Making Difference: Queer Activism and Anthropological Theory

10 Aug 2017

This article examines two paradoxes. The first is ethnographic: queer activists in Bologna, Italy, are concerned with defining themselves in opposition to fixed categories of identity and the forms of politics based on them. In so doing, however, they must engage with the risk that this endeavor of difference-making itself becomes as fixed and uniform as the identities to which it is opposed. The second paradox is theoretical: a range of anthropologists have recently argued that the relationship between theoretical and ethnographic material should be one of identity or correspondence. Yet such arguments, although highly stimulating conceptually, often reproduce in form what they refute in content—abstraction and metaphysical speculation—thus reinscribing the difference between our concepts and our data. This article connects these ethnographic and theoretical questions while also deliberately holding them apart. The beginnings of an answer to both, it suggests, lie in an explicit attention to the boundaries and differences, rather than simply the isomorphisms, between theory and ethnography.