Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religious Studies

Reader 1

Erin Runions

Reader 2

Oona Eisenstadt

Rights Information

© 2010 Rebecca Epstein


Insofar as human beings try to “know” we must define concepts, objects, actions. We label, we distinguish between one concept and another, and in doing this, we make categories. Labels are categories. Our categories are imperfect. Our labels are always relative, defined by and dependent on that which they exclude. The boundaries of our terms, what “counts” as something or what is considered to be within a certain term, are always shifting. Our definitions change based on our method of analysis. For instance, the definition of “human” is different in different disciplines, like science, philosophy, sociology, economics, etc. Given their instability, categories can only be rough approximations of what we mean, and not always very good ones at that. To our detriment, we sometimes forget that they are approximations, and already laden with meaning of their own. Michel Foucault and other thinkers have pointed out that some of our ways of knowing, for example, the scientific method, have become synonymous with truth, objectivity or neutrality. When this happens, we cease to question those ways of knowing, and the questions within those ways of knowing. We forget that the kinds of questions we ask determine the kinds of answers we find. Then, when something that does not prove easily “knowable” or categorizable troubles our ways of knowing, we call it trouble. Instead of remembering that our methods are imperfect, we think that the thing we want to know about is flawed, wrong or bad. This thesis is a reclamation of the flawed, the failed, the queer, a revaluation of it as something positive and productive. It is a reminder to be critical of our categories, and to rule them rather than be ruled by them. Categories are tools, not truth.