The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Issues in the History of Sexuality 





Thursday 29 July

Mark McLelland (University of Wollongong)

“Kissing Is a Symbol of Democracy!” Dating, Democracy and Romance in Japan during the Allied Occupation 1945-52

Japan’s defeat at the end of its fifteen years’ war in 1945 saw widespread changes to the family and gender system. Women were given political rights for the first time and were recognised as independent agents at work, in the home and in their romantic relationships. Whereas war-time ideology had brought about the “death of romance” in popular culture, with the relaxation of censorship at the war’s end, there was a sudden proliferation in discussion about the qualities of the “new” or “modern” couple and the popular press saw the rise of an eclectic range of “experts” offering advice on the proper conduct of romance between the sexes. Sexologists, medical practitioners, film critics and professors of European literature all vied with each other to proffer advice on the “democratic” conduct of male-female relations. Rather than censor this new discourse of love and sex, in an attempt to encourage Japanese men to be more chivalrous toward women, the Occupation authorities required film-makers to develop romantic story lines (featuring hand-holding, kissing and “dating” couples) and Hollywood and European movies were promoted as scripts for the conduct of heterosexual romance. This presentation looks at the impact of the Occupation on Japanese ideas about heterosexual courtship and romance through an analysis of a range of popular culture texts published in Japan between 1946 and 1952 and questions whether this discursive shift was entirely rhetorical or whether we can discern a shift in the conduct of relations between the sexes.

Thursday 12 August

Marina Bollinger (CHED)

Morality, Eros, and Theories of Desire in Seventeenth-Century Britain

Isn’t sacred eroticism an oxymoron? The intellectual history of sexuality has challenged the idea that religious desire in early modern texts articulates imperfectly sublimated sexual frustrations by emphasizing the history of the link between religious subjectivity and erotic desire. This research has shown that the language of romantic passion modeled itself, in part, on a vibrant, prior discourse of spiritual longing. My paper will examine another side of this history by exploring how, when, and why the threads connecting religious longing and erotic desire snapped. In particular, I will discuss the effort of Cambridge Platonists Henry More and John Norris to rationalize sacred and secular desire, and the place of divine love in the political theory of Norris’ interlocutor, Mary Astell. These thinkers intervened in a wider seventeenth-century debate over free will, grace, and epistemology; and a philosophical theory of love became increasingly crucial to assaying the relationship between morality and reason. Standing at the intersection of an old idea of natural law as the law of God “written into the heart” of Man and a newer valorization of reason, this strand of thought emphasized the harmony between morality and spirituality, and between human will and God’s will. But what happens when the heart that God’s laws were written onto stops being synonymous with the mind and starts to become the site of feeling instead? Both medical knowledge (specifically physiological theory) and ecclesiastical politics (specifically the critique of religious enthusiasm) combined to push the seat of eros downwards from the head — newly re-distinguished from the heart — to below the waist. By the end of the seventeenth century, the sacred and the secular had largely assumed their familiar corporeal locations, and divine and romantic love had become irrevocably separated.

Thursday 26 August

Yorick Smaal (HPRC) 

“It is one of those things that nobody can explain”: Male homosexuality, medical discourse, and the Queensland courts, 1939-1948

This paper considers medical knowledge about male homosexuality in 1940s Queensland and how it operated on the borders of the justice system, crossing in and out of the courts. Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of Supreme Court depositions, government papers, correspondence, and a suite of published material, we are able to loosely reconstruct medical practices as they might have operated locally in the period and draw comparisons to international trends. World War II Queensland is an excellent case study for this analysis. Overwhelmed by an influx of American servicemen, gripped by moral panic over public sexuality, and grappling with sharp increase in sex crime, the government established a committee of inquiry to investigate sexual offences leaving us a rich vein of contemporary scientific and medical thought on sexual “perversion” and any potential treatments. This paper begins by considering some of the parameters and findings of the committee before examining the forensic and psychological assessments conducted on men suspected of engaging in male-to-male sex.   This paper suggests that a mix of ideas and identities were at play in the 1940s: the progression of a medical philosophy on homosexuality in the period was not a neat, logical narrative, but rather, a complicated and contradictory process, influenced by local realties and international models from Britain, Europe, and the United States.

