How Queer Theory Makes Neoliberalism Sexy

21 Pages Posted: 10 May 2011

Date Written: July 2, 2008


Some strands of queer theory have echoed conservative law-and-economics (neoliberalism) in criticizing feminism's turn to the state and to moral principle to solve problems of dependency and dominance. But on closer analysis, queer anti-statism and anti-moralism itself relies on and reinforces the identity conventions and regulatory constraints it claims to unsettle. The meaningful question for queer theory, for feminism, and for legal economics, is what kind of state and morality to pursue, not whether individual choice and private power is better than value-laden state regulation.

First, queer anti-statism risks joining neoliberalism in celebrating and naturalizing an imagined space of private bargaining free from state regulation. In rejecting liberal claims of state-protected rights, queer theory relies on a standard law-and-economics argument: all rights have costs. Rights to family leave, for example, may give only the illusion of state protection for workers with family responsibilities, because workers may "pay" for state-protected family leave with lower wages, fewer jobs, fewer promotions or more discrimination against women. However, a critical perspective should also recognize the converse: that all costs have rights. The private power that makes us skeptical of rights is not outside the state but produced by it.

Second, queer anti-moralism joins neoliberalism in masking the moral judgments that shape whose claims to protection against injury get privileged as "good" acts of rational self-interest maximizing by freely choosing individuals and whose injury claims get disparaged as unproductive sentimental weakness that constrain individual freedom.

Keywords: Legal theory, feminism, queer theory, family law, law and economics, sexuality, critical legal studies, gender, civil rights, inequality, identity, jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

McCluskey, Martha T., How Queer Theory Makes Neoliberalism Sexy (July 2, 2008). Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-15. Available at SSRN: or

Martha T. McCluskey (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-2326 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)

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