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"De-Centering Western Sexualities. Central and Eastern European Perspectives"

Edited by Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska

"Engaged with current debates within queer studies surrounding temporality and knowledge production, and inspired by post-colonial critique, the book problematises the western hegemony that often characterises sexuality studies, and presents local theoretical insights better attuned to their geo-temporal realities". READ MORE...!


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Nation Queer? Discourses Of Nationhood And Homosexuality In Times Of Transformation: Case Studies From Poland

PhD Thesis, July 2012, Birkbeck College, Univeristy of London

"This thesis explores the relationship between discourses of nationhood and homosexuality in the context of Polish "post-communist transformations" that have taken place over the last decade. It begins with the hypothesis that there must be a more complex relationship between the two discourses than a situation where nationhood simply and straightforwardly rejects the homosexuality. As such, the thesis explores possibilities for going beyond (or further into) the dialectics of the same/other, as a way to develop understandings about the relationship between the nation and homosexuality. The focus is on undercurrents and internal dynamics, constantly negotiating and re-working mutual dependencies between the two discourses. In this context, the thesis is especially geared to exploring the "unforeseen" (or possible), the "wilful", "unintended" (or hoped for) in the two discourses.

The thesis is organised around three major research problems:

(1) How is homosexuality framed by national discourse (when performed by the nation-state)?

(2) How do discourses of homosexuality relate to nationhood (in times of national distress)?

(3) How might national/ist rhetoric be present in discourses of LGBT organisations? Methodologically, the thesis is grounded in a case study approach and discourse analysis.

Overall, I argue that we may map out the relations between the nationhood and homosexuality through discourses of rejection as well as dependency, oscillating on the continuum between "sameness" and "otherness". These relations are best described via the concepts of "dis-location", "be-longing", "attachment", and "dis-identification".

This research is important for at least three reasons. There is a scarcity of work about sexualities in Central and Eastern Europe and a need for more work in this area. Additionally, we have recently witnessed a rise of concern with "homonationalism" in queer studies. Attention to Poland is a valuable addition to this scholarship, which so far is about only the "West" and "Islam". Finally, it also contributes to nationalism studies, where sexuality is still an under-explored topic, and it offers new insights for scholars interested in Polish nationalism studies." 


De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives

Edited by Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011)

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"De-Centring Western Sexualities critically assesses the current state of knowledge about sexualities outside the framings of 'The West', by focusing on gender and sexuality within the context of Central and Eastern Europe. Providing rich case studies drawn from a range of "post-communist" countries, this interdisciplinary volume brings together the latest research on the formation of sexuality in Central and Eastern Europe, alongside analyses of the sexual and national identity politics of the region.

Engaged with current debates within queer studies about about temporarily and knowledge production, and inspired by the post-colonial critique, the book tries to problematize the western hegemony within sexuality studies, and produce local theoretical insights better attuned to its local geo-temporal realities.

As such, it offers a cultural and social re-evaluation of everyday life experiences, that will be of interest to sociologists, queer studies scholars, geographers and anthropologists."


Contents: [SEE PDF]

  1. Introduction: why study sexualities in Central and Eastern Europe [SEE PDF];
  2. Contemporary peripheries': queer studies, circulation of knowledge, and East/West divide, Joanna Mizielinska and Robert Kulpa;
  3. Between walls. Provincialisms, human rights, sexualities and Serbian public discourses on EU integration, Jelisaveta Blagojevic;
  4. Nations and sexualities – 'West' and 'East', Robert Kulpa;
  5. A short history of the queer time of 'post-socialist' Romania, or, are we there yet? Let's ask Madonna, Shannon Woodcock;
  6. Travelling ideas, travelling times. On the temporalities of LGBT and queer politics in Poland and in the 'West', Joanna Mizielinska;
  7. Researching transnational activism around LGBTQ politics in Central and Eastern Europe: activist solidarities and spatial imaginings, Jon Binnie and Christian Klesse;
  8. Rendering gender in lesbian families: a Czech case, Katerina Nedbálková;
  9. The heteronormative panopticon and the transparent closet of the public space in Slovenia, Roman Kuhar;
  10. Heteronormativity, intimate citizenship and the regulation of same-sex sexualities in Bulgaria, Sasha Roseneil and Maryia Stoilova;
  11. Situating intimate citizenship in Macedonia – emotional navigation and everyday queer/KVAR grounded moralities, Alexander Lambevski;
  12. Index [SEE PDF].   


