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Title: The politics of gender, sexuality and identity : an ethnography of lesbian feminists in London
Author: Green, Sarah Francesca
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1992
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This dissertation is based on fieldwork conducted between December 1987 and July 1989 amongst radical and revolutionary lesbian feminists in London. It draws on participant observation of various lesbian feminist organizations, groups and events, as well as upon in-depth interviews with a small sample of lesbian feminists. The broader context, both intellectual and historical, is also considered. I argue that the nature of lesbian feminist existence in London during this period cannot be understood without looking at this context. Thus issues such as the influence of the Greater London Council from 1981 to 1986 and the development of both lesbian feminist theory and practice are taken into account. The dissertation describes and analyses the influence of radical and revolutionary feminist theories upon practice. For those who adhered to them, these theories demanded a high degree of reflexivity, which, I will argue, characterised the nature of the lesbian feminist 'community'. That 'community' was multiply layered and in a continual state of flux, which reflected both the theories which informed it and the context in which it existed at that moment in time. There were continual competing claims for legitimacy, with no single approach ever gaining dominance before being challenged. These competing claims were most often couched in terms of differing interpretations of gender, sexuality and identity, and the dissertation explores these competing claims as they were deployed in disputes over space and resources. Both the conceptual and physical space in which the 'community' was located overlapped with that of the lesbian and gay 'community' and was cross-cut by ethnic and class differences. Any differing representations of gender, sexuality and identity between lesbian feminists, gay activists and anti-racist activists also led to challenges concerning what physical spaces represented and who should use and define them. The dissertation also explores, largely through the examination of in-depth interview material, the divide between 'public' and 'private' life within the 'community', and the differing ways in which individual women locate themselves within this contested and strongly polemical intellectual and social context. The argument in this dissertation contrasts with those put forward in earlier studies. Those studies suggest that lesbian and lesbian feminist 'communities' generate and maintain cohesive forms of sociality which act as alternatives to dominant forms. This dissertation argues that, on the contrary, there can be no clear break between dominant forms of sociality and those amongst lesbian feminists. The distinction between the two lies in lesbian feminists' refusal to accept any form of sociality as unchallengeable, including those generated amongst lesbian feminists themselves.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral