Chapter seven: facing Foucault
The fragmentation of identity politics has generally been blamed on the alleged recalcitrance of one or other identificatory group or tendency. It is, perhaps, more profitably seen as a struggle between diverse counter-cultural groups whose material interests, privileges, or access to power, are not always equal or in alignment. Queer mobilised its Foucauldian critique in opposition to the terrain of identity politics upon which the 'sex wars' had erupted.
As we have seen, within the women's movement divisions over the importance of sexual pleasure erupted; different political priorities between lesbians and gay men have emerged, as have radically different attitudes towards sexual experimentation, sexual consumerism and the subcultures; the emergence of new 'sexual minorities' has produced an ambivalent response from the feminist and gay communities. Crisis-crossing these potential division between men and women, heterosexuals and gays [...] is the potent fact of institutionalised racism. 'Identity politics' is inevitably enmeshed in all the contradictory and interlocking forms of oppression in modern society, and the new social movements are hardly immune from their effects. (Weeks, 1985: 256)
These conflicts also unfolded against the background of a paradigm shift in left-liberal academic theory towards a post-modern discourse. Whilst queer theory was articulated mainly in a Foucauldian frame, the broader critique of the essentialist constructs underpinning psychoanalytic theory was effected not only by Foucauldians but, more generally, by the post-structuralist and post-modern projects. I do not intend to summarise this major paradigm shift here (For overviews, see Weedon, 1987; Easthope, 1988; Best and Kellner, 1991; for feminist expositions of Foucault's constructionist position see Weedon, 1987: 107-125; Walby, 1990: 114-5; Balbus, 1986: 110-127; for commentary on the impact of Foucauldian and other desubjectivising models on feminist theory see Diamond & Quinby (Eds) 1988; Fuss, 1990; Butler, 1990; Ramazanoglu (Ed), 1993). Instead, I will look at the effort to universalise sex-gender resistances under the sign of 'sexuality' in the queer movement of the 1990s, the reconstruction of lesbianism and displacement of feminism within the queer paradigm.