Accepted paper:

Queering genocide: heteronormative narratives and 'doing sex' in Myanmar


Patrick Vernon (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the relationship between sexuality and genocide, arguing that normative understandings of the former govern the form of the latter. This is something which has been un-noticed as of yet, with sexuality only seen to be relevant where homosexuals have been directly targeted.

Paper long abstract:

The study of genocide is often technocratic, definitional and based upon the ranking of death tolls in different murderous events. Furthermore, even when sexuality and gender are considered to be relevant to the study of genocide, this analysis is often restricted to the study of individuals who are targeted due to the identity category that they are perceived to belong to (e.g. women/men/homosexuals). Drawing implicitly upon feminist genocide scholarship which sees gender as a broad system of logic, and explicitly upon queer theories of international relations, this paper makes the case that all instances of genocide are (hetero)sexual. Inspired by Foucault's writings on the discursive construction of sexuality (1978) and Butler's notion of the heterosexual matrix (1990), it is argued that the proliferation of genocidal conduct in the Rohingya Genocide was premised upon the existence of heteronormative subject positions. These subject positions were deployed within the popular imaginary, rendering the genocide intelligible and agreeable within the broader Burmese body-politic. Not only did these subject positions enable the proliferation of genocidal conduct; they were themselves reinforced by the performance of this conduct, highlighting the inherently heteronormative character of genocide. As such, this paper seeks to broadly demonstrate the necessity of studying the relationship between sexuality and genocide, and specifically to show how the Rohingya Genocide constituted an epistemic context in which discourses of sexuality and genocidal conduct are co-constitutive. The source text for this paper's analysis is the Human Rights Council's Report of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar (2018).

panel A02
Anthropological Contributions to Humanitarian Intervention