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Sexuality, The Body and Personhood module From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies.

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Presentation on theme: "Sexuality, The Body and Personhood module From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sexuality, The Body and Personhood module From Advancing Sexuality Studies: a short course on sexuality theory and research methodologies

2 2 Why are bodies simultaneously so ubiquitous and yet so hard to get our hands (and minds) around? Sarah Coakley (2000)

3 3 Module aims To: Theoretically examine the cultural construction of bodies and the relationship between bodies, personhood and sexuality Problematise singular notions of the body and personhood

4 4 Participants will: Consider and critically evaluate the role of culture in shaping bodies Understand and engage with various debates about the relationship between the body and personhood Consider some ways in which cultural constructions of the body shape ideas about sexuality and desire Consider the implications of these debates in the cases of disability and virtual technologies

5 Schedule ActivityTime allowed Introduction, aims 5 mins Session 1. The social construction of the body, personhood and sexuality Lecture Review 40 mins 30 mins 20 mins Session 2. Relationship between the body, personhood & sexuality Pre-reading review 90 mins Session 3. Disability case study Screening Exercise & discussion Small group discussion 165 mins 105 mins 30 mins Session 4. Virtually human Mini lecture Screening & discussion Cyber rape case study: group discussion 110 mins 5 mins 60 mins 45 mins Conclusion 5 mins Total time: 415 mins (about 7 hours)

6 6 Session 1. The social construction of the body, personhood & sexuality

7 7 Lecture Western philosophical tradition of viewing the body in opposition to the mind –I think, therefore, I am Enlightenment thought – rational, self-conscious, independent subject – in control of the body, emotions and desires Sex and race – women, indigenous and inferior groups, the disabled, homosexuals: –All considered closer to nature –Perceived to be less in control of their bodies, emotions and/or desires

8 8 Modernity Elaboration of male and female social difference (gender) on the basis of anatomical difference (sex) MaleFemale RationalEmotional PublicPrivate TranscendentMessy (bodily) SubjectObject ActivePassive

9 9 Michel Foucault – The Birth of the Clinic (1973), The History of Sexuality (1978) How power is exercised through the body Not a sovereign model of power (violence, physical coercion) Power/knowledge, self-discipline, surveillance Concern with the social body – proliferating discourses on population, health, hygiene, reproduction and sexuality – how to live

10 10 These discourses intimately connected to the management of individual identity, conduct, behaviour and the body Rather than sexual repression; incitement to discourse – speak the truth of oneself – sexuality an aspect of personal identity The body constituted in discourse – we discipline our bodies in accordance with dominant social norms and social categories –Heterosexual/homosexual Sex a regulatory ideal

11 11 Discourses of sexuality in contemporary social life: Debate between conservatives, liberals and radicals about the meaning and significance of sex - marriage, monogamy, divorce and the family Sexualised media imagery, advertising, sex scandals, pornography, the internet Social movements related to sexual identities, communities and subcultures Feminism - the male sexual gaze, the sexual double standard, and the sexual liberation of women Personal anxieties about sexual performance and intimate relationships – a reliance on experts

12 12 The project of self in late modernity is a body project Self-identity is unstable Risk/anxiety typifies modern life Moral imperatives related to bodily comportment (obesity, thin [disciplined] body ideal) Rise of genetic science, biomedicine, technology –sexual dysfunction and Viagra

13 13 Being/having a body – lived reality of embodiment Phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty) – Rejects the mind/body distinction; we are always embodied Symbolic interactionism – We make sense of ourselves in relation to others, and conceptual orders that make our embodiment meaningful (disability) Logic of Practice (Pierre Bourdieu) – Our bodily habits reflect hierarchies of social power, i.e. class is embodied in taste A conceptual binary between discursive/material approaches to the body – subject of ongoing debate

14 14 Personhood may include the body but is also usually more than just a body –Highly culturally specific boundaries to personhood In Western culture, personhood usually understood to encompass: –the individual body –Consciousness & free will –societal rights and responsibilities as a citizen of a nation state –Often some notion of soul or spirit Any questions? (5 mins)

15 15 In many non-Western cultures, personhood is communal and related to kinship rather than to individual bodies –Confucians believe in a continuous relationship between ancestors and living persons –Hindus believe in reincarnation, thus a person may be reborn in a new body after death –Many tribal societies believe that a new person is created and an old one dies during adolescent initiation ceremonies

16 16 Understandings of the body and of personhood are interlinked Personhood can be partial or potential –Legally, a prisoner is a partial person (with partial rights) –When does a foetus become a person? Certain kinds of bodies and certain kinds of persons are given different symbolic (and institutional) meanings: –In particular historical contexts, black bodies have been denied the (legal and ethical) status of persons –Transgender persons – is it culturally possible to exist between male and female? Fafafine (Samoa) Understandings of the body and personhood are culturally and historically contingent

17 17 Review In your culture, is personhood individualised, or communal and kinship related? Is it possible for someone to have sexuality in your society? Does sexuality refer to what people do, or who people are? Are there discourses that define appropriate sexual conduct in your society? –Whose bodies do they refer to? –Whose values do they reflect? (20 mins)

