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New Subjectivities

We are also moving away from seeking an essence to our subjectivities and identities. The extent to which sexuality is central to people's sense of self is increasingly seen as historically specific, as the first volume of Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality powerfully suggested. This has been best explored in tracing the evolution of homosexual identities since the nineteenth century. In a culture in which a particular form of sexuality was either denied or punished, it was inevitable that people organized their sense of self around their sexuality in various forms of resistance—through what Foucault described as a "reverse discourse." Historians have increasingly sought to understand the dynamics of push and pull, definition and self-definition that have shaped the emergence of nonorthodox sexual identities.

Identities have been the object of struggle, often against extremely forceful and imposed norms. The sexual movements of the 1970s were in some ways heirs of the modernist project, in which it was taken for granted that the historical distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality would be reflected in homogeneous identities, of for example, heterosexuals, lesbians, and gays. This has met a dual challenge. The emergence from the late 1980s of "queer" political movements radically challenged the homogeneous nature of the identities that existed and constituted a self-conscious refusal of identity on the part of many younger people. An even more significant challenge has come from a growing recognition that the meanings developed around sexual identity in the West were of little relevance to many marginalized people from minority ethnic communities within the Western world, or to many people in other cultures.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Semiotics to SmeltingSexuality - Conceptualizing Sexuality, Questioning The Concept Of Sexuality, Gendering Sexualities, New Subjectivities, Globalization, Conflict Of Values