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Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

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Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (b. 1950) is a major American theorist in the fields of gender studies, queer theory (queer studies), and critical theory. Her work is influenced by feminism, Marxism, and deconstruction.

Contents

Life

Sedgwick received her undergraduate education at Cornell University and her PhD from Yale University in 1975. She has taught writing and literature at Hamilton College, Boston University, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and was the Newman Ivey White Professor of English at Duke University. She currently teaches graduate courses in English at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York.

Sedgwick was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, and wrote the book A Dialogue on Love about her feelings toward death, her depression, and her gender uncertainty following her mastectomy and during chemotherapy. The book takes the form of a dialogue between her therapist and herself, switching between his notes and her writing.

Work

Sedgwick has published several books considered groundbreaking in the field of queer theory, including Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire and Epistemology of the Closet. Her work can be seen as an attempt expose how male homophobia has shaped modern Western culture, including our modern views on sexuality, privacy, family, gender, and women.

Performative utterances

One of Sedgwick's principal claims is that seemingly nonperformative sentences can have a performative nature, especially those with homophobic and anti-homophobic effects. Her work starts with the presumption that sentences with seemingly no performative effect actually have some illocutionary force. She believes that such sentences reveal implicit assumptions about the world and reinforce those assumptions, brace existing value systems, help oppress minorities, and help strengthen those in power.

In particular, Sedgwick claims that on a societal level, simply labeling something 'Queer', 'normal', or 'abnormal', has a normative effect: it makes that thing what it is labeled and has the opposite effect on the term implied by the label. In her view, labelling (for example) heterosexuality as 'normal', normalizes heterosexuality and marginalizes homosexuality. Alternatively, labelling a certain set of acts illegal and condemning them (in most social groups, the label 'illegal' is an implicit condemnation) has the effect of normalizing and privileging those acts not considered illegal.

Important Publications

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See also

The Closet -- Gender -- Gender and sexuality studies -- Gender role -- Sex -- Sexual orientation -- Social constructionismde:Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

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