Diversity Day: On the scientific discussion of gender diversity

2021-05-17 Dr. Monika Schoop, assistant professor of musicology, especially Popular Music Studies, and Dr. Ben Trott, Visiting Scientist at the Department of Philosophy and Art Studies talk in an interview about Queer Studies, Intersectionality and Gender Identities.

How has the scientific debate on sexualities and gender diversity developed in your respective subject contexts or disciplines?
Monika Schoop: In my discipline, ethnomusicology, the development follows a pattern quite common in the humanities. The 1970s saw the emergence of "compensatory" approaches. They questioned masculinity as a norm and made women and their musical practices visible. At that time, research very much reproduced a binary gender model. In the 1980s, the focus shifted from women to gender and thus to the analysis of performance and the construction of gender, however, still in a binary framework. This is visible in the work of ethnomusicologist Ellen Koskoff, who in the mid-1980s, before publishing her anthology Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective (1987), considered replacing the word "women" with "gender".
However, a discussion of gender diversity in the sense of a non-binary understanding, and of sexuality, can only be found much later, in the 2000s; for example, in the exploration of queer nightlife or the performance of gender as a fluid category. But these studies were exceptions. As ethnomusicologist Kay Kaufman Shelemay states, ethnomusicology has long been characterised by a "habitus of compulsory heterosexuality". This is actually surprising, because in historical musicology, which is often considered much more conservative, sexuality was already addressed in the 1990s. In popular music studies, too, things look quite different.

Ben Trott: As a sub-field of Cultural Studies, Queer Studies first consolidated around a range of interdisciplinary scholarly endeavours, each addressing major questions of gender and sexual definition in modern societies. This included sociologists and historians studying the emergence of a distinct gay male subjectivity amidst processes of urbanization and industrialization, psychoanalysts attempting to develop an account of lesbian desire and sexuality through feminist readings of Freud and Lacan, literary theorists working on the modern emergence of ‘gender object choice’ as the defining marker of ‘sexual orientation’, and film and media studies scholars addressing the impact of gay and lesbian film-making and video activism on cinema. All these early contributions were marked by a productive tension that still defines the field. On the one hand, Queer Studies inquires the socio-economic realities, histories, sub-cultures and political rights of gender and sexual minorities, as well as their forms of cultural production and representation. And on the other, it addresses the ways in which gender and sexual norms, their contestation and transformation, shape and are shaped by modern culture as a whole.
Where do you perceive particular challenges in your field of research? Are there overlaps or points of contact between ethnomusicology and queer studies? Can you give a concrete example of this?
Monika Schoop: The anthology "Queering the Field" (2017) by Gregory Barz and William Cheng has finally brought explicitly queer approaches into the focus of ethnomusicology. The contributions provide insights into the current challenges of queer ethnomusicology. These encompass methodological questions: researching queer nightlife, for example, presents challenges that are not addressed in any fieldwork course. But also, ethical questions: the prevalence of stigmatisation or even criminalisation in many contexts holds dangers - for those who participate in studies, but also for researchers.

Ben Trott: „This issue of developing queer research methods and methodologies that Monika Schoop has mentioned is really important. There are indeed real challenges in terms of researching in queer ways, in other words, in ways that don't presuppose the gender and sexual categories or behaviours that they set out to discover. Queer Studies is also currently grappling with some of the major political economic and cultural transformations that define contemporary society. Scholars within the field have become accustomed to developing critiques of ‘queer liberalism’, or those socially liberal forms of inclusion oriented towards the admirable goals of greater cultural representation and formal legal equality while simultaneously, and regrettably, often foreclosing some of the broader political questions posed by earlier LGBT movements, around the nature and meaning of equality, justice or liberation. But as socially liberal political projects appear to be in decline across much of the world today, I think that one challenge for queer conjunctural analysis lies in developing an account of the seemingly central role played by questions of sexuality and particularly gender in the current rise of right-wing and authoritarian political projects. Socially engaged queer scholarship will need to address both the threat posed to gender and sexual minorities today, as well as the causes of the steady decline of social liberalism (and also social democracy) as political projects. I think that there’s an opportunity to pose anew old questions around equality, justice or liberation, and in ways that take account of both these phenomena.
What role does the concept of intersectionality play, and thus the multiple entanglements of different categories such as race, class and gender?
Ben Trott: Ideas about supposedly "normal" sexuality or around what it means to be an "average" man or woman are, I think, quite clearly shaped by questions of social class, but also by issues of age and of disability, and all too often by racism. There was a lot of work done in this area well before Queer Studies emerged as a field, and primarily by Black and women of colour feminists like Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith and the Combahee River Collective. These authors still shape some of the most compelling queer research today, particularly by those working in the tradition of queer of colour critique. Nobody exists as a one-dimensional subject, simply as a man, woman or non-binary person, or as a gay or lesbian or trans person.

Monika Schoop: Implicitly, the intersection of diversity categories has received attention since the early days of the discipline: in the description of musical practices, diversity categories such as ethnicity, gender, and age can frequently be found. The critical reflection of the entanglements and employment of intersectionality as a theoretical concept, however, is a phenomenon of the new millennium. 
Which phenomenon do you find particularly exciting and would like to research?
Monika Schoop: In the context of my work on music and activism in the Philippines, I would love to learn more about queer feminist activism. I really hope to be able to travel again soon!

Ben Trott: One thing I’m interested in looking at is how queer socialities and subcultures have been reconfigured through the pandemic.


  • Prof. Dr. Ben Trott
  • Prof. Dr. Monika Schoop