Queer Theory

Queer theory is a theoretical lens that may be used in qualitative research that focuses on gay, lesbian, or homosexual identity and how it is culturally and historically constituted, linked to discourse, and overlaps gender and sexuality (Watson, 2005).

It is characterized by a variety of methods and strategies relating to individual identity; and explores the complexities of the construct, identity, and how identities reproduce and “perform” in social forums (Creswell, 2012). The term itself, “queer theory”, rather than gay, lesbian, or homosexual theory – allows for keeping open to question the elements of race, class, age, and anything else (Turner, 2000). Plummer (2005) provides an overview of the queer theory stance:

  • Both the heterosexual/homosexual binary and the sex/gender split are challenged
  • There is a decentering of identity
  • All sexual categories (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual) are open, fluid, and nonfixed
  • Mainstream homosexuality is critiqued
  • Power is embodied discursively
  • All normalizing strategies are shunned
  • Academic work may become ironic, and often comic and paradoxical
  • Versions of homosexual subject positions are inscribed everywhere
  • Deviance is abandoned, and interest lies in insider and outsider perspectives and transgressions
  • Common objects of study are films, videos, novels, poetry, and visual images
  • The most frequent interests include the social worlds of the so-called radical sexual fringe (e.g, drag kings and queens, sexual playfulness).

Queer theory often finds expression in cultural texts (e.g., films, literature); ehtnographies and case studies of sexual worlds that challenge assumptions; data sources that contain multiple texts; documentaries that include performances; and projects that focus on individuals (Plummer, 2005).


Cresswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry & research design (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Plummer, K. (2005). Critical humanism and queer theory: Living with the tensions. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 357-373). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Turner, W. (2000). A genealogy of queer theory. Philadelphia:Temple University Press.

Watson, K. (2005). Queer theory. Group Analysis, 38 (1), 67-81