History Notes > Oxford, Keble College History Notes > Disciplines of History - Comparative History Notes
This is a sample of our (approximately) 15 page long Sex notes, which we sell as part of the Disciplines of History - Comparative History Notes collection, a First package written at Oxford, Keble College in 2015 that contains (approximately) 63 pages of notes across 4 different documents.
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Sexuality Past paper questions:
Is the history of sexuality anything more than a history of regulation?
To what extent can sexuality be historicized?
As a field of study, histories of sexuality are particularly concerned with the various histories of the regulation and control of erotic practices, the categories naming, interpreting, and classifying them and the range of consequences of societal concern about sexual desire and activity, including the creation of sexual identities.
Raewyn Connell - sexual categories and norms, the forms and objects of desire, 'the patterning of sexuality through the life history, the practices through which pleasure is given and received, all differ between cultures and are subject to transformation in time.' o Jeffrey Weeks - 'as society has become more and more concerned with the lives of its members...moral uniformity, economic well-being, national security or hygiene and health, so it has become more preoccupied with the sex lives of its individuals, giving rise to intricate methods of administration and management, to a flowering of moral anxieties, medical hygienic, legal and welfarist interventions, or scientific delving, all designed to understand the self by understanding sex.'
- really, choose three. That's what I'll do for the rest of the day. Performative/independent - rational. What are the variables?
Make this clear, make it obvious. Don't just do society a ---society b. Make a model or a theory and then ask how it applies in the context of my societies. Common features? But different? The consequences - society A is this, but society B is this.
Sexuality infers a whole web of cultural attitudes towards the act, how it shapes our identity, what is appropriate and what is not at different times.
Always been a cultural topic. But in what ways can we historicise it?
Is it a matter of regulation? A mode of modern social control with little history before it? Foucault - no such thing before the Enlightenment? Does not constitute one's identity. Previously not even referred to as sex: copulation, pleasure, etc.
Some would argue that the way in which any society describes sex has the dominant influence on how it is experienced. Therefore has a definitive history. The job of historians then becomes to reconstruct past systems of meaning and representation as the main guide to behaviour. o This idea has not been uncontested, however. - John Boswell, one of Foucault's principal antagonists, argued that even though different societies described sexuality in different ways, it remained the case that behaviour was stubbornly set within certain parameters. In spite of local variation in most Western societies since the birth of Christ, Boswell suggested that three basic categories of behaviour can always be observed, described adequately by our own designations: gay, straight, bisexual. - o This controversy, between Foucauldian 'social constructionists' and Boswellian 'essentialists' tended to focus on the question of whether there could be said to be any homosexuals or, correspondingly, heterosexuals, in the modern sense before the term was coined and the idea of homosexual-as-separatespecies entered Western culture in the nineteenth century. o Even if not: comparative allows us to see that perceptions change, new hierarchies are created - cannot understand sex in a vacuum. o Are they created or not?
Sex as a category of power - a metaphor for broader hegemonic nexuses. Therefore regulation often at heart.
The history of sexuality has encompassed far more than simply the organization and experience of sexual behaviour in the past. o Certainly, historians have explored the vexed question of who did what to whom. Rather than compile an inventory of practices and acts, however, sex has been used as a prism through which to explore wider social and cultural issues - notions of what is natural, unnatural, normal or pathological and the ways in which those categories are produced and reproduced. - When we talk about sex and regulation, we talk about something wider. Need to look at how it plays out in society. o In short, the history of sexuality is a protean discipline that allows us to enter a world of meaning, to understand the most fundamental assumptions about everyday life that shape the social, cultural and political life of modern Western societies. - Can be historicised. o It's at the core of our identity - sheds light on regulation, but also on deviancy, on how individuals understood each other, how they became oppressed, etc. o Sex may not have much of a history - but sexuality is a cultural construction - cannot look at it and understand it fully without historicising it.
Regulation and policing - both legal and 'cultural.' Society A Classical antiquity confronts us with a radically unfamiliar set of values, behaviours, and social practices, by ways of organizing and articulating experience that challenge modern notions about what life is like, and that call into question the supposed universality of "human nature" as we currently understand it. The process:
Greeks: shaped Roman attitudes. One strand of Greek sexuality affirmed it, affirmed pleasure, and the world of the senses. It celebrated physical bodies (particularly men). Sex between men commonplace. Encouraged older/younger relationships as an important part of becoming a citizen. The elder 'tutor' had an educational role, but also a sexual one.
Another strand of Greek thought: austere denial of the flesh. This had a lasting impact. Anti-sex school spread through Greece in 4th century BC with Plato - radical division between body/soul. The former was false, the latter mattered - 'Cave' - chained people watch the illusory flames of the fire o Aristotle reinforced this. Defined 'natural' and 'unnatural' practices. Male seed is the important aspect of conception, women mere incubators. Producing semen in any other context other than for reproduction was essentially murder.
