Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Sociological Discipline and the Unruly Erotic

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Sociological Discipline and the Unruly Erotic

Article excerpt

Abstract

Will sociological theory and methodology, with its inclination towards ordering and structuring of the social, ever manage to come to grips with sexuality and the vicissitudes of fantasy, desire and passion? There is no clear answer to the question, and sociologists engage theoretically and empirically in a number of ways in studies of the sexual, often looking to other disciplines for perspectives to inform the analysis. In this paper, theoretical concepts from psychoanalysis are deployed in an attempt to deconstruct the conceptual distinction between homosexual and heterosexual practices. The author introduces a notion of 'triangulation', drawn from psychoanalysis, where a third eroticising element is seen as part of the relation between desiring individuals, thereby making the distinction between 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' a more problematic one.

Keywords: Desire, Sexuality, Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, Queer theory, Sociological theory

1. Introduction

For just three-four decades now, western sociology has come a long way in theorising sexuality. From, as the American sociologist Steven Seidman puts it, viewing 'sexuality as part of nature' to fashioning a variety of frameworks to analyse it (Seidman 1996:1-2). The second half of the 1960's saw central works of American scholars like William Simon and John Gagnon, suggesting sociological perspectives on sexuality. In Britain Mary McIntosh published her groundbreaking article 'The homosexual role' while The House of Commons where debating the law against homosexual behaviour. This was in 1968 and the main argument for a de-criminalization was that the homosexual was sick and therefore not a criminal. McIntosh was much in disagreement with such an argument, but found it problematic to talk about it in the British public where it was applied in favour of homosexuals. She eventually chose to publish her article in an American journal. 'There wasn't such a hopeful movement for law reform in America at the time. But there is also the fact that I would not have known what journal to publish it in in this country', she later explained in an interview with British sociologists Jeffrey Weeks and Kenneth Plummer (Plummer ed 1981:45). This has certainly changed. Well into the 1970's the studies of sexuality as a matter of the social had caught its momentum, and we have seen a major development in the field of sociological sexuality studies from then on, in Britain as well as in other Western countries.

Unsurprisingly, sociologists first of all grappled with the social and cultural aspects of sexuality, and how the desires and longings of the individual are interwoven with people's diverse external contexts and lived practices. Sociology belongs after all to social science. It happens, however, that sociologists have also made attempts to take on board perspectives from psychology and psychoanalysis, in the pursuit of a more thorough understanding of erotic desire 'itself'. This is of course risky business for those trained in sociology, since at least the understanding of social structures and perhaps also a general sociological awareness tends to falter when desire becomes the main object of study. And also, one can hardly expect full recognition from other scholars who do philosophical or clinically-based psychoanalytical analysis. So, it is only with a certain nervousness that in this article I join with other fellow sociologists who have applied psychoanalytical theory in their sociological analysis of erotic desire.

Our erotic experiences are complex and varied, and we often have all too few linguistic resources when we talk and write about them. In particular, the conceptual binary heterosexual-homosexual marshals any discussion in specific ways, as if inviting us to try to keep untidy confusions in order. Some oppose this prescribed order by claiming 'bi', 'queer', 'metro', or other hybrid or new identities. However, it is highly debatable whether any of these concepts actually escapes some notion of heterosexual normality as a given premise for its meaning, as the word 'sexuality' itself first of all conjures up two sexes involved in traditional reproduction. …

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