RHIAN E JONES recommends a nuanced investigation of the choices faced by LGBT communities in a market-driven society
Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: From Liberation to the Post-Gay by David Alderson (Zed Books, £16.99)
SINCE the emergence in the 1960s of mass social movements based around sexual liberation, their interaction with and the relationship they bear to the left has been a central and significant political question.
David Alderson’s Sex, Needs and Queer Culture reflects on several aspects of this debate and aims to reassess the idea and experience of liberation.
As Alderson notes in an introduction which charts his own personal and political trajectory, LGBT liberation in Britain has historically been associated with and made common cause with the left, from struggles over Clause 28 to the miners’ strike.
But this sympathetic dynamic has taken place alongside a capacity to reach accommodation with capitalism. As LGBT subcultures have become increasingly mainstream and commercialised, exemplified by the widely criticised corporate sponsorship of many Pride events, anti-capitalist radicalism has increasingly given way to a focus on accessing hegemonic institutions such as marriage rather than critiquing or challenging them.
In some ways, this evolution mirrors capitalism’s recuperation of feminism, another doctrine of anti-capitalist resistance and liberation which has proved amenable to co-option by the idea of individual rather than collective empowerment for women.
Both developments illustrate capitalism’s ability to absorb dissent without becoming destabilised, a situation summed up by Alderson’s observation that the idea of freedom now “resides almost exclusively in freedom of choice in the marketplace.”
As a consequence, debate now focuses on whether more radical resistance or analysis is required to challenge or overcome this accommodation and commodification.
Over four substantial and distinct chapters, Alderson looks at the social, political and economic changes which have taken place since the 1960s, up to and including the current transition to neoliberalism, and relates the category of sexuality to “the capitalist totality” in light of these.
Sex, Needs and Queer Culture thus provides a socialist humanist analysis of sexuality and society and it is on one level a return to the cultural materialist tradition and a defence of it against postmodernism. In so doing, Alderson critically reassesses Herbert Marcuse and draws on the work of Raymond Williams to explain capitalism’s assimilation of sexually dissident subcultures.
Although the author’s conclusion admits that there is no necessarily progressive way out of the current crisis, the book is marked by an enduring faith in the positive and subversive potential of subcultures, autonomous collectives and anti-consumerist movements aimed at detaching sexual identity from the market.