'Urban' societies characterised by political units transcending kinship ties, and can afford to effect a transition to a larger realm of moral concern because of more sophisticated social organisation. o Not tight-knit regulation of the familial framework: concepts of abstract justice administered by the state. o Urban sexual morality, too, directed towards goals beyond the extended family. Prostitution often seen as a form of selfindulgence, demeaning but not civilly punishable. Sexual matters often beyond the purview of the state, stress fidelity and nonexploitative relations rather than procreation. o Homosexuality can even be idealised in the city: at worst a harmless by-product of civilisation, at best an expression of loyalty independent of blood relation that creates and maintains municipalities. Athens and Rome closely associated with gay sexuality, and were also closely associated with urban democracy. Obviously there are exceptions, these are general assumptions. Consider urban spaces in Queer London. o Augustan Rome - homosexual prostitution taxed, boys accorded a legal holiday. 3rd century AD - we see more regulation. Laws introduced would have been superfluous if homosexual relations were already illegal.
For such a sophisticated society with a well-developed legal system, the issue of homosexuality and its legality were particularly vague. Consider a case observed by Valerius Maximus: a man of no rank or family connections, Calidius Bonboniensis,: found with married woman (punishable by death) but claimed he was visiting the servant boy and thereby exonerated himself. o Those Latin writers that did stigmatise homosexuality did not declare it was illegal. o Obviously popular - Cato in the later Republic complained that the value of male prostitutes exceeded that of farm lands.
Greatest output of gay literature actually emerged during the first two centuries of the Empire, when Rome was at the zenith of its power and prestige. Literature in the declining Empire more often talked about a society in which tolerance of homosexuality declined as rapidly as political stability. (Challenges Gibbon - a 'contagion' that erodes morality)
REGULATION REARS HEAD AT TIMES OF CRISES. Consider Rome and medieval capitals like Paris at the height of power nonconformist elements could contribute distinctively to the whole, to the benefit of the population. At times of perceived or actual social decline, though, they come to represent destructive forces intent on undermining stability.
Still the case in medieval era.
Catholic confessions central to nexus of power. o The confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement" (Hist of Sexuality); and it this ritual which takes place within relations of power where much is at stake. Confession within a relationship of power gives to the authority demanding the confession a resource or tool by which the individual can be assessed and dealt with in accord with the wishes of those in authority. o The confession, he argues, has been impressed into the service of a scientific discourse. By declaring sex a causal instinct, by combining the medical examination with the act of confession, by declaring sex as something that hides the truth within and privileging the confessional listener with powers of decipherment and truth validation, confession has become central to the workings of our society. Sex is everywhere; therefore the confession is everywhere, for by confessing ones sexual minutiae one discovers the hidden secret of oneself. o Foucaldian.
Church becomes the depository of knowledge and learning after the fall of Rome. Christian values became Western values. Those who renounced sex began to police the sexual conduct of those
around them. Now, society could be shaped and regulated. Filled with rules about sex: exclaimed when you could have sex, which left very narrow windows - maybe 100 days a year when sex was possible. Rigid Christian sexual morality transmitted across the West. o Once positive and natural, now a source of shame and guilt. Augustine central to this: all sex as sin, whether in marriage or not. Original Sin passed from Eve. Women now temptresses of sexual passion, not just inferior. o Micromanagement of sex lives - pre-empts Foucault. Begins with marriage. Before medieval era, marriage a civil contract. Gregory VII - strict Xtian morality, with sex and marriage at the heart of it. Took control of this central institution. o Talking about something else...primogeniture, Church needed to sanction legal marriages. Legal stranglehold, primary signifier of power.
Policed sexuality of clergy. 11th century, clergy were often married monks and nuns celibate, but others did not have to follow their example. Gregory VII condemned this though - 'free, chaste and Catholic' should all clergy be. o Clergy now saw themselves as something 'apart' and superior to carnal laity. Women especially were perceived as inferior. Nuns became excluded from the world of learning - intellectual life becomes focused on the university. Intellectual power concentrated amongst men.
Term contra naturam (against nature) was applied to a range of nonprocreative sexual acts (masturbation, oral sex, same-sex relations, bestiality). o From the eleventh century on, the sin against nature was frequently conflated with sodomy, but the meaning of the two terms was never precise or fixed--indeed, it was often deliberately vague; their valence was dependent to a great extent on the immediate context in which they were
Women take to sensual mysticism. Marriage to Christ, erotic visions. Agnes Blanickibin (sp?) Vienna. Early 1290s, has over 200 visions some, she was naked before God: others she saw nude monks and nuns dancing in Heaven. Believed herself to swallow the foreskin of Christ on the Feast of the Circumcision. One of the few outlets for women's sexual and spiritual voice in this period.
Still unmarried sex - how did the Church address this? Aquinas: 'Even the most splendid palace must have a sewer system to survive.' Church leaders began setting up and licensing brothels. Christian leaders exercised tight control over sex in the brothels and generated profits at the same time. Strict rules were imposed. A monopoly on moral authority. o Respectable married women were believed capable of becoming 'common women', and thus they needed to be controlled and supervised. The sin of lust was believed to characterise all women, but the whore 'acted on that lust indiscriminately'
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