Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Willett, Graham. "Summa Sexologica." AUSTRALIAN REVIEW OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS (August 2008).

Weeks, Jeffrey. The World We Have Won: the Remaking of Erotic and Intimate Life. London: Routledge, 2007. It is hard to imagine that anyone anywhere in the West might seriously doubt that our erotic and intimate lives have been utterly transformed in the past half century, and transformed more thoroughly than in any comparable time period in our history. Who in 1945 imagined a female prime minister, same-sex marriage, public discussions of abortion and contraception? What is often disputed, though, is whether these changes have been for the better. There are three ways in which it can be argued that they have not. One is a conservative viewpoint. The decay, or sometimes ‘undermining’ or ‘abandonment’, of traditional forms of relationships is, for these observers, unambiguously a bad thing. To their general sensibility, which prefers things not to change, conservatives bring something of an argument: the traditional family form, and the sex-roles that are embedded in it, constitute the foundation of society; any change represents a falling away from the ways things ought to be, and a threat to the entire social order. For the most part, these conservatives are religiously inclined and locate their family form in the will of their gods and their holy books. For this mindset, there is no diversity, much less improvement; only a fall from grace. A world away in their motivating ideas, but remarkably close in the pessimism of their conclusions, are those various thinkers that tend to have their roots in the work of Michel Foucault and who are often lumped together as ‘postmodernists’. Here the changes that we have undergone—especially those which seem to indicate greater freedom and autonomy—are dismissed as superficial, concealing (except to the trained eye) the continuing dominance of Power. Self-regulation may have replaced regulation, but we are regulated nonetheless. And then there is the revolutionary left, which holds that capitalism requires the oppression of, among others, gay people and that any apparent improvement in the lives we live must be at best precarious and at worst illusory. Only the unresolved issues, or the latest outrages (the denial of same-sex marriage, for example) are real. Jeffrey Weeks, in his magisterial The World We Have Won, helps us to find our way through, around, between these various rocks and hard places, drawing upon his long history of engagement with the changing realities of everyday sexual life in the West. His work as a historian, sociologist, social researcher, activist, critic and writer underpins here a kind of Summa Sexologica—a survey of erotic and intimate life as it has been lived, debated and understood over the past 50 years. . . . Read the rest here: http://www.australianreview.net/digest/2008/08/willett.html.

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