'De-Centring Western Sexualities advances critical studies of sexualities and sexual politics in significant and inspiring ways. The authors provocatively question the "Western" focus of sexuality studies and highlight the consequences of Central and Eastern Europe's absence from recent queer critiques. This valuable collection offers essential new perspectives on the marketization of (homo)sexuality and the functioning of heteronormativity in these countries.' 
Gavin Brown, University of Leicester, UK, co-editor of 'Geographies of Sexualities'.
'De-Centring Western Sexualities is a landmark volume in the study of gender and sexuality. Kulpa and Mizielinska have gathered here and framed some of the very best essays on discourses of sexuality in the context of Central and Eastern Europe. Not content to simply mark distinctions between East and West, the US and the rest, local and global, the editors' introduction and many of the essays here actually retheorize concepts of temporality, spatiality and sociality in the process of asking after the meaning of sexuality outside of its framing in "the West". Ranging in topic from heteronormativity to lesbian families, from transnational activism to queer temporalities and combining social science methodologies with theoretical inquiries, this collection is as broad as it is deep and it creates many new contexts for rethinking sexuality and de-centering the West.' 
Judith Halberstam, University of Southern California, USA, author of 'In a Queer Time and Place'.

KULTURISSE. Zeitschrift für radikaldemokratische Kulturepolitik
'There are few publications of which one could say one had waited for them to appear for ten years. This is even less the case with regard to academic publications. This moment of enthusiasm results from the fusion of geo-political, temporal and activist criticism in the book 'De-centring Western sexualities', edited by Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska. The book explores the question of the relationship of Western European and so-called post-communist countries to sexual politics. While there may have been continuous, emancipatory developments in LGBTIQ politics in west Europe, all activist strategies and all theoretical developments seem to have coincidentally impacted on the diverse communities of the East since the fall of the wall. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska literally talk of a 'knot' of geo-temporal coincidences which spilled over the wall: homophile movements, identity-political gay and lesbian organisations which are primarily interested in legal equality and inclusion into a (hetero) normality, as much as queer approaches and groups, which are less interested in assimilation than for the destabilisation of societal walls. (...) This is a necessary book which achieves to document the complex nature of hegemonic structures in a way that allows to unsettle the representation of 'inside and outside'. 

Full review (in German) here:

Marty Huber (2011), 'Shaking (Stone-) Wall. An (East) enlarged, decentralising book review'. Kulturisse. Zeitschrift für radikaldemokratische Kulturepolitik. No. 1 2001, (IG Kultur Österreich), pp. 20-21.

'The dual timelines of development between the Queer movements in Western and Central/Eastern Europe's mean that polarized nationalism(s), the desire(s) for cultural independence(s), differing political loyalties, and differences in language, culture, and legislation further complicate the idea of complete homogeneity in European Queer activist movements. This socio-political soup seems to ensure that the lived experiences of Queer citizens in neighboring countries can be almost completely oppositional. Coupled with huge differences in the rights for men and women, and considering how this interacts with the positioning of rights in regards to intimate citizenship, 'De-centering Western Sexualities' is a necessary academic ear trumpet for us to learn to listen in, for particular ideas present in cacophony of 'Western' Queer voices that are shouting out for their rights.

'De-Centring Western Sexualities' gives an excellent insight and attempts a historical overview which asks academics to consider dual timelines of development, for which without an understanding of, the current conflicts within specific European Queer cultures and movements appear overly confusing and incongruent.' 

Full review here:

Stefanie Petrik (2011), 'Go West: Queer in Europe and De-Centring Western Sexualities'. Media and Culture Reviews (online).

