Category Archives: Eroticism and fantasy

Key Thinkers for Cultural Studies: preamble to a team-taught course

Thought-events as catalysts for cultural studies

What came first? Theory? or the stuff it theorises?

People often talk about applying Theory to an object, situation, text, problem or event. But there is another way of thinking about Theory, or working with theories, that proposes quite the opposite: Objects, situations, texts or problems affect us, they act upon us as spurs for thinking; we are caught up in events that make us think: thinking happens to us, thinking is a gift from the thought-event.

You might have heard of the Cartesian maxim “I think therefore I am”. It is strongly associated with (indeed said to be constitutive of) modern (Western) enlightenment thought. Here thinking is regarded as a property of the individual rational subject that involves the correct application of universal logics and theories to the world, often in attempts to master, control, order or objectify it.

Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker, which I first encountered in the Musée Rodin, proposes a very different model of thinking: Here, thinking emerges an activity of the body – the very body that Descartes would cast as an impedimentto rational thought.


As I exited through the gift shop, I came across pile upon pile of souvenir t-shirts with images of Rodin’s Thinker on the front, and – to my chagrin – Descartes maxim – “I think therefore I am” – in garish big red letters on the back! I couldn’t help thinking/ laughing/ pondering/knitting my brow (no doubt with nostrils a-flare): the museum’s merchandisers had got things entirely wrong!

Contrary to Descartes, thinking is not a property of the stable, sovereign self: Bodies are situated, often involved in difficult or unsettling or troublesome or exciting situations, and then …KAPOW!! thinking happens! We become participants in thought-events that produce new ideas, new ways of experiencing our situation, new understandings of how the world works, new ways of relating to it (For more on this point, see Martin Savransky’s 2018 essay ‘How it feels to think’, to which this preamble is very much indebted)

Another way of putting this is that we think with our bodies, that bodies are always situated, that certain situations endow bodies with the need or capacity or impetus to think: thinking takes hold when events propel us/our bodies into states of uncertainty, confusion, perplexity, exhilaration and active work.

For their part, key thinkers within the field of Australian cultural studies have argued that cultural studies is ‘always at some level marked … by a discourse of social involvement’ (Frow & Morris 1993: xviii): As embodied, social creatures, we are all caught up in situations that precipitate thought-events.

Theories become available here, not as lofty, indisputable explanatory schemes with universal applicability, but as a form of cultural practice, repertoires of concepts and gestures and ideas that put us to work; that are immanently involved in, and emerge from within, the thought-event. What’s more, they can do things! They have the power to recast a situation; change how you experience it, and in so doing, perhaps even change the problem that instigated the need for thinking in the first place.

Ladelle McWhorter discusses how


In this class we begin to wrestle with the place of theory in cultural studies. In reading and discussing together the work of what the unit outline casts as ‘key thinkers for cultural studies’, we might understand ourselves, like those whose work we will be thinking with, to be involved in a thought-event, or a series of thought-events, that have the power to makes things happen, constituting us as practitioners of inventive thinking: i.e. thinkers in the midst of the dynamic field of cultural studies


We’ll flesh out some of these ideas in our first seminar this week. So don’t stress! When you set off an adventure, what better place to start than with some energising food for thought? (Probyn 2004)


KR, 02/2018


Frow, John, and Meaghan Morris, eds. (1993) Australian cultural studies: a reader. University of Illinois Press.

Probyn, E. (2004) Eating for a Living: A Rhizo-Ethology of Bodies, in Cultural Bodies: Ethnography and Theory (eds H. Thomas and J. Ahmed), Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

Savransky, Martin. “How It Feels to Think: Experiencing Intellectual Invention.” Qualitative Inquiry (2018):.

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A Question this Gay Christmas…

and a recommendation …


This piece was written by the smart and switched-on Australian journalist Julia Baird, sister of former NSW Premier Mike Baird, the bloke who presided over intensified police drug dog operations that made us hate and fear the cops again, the one who went on with his cronies to become such fierce and thick upholders of the NSW lockout laws, which effectively obliterated social life in general and Sydney’s gay party culture in particular as we knew it…

Remember that guy?

sleaze ball 90s dancefloor

Me neither.

Anyway, back to the good bit, Julia wrote this piece in 2004 ~ more than a decade before her brother Mike became Premier of NSW  (the same year, it turns out, that internet sites  for the first time became the most common way men looked for each other for sex; a circumstance strangely absent from the accounts the article engages with to work out what was changing, how, and why …but I say this in hindsight, more a retrospective thought to inform present activities/ activisms.


