Theses Doctoral

Sex, Race, and the Epistemology of Desire in the Literature and Culture of Contemporary France

Provitola, Blase

This dissertation examines the literary and activist histories of lesbian and queer communities in France from 1968 to the present, retracing the changing relationship between national and sexual identities. It contributes in several ways to debates about ‘homonormativity’ and ‘sexual democracy’ that have unfolded in France since the beginning of the twenty-first century, notably by bringing recent historical and sociological scholarship on the racialization of gender and sexuality into dialogue with literary studies. Sex, Race and the Epistemology of Desire puts well-established literary authors (such as Monique Wittig, Mireille Best, and Nina Bouraoui) in conversation with little-known queer writers and activists of color (such as the Groupe du 6 novembre and the Lesbiennes of color), studying processes of subject formation through which individuals come to understand their desires in relation to family structures and community belonging. Through historically and politically contextualized readings, it reflects on the fact that desire has often come to be understood through the lens of sexual identity, arguing that assumptions about the importance of visibility and “coming out” have tended to marginalize poor and racialized groups. Deconstructing the common opposition between “identitarian” and “non-identitarian” literature, it argues for a richer and more epistemologically-attentive approach to sexual and gender politics. It shows that this epistemological reframing is necessary to counteract mainstream media’s often reductive accounts of minority sexualities, particularly with respect to Islamic, Middle Eastern, or North African cultures.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Provitola_columbia_0054D_15331.pdf Provitola_columbia_0054D_15331.pdf application/pdf 1.53 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Dobie, Madeleine
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2019