Queer theory and change. Towards a pragmatic approach to resistance and subversion in media research on gay and lesbian identities


  • Sander De Ridder Ghent University
  • Frederik Dhaenens Ghent University
  • Sofie Van Bauwel Ghent University




media studies, essentialism, queer theory, resistance


This paper wants to challenge the tendency in media studies on gay and lesbian identities to remain within two dominant paradigms: the essentialist or the post-structuralist traditions. Consequently, we will elaborate on the question: if media research emphasizes social change, should it mainly adopt a political and strategic identity claim which refers to essentialism, or, should it acknowledge discourses as more important, and therefore use post-structural and queer theoretical insights? Since we discuss the case of gay and lesbian identities, we will focus on possible resistance in popular culture, which mainly involves offering alternatives to the continuous representation of heteronormativity. We will argue that for social change to occur, there needs to be a symbiosis between agency and structure. To this end, a dialectic approach is needed that bridges the gaps between, on the one hand, a post-structuralist project that creates awareness of norms, discourse and hegemony, and on the other, identity politics that have the potential to change laws and institutions. This paper will offer a mainly theoretical exploration and will use illustrations from popular media culture with a focus on television. To this end, this paper will illustrate how LGBT-targeted television channels employ the discussed strategies of resistance.

Author Biographies

Sander De Ridder, Ghent University

Sander De Ridder holds a master degree in Communication Studies with focus on visual culture, film- and television studies. From February 2010 on, he is a PhD student and researcher at CIMS, Centre for Cinema and Media Studies at the department of Communication studies, Ghent University. Currently, he is working on a research project funded by the Special Research Fund (BOF), Ghent University: ‘The Online Stage. Youth and heteronormativity, self representation and identity construction in online communication: a multi methodical audience study’ (supervisor: Prof. Dr. S. Van Bauwel).

Frederik Dhaenens, Ghent University

Frederik Dhaenens is a PhD student and a member of CIMS - Centre for Cinema and Media Studies at the Department of Communication Studies, Ghent University, Belgium. He has a master degree in communication studies and a master degree in film and visual culture. His research focuses on queer theory, queer representation, and screen culture.

Sofie Van Bauwel, Ghent University

Sofie Van Bauwel is an Assistant Professor at the Departement of Communication studies at the Ghent University were she teaches on audiovisual communciation, gender and media and television studies. She is part of the CIMS and her main field of interest is gender, media and film and television. She is involved in several projects with a focus on the media as signifying articulations in visual popular culture. She is vice-chair of the Gender and Communication section of the European Research and Communication Association (ECREA) and is part of the editorial board of the Journal of Media Theory and Politics and Culture. She is also co-editor of the working papers Film and Television studies and publishes internationally and nationally on popular media culture, feminist theory and film.




How to Cite

De Ridder, S., Dhaenens, F., & Van Bauwel, S. (2011). Queer theory and change. Towards a pragmatic approach to resistance and subversion in media research on gay and lesbian identities. Observatorio (OBS*), 5(2). https://doi.org/10.15847/obsOBS522011454