Sexology and Development: Exploring the Global History of the Sexual Sciences

CfPSexology and DevelopmentExploring the Global History of the Sexual Sciences

Barcelona, Spain

5th and 6th October 2018

This international conference is jointly organised by Rethinking Sexology and Chiara Beccalossi’s Sexology, Hormones and Medical Experiments in the Latin Atlantic World project at the University of Lincoln.  Both projects are funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The conference seeks to investigate the global history of the sexual sciences by focusing on the concept of development. Key questions might include, but are not limited to:

  • How are concepts of development deployed in sexual science?
  • How is development understood, for instance, as a quality or trajectory of nations, races, social groups and communities?
  • How is development equally a concept mapped on to individuals?
  • How do related sciences further these concepts and ways of thinking about human sexuality? How, for example, do hormonal theories of sexual development intersect with other theories and ideas about development in the sexual sciences?
  • How are the links between individual and cultural or racial development imagined?
  • How is sexual scientific knowledge positioned in relation to the development of the human sciences and related processes of knowledge production?
  • How do global developments of sexual science relate to regional specificities?

Scholarship on the history of sexual science or sexology has witnessed a growing interest in the global and transnational dimensions of scientific understandings of sex [1] Scholars have begun to explore the variety of forms of scientific thinking about sex that emerged at different times in multiple locations across the globe. Exchange across linguistic, national and cultural boundaries played a central role in shaping scientific debates about sex. Attempts to make sense of sexual behaviours, identities and attitudes associated with cultures, societies and nations that were constructed as ‘foreign’, ‘distant’, ‘exotic’, ‘uncivilised’ or ‘primitive’ were integral in shaping sexual scientific knowledges. Moreover, debates about the contours, boundaries and authority of sexual science were fundamentally influenced by the tendency to think comparatively, to look outward and to situate scientific knowledge within wider global and transnational networks.

This conference seeks to approach the global history of sexual science by focusing on the multivalent concept of development. Hierarchies of cultural and racial development were central in shaping the global self-positioning, circulation and reception of sexual scientific knowledge, and models of development used to understand the nature and significance of human sexual behaviour. At the same time, development is a concept at stake in the articulation of what made sexual science special and authoritative. Some sexual scientists presented their work as ‘modern’ and ‘new’, insisting that it constituted a radical break with the past, yet modern sexual science was also frequently seen to emerge out of older forms of knowledge. Magnus Hirschfeld’s suggestion that his own research on sex was in some sense related to ancient Indian sexualknowledges offers one example of this attempt to create histories of the development of sexual science that cut across established cultural and national boundaries. The tendency to classify forms of knowledge as more or less ‘developed’, ‘progressive’ or ‘advanced’ played a constitutive role in these debates about the authority as well as the contours and histories of sexual scientific thinking.

Development was also a key concept in sexual science for understanding the individual. Explorations of how and why the sexed body, sexualdesire and gender identity developed over the individual life course were the subject of vibrant debate in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century, creating dialogue between thinkers that might be classified as sexologists, endocrinologists, eugenicists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, evolutionary theorists, embryologists, zoologists, anthropologists, educators, reformers and others. For some, being able to trace, guide and intervene in the process of individual development promised to create a stronger, fitter, more civilised and more competitive nation or race that could defend its place within a global context. The sexual scientific interest in technologies such as hormones, birth control and hypnosis was equally driven by a desire to influence for the better the development and health of the individual and, by extension, the cultural group, nation or race. Controversial late nineteenth-century theories around recapitulation, which suggested that individual development (ontogeny) repeats the development of the species (phylogeny), led to the search for correspondences between individual and cultural as well as racial development. Henceforth, figures that were central to sexual scientific knowledge – including the child, the homosexual or the neurotic – were linked to groups of people perceived as ‘primitive’, ‘backward’ or ‘savage’, creating complex connections between scientific attempts to understand individual development and sexual, racial and cultural difference. In these, and other ways, understandings of individual sexual development that emerged at this time were fundamentally shaped by cross-cultural comparison and related ideologies of culture, race and empire.

For scholars working on the history of sexual science today, exploring these and other issues around the global construction of sexual science offers an important opportunity to reconsider existing historical accounts of the development of sexual science itself. For instance, examining the formation of sexual scientific knowledge through a global lens, it might be necessary to reconsider the widely rehearsed argument that sexual science emerges in the second half of the nineteenth century. Looking at sexual science from a global perspective might also mean tracing the different theoretical trajectories and practical developments in different part of the world, and looking at different spheres of influence, regional affinities and national competitions. More broadly, the conference invites speakers to reflect on the ways in which methodologies drawn from global and transnational studies can challenge and enrich existing histories of sexual science. In so doing, the conference wishes to open up debate about the development of scholarship on sexual science or sexology in the present: what is at stake in the growing embrace of the global and transnational as a lens through which scholars are approaching the history of sexual science or sexology?

This conference is interdisciplinary in scope and we explicitly invite papers from speakers across disciplines. In fact, we hope that the intellectual framing of this conference will allow for new dialogue to emerge between scholars interested in thinking historically about the issues, questions, concepts, disciplines and fields of knowledge mentioned above. We also welcome abstracts that explore aspects of the link between global historysexual science and development that we have not yet addressed.

The conference is hosted by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) in Spain. Conference speakers are invited to the launch of Beccalossi’s Transitional States video art exhibition on the evening of 4th October 2018. The conference itself will take place on 5thand 6th October 2018.

Abstracts of proposals and a short bionote (300 words) should be sent to: CBeccalossi@lincoln.ac.uk and J.Funke@exeter.ac.uk

Abstracts should be 300 words in length, sent as an email attachment, and include your name, organisation, and contact address. They should also include the title of the proposed paper.

The deadline for the submission of proposals has been extended to the 20th April 2018. Proposers will be informed whether their paper has been accepted by 4th May 2018.


[1] See, for instance, Sexology in Translation (ed. Heike Bauer, 2015) and Toward a Global History of Sexual Science (eds. Veronika Fuechtner, Douglas E. Haynes and Ryan M. Jones, 2016).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *