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Making things otherwise: An ethnogenealogy of lesbian and gay social change in Western Australia

Plunkett, Reece (2005) Making things otherwise: An ethnogenealogy of lesbian and gay social change in Western Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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To date, Western Australian lesbian and gay history has attracted little analytic attention. It is under-researched and scarcely documented. This thesis aims to (partially) redress this lack.

The thesis is not, however, a general history of lesbian and gay presence in Western Australia. It has a specific focus - that of social change, or the ways in which actual social practices and possibilities are transformed. To this end, the thesis investigates the activities of several WA lesbian and gay organisations, especially the ways in which they ordered and re-ordered practical social worlds in, and as a part of, their interactions. Almost all instances of social activity investigated occurred in the two decades beginning 1970.

The investigations rely upon a recently developed approach to social action, called ethnogenealogy (or effective semiotics). This approach provides a touchstone between two existing analytics - ethnomethodology and Foucauldian discourse analysis. For my purposes, ethnogenealogy provides a means of investigating instances of social ordering (in its specificity and local contingency) and re-ordering in relation to lesbians and gay men. To borrow from Foucault's remark concerning the contingency of history- that 'things may always have been otherwise' - this thesis investigates instances in which lesbian and gay related activities and social facts were indeed made 'otherwise'.

Although the specificities of particular instances of ordering and reordering are often lost in historical and social analyses, the thesis demonstrates that it may be possible to partially reconstruct them in their in situ specificity. So doing provides a different picture than is the case when a broad-brush approach is used. The point is twofold: to set aside hypostatising and anachronistic accounting of lesbian and gay history and to explicate some of what it is that changes, and how it does so, when things are made otherwise. As part of these considerations, the thesis investigates how 'identity' and 'community' may actually work in social transformation, specifically when taken as tools or devices for (rather than merely outcomes of) social action.

Although various social movements may claim to have definite, broad effects, my analysis shows that they remain compelled to work with a multitude of local, specific, and so-called 'micro' materials that are to hand. As such, the thesis argues that it is incumbent upon social historians to make their best efforts to identify these materials and hence to reconstruct, rather than assume, the actual practices and processes. of social change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor(s): McHoul, Alec and Thiele, Beverly
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