First Symposium: Sexual Democracy, Imperialism and Cultural Translation Workshop

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By PG Macioti · 19 March 2012
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The workshop Sexual Democracy, Imperialism and Cultural Translation opened up a rich and intense exchange about sexuality, citizenship, political liberalism, orientalism and political subjectivity. Leticia Sabsay posed a crucial question that reoccurred throughout the workshop: what would a queer political intervention look like if it questions the Euro-American universalising reification of the sexual-rights bearing subject and the cultural imperialism which results from it?

Leticia Sabsay pressed for the need to interrogate the entanglement of sexual democracy with colonial, western assumptions and imperialist, nationalist agendas, rather than assuming their structural (Massad, 2007) or contingent (Fassin, 2009) relation. Analysing how this could be done through tackling the restricted western notion of citizenship, the discussion turned to the figure of the good, integrated ‘other.’ Through his/her sexuality, this figure gains inclusion as an individual and is constituted by his/her bad integrated ‘homophobic’ counterpart, that suffers from an excess of culture. The good other can also take shape as the ‘informant’ or the traitor. Here, Judith Butler warned how, through such figures, some intellectuals risk the problematic opposition between the impurity of activism and purity of the academy.

Along similar lines, Sarah Bracke pinpointed the central problem of complicity with this logic which is, for instance, inherent to the EU asylum system. She then posed questions about the possibility of supporting the acquisition of asylum on grounds of sexual orientation at the same time as acting against orientalising discourses of (predominantly) Muslim culture and societies.

Nacira Guènif-Souilamas turned the workshop’s attention to the Arab spring. She focused on how seemingly the same men who have been vilified, unwelcome and stigmatised for being allegedly sexist and homophobic by western countries were now seen in the square next to veiled and unveiled women (women who look exactly like those who were said to be victimised and in need of rescue). Both are now figures whom the media presents as participating in a process of democratisation. Positing what may change with this new media imagery of the orientalised, democratising other, Guènif-Souilamas asked what the fate of women and sexual minorities will be, both in the new ‘square’ and in the old western public sphere.

Elsa Dorlin analysed how burqa-wearing women in France are stigmatised for standing in opposition to the iconic allegory of the Republic: a blindfolded woman whose body is otherwise extensively exposed. What she calls the ‘immodest citizen’, exposed but blind, is antithetical to the body fully covered by the burqa, whose eyes are exposed.

Despite the difficulty of summation, Judith Butler highlighted the commonality between the different interventions by pointing to how they all tackled the conditions of entry into the social contract for the ‘other’, and more specifically the form, shape and image that women and the racialised ‘other’ have to take in order to be considered intelligible and worthy of inclusion into liberal political subjectivity. Butler concluded by stating that such regulation of the sphere in which subject formation appears is an indicator of the need to start not from an analysis of power, not from the subject itself.

Workshop organiser

Leticia Sabsay

Invited attendees

Iker Barbero, Sarah Bracke, Judith Butler, Daniela Cherubini, Elsa Dorlin, Calogero Giametta,
Nacira Guènif-Souilamas, Gabrielle Hosein, Aya Ikegame, Engin Isin, Suhraiya Jivraj, Dana Kaplan, Pia Karlsson Minganti, Alexander Kondakov, Robert Kulpa, PG Macioti, Alessandra Marino, Paul Mepschen, Zaki Nahaboo, Humaira Saeed, Michael Upton.

Photo taken by Marcelo Expósito in Buenos Aires on 5 November 5 2011 at the Marcha del Orgullo LGBTIQ.

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

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