18 18 Session 2. The relationship between bodies, personhood & sexuality

19 19 Pre-reading review Chimaraoke Izugbara & Chi-Chi Undie (2008). Who Owns the Body?: Indigenous African Discourses of the Body and Contemporary Sexual Rights Rhetoric. Reproductive Health Matters. Christine Helliwell (2000). Its Only a Penis: Rape, Feminism and Difference. Signs, 5(3):

20 20 Divide into pairs In each pair, one person will focus on the Izugbara & Undie pre-reading and the other on the Helliwell pre-reading (decide together) Each person should take 15 mins to summarise their reading for their partner (30 mins) Reading summary

21 21 Discussion Focus questions: (30 mins) –What does each article say about the relationship between the body, personhood & sex or sexuality? –What might be meant by the phrase the body is a cultural construction? Does this contradict the commonsense idea that bodies are material things? –If bodies are cultural constructions, how might they vary across cultures and what effects might this have for sex and sexuality? Feedback and whole group discussion (30 mins)

22 22 Session 3. Disability case study

23 23 Background There is general agreement in the literature on physical disability that the problems of the handicapped [sic] are not physical, but social and psychological. Lee Meyerson, 1948 Work on/with people living with disabilities has tended to de-sexualise their bodies –Questions such as how desire or sexuality may be a source of happiness, personal fulfilment and wellbeing for people with disabilities are often overlooked

24 24 Film viewing Dance me to my Song (1998) Directed by Rolf de Heer. (101 mins) During the film, keep notes on your own (positive and negative) emotional reactions to what you are seeing and hearing

25 25 Exercise & discussion Review your personal notes on your emotional reactions to the film Collect two index cards each and write a positive emotion on one index card, and a negative emotion (if you had one) on the other. Do not put your name on either card The cards will be collected in, shuffled, and redistributed randomly then read aloud

26 26 Exercise & discussion Were there any similarities between participants reactions to the depiction of sexuality in the film? Did you find particular aspects of the film more confronting than others? How do you think others in your social/cultural context would react to the film? (30 mins)

27 27 Small Group Discussion Discuss: –In your context, are the sexual lives of people living with disabilities denied, resisted, controlled? How and at what level? What does this say about readings of their bodies? What does this say about readings of personhood? –Are there ways in which the sexual lives of people living with disabilities are (or could be) acknowledged & facilitated? Does (or would) the reading of their bodies change? Does (or would) the reading of personhood change? (20 mins) Feedback (10 mins)

28 28 Session 4. Virtually human: the future of the body & the body of the future

29 29 Mini lecture Vast array of online cultures & communities, many involving sex. Includes: –Dating sites (where users expect to meet each other at some point) –Social networking sites (where communication over the internet is the primary purpose – i.e. participants do not necessarily expect to meet) –Virtual worlds (that are self-contained and whose users rarely meet in real life)

30 30 To what extent does the technology of dating sites structure users expectations and experiences? Does the use of intermediary technology such as text or other internet software shift the nature of sexual interactions? What kinds of relationships are possible in cyberspace? What ethical questions arise from cybersex?

31 31 Second Life

32 32

33 33 Film Viewing & discussion Wonderland: Virtual adultery and cyberspace love (producer: Fergus OBrien. Documentary screened on BBC2 in the UK, Jan 2008) (40 mins) Focus questions: –What struck you about the stories represented in the film in relation to the body, personhood, and sexuality? –Is there anything that you do not understand? Discussion (20 mins)

34 34 Cyber rape: a case study Julian Dibbell (1993) A Rape in Cyberspace. The Village Voice. –Online character Mr Bungle enters the virtual living room of the LambdaMOO site –His operator supplied Mr Bungle with a voodoo doll…that…attribut[ed] actions to other characters that their users did not actually write –The online room's other occupants were forced to sexually service Mr Bungle and to abuse themselves in violent and sexual ways

35 35 Cyber rape Character called Iegba raped by Mr Bungle –Her operator suffered real-world trauma, with post-traumatic tears…streaming down her face What happens inside a…made-up world is neither exactly real nor exactly make-believe, but profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally meaningful

36 36 Group discussion Group A to discuss: –Many sexual practices are strictly regulated in the real world –Are there moral and ethical issues around virtual world practices? Group B to discuss: –Are there comparisons and differences between the Mr Bungle incident and Helliwells Its only a penis article from the beginning of the module? Think about these comparisons and differences in terms of the body, personhood and sexuality (20 mins) Feedback (20 mins)

37 37 Conclusion The body is intimately related to questions of sex and sexuality Bodies are both material and cultural Personhood is related to bodies in complex ways that are culturally and historically contingent There is no such thing as a normal or a natural body, nor a normal or natural personhood – once we realise this many possibilities open up for thinking about sex and sexuality

38 38 Module created by: –Dr Sean Slavin, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society; Dr Harriet Birungi and Dr Chi-Chi Undie, Population Council, Kenya Short course developed by: –The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia and –The International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) –With funding from The Ford Foundation Available under an Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike licence from Creative Commons

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