Libby Nutt Williams
Annual Colloquium - 2005
Representations of Sex(uality): Pornography, Obscenity, Deviance
University of California, Irvine
Associate Professor of Women's Studies at the University of California, Irvine, Jennifer Terry has written extensively on social, cultural, and scientific discourses of gender and sexuality. She is the author of An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society (1999) and co-editor of Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life (1997) as well as Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture
In "Orders of Intercourse: Regulating Scopophilia at the Boundary of Sexology and Pornography," Terry will explore the relationship between scientific discourses on perversion and the politics of censorship. She will illustrate the scientific study of variant sexual acts and identities (scopophilia).
As Terry describes her presentation: This lecture will illustrate how the scientific study of variant sexual acts and identities is haunted by its proximity to illicit practices of looking. Riffing off of Michel Foucault's theoretical insights from his essay "Orders of Discourse," I will analyze the contrasting cultural institutions and discursive avenues through which 'variant' sexuality has been represented at particularly telling moments during the twentieth century in the US. Drawing on the travails of Havelock Ellis, George Henry, Robert Latou Dickinson, and Alfred Kinsey, I note how the invocation of 'objectivity' and 'rationality' has been used by sexologists to license a penetrating gaze upon the otherwise illicit domain of 'perversion.' Yet, these men of science were subject not infrequently to accusations of prurience by socially conservative moralists who relied upon anti-obscenity laws to prevent discourse about variant sexual intercourse to be uttered aloud. In this manner, moralists, along with the scientists whom then attacked, produced not one but many silences. As a defensive strategy, Ellis et al. discursively situated themselves as detached and impartial in order to constitute their scientific findings as legitimate. Consequently, even as they were dependent upon the narratives and bodies of sex variants for their research, scientists' defense resulted in casting other ways of representing variant sexuality into the shadows of illicit and illegitimate knowledge. This especially included knowledge produced by queer people themselves in languages of slang, double-entendre, and parody. However, the scientists' strategy was not always effective in defending their published findings against censorship, nor were they erotically unappreciative of the sexual variant people upon which they focused their gaze. Underground accumulation and circulation of sex research amongst 'perverse' scientists and subjects indicates how the valence of scientific rationality by no means precluded the appropriation of science for private and public pleasure-seeking. This history reveals the tenuous boundary between erotics and rationality, and between the desires of scientists and those of their objects of scrutiny.
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