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Discourses of Sex: Classical, Modernist, Post-Modernist

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Discourses of sexuality, gender and sexual orientation are moving from the margins to the mainstream of legal theory, notably in the area of international human rights. Each of these three sets of discourses preserves its own history and ideals. Neither are they wholly distinct from each other, nor are they simply three concepts denoting the same thing. Each has remained quasi-autonomous – always related to, yet always stubbornly distinct from, the others. No one of these three discursive sites can be engaged without significant reference to the other two; nor does one site simply reduce to another. What do we mean, then, when we use one of these terms, and when we choose it instead of the other two? What relationships obtain among the three sites? This essay proposes not an exhaustive analysis of those relationships, but only an approach that might be followed were such a broader analysis to be undertaken. It is argued that these three sites correlate to three intellectual moments – classical, modernist and post-modernist – in the constitution of the human subject within international human rights law. As an initial matter, this correlation can be understood to be straightforward: discourses of sexuality correlated to classicism, discourses of gender correlated to modernism, discourses of sexual orientation correlated to post-modernism. Closer analysis, however, reveals a more complex set of relationships, in which each of the three sites corresponds to each of the three intellectual moments. None of the three sites is `pure'. Each retains an ongoing dialogue with the others and within itself.

Affiliations: 1: Doctor in Law, Faculty of Law, Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London


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