Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds

By Ken Plummer | Go to book overview

Preface

This book has had a long gestation, and has finally become something quite different from what was originally intended. Indeed, the book has been drafted in at least three different forms with varying problems over a number of years. It started as long ago as 1978 as an empirical study of sexual diversity sponsored by the then Social Science Research Council in which the life histories of ‘paedophiles’, ‘transvestites’ and ‘sadomasochists’ were to be analysed sociologically. Some remnants of that study remain, but the main contribution of that research to this book was to suggest the problem of how and why people are willing to provide such interview material of their sexual life stories (or indeed why I should want to know, and a reader want to read them). A second version was informed much more by feminist debates during the 1980s and was concerned with the rise of new social movements around sexuality.

Neither of these books saw the light of day, but they clearly led me to this one. The first full draft of this particular version emerged in roughly four months of ‘free space’ given to me by a combination of leave from my home university of Essex, England and hospitality from the Sociology Department at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The beach, the ocean, the mountains, the sun, the restaurants and the wine suddenly seemed to make the content of this book become much clearer to me, though whether this is so for others remains to be seen. It also made it much more ‘American’.

This book, however, has always lived in two cultures—England and North America. Problems and ‘solutions’ found in one have often been transferred to the other. The stories I analyse have counterparts in each culture and indeed are often the same. In an increasingly global world where media and social movements play prominent roles, it becomes more possible to write of several cultures as one. Yet there are also very important differences.

On balance, I suspect that the culture of story telling is more in evidence in the USA—it is the strong case for my arguments. In part, this is due to it being a more ‘therapeutic culture’: as I shall explain, the USA is characterised by an intense individualism which has long been linked to self-reliance and self-actualisation. Many sexual stories now link directly to this. Further, I experience the USA as a much more ‘media’ society. The stories in the US seem more pervasive, certainly

-ix-

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