Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies

Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies
School of Sociology and Social Policy
Social Sciences Building
Leeds, LS2 9JT

Tel: +44 (0) 113 343 3770
Fax: +44 (0) 113 343 4415

CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14

Professor Catherine Roach – Happily Ever After: Gender and Romance Narratives in Popular Culture

Date: 26 February 2014, 5.00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Beech Grove House

In this interactive talk, Professor Catherine Roach presents a chapter from her forthcoming book Happily Ever After: The Romance Narrative in Popular Culture.  This romance narrative is perhaps the most powerful and omnipresent narrative in modern Western culture and functions, indeed, as an imperative for how to live the good life: Find your one true love and live happily ever after.  She introduces the parameters of her project as a performative ethnography in which she writes, as an academic, about how this romance narrative functions while she also writes, as a delighted newbie novelist, works of mainstream romantic fiction.

For this seminar, she tries to unravel the “conundrum of erotic love” in terms of notions of freedom and bondage, examining this conundrum in high art literature but focusing particularly on the top-publishing genre of popular romantic fiction.  The African-American romance novel Indigo provides a framework for this discussion: Can you become a slave for love?  What makes romance empowering, feminist, and freeing?  What does it mean for a man to be “pussy-whipped” by love?  How do today’s romantic novels constitute a massive cultural fantasy space—largely gendered—for the exploration of these questions?

This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

Dr Romana Byrne – Aesthetic Sexuality

Date: 18 February 2014, 5.00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Beech Grove House

Upon its translation in 1978, the first volume of Foucault’s The History of Sexuality established the terms and trajectory of sexuality studies in the Anglophone West, with its key contention that sexuality is a culturally-specific production of the nineteenth century’s scientia sexualis. But what of the ars erotica, which Foucault initially stated is absent from modern Western culture?

If a history of the ars erotica can indeed be traced in the modern West, and traced in Foucauldian fashion, “from the viewpoint of a history of discourses,” what exactly are we looking for, and where might we look for it? In developing key ideas from my book Aesthetic Sexuality: A Literary History of Sadomasochism (Bloomsbury, January 2014), I approach these questions by arguing that a form of ars erotica is evinced in what I call ‘aesthetic sexuality.’

In this lecture, I will introduce the concept of aesthetic sexuality, consider how this sexual category can be studied as a cultural production, and discuss the methodological implications this concept raises for sexuality studies.

This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

Dr Clare Hemmings: Considering Emma Goldman: Sexual Politics, Fantasy and Feminist Theory

Date: 19 March 2014, 5.00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Beech Grove House

This paper considers the importance of the anarchist thinker and activist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) for contemporary feminist theory and politics. Initially concerned with how Goldman’s views on power and change help us reconsider our own history and present, I have become more concerned with how to negotiate aspects of her thought that are less easily reclaimed.

Exploring her own and others’ desire for Goldman to resolve current difficulties within and beyond feminism and sexual politics, I highlight the problems this desire presents for both our understanding of the past, and our ability adequately to engage the present. Focusing instead on the importance of fantasy in our accounting for the relationship between past and present, I explore our desires to consign judgement and (sexual) essence to another era.

This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

Chris Dietz: School of Law: Protecting vulnerable families: legal enclosures and (hetero)normativity

Date: 27 November 2013, 5.00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Beech Grove House

Critical accounts of law often characterise courts as spaces of institutionalised privilege which reproduce heteronormativity by denying queer and/or feminist subjectivities. A longstanding dialogue has turned on the question of how this can be challenged strategically.

Drawing on research conducted with Dr Julie Wallbank into judicial interpretations of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, this paper enters this debate at a point when reform has been enacted by law; where the ‘vulnerable’ lesbian co-parent has become a legal subject. Maintaining a systemic perspective – to avoid judging individual identities and behaviours according to an unproductive assimilation/transgression binary – it will propose that there is value in considering spatial abstractions, such as that of the legal enclosure, so as to conceptualise the implications of this imposition of vulnerability. It will ask how the protection of this identity affects the political motivation at the foundation of some family projects; for example where a lesbian couple uses a known donor whom it is intended will have a role in parenting post-birth. It will reflect on issues of gender, sexuality and power, and specifically how these have been approached by the family court when exercising the child welfare test.


