Stepping back from queer theory: Language, fieldwork and the everyday in sexuality studies in France

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2 Scopus citations


In a 2012 special issue of French Cultural Studies, Didier Eribon urges French studies scholars to step back from critical theory, and in particular queer theory as it has emerged in cultural and literary studies. He is also particularly critical of a version of queer theory conjugated with psychoanalysis. For Eribon, cultural studies scholars and those working in sexuality studies should move away from the 'master narrative' of the family and (re)turn to the cultural, the social, the field and empirical evidence. Over the last 15 years, I have conducted fieldwork and ethnographic interviews with self-identified same-sex desiring men in France. Their life stories can be read at times through the Anglo-American lens of a gay-identified, Western coming-out narrative with a telos of 'progress' that involves moving from the closet to being 'out'. At the same time, however, a queer linguistic approach can help us to read against the grain of several norms and hence provide us with a broader understanding of their lived experiences. In this essay, I present empirical language data from my interview with 'Tahar' one of my self-identified same-sex desiring Maghrebi and Maghrebi-French interlocutors to illustrate how his speech acts are situated at the crossroads of multiple discourses, temporalities, identities and traditions. As we shall see, Tahar's story involves being 'beur', 'being homosexual' and 'being fat'. This subject speaks back against the empire, against heteronormativity, and against corporeal norms. While a postcolonial critique based on a 'postcolonial identity' (looking at ethnicity or religion, for example) or a linguistic analysis based on 'gay identity' could be helpful here, my point is that a queer linguistic analysis - one that takes a position counter to the normative broadly defined by considering simultaneously multiple subaltern subject positions - could provide a better approach for those of us working in an interdisciplinary French cultural studies context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)408-417
Number of pages10
JournalFrench Cultural Studies
StatePublished - Aug 27 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Maghrebi French
  • anthropology
  • diaspora
  • disidentification
  • ethnography
  • language
  • queer linguistics
  • queer theory
  • sexuality
  • stereotypes
  • temporalities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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