MLA 2021 Panel: Science on the Margins: Rethinking the Global Histories of Sexology
This panel mobilizes the semantic compass of the concept “margin” to rethink the global histories of sexual science. Essentialist accounts of sexology have concentrated on its origins in the Western, primarily German, academy as a distinct “Sexualwissenschaft” or institutionalized science of sex that effected profound shifts in sexual knowledge and subjectivity. And yet sexology was often itself a marginal form of knowledge that emerged at the edges of more well-established disciplines like biomedicine, psychiatry, anthropology, zoology, anthropometry and propelled technologies of endocrinology, eugenics, and population control. Underfunded, overextended, and barely “respectable,” sexology’s portability across disciplines in the humanities and the social and natural sciences depended on its apparent liminality as a para-scientific idiom—one which could and often did threaten to become a constitutive principle for the organization of those disciplines. In turn, sexology itself partook in the creation and consolidation of boundaries between the savage and the civilized, the normal and the deviant, and the elite and the popular. As a loose body of knowledge practices that coalesced at the turn-of-the-20th century into a science that took sex for its primary object of investigation, sexology was a global and specifically, colonial form of knowledge. Recognizing these tensions, recent scholarship like Sexology and Translation edited by Heike Bauer and A Global History of Sexual Science edited by Veronica Fuechtner, Douglas Haynes, and Ryan Jones has focused on the multi-directional linguistic flows and multi-sited networked capacity of sexology. Building on the urgency of this scholarship, this panel calls for papers that leverage the unstable status of sexology itself as a minoritarian/universalist science across the globe.
Prospective papers may consider the concept-metaphor of margin through debates about geography and scale in terms of centers, peripheries, and alternative circulatory nodes; disciplinary boundaries between sexology and allied or antagonistic forms of knowledge; transmission, dissemination or transformation of sexological knowledge to variously hierarchized audiences; marginal and marginalized experimenters, subjects, or objects of research within sexology; distinctions between expert and popular, and between formal and informal modes of sexual knowledge production.
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