EVENT Jun 25
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Fin de Sexe? A Symposium on Sexuality

Organization: University of Edinburgh
Categories: Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality, Literary Theory, Women's Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, History, Philosophy, Science
Event Date: 2024-06-25 Abstract Due: 2024-04-15

Fin de Sexe? A Symposium on Sexuality

25th June 2024, Edinbugh

Keynote: Professor Heike Bauer


Fin the Sexe is a FREE symposium, and we will offer travel bursaries to all chosen participants.

“Fin de siècle, fin de sexe”, quipped Jean Lorrain, locating ‘historical exhaustion’ within gender and sexual modernity (Felski, 1996). At this symposium, we push back against doomsday/naysay voices (from Lorrain to the present) that would prefer we neither know nor live sexuality otherwise. We seek papers that engage critically with any of the innumerable ways in which sex was ‘produced’ between, loosely, 1880 to 1930. We also invite papers that track the consequences of fin de siècle sexual theorization on how we think about sex today.


In A History of the Case Study (2017), Birgit, Damousi, and Lewis push the disciplinary boundaries of science and the humanities to investigate the ways in which literature and sexology co-produce sexual categories. In this context, literary texts such as Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs become an essential sexological resource, and H.G. Wells’ concerns with celibacy not only respond to but also construct different perspectives on sexuality. We seek similarly interdisciplinary explorations into the narrativizing of sexuality, considering how textual strategies like characterization and plotting, and visual strategies in art, film, and photography, may be used to evoke certain readerly and writerly affects. We are also interested in the extent to which these emotional responses have been used to affirm racial hegemonies and queer stereotypes (Schuller, 2018; Yao, 2021).


Indeed, if medical disciplines emerge inextricably from observing and experimenting on minoritized populations (Snorton, 2017), how do these origin histories complicate science’s claims to progress and epistemic virtues like ‘objectivity’ and ‘precision’? These disciplines created sexual and gender taxonomies, categories, and types that continue to impact contemporary understandings of queer sexualities. Recent interdisciplinary criticism, on the unstable proliferation of sexual etiologies, reveals scientific discourses to be unstable sites of knowledge production and category-construction (Kahan, 2019). We ask: how might photography, fiction, and life-writing contest -- or even play with, or take pleasure in -- the period’s ‘fixed’ sexual taxonomies? What voices were silenced or amplified by the production of sex? How were categories (e.g., trans, homosexual, third sex, etc…) constructed and circulated across scientific and literary pages, as well as spaces as diverse as the clinic, the prison, and the literary salon?


This one-day symposium explores how sex, broadly construed, was theorized at the turn of the century, emphasizing how sexual types and practices emerged from, and between, scientific and ‘non-scientific’ disciplines. We are especially interested in the feelings and representations these modes of thinking about sex invited from writers, those being written about, and their inevitable intersections.


Topics can include, but are not limited to:

-        Vocabularies of sexuality: within and beyond ‘science’; expert vs. vernacular knowledge; lost or provisional labels; the politics of naming

-        ‘Squishiness’ of sexology (Kahan and LaFleur 2023): co-production of categories/types across humanities and sciences; reciprocal influence of humanities, popular fiction and nonfiction, and sciences

-        Taxonomy, typology, classification, pathology, nosology, nomenclature: ways in which these are incomplete, paradoxical, interchangeable, interdisciplinary, affective

-        Ecocriticism and sexology: animal history and modern history of sexuality; ecological affect and sexual taxonomies

-        Alternatives to ‘the closet’: sexuality beyond secrecy, pathology, and diagnosis

-        Modes of sexual theorization: writerly and readerly affect; self-narrativization and life-writing; characterization, pathos, and plotting in the construction of sexual categories and narratives; relevant strategies in fine and visual art and film

-        Ethics of sexual theorization: ‘ethiquette’ of the clinical encounter; the pleasures and violences of interpretation; forceful interpretation of the case study; crip, feminist, and trans* critiques

-        Sexology, coloniality, class, caste: fungibility and ungendered flesh; sexual dimorphism; transnational collaborations and influences

-        Spaces of sexual theorization: clinics, archives and museums, colonies and metropoles, salons, prisons, studios (art and photography)

-        The homosexual, the invert (male and female), trans-, the androgynous, the third sex, bi-, fetish, sado-masochism, celibacy, asexuality, nonsexuality…

-        Diversifying the texts of sexuality: expanding the queer archive

-        Contemporary legacies of sexology


Please submit an abstract (max. 300 words) and a short author biography (max. 100 words) to Claudia Sterbini and Ash Jayamohan at findesexe@gmail.com. Deadline: 15 April 2024.


Fin de Sexe?, supported by The University of Edinburgh’s Student Experiences Grant, is able to offer a full or partial travel bursary for its presenters depending on starting location. The symposium is FREE.


If you have any questions about the symposium or the bursary, please do not hesitate to get in contact!


Claudia Sterbini, Ash Jayamohan