'The editors make a good effort to shatter and rebuild reader's assumptions about the CEE region, which has experienced a "tectonic restructuring" since 1989. They do that in particular by complicating the ideas about European time and space. How come, for example, that we don't think of Germany as a post-communist European country? While doing that they are also able to give some (indispensable) remediation about the geo-spatial and geo-political context the individual texts explore in more details.

All in all the collection De-Centring Western Sexualities managed to provide a host of unpredictable angles and new information. While doing that it was also able to inspire some thrilling ideas to be incorporated in novel research projects – something most of the Western queer anthologies that evoke only the "been there, done that" sentiment fail to do. Hence I would suggest that you not just read the volume when you have time, but actually make time to read what Central and Eastern European perspectives could offer you in terms of revitalizing queer theory.' 

Full review here:

Download here: [PDF]

Tuula Juvonen (2011), 'Where Stonewall Never Happened': Theorizing Queer in Central and Eastern Europe'. SQS Journal of Queer Studies in Finland, No 2.

SüDOSTEUROPA. Zeitschrift für Politik und Gesellschaft
'De-Centring Western Sexualities is a valuable and overdue collection of ten essays which address non-normative sexualities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual/transgender and queer (LGBTQ) activisms and politics in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) context. The book’s relevance is two-fold. On the one hand, it provides theoretical and analytical tools to critically assess the hegemony and influence of “Western” knowledge production in relation to (homo)sexual identities, communities and practices in CEE. On the other hand, by presenting intrinsic examples and local case studies of sexual politics, the volume marks a significant step in the theory production of queer and sexuality studies.

The relevance of this book’s topics and insights to current LGBT/queer endeavors in CEE have become apparent in recent months. The public debates over the can- celled Pride Parade in Podgorica, Montenegro (May 2011) and the violent attacks on Pride Parade participants in Split, Croatia (June 2011) point to the ways in which LGBT issues continue to be managed and framed. Furthermore, these incidents and the commentary surrounding them reflect complex relationships between sexuality, religiosity and national culture – the very connections so comprehensively debated in the volume under review.'

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Amir Hodžic (2011), 'Review of De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Südosteuropa. Zeitschrift für Politik und Gesellschaft, Issue 59.
'While the academic study of gender in post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has generated a significant body of literature, the number of works dealing with sexuality — and in particular non-heterosexuality — remains minimal. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska's edited collection is thus a welcome addition to this neglected field. The editors are to be congratulated for having provided cohesion by encouraging all the contributors to situate their research in the context of CEE's relationship with the 'West'. As a result the collection seeks not only to present the insights of scholars from and/or working on this under-analysed region — an important aim in itself — but also to challenge and 'unsettle Western perspectives in queer studies' (p. 3). The extent to which Western discourses, theories and models of activism are appropriate for CEE or even foreclose, marginalize and separate 'histories of LGBT movement and sexuality studies in CEE' (p. 13) is thus a theme running throughout the book. Even the choice of 'LGBT' — adopted by many academics and activists after 1989 — is challenged as being too closely associated with the Western experience and not accurately reflecting the situation in CEE, where, for example, Trans activism did not emerge until 2007–08 (p. 14).' 

Read and download the review here:
Richard C.M. Mole (2012), 'Review: De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Slavonic and East European Review, Vol 90, No 3, pp. 590-592.
'As editors of the Ashgate 'Queer Interventions' volume 'Queer in Europe' (Downing & Gillett, 2011), we were excited to learn of the existence of this book. With its programmatic insistence on 'Central and Eastern Europe Perspectives', it seemed to fill a gap, of which we were acutely aware, in our own work and in the field more broadly. And it does, indeed, offer valuable insights into the conditions faced by non-heterosexual individuals in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. These insights come partly from experts who are nationals of the countries they analyse and partly from authorities on those countries from the English-speaking world. Many of the contributions arise out of specific research projects undertaken in the countries concerned and give a voice to activists on the ground whose stories would not otherwise be heard. In seeking to make sense of these stories, the authors invoke a wide range of theoretical notions, including 'intimate citizenship', 'panoptical power', and 'emotional navigation'. Particular stress is laid, notably by Mizielinska, on contemporary conceptions of time as coincidental, looping, or knotted.'

