavour of difference-making itself becomes as fixed and uniform as the identities to which it is opposed. The second paradox is theoretical: a range of anthropologists have recently argued that the relationship between theoretical and ethnographic material should be one of identity or correspondence. Yet such arguments, though highly conceptually stimulating, often reproduce in form what they refute in content: abstraction and metaphysical speculation, thus re-inscribing the difference between our concepts and our data. This paper simultaneously connects these respectively ethnographic and theoretical questions, whilst also deliberately holding them apart. The beginnings of an answer to both, it suggests, lie in an explicit attention to the boundaries and differences, rather than simply the isomorphisms, between theory and ethnography.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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