The Trickster Prince

Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.

Is the history of sexuality dead?

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.

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3 comments on “Is the history of sexuality dead?

  1. Tim McGovern (@herdingbats)
    January 7, 2014

    D’you think it’s possible that we’ll see a bifurcation like in linguistics, where you’ve got data/modeling/computational (analogous to the wie es eigentlich gewesen school) and the philosophy-of-language types?

  2. The Trickster Prince
    January 7, 2014

    I wonder if that is where we are (and have been for a while now): I think of the conversations that reoccur on Hist-Sex or the tensions between the work of Laura Doan and Sharon Marcus and the kind of recovery histories that still dominate the field in the UK at least. Curious whether it’s something you’ve picked up on in your lists.

  3. Pingback: Incoherent or Invigorated? The History of Sexuality | Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality

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