CfP – Colloquium “Sexual Futures: Versions of the Sexual Past, Visions of the Sexual Future” (University of Exeter, September 2013)

University of Exeter

5th & 6th September 2013

Call for Papers

The future offers a critical space to negotiate sexual possibilities. It can serve as a doomsday warning, provide utopian fantasies or aspirational goals for real reform. Such visions of the sexual future are often achieved through an imaginative reworking of motifs and elements from the past. This colloquium investigates how and why sexual knowledge, articulated in science, literature, art, politics, law and religion, turns to the past to envision the future.

When it comes to imagining the future, the past can be cast in manifold ways. It can appear as mythical, traditional, ancestral, atavistic, hereditary, primitive, classical, or historical. It can also serve a number of purposes. It can lend weight or authority; it can provide a rhetoric of objectivity, neutrality and empiricism to support visions of the future. It can galvanise calls for reform by appearing to offer visions of realistic possibility, alternative social worlds that have existed in the past and are therefore more than idle fantasy. The past can also be deployed in narratives about progress and decline, civilization and evolution, which lead towards a utopian or dystopian future. It can be marshalled as evidence to articulate universalising claims about humanity, provide evidence of variability across time, illustrate future possibilities or legitimise change. In addition, the past can offer a space of forgetting and loss and therefore a means of rejecting or engaging critically with the very concept of the future. It is the aim of the colloquium to examine how such uses of the past in the service of the future intersect with sexual knowledge and experience.

Forming part of the Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History project, this colloquium invites scholars from a range of disciplines to examine any aspect of the nexus between past, future and sex. Central questions might include, but are not limited to:

- Why and how have people throughout history turned to the past to imagine sexual futures?
– How does the past facilitate the imagination of future sexualities? Conversely, how does the past restrict what is considered to be a possible future?
– Which aspects or elements of the past are used in the construction of sexual futures?
– What authority does the past hold in the articulation of future visions of sexuality?
– How is the relation between past and future conceptualised differently over time and how does this change the way in which sexuality is understood and experienced?
– How do uses of the past in the service of the future compare across different areas of sexual knowledge, including science, literature, art, politics, law or religion?

Please contact Kate Fisher (k.fisher@exeter.ac.uk), Rebecca Langlands (r.langlands@exeter.ac.uk) or Jana Funke (j.funke@exeter.ac.uk) for further details or to discuss possible research papers.

Abstracts to be emailed to Jana Funke by 24th April 2013.

Image credit: Andrew Junge, “Pandora’s Box” (2005)

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  1. Are the categories used by historians of sexuality academic only and removed from the fluidity, nuances, and variability of real life? I meditated on that problem here with reference to the American debate on legalizing homosexual marriage. See http://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/. “Power in gay or heterosexual attachments.” Or do I not understand what you are all about?

    • Edward Shorter
    • March 28th, 2013

    I’m not angling to attend the conference, but I just want to make a comment about the idea of sexualities having a “future.” The basic sexual orientations — straight, lesbian, and male homosexual — are biologically driven, and it would make as much sense to ask about their future as to ask about the future of tonsils. Yet these basic orientations have overlays that are historically changeable, that do indeed have pasts and may have futures that yet await us. Fetish/roleplaying would be such an example, virtually unknown in previous centuries. Or vast age disparities in the couple. These are not just issues for participants in the Exeter conference to think about but all historians of psychiatry, because sexual “deviations” loom so prominently in the DSM, which reads as though it had been drawn up by a group of Christian missionaries around 1955. Historians must pay more attention to these matters, else the culture that brought us DSM may have other nasty surprises in store for us.

    Cheers to all,
    Edward

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