Read and download the review here:
Lisa Downing and Robert Gillett (2012), Review of De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Psychology and Sexuality, in print, iFirst/DOI: 10.1080/19419899.2012.694615. 
'The scholars in this volume make use of very conventional anthropological approaches, such as investigating real situations of family and emotions in relationships and also making use of more generalised feminist and theoretical concepts like that of the 'transparent closet'. The volume goes beyond its immediate scope to interrogate various. theoretical concepts central to cultural understandings, such as of time, space and identity; of being inside and outside and of multi-levels of solidarity with those close and those distant.

It is indeed a matter of global politics for CEE members to find an identity for themselves, especially in light of post-1990 developments. The unique contribution of this volume is to bring something that one would have thought belongs to the private domain to the public domain of discourse formation, not about sexuality, but about an entire range of power equations and identity formation mechanisms.

However although this book sets up a difference and unequal power hierarchy between CEE and Western Europe within the discourse of colonisation, it makes this reviewer think that sexual politics is still a largely western issue. The very fact of sexuality entering the public domain is something that may be quite unrecognised in most parts of the non-western world. This very recognition puts this discourse within the western domain irrespective of its internal power hierarchy. In this sense, CEE falls in an intermediate zone between Anglo-American and the non-western, say the South Asian or the East Asian world, where such discourses still remain strictly in the private domain. This is a thought-provoking book with wide theoretical implications.' 

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Subhadra Mitra Channa (2012), 'Review: De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Anthropological Notebooks, Vol XVIII, Issue 1, pp. 109-110.
'A short review cannot do justice to the range of the 23 articles here. The books bristle with wonderful illustrations. I enjoyed, for example, the account of Madonna's rejection in Romania and Lambevski's personal tale of a friend being navigated around the idea of intimate citizenship. Sasha Roseneil's awaited research gets a brief airing here too.
All in all, the two books have much to offer. If they were not so ridiculously costly, I would suggest they should both find a place in the personal book collections of both queer theorists and European specialists. In these two books brimming with ideas, we see the challenge not only to 'de-centre' sexualities in Europe – but ultimately across the globe. These are provocations indeed. In the meanwhile there is much to inform, stimulate and delight in these telling collections.' 

Read and download the review here:
Ken Plummer (2012), Review of 'De-Centring Western Sexualities' and 'Queer in Europe'. Sexualities, Vol 15, No 5-6, pp. 758-760.
'There are still very few edited books on LGBT lives and politics in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). While civil society groups are burgeoning, and sexual norms and behaviours are under profound transformations, academics are lagging behind. Moreover, despite an obvious interest for scholars globally, few resources are available to an international audience. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielinska's book contributes to reduce this gap (...).However, the perspective adopted by Kulpa and Mizielinska is slightly different. This book is more theoretical, and a strong influence of queer and postcolonial theory can be felt in several chapters. While both Weyembergh and Carstocea's and Kuhar and Tákacs' volumes attempted to analyse LGBT people's everyday lives as well as sexual change in the region, they were aimed at gathering empirical evidence and making researchers working on these issues more visible internationally. The purpose of this book is theoretically more ambitious, and the editors try to destabilise the Western models through which contemporary (homo)sexualities in the region have been understood. As the title makes clear, their main objective is to "de-Centre" Western sexualities by looking at other European contexts, allegedly thought as different'. 

Read and download the review here:
David Patternotte (2012), Review of 'De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'.
La Revue Transitions (ex-Revue des Pays de l'Est), Vol 52, No 1, pp. 129-132. 
feminist review 
'The sheer volume of clearly presented and interesting information within this collection makes it an essential reading whether you are approaching it for theoretical insights into queer theory or geopolitical analyses on CEE contexts. This is a book that has learnt from the criticisms of queer theory, and is a coherent and readable collection that, nevertheless, reflects a diversity of experience and analysis that is rare to find. At times, however, critique of the differential experiences of homosexuality according to gender could be more emphatically recognised. The theoretical depth achieved in this book, particularly in its reworking of temporal assumptions, is impressive given its accessibility and rich 'human' content'.

