Methodological reflections: A genealogy of later life sexuality in mid-nineteenth to twentieth century science (c. 1850-1980)

At the Exeter Sexual Knowledge Symposium in June 2019, PhD student Kazuki Yamada spoke on ‘Methodological reflections: A genealogy of later life sexuality in mid-nineteenth to twentieth century science (c. 1850-1980)’.

Abstract: How might historical research on sexuality be designed to generate results which engage with the medical and sociocultural concerns of the present? In this presentation, I reflect on the question of relating the past and present in sexuality research by briefly tracing the development of Foucauldian genealogy as a method of constructing a ‘history of the present’. Discussing genealogy as one example amongst potentially many, I provide an overview of how I have adapted the method for my doctoral research project on the history of scientific knowledge on later life sexuality from the mid-nineteenth to late-twentieth centuries in Europe and the United States. I then draw on my experience of both conducting and presenting this research to reflect on some of the advantages of using an investigative method into sexuality that engages the present through the recent past, particularly from the perspective of supporting and informing contemporary biomedical and public health debates around healthy ageing. However, I also explore the difficulties and tensions implicated in using the present as a basis for studying the past, such as those around the risks of presentism and the pressure for humanities research to be justified to funding bodies through its potential for ‘impact’.

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