2021-2022 Grant Watson's seminar: Keywords - Queering Marxism
About: Grant Watson
The seminar from month to month
Participants: Alaya Ang, Gleb Maiboroda, Max Vajt, Iliada Charalampous, Derek MF Di Fabio, Jan-Pieter ‘t Hart, Laura Dubourjal, Lissy Willberg, Nadja Henß.
Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society by the socialist writer and cultural theorist Raymond Williams, is an historical study of words and how their meanings are contested.
It explores how words are used to describe systemic shifts in society and how changes within language become part of what Williams called the ongoing practice of “making our own language and history.” Central to this are the interpretations and conflicts that reflect the interests of different groups, and in his centenary year, Keywords is still relevant, including to a contemporary cultural politics, with its emphasis on debates about language and terminology.
This seminar will use Keywords to look at a series of positions from the heterogeneous field of Queer Marxism. The juxtaposition of queer and Marxism, draws on a resurgence of ideas and texts that bring these two into relation. Often seen as antithetical, Peter Drucker points out that this resurgence is only “a new turn in Marxism’s dialogue with same sex activism and theorizing” going back to the Bolshevik’s decriminalising of homosexuality and to the left orientation of many 1960s gay liberation actors—with an intellectual history also indebted to feminist and in particular women of colour writers and activists, who have emphasised the conjunction of class with gender and race, including through an intersectional understanding of oppression.
The synthesising of queer and Marxism, suggesting different scales and types of political engagement, has allowed for fugitive readings that challenge the canon and generate new forms of political practice. If queer theory with its attention to performativity, language and the subject, in dialogue with Marxism can produce a more nuanced account of oppression and exploitation, perhaps this dialogue can help interrupt the mainstreaming and assimilation of LGBT political energies. Although here, and in the reading list below, queering is not exclusively understood in relation to sexuality, but also more generally in terms of “dissident” interpretations of Marxism as well.
Each seminar will focus on a particular word, using short excerpts from Keywords alongside contemporary texts. Looking for example at Williams entry on capitalism—and how this came to describe the whole of a society organised around a capitalist economy, as well as the term “post capitalism” which comes back at a time of crisis; or family—variously denoting household, familiarity and kinship, that came to foreground the “nuclear family,” but is subsequently understood in terms of economic appropriation by social reproduction theory; or culture, interpreted by Williams to mean class distinction, way of life, and artistic form, as part of an analysis that was central to the development of cultural studies.
Alongside these readings, participants will be invited to think through materials from a non-academic setting. An important part of this will be to understand the kinds of conceptual, affective and practical interventions we can make as practitioners, in terms of positioning our work. At times students will be invited to research and present their own practice and relate this to the course content as well as their dissertation topic, within the scope of the seminar.
Bhattacharya, T. (ed) Social Reproduction Theory, Remapping Class, Re-centering Oppression, London: Pluto Press, 2017.
Bohrer, A. J. Marxism and Intersectionality, Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under
Contemporary Capitalism, New York: Columbia University Press, 2020.
Davis, A. Y. Women Race Class, London: Penguin Classics, 2019.
Drucker, P. Warped, Gay Normality and Queer Anticapitalism, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015.
Gay Left Collective. Homosexuality Power and Politics, London: Verso, 2018.
Gleeson J. & O’Rourke E. (eds) Transgender Marxism, London: Pluto Press, 2021.
Hall, Stuart. Selected Writings on Marxism, Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto, London, Penguin Books, 2004.
McLellan, D. Marx, Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975.
Williams, Raymond. Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society, London: Fontana, 1988.