Navigating the Past: Sexuality, Race, and the Uses of the Primitive in Magnus Hirschfeld’s The World Journey of a Sexologist (Funke, 2015)

Abstract:

This chapter explores the as-yet little understood place of anthropological research into cross-cultural sexual behaviours and customs within the broader field of early twentieth-century sexual science. She offers a close reading of German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s travel narrative The World Journey of a Sexologist (1933) and focuses, in particular, on his engagement with allegedly ‘primitive’ phallic cults in Asia. In so doing, the chapter interrogates how temporal hierarchies between the primitive and the civilized shaped modern understandings of sexuality, which emerged in dialogue with colonial constructions of racial and cultural difference. It also draws on Hirschfeld’s travel writings to demonstrate that the primitive past could be used in contradictory ways that both challenged and reinforced racial and cultural hierarchies and to different ends: to open up an understanding of sexual diversity and variation across the world and to legitimize the Western project of sexual science.

Full citation:

Funke, J (2015) ‘Navigating the Past: Sexuality, Race, and the Uses of the Primitive in Magnus Hirschfeld’s The World Journey of a Sexologist‘ in Fisher, K and Langlands, R Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past, Oxford University Press, 111-134.

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