In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Queer Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Queer Theory and Michel Foucault
  • Queer Theory and Judith Butler
  • Queer Theory and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
  • Queer Theory and Black Studies
  • Queer Theory and Latinx Studies
  • Queer Theory and Asian Studies
  • Queer Theory and Indigenous Studies
  • Queer Theory and Trans Studies
  • Queer Theory and Normativity/Antinormativity
  • Queer Theory and Affect
  • Queer Theory in Time and Space
  • Bisexuality and Queer Theory
  • Queer Theory and Disability Studies
  • Queer Theory and Politics
  • Queer Theory and Asexuality
  • Queer Theory and Porn Studies

Literary and Critical Theory Queer Theory
Christopher M. Roman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 June 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0137


Queer theory is difficult to define as a unified theory. Queer theory has many different manifestations, and many voices contributing to it. Queer theory as an academic study appeared in the 1990s building on the concept of queer recovered in the 1980s and now used as a term for non-normative sexualities and further utilized in activist circles during the rise of HIV/AIDS. Activism, in the form of groups such as ACT-UP, had a profound influence on the theory part of queer theory. Queer theory as a term was coined by Teresa de Lauretis in 1990 as a way to transcend codified gay and lesbian identities. Queer theory then questions sexual identity and resists fixed categories of gender and sexuality such as the gender binary (male, female). It calls into question normativity, broadly defined as norms propagated by heteronormative institutions and thought. Many scholars employ “queer” as a verb meaning to question its normality. Queer can also work as an identity which challenges both heterosexual identity but also LGBT identities that have become normalized (also called homonormativity). Though veering into many different directions, queer theory shares the goals of showing how gender and sexuality is both constructed and performed.

General Overviews

A concise overview of queer theory can be found in Jagose 1996, Sullivan 2003, and Barker and Scheele 2016. De Lauretis 1991 unpacks the terms of queer theory in this foundational article. A genealogical analysis of queer theory is covered in Turner 2000 emphasizing the philosophical roots of queer theory. For a general reader, Wilchins 2014 provides an overview of the impact of queer theory. Warner 1993 examines a broad range of topics on the intersection of politics and queer theory. Giffney and O’Rourke 2009 and Somerville 2020 provide in-depth analysis of both the trends in queer theory and how queer theory continues to evolve.

  • Barker, Meg-John, and Julia Scheele. Queer: A Graphic History. London: Icon, 2016.

    A graphic novel approach to queer theory that covers the history of queer theory and introduces new directions such as the intersection of ecology and queer theory, trans studies, and queer theory and normativity.

  • De Lauretis, Teresa. “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities, An Introduction.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3.2 (1991): iii–xvii.

    DOI: 10.1215/10407391-3-2-iii

    De Lauretis coins the terms queer theory in this article based on the conference in which she first used the term in 1990.

  • Giffney, Noreen, and Michael O’Rourke. The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.

    Giffney and O’Rourke’s comprehensive collection covers topics such as queer identity, queer discourse, the problems of normativity, and queer relationality.

  • Jagose, Annemarie. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

    Jagose’s book provides a broad overview of queer theory while providing a historical survey of queer activism such as the Mattachine Society and other homophile groups.

  • Somerville, Siobhan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Queer Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

    Somerville’s collection is the latest introduction to queer studies and includes essays on newer trends in queer theory such as transgender studies, queers of color studies, and queer disability studies, as well as attention to queer diasporas.

  • Sullivan, Nikki. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

    Sullivan provides a capacious introduction to queer theory that looks critically at the work queer theory can do for community, popular culture, and race.

  • Turner, William. A Genealogy of Queer Theory. Philadelphia: Temple University, 2000.

    Following Foucault’s genealogical method, Turner provides an overview of the roots of queer theory.

  • Warner, Michael, ed. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

    Warner’s collection provides an overview of the intersections of queer theory and queer politics. This collection includes essays on intersectionality, politics, and the historical construction of queer identity.

  • Wilchins, Riki. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. New York: Magnus Books, 2014.

    Wilchins provides an easy-to-follow primer on the relationship between gender theory and queer theory tracing the political movements that impacted queer theory.

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