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  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 5
  • ConvenorSharon Tugwell
  • Assessment: a five-minute class presentation (20%) and 2500-word essay (80%)

Module description

The module adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the study of sexuality, with a strong emphasis on psychosocial theory. Team-taught by members of the Department of Psychosocial Studies, the module draws on social and cultural theory, psychoanalysis, postcolonial and queer studies to rethink the relationship between psychic and social realms in the field of sexuality.

This module supplements and extends the core BA Psychosocial Studies modules on Love, Bodies and Power, taking sexuality as its central focus of enquiry. Taught over 11 weeks, the module comprises lectures and seminars and introduces you to the syllabus below.

The module aims to:

  • introduce a psychosocial approach to the study of sexuality, with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinarity
  • examine sexuality as effects of historically specific socio-cultural and geopolitical power relations
  • challenge normalisations, hierarchies and relations of domination and explore the powerful processes that fix sexuality as 'natural'
  • examine how these powerful ideas come to affect the lives, intimacies, and politics of sexual subjects.

Indicative module content

  • Historicising sexualities: exploring the idea of the history of sexual categories, you will be introduced to the work of Foucault, Weeks and Laqueur and will examine the development of medical ideas about sexuality constructed by sexologists.
  • Regulating sexuality and the sexual citizen: this topic will explore the regulation, abjection and punishment of sexuality and will look at intimacy and sexual practice in relation citizenship and rights-claims. Drawing on the work of Plummer, Warner, Seidman and Foucault, you will be introduced to the notion of sexuality as a site of control, power and (self-)regulation.
  • Affective sexuality: this session introduces the key contribution of psychoanalysis to the theorisation of sexuality, looking at the unconscious, repression, and sex drives. Starting by looking at how psychoanalysis came to conceptualise sexuality in the early 20th century, the session we will examine some of the ways in which accounts of sexuality have changed within psychoanalytic literature since Freud and in relation to some of his critiques.
  • Telling sexual stories: sexuality and subjectivity: this session looks at emergence of new narratives of sexuality in late modernity and their centrality for subjective experience, identity building and cultural practice. It explores the links between sexual story-telling, individualisation, and the sexualisation of contemporary culture.
  • Sexual normativities: drawing on queer and feminist theory, this session discusses the dynamics behind the social construction of normative heterosexuality and its the privileging over all 'other' sexualities. It offers a critical challenge of the notion of heteronormativity, looking at the marginalisation of individuals based on their failure to conform to heterosexuality, and also at the regulation of those on the 'inside'. You will be invited to think through what Michael Warner calls 'the trouble with normal' and ask what is at stake in either evoking the normal or rejecting it.
  • Queer intimacies: this session will examine recent empirical research around queer intimacies and explore current theoretical work on queer affect. We will critically explore the notion of 'queer' and ask whether there are distinctive forms of queer intimacy and affect.
  • De-centring sex: this session will challenge the construction of intimacy as intrinsically related to sexual practice and will discuss the contemporary cultures of intimacy and care characterised by the decentring of sexual relationships. Non-sexual intimacies, asexuality and celibacy will be considered as movements that further problematise the linking of the body and sexuality, considering the possibilities and the meanings of 'sexless' sexualities.
  • Tran(s)sexualities: negotiating sexual identity: drawing on Butler's notion of the 'heterosexual matrix', we will examine the ways in which bisexual, gender queer, and transgender bodies complicate an assumed relationship between the sex, gender identity and sexual desire.
  • Sexual politics: introducing how sexuality developed as a category for political organisation and social movement, and assessing the consequences of these political movements for current ways of living sexual lives.
  • Commercialisation of sex: this session looks at the sexuality as a site of consumerism and focuses on the sexual exploitation of woman, unpicking the polarised feminists debates about prostitution. We look at the often radically different perspectives on the sex industry that are predominant in academic scholarship, in governmental and non-governmental institutions, and in popular discourses.

    Learning objectives

    By the end of this module, you will be able to:

    • demonstrate an understanding of the concept of the sexuality and sexual practice within psychosocial studies and related fields
    • demonstrate awareness of the range of ways in which researchers might engage in psychosocial study of sexuality and sexual practice
    • understand the critical debates surrounding sexuality and sexual practice
    • review and critically appraise writings on sexuality and queer theory
    • synthesise information and knowledge from a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives
    • use the above to produce a critical essay which addresses key arguments and debates within the field of sexuality and queer theory.