Posts Tagged ‘Sexuality’

WIERD Methodology: Some Problems with the Study of Sexuality

December 9, 2012

The title of this blog post refers to a 2010 paper entitled “The WEIRDest People in the World?” by J Henrich, S. Heine and A Norenzayan. WEIRD is an acronym for White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. In the paper, the authors argue that most psychology studies take as their sample study group undergraduate college students who generally fit the WEIRD acronym. They argue that this sample is not very indicative of humanity as a whole and we should be very wary of using this group as indicators of general human psychological states. As they say, the WEIRDos “are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers.”

At first, I was skeptical of the acronym. I thought, why are we creating a new acronym for a problem covered by the term “eurocentrism”? But, WEIRD actually points to the demographic of study, and has some value specifying that group. However, I find that the more important issue is the methodology that makes this acronym meaningful: the lazy and ethnocentric science of human behavior.

I am quite approving of science that aims to find generalized human characteristics, also known as “human nature”. The problem is when lazy science puts the cart before the horse. As an example, let me point you to a BBC documentary about nudity I stumbled across last week.

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Differences in Western Sexuality

January 9, 2011

One of the things I’ve talked about on this blog is the construction of modern sexuality and adolescence and the impact of this on our cultural mores. Over the last couple of centuries this has gone through some developments leading to contemporary attitudes about sexuality. Along with the construction of adolescence has blossomed, in the twentieth-century, the category of, and attitudes towards, teenagers. Teenagers occupy a kind of liminal state between adolescent and adult and this creates a complex intersection of discourses all inter-relating that impact our attitudes towards teens and young adults. No where is this more evident than regarding teen sexuality. With this in mind, I found it quite interesting to find my way to an old slate piece (h/t: Feministing). The link takes you to a slide show that shows some of the discursive differences between attitudes about teen sexuality in America (and I would argue Canada) in comparison with European attitudes. I have to say, some of the statistics are quite telling and the explanations they take about the piece are solid.

From my own perspective, I find it interesting to ask the question, while watching the slide-show and reading the analysis, ‘to what end do these different views of teen sexuality aim?” That is, what if we take a methodological stance that assumes a teleology and homogeneity to these discourses and consequently wonder what are the goals of talking about teen sexuality in way that they are talked about? Now, of course, we know that discourses are contradictory and there is no homogeneous force shaping them, but taking this stance might offer interesting insight.

In that light, I would argue that the respective discourse about teen sexuality says something about the different attitudes about about teen sexuality in Europe and North America. We see European attitudes being more practical–focused on strategies that accomplish specific goals and attempting to frame representations to meet these practical goals. In North American attitudes, I find the discourse about teen sexuality has very little to do with teen sexuality in and of itself. The goals are similar, but impacting the discourse is a whole set of idealizations and imaginary fictions imputed on the subject. North American attitudes speak to me of this having much more to do with adult fears and dreams than teens themselves. Unfortunately, it leads me to a kind of psychologism where I come to this insight, and thus its corollary: What kinds of of strange nostalgias has led former teens (adults) to construct these elaborate fear-based narratives about their past?

It all seems a little opaque to me, but I find the question an interesting one that I will continue to ruminate on.

Our Sexuality

October 11, 2010

I’m teaching a class on sexuality and I thought I should collect all of my preliminary thoughts about it into one place and, hey, that’s what this blog is for!

So, to begin, I’d like to say that my perspective on sexuality is quite Foucaultian. I think taking into account the insights (whether one agrees or not) of Foucault’s History of Sexuality is necessary for an understanding of our contemporary sexuality. Not only does he provide a very interesting account of where our sexual mores and proclivities belong in a historical continuum, he provides a very interesting methodological perspective about how to think about sexuality. It is not whether we possess in some essential way a certain sexuality, rather it is that we should question where sexuality comes from and what effect certain discourses on sexuality have on producing that sexuality. It is less important, for example, to determine whether or not we possess a repressed sexuality: it is rather to ask what does the very idea that we have a repressed sexuality do? How does thinking we are repressed effect the way we think and act about sexuality.

