Queer studies is experiencing a methodological renaissance. In both the humanities and the social sciences, scholars have begun to identify research protocols and practices that have been largely overshadowed by dramatic advances in queer theory. The 2010 volume Queer Methods and Methodologies: Intersecting Queer Theories and Social Science Research, edited by Kath Browne and Catherine J. Nash, indexed this shift toward methods by reframing the endlessly rehearsed question “what is queer theory?” as the nascent “how is queer theory done?” Three years later, the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania hosted a two-day Queer Method conference. Organizers asked “what it means to understand queer work as having a method, or to imagine method itself as queer” (Queer Method 2016). A 2016 University of Massachusetts Amherst conference similarly refocused queer studies—as well as black and postcolonial studies—through the lens of methods, and next year, the University of California Press will release a new collection on queer methods in sociology. With this special issue, WSQ affirms and enriches these conversations by presenting pioneering feminist work on queer methods in sociology, performance studies, African American studies, lesbian cultural studies, critical psychology, African studies, statistics, transgender and queer studies, media and digital studies, history, and English, as well as poetry and fiction.
An Alternate History
What if a high-profile academic conference in 1990 had ushered in an enterprise called “queer methods” rather than “queer theory”?1 Our question—speculative [End Page 14] and provocative in its rewriting of a watershed moment in queer intellectual history—is also surprisingly plausible. The methods that scholars used to establish gay and lesbian studies in the decades prior to queer theory were often quite queer themselves, particularly when guided by social constructionist approaches to the study of homosexuality. This was certainly true in sociology, as Steven Seidman (1994), Arlene Stein and Ken Plummer (1994), and others have noted.2 Why then has queer theory not staked a more pervasive, methods-oriented claim? Insofar as queer theory has relied on a humanities-centered displacement of the disciplinary innovations that were unfolding in the social sciences as “LGBT/queer studies” (see Lovaas, Elia, and Yep 2006), a focus on methods would not only have exposed that displacement but also forced a confrontation with disciplinarity that might have threatened queer theory’s constitutional claims to inter/antidisciplinarity. The current turn “back” to methods may be perceived as an attempt to leverage disciplinarity against those longstanding claims by queer theory. Working explicitly through the question of queer methods, the following contributions thoughtfully negotiate such disciplinary impasses.
From another angle, the political context that inspired early queer theory might also have translated into an inaugural focus on queer methods. Like much of gay and lesbian studies scholarship, academic queer theory was largely inspired by activist social movements of the day. In Time Binds, Elizabeth Freeman suggests that ACT UP exemplified the pragmatic ability of queer activists of the 1980s and 1990s to join “deconstructive reading practices and grassroots activism together, laying the groundwork for . . . queer theory” (2010, xv).3 Freeman thus links queer theoretical work in the academy to the questions of how that queer activism so ingeniously answered. To take her example, ACT UP was grounded in goal-oriented tactics and techniques including direct actions (e.g., teach-ins, kiss-ins, and die-ins), building coalitions across race and gender (e.g., affinity groups), highly stylized graphic designs, medical interventions (e.g., needle exchange, inclusive clinical trials, lay expertise4), video/media innovation, acts of disclosing, self-nominating, public shaming, outing, and marching. It is reasonable to imagine queer activism as a collection of street-level case studies for designing queer interventions in the academy and explicitly engaging the politics of research methods. Yet queer theory, not queer methods, materialized as the point of entry for queer activism in higher education. [End Page 15]
While the authors that follow elaborate on the apparent incommensurability of the phrase “queer methods,” we offer one final hypothesis to explain the overriding queer suspicion of method. The dominant queer theory narrative of productively cultivating antidisciplinary irreverence offers a kind...