Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.
What is the history of sexuality? The field has grown exponentially over the past two decades, acquiring the trappings of academic respectability — conferences, journals, monograph series, tenured posts — and becoming a staple of undergraduate curricula. Despite these centripetal forces, however, I increasingly wonder whether the historical project that seeks to understand how sex and sexuality have been constituted, experienced, and regulated in the past is on the brink of incoherence. This is not about prescribing a disciplinary singularity of method, practice or subject: much of the field’s vitality come from its pluralism. At the same time, there seems a growing dissonance between divergent strands of enquiry. On the one hand, vibrant and often politicized social historical scholarship has taken up the sexological impulse to chart past behaviors and attitudes. On the other hand, explicitly queer or feminist critical histories — often generically characterized as “Foucauldian” — seek to historicize and problematize regimes of sexual difference and “normality” and the notion of “sexuality” itself. There has been fantastic work at the interstices of these projects, yet more than ever historians of sexuality seem to be talking about different things.