So, the first insight of The History of Sexuality and probably the most famous is that:

1) Whether or not we are actually repressed, the very idea that we are repressed (which we buy into a lot) impacts us. It makes us want to be liberated from this repression. It allows for a whole swath of discourse and activities open up that make us more and more concerned about sexuality. Because we think we are repressed we intensify our concern with sexuality. The idea of Repression actually produces more and more discourse about sexuality. (more…)

The Limits of Our Pedophilic Culture

March 20, 2010

The prurience regarding children’s sexuality in the last century and a half is a sadly pedophilic activity. We are concerned about children running about nude. But children are like pets, happy to be free and running about in whatever way feels natural to them. We are concerned with children and adolescents being sexual—in fact, we want to cover over their sexuality with the myth that they are non-sexual beings. The concern regarding children’s sexuality is the imputation we place on them. It is an adult sexuality projected onto children. In such a way, the concern about children’s sexuality, regardless of what one says about it—that it does not exist, or that we have to think about it in highly policed ways—is a pedophilic impulse. Desexualizing children is the very act of sexualizing them according to adult, cultured, constructed sexuality. And thus, desexualizing them is, in a way, ironically pedophilic. Of course, it does not have the same sinister character as pedophiles who care not for the integrity of children’s own agency in exploring their sexuality. But, it is only a difference in degree. We force onto children, with our wild concerns, all of our own fears and beliefs about sexuality. And yet, this is something we take up uncritically. I will not rehash Foucault’s History of Sexuality here. I merely wish to point out that denying children’s sexuality is to completely misapprehend the possibilities of sexuality. And the prurient way that it is done is evidence of a pedophilic imputation of adult sexuality onto children—even if it is to say that they don’t possess it. This is because we don’t stop there. We police it, we worry about it, we build institutional and discursive regimes to watch over it. Ready to pounce. How are we not like a pedophile? Because we don’t force our sexuality on them? And yet, we do. We constantly police it. We worry about it. And we are complicit in a sexism that disciplines women far more assiduously, and men far often more destructively. We build whole systems whose structure is exactly to force our own ideas of sexuality on children.

But, it does point to something. Children themselves are surely sexual, but it is a sexuality that does not possess as much the constructed sexuality of an adult who has been disciplined to understand sexualities in certain ways. Children’s sexuality is not yet determined. It is always an unknown possibility, interconnected with their whole being, each instance a singularity. As such, we are missing an excellent opportunity to study sexuality in general, its more expansive qualities, by not understanding children’s sexuality. By the time we are adults, our sexuality has been given to us, ordered in many diverse ways, but still within the confines of a limit—a limit of discourse, a limit of behavior, a limit of desires, closed off from all of those things it surely is connected with. And yet, we should not wear lab coats in attempting to understand it. That “scientific” perspective has already predetermined certain limits by its very methodology. As such, we still understand so very little about our sexuality. The more we know, the more we cover over. The more we speak about it, the more we speak over it while it whispers its secrets. Understanding sexuality necessitates understanding that everything we say, think and do about sexuality is a kind of knowledge that has nothing to do with sexuality. This kind of knowledge is the effect of various forces using sexuality as a conduit to further their own influence. Knowing about sexuality is economic forces shaping bodies to better fit their increase. Capitalism is much healthier when it can tell us how to desire, what to desire, and in what ways such that we consume, produce and buy in certain ways. Those with some understanding of this kind of knowledge about sexuality become rich by marketing their products, shaping desire, always changing it to allow for further increase in profit. Knowing about sexuality is political and social forces policing the sexual order to push forward the growth of those forces. Gendered and homophobic discourses do the same, and they are all connected. It is no coincidence that those attempting and often succeeding at centralizing power do so by more rigorously policing gender and sexuality. To understand sexuality is to let sexuality speak without all of these forces. And frankly, adults are for the most part too caught up in these forces to hear sexuality speak. Let us not romanticize children, or adolescents in response. They too can be as easily shaped, sometimes in far more brutal or simplistic ways. Advertisers know how easy it is to manipulate children. But, that being said, children often have a much more fluid and natural quality to their sexuality, with moments of exploration that have not been predetermined by all the forces that try to shape it.[1] It is worth looking into as much as it is worth looking into the same instances in adults. To understand sexuality is to be open to it in those places where sexuality is not yet determined.


[1] Is there such a thing as biological forces? And if so, does my analysis here privilege those forces?