Read the full review (open access) here:
Emma Spruce (2012), Review of 'De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. feminist review, vol 101, no 1, pp. e3-e4.
'De-Centring Western Sexualities acknowledges and explores the heterogeneity and complexity of CEE countries, problematises the categories of 'centre/metropolis/West' as relational and unstable concepts, and questions the 'East/West' divide. The framing of the social and political context of the CEE countries is central throughout the book, with particular relevance to the influence of the process of European Union (EU) integration into LGBT rights politics, stressing the inconsistencies between official discourses and social and political practices. 

The overall social discrimination of LGBT people is thoroughly presented and exposed, as are some limitations of the LGBT movement, since 'many individuals are excluded by the racialized and middle-classed homonormativity of the movement itself' (p. 79). By acknowledging 'the importance of the local and the situated in the debates of intimate citizenship' (p. 184), the book explores localised meanings of the concepts 'LGBT' and 'Queer', and presents a proliferation of perspectives on the meaning and application of such categories. Some of the questions addressed in De-Centring Western Sexualities are based on the critical analysis of a diverse set of realities...' 

Read and download the review here:
Eduarda Ferreira (2013), Review of 'De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Gender, Place, and Culture. A Journal of Femmnist Geography, Vol 20, No 1, pp. 132-134.
'What a great title, I thought, when I first heard of the making of this book De-Centring Western Sexualities in 2010-2011, and how promising, with its unusual interpretative direction, characterised by an active will to say something crucial, I hoped, about Western sexualities (whatever 'Western' and 'sexualities' mean) from not "so" Western perspectives –as we could learn from the excellent article on "Nations and Sexualities– 'West' and 'East'" by Robert Kulpa (chapter 3). When I initially got the book I was eager to see how the de-centring project would work throughout the ten chapters covering various Central and Eastern European spaces, including those in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia'. 

Read and download the review here:
Judit Takacs (2013), Comment on 'De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'.
Souteastern Europe, Vol 37, No 1, pp. 89-96. 
'After reading the book, it is clear that the intention here is not to question the !eld of queer studies from a rupturing epistemological proposal that arises from the outskirts of the Western academic world. On the contrary, as the title clearly states, the purpose of these articles is to de-center and localise the hegemonic Anglo-Saxon and North American theoretical proposals, approaches and categories in connection with the pre-existing body of literature.

Mizielinska demands stronger European critiques and problematisations of sexualities (p. 102). Our colleagues from the CEE countries have done their work. The French-speaking scholars are probably doing the same, but the majority of us are not aware of their results, as they are kept within the closed circuit of Francophone academia. Of course, we have to look to what is happening in other cultural scenes within our continent (the Benelux countries, Scandinavia, Germany, Russia and the Baltic states). Lambevski, quoting Plummer (p. 202), reminds us that moral life is usually bound up with an escalating series of immediate crises. Bearing this in mind, those of us living and doing research in Southern Europe are now impelled to compile a book on PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) countries' sexualities in times of crisis. The compilation reviewed here is an encouragement and would be a great model to emulate.'

Read the full review (open access) here:
José Ignacio Pichardo Galán (2013), Comment on 'De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Southeastern Europe, Vol 37, No 1, pp. 97-101.
'This is a theoretically well-informed collection of essays on the politics of sexuality, or intimacy, in several nations located in what is now often referred to as Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The strength of the volume derives from a common approach taken by the authors, which involves the analysis of local data in a way that challenges international, or global, theoretical categories and models, typically of Anglo-American origin. The editors assert the particular importance of CEE experiences in challenging, or provincializing, hegemonic Western models, given the CEE's position as Europe's internal Other.

Overall, however, this volume offers a comprehensive look at an understudied topic and, in so doing, challenges the enduring temporal model of transition at the heart of identitarian politics, as well as dominant CEE notions of politics itself.'

Read and download the review here:
Brian James Baer (2012), Review of 'De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives'. Slavonica, Vol 18, No 1, pp. 76-77.

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