Identity Politics or the Politics of Identity? Strategic Essentialisms and the Imaginaries of Disembodied Communities

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Sofia ABOIM, University of Lisbon, Portugal
Contemporarily, one of most challenging debates in terms of gender identity politics revolves around the impacts of queer movements, which take a position against all forms of category-based politics for their essentialism. Such influence would undermine the possibilities of a politics targeted at specific subaltern groupings, as stressed by critical insights stating the impossibility of a politics without subjects. This problem was addressed by Spivak with the notion of strategic essentialism. For her, identity, subjectless it may be, should be nonetheless strategically mobilized for political reasons. This implies a denial of identity as the basis of politics insofar as subjects are not pre-existent to politics, and reinforces the idea that politics can construct identities as strategic positionings against the dominant. Overturning the traditional ontology of the political, embodiment is only possible if a political programme precedes subjects. Narrowing down the debate and on the basis of a reflection on the construction of the category transgender, we critically reflect on the effects of disembodied strategies for doing a politics of identity alienated from subjects. Such strategies do not elude reifications. Instead, they tend to, even if unwillingly, separate what in habermasian terms we could call the world of life vis-à-vis the political. Imaginaries of disembodied communities are a powerful result of theorizations against identity, although paradoxically unable to avoid identitarian strategies, even if as a side-effect. The contradictions of such disembodied forms of politics will be discussed through the example of contemporary transgender communities (drawing on the ERC funded project Transrights) as political imaginaries vis-à-vis the strategies designed for representation in the public sphere. Such strategies for claiming rights, when compared to the reality of lives, will illuminate the extent to which the renewed production of normativities challenges present and future ontological formations of both the political and the social.