Accepted paper:

Valuing failure in queer anthropology


Jacob Grice (University of Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

My fieldwork with Sydney's queer gaming communities was coloured by 'queer failure' (Halberstam 2011). I believe an understanding of queer failure, as an important part of queer life worlds and also as a paradigm in queer ethnography, could be useful in the process of evaluating queer anthropology.

Paper long abstract:

During my fieldwork, I witnessed participants creating spaces in which specific failures were both encouraged and required. Halberstam (2011) and Juul (2013) both speak about a similar phenomenon they term 'the art of failure'. The idea has many valid criticisms: Johnson (2015) critiques the ableism implicit within Halberstam's conclusion. They claim that there needs to be a more nuanced typology of failure that includes the distress caused by failure that isn't chosen (2015). My participants were aware of engaging within a system that operated against their interests. They gamed the system whenever they could, reinvented their games and their worlds in their own image. Their failures granted them authenticity and relatability with each other. But failure also resulted in constant instability. Operating against hegemonic structures is difficult in a place like Sydney. They railed against the regulated place they claimed their home had become, even as they continually reconfigured public and private spaces where they continued to gather. Researching queer communities in one's home town is an exercise in queer failure. Even now, in the writing process, I fail to represent them as the people I currently know them as. I propose queer failure as a different way to be self-reflexive in anthropology. Evaluating something, at the most basic level, is commonly seen as weighing up its successes and failures. In this paper I'd like to trouble that dichotomy, draw on stories from my fieldwork in Sydney's Queer Gaming Communities, and in turn, value failure in queer anthropology.

panel P17
Gender, sexuality and beyond: valuing queer anthropology