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Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others [Paperback]

Sara Ahmed
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

17 Jan 2007
In this groundbreaking work, Sara Ahmed demonstrates how queer studies can put phenomenology to productive use. Focusing on the "orientation" aspect of "sexual orientation" and the "orient" in "orientalism," Ahmed examines what it means for bodies to be situated in space and time. Bodies take shape as they move through the world directing themselves toward or away from objects and others. Being "orientated" means feeling at home, knowing where one stands, or having certain objects within reach. "Orientations" affect what is proximate to the body or what can be reached. A queer phenomenology, Ahmed contends, reveals how social relations are arranged spatially, how queerness disrupts and reorders these relations by not following the accepted paths, and how a politics of disorientation puts other objects within reach, those that might, at first glance, seem awry. Ahmed proposes that a queer phenomenology might investigate not only how the concept of orientation is informed by phenomenology but also the orientation of phenomenology itself. Thus she reflects on the significance of the objects that appear - and those that do not - as signs of orientation in classic phenomenological texts such as Husserl's Ideas. In developing a queer model of orientations, she combines readings of phenomenological texts - by Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Fanon - with insights drawn from queer studies, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, and psychoanalysis. "Queer Phenomenology" points queer theory in bold new directions.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press (17 Jan 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822339145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822339144
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 363,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"[G]round shaking. The book is disorienting in a good way. It invites the reader to be shaken, disoriented, to question our selves and our position and it evokes the power and necessity of disorientation as a source of movement and challenge. Ahmed doesn't seem to insist that we deny the positions we currently occupy, or to move on, but to reorient ourselves. Like earthly tremors, queer phenomenology facilitates the formation of lines and fissures along the spaces of our existence, as events that open up new connections, rather than points in lines that bind us to existing structures and spaces in which living obliquely is made uncomfortable, if not impossible." - Margaret Mayhew, Cultural Studies Review "Ahmed's most valuable contribution in Queer Phenomenology is her reorienting of the language of queer theory. The phenomenological understanding of orientation and its attendant geometric metaphors usefully reframes queer discourse, showing disorientation as a moment not of desperation but of radical possibility, of getting it twisted in a productive and revolutionary way." - Zachary Lamm, GLQ "This is an original and refreshing use of phenomenological theory to address the kinds of questions--about orientations and about how bodies and objects become oriented through their interrelations--that help link it more directly to political and social questions--about gender, sexuality, and race, for example--that have tended to be treated as outside or beyond phenomenological frameworks. This extension and development of phenomenology is a major contribution."--Elizabeth Grosz, author of The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely "In this dazzling new book, Sara Ahmed has begun a much needed dialogue between queer studies and phenomenology. Focusing on the directionality, spatiality, and inclination of desires in time and space, Ahmed explains the straightness of heterosexuality and the digressions made by those queer desires that incline away from the norm, and, in her chapter on racialization, she puts the orient back into orientation. Ahmed's book has no telos, no moral purpose for queer life, but what it brings to the table instead is an original and inspiring meditation on the necessarily disorienting, disconcerting, and disjointed experience of queerness."--Judith Halberstam, author of In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives "Finally, a theorist who takes sexual 'orientation' at its word. In this moving meditation on directionality, Sara Ahmed takes phenomenology for a turn through queer theory, postcolonial studies, feminism, critical race theory, geometry, and labor politics. In the world Ahmed encourages us to reinhabit, as bodies come to matter, bodily action materializes space, children inherit proximities rather than attributes, privileged bodies sink into familiarity, and politics is at its best when it involves a measure of disorientation. Follow her 'lines' of reasoning and you'll never again reach for an explanation, a book, or a lover without wondering how your grasp extended so far in the first place."--Kath Weston, author of Gender in Real Time: Power and Transience in a Visual Age

About the Author

Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her books include "The Cultural Politics of Emotion"; "Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality"; and "Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Phenomenology is often characterized as a "turn toward" objects, which appear in their perceptual "thereness" as objects given to consciousness. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome 13 Feb 2007
By outlaw
This is a beautifully written book that makes you look at the world differently. Ahmed offers a meditation on how we get oriented or directed by objects - especially tables - in a way that makes sexual orientation continuous with other forms of spatial orientation. Her readings of phenomenology are quirky and intriguing. She talks about secrecy - what we miss when we view an object from a specific point - in order to think about how genealogy (the question of how objects arrive) might be interwoven with phenomenology. So we cannot 'see' how things arrive, even when we do things with things. She shows how norms become part of the background, affecting how objects are arranged, as well as what does and does not come into view. She interrogates whiteness as well as heterosexuality in these terms. I loved how tables are part of this book (the writing tables that are philosophy's domesticated objects, as well as other kinds of tables, including kitchen tables and dining tables, which she describes as 'kinship objects'). I never thought tables could be so interesting, but once you read this book, you will keep noticing them! And of course, the table becomes queer - it becomes wonky, when it supports queer action, or even simply when we notice the table as something we do something on. This book makes furniture something to think about. Wow!
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life-changer 26 Mar 2012
By dflower - Published on Amazon.com
Sara Ahmed is my hero. This book shaped the way that i view the world. she beautifully lays out phenomenology, and then takes it to the next level. Her description of 'queering'lines of perception bring into question what we know, and challenge the reader to appreciate and understand discomfort. I think everyone, queer or straight, should read this. By far the best book i read in college
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book 5 Dec 2012
By Ashby Woolf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sara Ahmed is great writer and in this book she deftly uses phenomenology to analyze how gender, sexuality and racialization become structured through ways bodies are situated and acquire tendencies. She also touches on also how through a reorientation of bodies and tendencies different objects/modes of existence come within reach. For those readers who are already involved with cultural studies or feminist theory, this book will be easy to read on its own, but it can also be enhanced if one has read a bit of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty or at least introductions to their work.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ultimately mediocre 9 Sep 2013
By CJR - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very little of this book actually proposes a queer phenomenology. Ahmed spends a good three-quarters of the book discussing either a) the metaphor of the table (hence the cover photo), or, b) race. Her meditations on both topics are important, erudite, well-informed, and insightful. But at the end of the day she does not proffer a queer phenomenology but rather a meditation on how certain bodies are excluded "from the table" in phenomenology. Clearly, these meditations would be important for a queer phenomenology, but they do not, in and of themselves, constitute a queer or queered phenomenology.

To be fair, it is a tough call balancing critical race theory and queer theory. Proponents of the one are almost surely to be criticized, rightly or wrongly, for ignoring the other. Thus I have to admit that my positioning as a white gay male may influence my criticism that this book is more about race than queerness. But nevertheless, if I am to be honest, I feel that Queer Phenomenology was, after all, not a book about queer phenomenology but rather a book on phenomenology and race, with some attention given to gender and sexual orientation.

I hope not to be the white gay male academic wanting to keep everything in its place or "box": queer theory over here! critical race theory over there! But it is neither unreasonable nor racist to want or expect a book that is titled Queer Phenomenology to focus on queer phenomenology. If the book were titled the Phenomenology of Race, then its marginal attention to queerness would be seen as a strength: the author would be adding to her masterful overview of issues of race and exclusion. But since Ahmed claims to write a queer phenomenology, or at least to queer phenomenology, her marginal attention to queerness can be seen only as a failure.

Moreover, even though the book remains important and though-provoking as a work on the phenomenology of race, there remain other issues. Most importantly, the author tends sometimes to leave thoughts unfinished, positing an argument without seeing it through or backing it up, leaving the reader unconvinced and able only to assume its validity and to continue reading on. Stylistically speaking, Ahmed uses quotation marks to "emphasize" certain words. Emphasizing certain words is a common practice in phenomenological writing, but usually it is done using italics. I am left uncertain as to why Ahmed choses to use quotation marks over italics, but whatever her reason, their use is very distracting, if not also grammatically incorrect. I would normally overlook such a mistake, but she uses them so frequently, emphasizing nearly every other word (I am not exaggerating by much), that she defeats their very (grammatically incorrect) purpose.

In short, this is a book with some very illuminating passages, and which addresses some very important issues. But it also has many significant issues, in the negative sense, the most glaring among them being is its failure to achieve either the goal of writing a queer phenomenology or the more modest goal of queering phenomenology.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Queer Phenomenology 14 Jun 2012
By Adriano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great book. The author's line of thought is very new and queer. She goes from basic everyday examples to the thoughts of great filosopher's, making simpler to understand her thoughts and theirs in contrast.
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