AbstractsPolitical Science

Identity, difference and the other : a genealogical investigation of lesbian feminism, the 'sex wars' and beyond

by Carolyn Williams

Institution: University of Western Sydney
Year: 1996
Keywords: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD); lesbianism; lesbians; lesbian politics; feminist politics; lesbian philosophy; feminist philosophy
Record ID: 1031974
Full text PDF: http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/187


This thesis is an investigation into lesbian, and its primary focus is an analysis of the discursive conditions of the ‘sex wars’: a moment in feminist politics in which contestations over sexuality became the central focus of feminist debate. In particular, the question is asked how it was possible for lesbian sadomasochism to be problematized as an ‘anti-feminist’ sexual practice. Lesbian feminism was committed to a modernist logic which compelled the production of ‘regimes of truth’, which promoted a certain construction of ‘lesbian’ as a privileged form of feminist while problematizing lesbian sadomasochism. This problematization is traced to Enlightenment and humanist logics and precepts operative within feminist, lesbian feminist and gay liberationist discourses. The tendency of modernist discourses to produce singular, exclusionary identity categories and a hierarchical ordering of subject positions is also found to be present within the discourse of contemporary ‘queer’ theory. It is the contention of this thesis that the work of lesbian writers like Judith Butler, Shane Phelan and Teresa de Lauretis disrupts the modernist logic of the ‘one’ operative in both lesbian feminism and ‘queer’ theory and points to the theoretical and political work that needs to be done. The most urgent task facing current lesbian, gay and ‘queer’ theorists is the elaboration of an ethico-politics of difference, one that is attentive to the mutually constitutive multiple differences within and between subjects.