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Re: [xmca] on queering Digital Media and Learning

I thought I should add a bit more here, because in the xmca context Jenna raised the attention-to-sexualities issue in relation to learning and learning communities, while in the blog it's all a bit more about political strategy in relation to the wider digital media and learning community.

I've recently written a Forum piece for Cultural Studies of Science Education responding to a paper from two Canadian authors detailing ideological bias concerning sexualities in a standard biology textbook. To be published relatively soon.

I made some points there about our educational responsibility to address students sitting in front of us every day in our classrooms who otherwise never hear issues of gender complexity and sexualities addressed anywhere in our rather outdated curricula. Matters that are of far greater concern to them than most of what is in our curricula, especially if they don't identify as normatively heterosexual, and even if they do. American culture (and we're not the only ones, though among the worst) is ridiculously reticent about anything concerning sexuality and is preoccupied with moral anxieties about the subject. This would be laughably Victorian (including as Foucault notes the associated hypocrisy relative the the general cultural obsession with sex) if it weren't for the fact that a lot of young people are seriously in need of informed intelligent discussion and sophisticated knowledge about the diversity of real-world sexualities, as opposed to the reductionist fantasies of one dominant normative mode and a few marginalized Others.

As I noted in the blog, we are all queer in our sexualities in one way or another. The number of different sexualities is truly staggering, sexualities intersect and interact in complex ways with various aspects of gender identity, social class, age, ethnic culture, and certainly childhood and adolescent development. How could they not be critical factors in learning? Even without going as far as Freud did in seeing sexuality as pervasive throughout culture (though to some extent he was probably correct in this), and just as we more or less accept today that pretty much everything is "gendered" (i.e. stereotypically more associated with masculine vs feminine identities, themselves entirely reductionist notions), it follows that these matters are also sexualized (because sexuality and gender are one system so far as identity is concerned). In my Forum article I note that Science (as a cultural phenomenon) and science education (as a professional identity) are not just masculinized, they are hetero-normatively masculinized (i.e. in common language, male and straight).

A biology course that pretends there are only two sexes, in one-to-one correspondence with two genders, and mentions neither same-sex activity among numberless nonhuman species, nor the biologically significant frequency of intersexuals at birth, nor chromosomal combinations such as XXY and XYY and their phenotypes, nor the non-reproductive functions of sexual attraction in humans and other species -- and a host of other matters -- is not preparing students to deal intelligently with a primary aspect of human diversity. A history course that omits to mention the non-normative sexualities of important historical figures (while being obsessed with every other detail about its Great Men) or the history of oppression of sexuality minorities is likewise doing a disservice, first to students who don't feel comfortable with normative sexualities, and then to every student who lives in a world filled with sexuality diversity. A literature course that does not point out how many canonical writers (especially poets writing in English) had non-normative sexualities, while adducing every other detail of their lives to "explain" their writings is disingenuous at least and intellectually fraudulent at worst. But all this is taken for granted as business as usual in 21st century "education".

It may already be enough of a leap to require some intellectual honesty about what we think of most immediately as "non-normative" sexualities: i.e. gay men and boys and lesbian women and girls. But what I mean by saying we are all at least a little bit queer in our sexualities encompasses far more. Non-normative attractions to those younger or older than we're supposed to desire, to those fatter or thinner, to those of other races and colors, to those with physical disabilities or deformities, even in some communities to those of the wrong religion or social class. And beyond desires, to modes of expression of sexuality, in dress and manner, in practices involving the "wrong" kind or degree of pleasure or pain, flexibility of movement or bondage and restriction, non-genital sexuality and a whole host else. How can there not be, in real fact, a queer majority with respect to the diversity of non-normative feelings, desires, and practices?

And how can our sexualities not be omni-present in the development of identity, and so in the critical contexts of learning? If this is not an obvious fact, I think it can only be because for generations our dominant culture and our academic disciplines have deliberately refused to pay attention to it.


Jay Lemke
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506

Professor (Adjunct status 2009-11)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Professor Emeritus
City University of New York

On Mar 29, 2011, at 9:37 AM, Jenna McWilliams wrote:

> Several members of this listserv attended the recent MacArthur Foundation-sponsored Digital Media & Learning Conference in Long Beach, California. During and since the conference, I've been involved in conversations about a notable lack of queer studies-focused work in this year's program. Some of this conversation is accessible online, on danah boyd's blog and on mine. (Links: http://www.jennamcwilliams.com/2011/03/28/some-thoughts-on-queering-dml and http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2011/03/24/the-politics-of-queering-anything.html.)
> Most of the people I've talked with about this issue come from the "digital media" side of Digital Media & Learning, and I've been wondering about folks who fall more on the "learning" side of things. It seems to me that there's a general lack of attention given to integrating queer studies work with learning theory and work in educational research, though with a few (extremely notable) exceptions. I wonder if xmca folks have thoughts on this issue that might help me figure out the true lay of the land in this respect.
> Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have. (And, of course, if you WANTED to visit and comment on my blog and the conversation I've been having with danah in the comments section there, I would certainly not be offended by this.)
> best to all,
> jenna
> ~~
> Jenna McWilliams
> Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University
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