Thursday 7 October

Nikki Sullivan (Macquarie University) 

“Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it”: Queer(ing) animal sex and the matter of the (non)human

In a recent article on what she refers to as “trans animals” Myra Hird suggests that “nonhuman animals have, for some time now, been overburdened with the task of making sense of human social relations”, and that nowhere is this clearer than in accounts of “animal sex”. Whilst I don’t entirely disagree with this claim, what bothers me is the presupposition that something called “animal sex” simply exists, and that this is then appropriated by humans in a sort of second-order move. What this claim fails to recognise is that “animal sex” (whatever that might mean) is materialised as such—it comes to matter—in and through perceptual practices that are themselves shaped by the contexts in which they occur. Given this, a critical interrogation of the shifting understandings of “animal sex” that have gained currency over the last century or so could be said to tell us less about animals per se, than about competing ways of seeing sex(uality), gender, and the matter of the non/human. This paper, then, develops an analysis of what I will refer to as the somatechnics of perception as it operates in twentieth and twenty-first century accounts of “animal sex”. Whilst it engages briefly with a range of historically specific accounts of and/or approaches to “animal sex”, the paper will focus primarily on contemporary works which situate themselves as part of what has come to be known as the new materialism. In these works, queering animal sex consists less of demonstrating the existence of, for example, “homosexual” animals and animal behaviours than in seeing from a non-human animal perspective, from, from example, “a bacterial perspective” (Hird). What, I ask, can this mean? What does seeing from the perspective of an/other entail? And what are the constitutive effects of presuming that it is possible – or even desirable – to do so?

Thursday 21 October

Emily Wilson (Bond University) 

Medical attitudes towards homosexuality in Australia, 1950s-1970s: international influences?

From the late 1950s through to the early 1970s in Australia there was a widespread agreement among the mainstream medical and allied health professions that homosexuality was a personality disorder associated with neurotic symptoms. Behavioural psychologists argued that the cause of male homosexuality was a family relationship where the father was distant or absent, and the mother was over-bearing. The causes of female homosexuality were less widely researched, but were generally regarded to stem from the same or similar family dynamics. While there were other theories on causes, the behavioural psychology model had gained precedence by the 1960s. The outcome of these beliefs was the practice of various “therapies” aimed at “curing” homosexuality, or at least controlling homosexual behaviour.
This paper explores the development of this consensus in Australian medicine, looking at the influences on Australian medical theory and practice during this period. In particular, it examines the influence of British medico-scientific theories on the causes and nature of homosexuality, and the impact of the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (the Wolfenden Report) of 1957. In doing so, the paper explores the history of attitudes towards homosexuality in Australia, and attempts to place it in the broader context of interactions between British and Australian science and medicine in the two decades after the Second World War.

Thursday 4 November

Elizabeth Stephens (CHED) 

Sexual Disorientations: Sleaze as a Mode of Self-Making

In “Technologies of the Self” (1982), Foucault reflects that his previous work has perhaps focused on the technologies of power at the expense of those “modes of action that an individual exercises upon himself by means of the technologies of the self”. This paper will draw on recent work in feminist phenomenology and affect theory in order to think through the consequences of this distinction for practices of self-making in feminist and queer contexts. Texts such as Heather Love’s Feeling Backward (2007), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling (2003), Sally Munt’s Queer Attachments (2007), and Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology (2007) and The Promise of Happiness (2010) have argued that positive, or happy, affects are the reward for being directed towards the right things. Living or making a “good life”, Ahmed argues, is the result of being oriented in particular ways—ways which are not equally available or possible for all subjects. Affect, then, needs to be rethought as a constitutive part of subjectivity rather than simply expressive of it. For Ahmed, this means that figures like that of the “feminist killjoy” can only be properly understood if contextualised within a cultural and intellectual history of happiness.
This paper will approach practices of self-making in a similar way, tracing their genealogy in order to reconsider the way particular practices become associated with progressive or positive outcomes while others are seen as problematic or negative. Focusing on the modes of self-making associated with sleaziness—Sleaze Balls, neo-burlesque, modern vaudeville and side shows—this paper aims to move the critical focus away from the question of whether such practices (re)produce normative or non-normative ideas about gender and sexuality, instead drawing attention to the importance of “normality” itself as the conceptual field in which such debates take place.


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