a new context for the communal production, appropriation and distribution of critical knowledge

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Alfred Kinsey & Gibson-Graham

Let me begin my first contribution to surplus thought by thanking ymm (aka ‘rummenigge’ aka ‘dj plummer’ aka ‘obscene daddy’) for not only launching this platform but also for getting the ball rolling with his obituary on Ecevit (a Turkish Allende who, unlike his Chilean counterpart, survived a military coup –albeit only physically, not ideologically, as ymm duly laments). I think thanks are also in order for Erkan (aka ‘dj eko’ aka ‘that subliminal kid’) for pitching us the idea of a collective blog (though he is yet to become a member himself!). As we are dispersing wider and wider geographically, a virtual meeting place is all the more needed to sustain our community.

Kinsey & Gibson-Graham…To be honest with you, my familiarity with Alfred Kinsey doesn’t go much further than the motion picture of the same name (2004), starring Liam Neeson as the iconoclastic professor. For those philistines among us who may not know about Kinsey even that much, Kinsey is renowned for his groundbreaking studies on human sexuality, which have shattered pretty much all the convictions about ab/normal sexual behavior widely held at the time (late 40s, early 50s) and for that matter, to a large extent, still today. Drawing on the results of thousands of in-depth interviews conducted with people of varying ages, occupations, etc. (not so much of color, though) Kinsey demonstrates that heterosexual, monogamous, reproductive sex is hardly the norm it is believed to be; people engage in all different sorts of sexual practices that don’t fit this norm (masturbation, bisexuality, premarital sex, S&M, paid sex were found to be much more common than was believed to be the case; “erogenous zone” turned out to be applicable to pretty much any part of the body or to put in the scientifically cautious terms of the Kinsey report itself “there is no part of the human body which is not sufficiently sensitive to effect erotic arousal for at least some individuals in the population”; bestiality proved to be very common among men in the countryside, etc.).

It must be obvious by now to this audience where I am going with this: Kinsey is to sexual studies what Gibson-Graham is to economics. In both cases the goal is to undo the hegemonic discourse which conditions us to live in denial of those (sexual & economic) practices that constitute a big chunk of our social existence.

O.K., this analogy—in certain respects, homology—between heteronormativity and capitalocentrism is not news to anyone who knows their Gibson-Graham well. We know Gibson-Graham draw on deconstruction of sexuality (ala Butler) for their explorations of economic difference. That being said, I don’t think this renders redundant the parallels drawn above between Kinsey and Gibson-Graham because what interests me in Kinsey’s studies is not so much the sexuality per se but the etnographic dynamics at play in the research/interview process. I wasn’t a member of the Community Economies Collective (CEC) but from the various accounts of that project I have heard and read over the years, I can say with some confidence that it has very interesting methodological affinities with the Kinsey studies. There is no denying that Kinsey’s was a positivist undertaking whose ultimate goal was to unearth the truth about human sexuality whereas Gibson-Graham define their project as a performative act (which, in Buck-Morss’ eloquent formulation, is “trying to bring about that which one presumes”). But I don’t think Kinsey has to be taken at his own word because performativity is there no matter how Kinsey & Co make sense of their own project. And this is where the movie comes into the picture (no pun intended) because it sheds light on those performative moments of the research that one wouldn’t be able to know about from merely reading the Kinsey reports.

As the movie makes abundantly clear, there is no way Kinsey and his assistants could have come up with the surprising results they did, had they engaged in simple data-gathering (of the census-taking style). For although what was believed to be the norm turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg (of actual human sexual practices), almost all the participants of the research thought otherwise, at least initially. This is why Kinsey and his research team had to come up with creative methods to tease out answers from their “reluctant subjects,” who exhibited strong resistance to acknowledging those parts of their sexual experience that didn’t square with “the norm”. In other words, they were also striving to “bring about that which they presumed”.

This is taking much longer than I thought and I’m afraid it is time for me to go back to the production of “necessary thought” (prospectus, reviews, etc.), but I will try to pick up from where I left off at my earliest convenience. In the meantime, though, I’d be very much interested to hear what you folks have got to say about the topic.


Blogger saint ymM said...

it is official. with two mentions, in two separate blog entries, susan buck-morss has now become surplus thought's offical political theorist of the moment!

1:11 PM


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