This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

Dr David Alderson: Acting Straight: Reality TV, Gender Self-Consciousness and Forms of Capital

Date: 20 November 2013, 5.00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Beech Grove House

“Straight” acting is a recent coinage to describe men who have sex with other men, but are not considered effeminate. It may even suggest a form of disidentification with the category “gay”. This paper looks at the significance of this term in relation to the increased social self-consciousness of gender, especially in relation to sexuality, by focusing on the reality TV series, Playing It Straight. While straight acting is mostly regarded as socially conservative in its appeal to various kinds of norm, it may in some respects also be considered critical of the kinds of “postmodern” gender consciousness promoted under neoliberal conditions.

The paper concludes by discussing the cultural political dynamics of masculinity and effeminacy in relation to regimes of austerity.

This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

Dr Meg Barker: Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in 50 Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere

Date: 30 October 2013, 5.00pm
Location: Beech Grove House Seminar Room

Since the foundation of any form of organised BDSM communities, consent has occupied a place of central importance. This is reflected in the popular mantra that BDSM play should be ‘safe, sane and consensual’, and the more recent revised phrase ‘risk aware consensual kink’, which critically interrogates the possibility of both entirely safe behaviours and completely sane subjectivities, but retains the notion that consent can be clearly and simply negotiated when it comes to BDSM play. This paper compares understandings and discussions of consent within the vastly popular 50 Shades erotic novels to the current wave of writings on the topic in the BDSM blogosphere.

The 50 Shades series has arguably brought BDSM to a far larger audience, and to far greater popular attention, than any previous media product. The books include references to BDSM contracts, safe-words, and checklists of activities, for example, and several conversations between the lead characters centre around sexual consent. However, communication about what Ana (the heroine of the novels) desires sexually is poor, and Christian Grey (the hero) frequently violates their arrangements in the relationship more broadly, for example by controlling Ana’s working life, eating habits, finances, and social time when she has explicitly asked him not to do so. The issue of consent is a tension between the main characters throughout the series.

At the same time as 50 Shades has increased popular interest in BDSM, BDSM communities themselves have undergone an interrogation of the previously accepted idea that consent can be relatively simply negotiated. A number of prominent BDSM bloggers (such as Carol Queen and Kitty Stryker) have written openly about problematic power dynamics in BDSM scenes, and have drawn attention to the fact that coercion remains possible in situations when consent may have appeared to have been negotiated, for example due to agreement on safe-words.

The paper concludes with a consideration of what might be learnt from ongoing consent conversations within BDSM communities which might be valuable for both those who are beginning to explore ‘kinky-fuckery’ following the 50 Shades series, and for our understandings and communication about sex more generally.


Meg Barker is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and a practising sex and relationship therapist. With Darren Langdridge, Meg published one of the main academic collections on BDSM, Safe, Sane and Consensual (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). They also co-edit the journal, Psychology and Sexuality with Taylor and Francis, and contributed material on BDSM to the British Psychological Society guidelines on working with sexual and gender minorities. Meg  co-organises the Critical Sexology seminar series and has published on representations of BDSM (with Alex Iantaffi and Camel Gupta) and constructions of dominant women (with Ros Gill), and is part of a current project exploring the lived experience of submissive men (with Trevor Butt, Antony Whitehead, Emma Turley, and Vanessa Hinchcliffe). Meg’s previous research on sexualities and relationships has been published in several journals and books and has culminated recently in a general audience book Rewriting the Rules (Routledge, 2012). Email: meg.barker@open.ac.uk


This entry was posted in CIGS Seminar Series 2013-14, Events.

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