On November, 8, 2023, the Department of Political Science at the School of Social Sciences organized a talk on ‘Queerness in Time and Space: Notes on the (Non-) Comparability of Gender and Sexuality’ by Dr. Stefan Binder. Dr. Binder is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK) at University of Zurich, Switzerland. Prof. Pushpesh Kumar, Department of Sociology, chaired the session and moderated the discussion.
Dr. Sneha Banerjee, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, extended a warm welcome to the audience and introduced the speaker. Her introduction set the stage for an engaging exploration of Dr. Binder’s ongoing research endeavours. Holding a Ph.D. degree from Utrecht University, his expertise lies in Cultural Anthropology and Comparative Religion with a focus on South Asia (India).
The speaker, Dr. Stefan Binder, shared insights on his post-doctoral research, a cross-cultural comparison examining queer organizations in Hyderabad, India and Zurich, Switzerland. Through ethnographic vignettes, he vividly illustrated the changing dynamics of sex, gender and sexuality by drawing on real-life experiences shared by individuals within the queer community. He explained that the cross-cultural comparative analysis of queer communities in these two distinct cultural contexts hinge on the common fulcrum of analysis — gender and sexuality. Thus, despite the stark difference between the two cultures and their perceptions and explorations of gender and sexuality, there is still much to discover regarding how queer people experience and express their sexuality, as well as the prejudices faced by trans and non-binary individuals in society. He highlighted the importance of understanding cultural context in shaping the emotional, political and social aspects of one’s experience of gender.
One notable concept discussed was the “Euro-North American Gaze”, challenging assumptions about same-sex intimacy and binary categorization of individuals in different cultural contexts. Focusing on the intersection of friendship, erotic intimacy and societal expectations, he emphasized on the nuances that exists in every culture. During the Q&A and interaction that followed the talk, students raised insightful questions about Dr. Binder’s research methodology and practical approaches in engaging with queer organizations. In response, Dr. Binder emphasized the importance of establishing rapport with subjects, creating a comfortable and safe space for them to share their experiences freely.
Prof. Pushpesh Kumar highlighted that the terminologies used to denote queer individuals carry context-specific meanings. He underscored the role of caste, class and community in shaping one’s experience and performance of gender, advocating for a dynamic understanding of sexuality as a process. He also laid importance on the political decoding of ‘humour’ in challenging societal norms. While stating that sexuality is a conundrum, he further emphasized how, if one does not actively wear their identity or category, people tend to impose identity or categories upon them.
Dr. Sneha Banerjee, in her formal vote of thanks, expressed gratitude towards the speaker and the participants. The talk provided valuable insights into the intricacies of researching queerness within specific time and space.
Contributed by Pallavi Pradhan, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad