Checkpoints of desire: Multilingualism and intersectional double binds in Israel/Palestine

Talk by Professor Tommaso Milani (University of Gothenburg).

Over fifteen years ago, Cameron and Kulick provocatively suggested that research on language and sexuality, and sociolinguistics more broadly, should engage more thoroughly with the notion of desire. While there has been a burgeoning sociolinguistic literature seeking to map how desire is discursively produced (see e.g. Mortensen 2015, Canakis 2016, VanderStouwe 2019), we still know too little about how desire may be “inflected by other kinds of salient social differences, for instance, those of race, ethnicity, generation, class and culture” (Cameron and Kulick 2003:144; see however Milani 2013 and VanderStouwe 2019). Against this backdrop, this talk aims to draw upon an intersectional framework to investigate the role played by a nexus of social categories (ethnicity, religion and culture) in the discursive production of desire that a queer Palestinian man expresses for a Jewish Israeli soldier. Through detailed analysis of a conversation between this man and a Palestinian female friend, we illustrate how desire is interactionally produced and simultaneously blocked by a variety of “checkpoints”. Her sexual attraction, on the one hand, and cultural, ethnic and religious affiliation, on the other, become a zero-sum game, interactionally constructed as incompatible with one another. In the analysis, we also illustrate the role played by Hebrew-Arabic code-switching in this interactional push-and-pull of desire. As a result, the paper hopes not only to offer a fresh intersectional perspective on scholarship on language and desire but also to unsettle the lack of engagement with sexuality in much multilingualism scholarship (cf. Cashman 2017 for a notable exception).