Asian & Asian American Studies

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Heteronormativity, Passionate Aesthetics and Symbolic Subversion in Asia


In the Series
Asian & Asian American Studies

Saskia E. Wieringa is Professor at the University of Amsterdam. Her field of study includes women's same-sex relations across cultures.

The book is written with the assistance of Abha Bhaiya, and a research team, whose names and contribution are detailed on the Press website.

This book examines life trajectories among three categories of women living beyond the bounds of heteronormativity in Jakarta and Delhi, two major cities with substantively different religious and social values: women who have lost their husbands, either through divorce or death; sex workers; and young, urban lesbians. Delhi has a large Hindu majority and a sizeable Muslim minority, amongst other religious and cultural pluralities. The Indian state is constitutionally committed to secularism and equal respect to all regions despite right-wing Hindu fundamentalism. Jakarta is the capital of a sprawling archipelago with a large variety of ethnic cultures, Indonesia having the largest Muslim population of the world, as well as sizeable ethnic and religious minorities comprising Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and others. The Indonesian state is constitutionally secular, but religion plays a large role in public life and is embedded in regulations that strongly impact people’s private lives. Recently, there have been strong political currents to impose stricter Islamic codes. The public arena of sexual politics, in which the media play an important role, is explored in both cities. Hot sex is a major media selling point, particularly in Indonesia.

Heteronormativity entails a system of symbolic violence in the sense that it punishes those that it excludes and polices those that it includes; the ways its powers are subverted are likewise symbolic. Passionate aesthetics refers to the dynamics, motivations, codes of behavior and presentation, subjectivities and identities that together make up the complex workings of erotic attraction, sexual relations and partnerships patterns. By charting the lives of women who live beyond the boundaries of the heteronormative, commonalities are revealed; boundaries and regulatory mechanisms in the context of symbolic violence are delineated; and the issue of the struggle for sexual rights for marginalized groups, and their open rebellion, brought to the fore. At the heart of the book lies elaboration of the ways Asian families are constructed – their social, economic, sexual and religious agency, and how these engage with state-led values.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-550-2
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $74.95
Release Date: February 2014
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-769-8
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: October 2015
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Series Editor's Preface

Chapter 1: Researching Heteronormativity
Socialisation and normalisation
Truly Asian?
Research design
Interviewing: meaningful encounters
Emerging themes
Negotiating respectability
Structure of the book

Chapter 2: Sexual Politics – Heteronormativity, Passionate Aesthetics, and Symbolic Violence
Why study sexual politics?
Passionate aesthetics and symbolic violence
Symbolic subversion
Socio-sexual citizenship
Sexual politics and socio-sexual citizenship

Chapter 3: Gods Creatures – The Public Arena of Sexuality
Sex workers
Women-loving women
State power
Sex workers’ strategies
Women in same-sex relationships

Chapter 4: (De) Constructing Happy Asian Families
Some historical notes
Cracks in the system
Importance of pre-marital virginity
Arranged marriages
Polygyny in Indonesia
India: Joint families and dowry deaths
Communication between spouses
Money matters
Conclusion: Patriarchal values

Chapter 5: Negotiating Respectability and a ‘Normal’ Family
‘Normal’ families
Growing up 'normal'
A ‘good’ marriage
‘Normal’ disappointments
Symbolic violence

Chapter 6: Reduced to Mud – Expulsion and Repulsion
Widowed and divorced women
Sex work
Women-loving women

Chapter 7: Something Divine – A Satisfying Sex Life?
Sex workers' private lives
Widows' lives
Women living with women

Chapter 8: Entertainers and Soft Butches – Identities and Subjectivities
Sex workers’ identity
Views of women in same-sex relationships
Views of widowed and divorced women

Chapter 9: This Crazy Energy – Symbolic Subversion
Continuum of subversion
Widows’ sexuality
Reasons for sex work
Views of women-loving women
Seeking economic stability
Finding sexual partners
Respectability in the community
Family life

Chapter 10: A House of My Own – Strategies for the Future
Negotiating normalcy
Desires of women-loving women
Desires of widows
Sex workers' futures

Chapter 11: The Sliding Scales of Heteronormativity and Symbolic Subversion
Embodiment and intersections
Passionate aesthetics
Sliding scale of subversion
Sexual rights and queer studies
Sliding scale of heteronormativity


Authors Wieringa, Bhaiya, and Katjasungkana present readers with an examination of the lives and social, economic, religious, and sexual agency of women that live beyond heteronormative boundaries in East Asia. The authors have organized the main body of their text in eleven chapters covering sexual politics and symbolic violence, the public arena of sexuality, researching heteronormativity, and many other related subjects. Saskia E. Wieringa is a faculty member of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Abha Bhaiya and Nursyahbani Karjasungkana are with the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust, India.

This volume demonstrates the importance of research that incorporates women’s interpretations and experiences of their intimate lives and personal subjectivities, and the enmeshment of personal and private sexual politics. The book is of wide appeal, starting with those working within queer studies and sexuality studies more broadly, as well as anthropologists, Asian studies and cultural studies scholars. It should be essential reading for all people seeking to understand both normative and non-normative gender and sexuality regimes in India and Indonesia. The work also extends the scope of earlier landmark contributions on female same sex desire in Asia (Blackwood and Wieringa, 1999) because of its inclusion of several categories of women who are constructed as ‘other’, according to the boundaries of heterosexuality. The theoretical contributions of the volume also serve as an important correction to the imbalance of western-derived queer theory.
Reviewed by Linda Rae Bennett in the International Institute of Asian Studies newsletter

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