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social sciences

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Judith Butler, a professor of comparative literature and rhetoric, picked up on Foucault's ideas in Gender Trouble (1990). She wrote that gender expression and sexuality are all performances, rather than manifestations of our true identity. Indeed, she believes that we do not have a true identity of this kind at all. This idea subverts not only heterosexist and ideas about the unnaturalness of identities and behaviors, but also queer claims of essential identities.

Many sociologists who study sexuality have been influenced by Foucault and Butler. They focus on the social construction of glbtq identities; the differences between identity, desire, and action; and the way that sexuality and sexual behavior are talked about. Queer theory has used post-modern thought as its foundation, and post-modern theoretical frameworks have also been indispensable in the study of lives and bisexuality, as these phenomena do not fit into the essentialist assumptions of many other theoretical schools.

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Professional Associations

The American Sociological Association, the professional association for sociologists, developed a section on the sociology of sexuality in 1997. However, sociologists had been conducting research on sexuality before that date. The section gave them a way to come together as a subfield, produce a journal, and organize scholarly conferences. Sociology departments in many colleges and universities now seek faculty members with expertise in the sociology of sexuality so that they can teach courses for undergraduates, which are much in demand.

Current research topics in the sociology of sexuality include intersexed individuals, understanding sexual orientations in non-Western cultures, sexual health, the relationship between gender and sexuality, gay and lesbian families, and the formation of sexual identities.

Queer Methodologies

Research methods used by sociologists of sexuality vary. Some researchers conduct large-scale survey research on individuals' sexual desires, identities, and behaviors, as well as on attitudes towards homosexuality. Others conduct detailed interviews or engage in participant observation to understand the daily experience of living in society as a glbtq person or building a non-traditional family. Still others conduct archival research on the development of the gay and lesbian liberation movement or on changes in the laws affecting the lives of glbtq people.

The researchers who rely on a post-modern/queer theory framework in their research tend to rely on methodologies that fit well with these theoretical outlooks. These methodologies can be called "queer methodologies." They may rely on documents and sources not usually considered appropriate for social research, such as performances and visual representations. They are politicized in their research and in their choices of subject and method, as well as being engaged in a wider politicized community. Finally, as in post-modernism more generally, they seek to disrupt boundaries, knowledges, and a singular "truth."

Conflicts within the Sociology of Sexuality

Like the societies it studies, the field of sociology is constantly undergoing change and constantly experiencing its own internal tensions. Within the sociology of sexuality, there are many important areas of conflict.

While sociologists, like other social scientists, try to maintain objectivity in their research, there are times when research comes across phenomena about which it is hard to be neutral. In terms of research dealing with glbtq individuals and issues, examples of these phenomena might include hate crimes or .

Sociology is internally divided over how to respond to these types of issues. Some sociologists believe that it is our duty to fight injustice wherever it occurs, and that we can use our research and teaching in order to win this fight. Others espouse cultural relativism, which is the idea that what is morally good and right is merely what is considered good and right in a particular culture. Cultural relativists do not pass judgment on injustice--they assume that the particular culture in which the supposed injustice occurred believes that this way of behaving is correct, and therefore, for that culture, it is. Many sociologists, of course, fall somewhere between these two poles.

Another current conflict is over the issue of categorization. Many glbtq people identify strongly with some categories of sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and/or gender. Examples of these kinds of categories are "lesbian," "M2F," "top," "bisexual," "two-spirit," "femme," "queer," or "boi," among many others. For researchers, using stable categories to identify the gender, sexuality, and behavior of subjects makes the research easier to complete. For individuals, categories make it easier to identify one's self to others. Many of these categories have been politicized in important ways.

However, sociology views categories such as these as socially constructed ideas. For some sociologists, as for some individuals, these categories are constraining rather than liberating. The sociology of sexuality is currently undergoing internal conflict, as well as conflict with the glbtq communities it studies, over how and when to use categories, and when categories are used, which ones should be selected for inclusion.

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