In Chemical Palace, Fiona McGregor articulates that sense in the late 90s that things were splintering, but what were the mechanisms of that splintering? It splintered in so many ways: including all those she names, for sure, and more ..

For guys especially, I think, one important source of this splintering was the new pleasures and possibilities and problems of digital cruising ..(I explore the impacts of digital culture on queer sexual sociability in my new book, The Gay Science (Routledge, 2017).

One thing I wonder about, re-reading this piece today, at any rate, is whether Mike ever read his sister’s piece, and if the did, what he thought of it? could he relate? how did it affect him? Could he even be bothered trying to get a sense of what it’s feeling out for, its significance, its meaning?

Because I guess in the back of my mind I’m wondering, Mike (if I may): did you ever have the pleasure of partying at Mardi Gras? with your sister? or whoever? did you enjoy it? make new friends? smile with someone? learn new dance moves? get a jiggle in your hips? have an adventure? have a chat with ….anyone? anything?

(I just remember how my sister and I loved these parties, went to them together, or separately with our friends and others, so many times, such awesome times, all of us dancing, playing, laughing, crying, moving, joking, smiling, zoning out, searching, encountering each other, beside ourselves, together…)

And Mike if you did get the pleasure, what did you think of it? What did it do for you? How did it change you? How could it not have??

Tell us, wherever you are, Mike Baird, what did you make of it?  Do you remember? (because many of us do). What did you do to it? Where are they now?

I can’t help thinking, you see, Mike, had you actually got that pleasure …  ( & now I’m just speculating I suppose) … what would Sydney feel like today? How would it differ?  What would we be capable of? How would it feel?  What might become of that history today –  the good bits at least – & what supports do we need to build for these good bits to flourish, right now, all together, in the present?

It’s not at all a matter of wanting or thinking we can somehow just go back and live happily in some romanticised mid 1990 bubble.  I don’t think anyone really thinks or wants that, anymore.  Things have changed.  We’ve moved on.  New things are happening now, some better, some worse – including for new, previously excluded, identities and constituencies – that nobody could have imagined then.  Creativity.  Or, as Muriel Heslop’s father would say, ‘You can’t stop Progress’…   (I beg to differ)

No, it’s more a matter of thinking about what this time did for us, what bits are worth carrying forward, what bits are worth affirming and remembering, what we want to let go of, what can’t we forget? .  In other words, this isn’t a whinge, or some sort of nostalgic rant (ok maybe just a little bit of each/both to be honest), but actually meant this festive season, in the gayest of spirits as an entirely practical question:

How can we make what was nourishing and energising and important about those times, those spaces, those processes, those connections, those intimacies, those dynamisms, return/again ~ be renewed ~ newly happen?

I love Dion Kagan’s fresh new thinking on this question, by the way … he’s young and well-read and smart and lives in Melbourne and well, he definitely gets it. His book is even bathed in the inverted colours of Gay Christmas! 🖤❤️🖤

Perfect Summer Reading ☀️  Hopefully it’s out before Gay Christmas (by which I mean late February… what were you thinking??)




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Science is Magic: practical aesthetics and vernacular creativity in social media

“To engage in practical aesthetics … is to conceive of an aesthetics informed by and derived from practical, real world encounters, an aesthetics that is in turn capable of being used or put into effect in a real situation.  In other words, it is to orient aesthetics – with its specific qualities and capacities – towards actual events or problems (much as practical ethics is shaped around particular problems).

~ Bennet, J (2012). Practical Aesthetics. New York: I.B. Taurus

Framing the selfie as an instance of practical aesthetics allows us to conceive of it as an intervention that both responds to a particular event or problem, and seeks to amplify, redirect, or intensify the impact of that event/problem.

“An object for practical aesthetics might be said to arise from an encounter with an event”

~ Bennet, J (2012). Practical Aesthetics. New York: I.B. Taurus

The selfie imbues the event with personal meanings and associations and sends these associations and affective intensities into (more or less) public circulation – and in ways that often exceed the intention of the creator.

The selfie does not provide a definitive solution to the problem it addresses so much as a situated response to the event with which it is concerned, assembling a platform in the process for the expression of new meanings, objects, responses and affective relations.

In this sense, the creator is participating in the process of eventuation by mobilising the selfie as an affective and aesthetic repository/transmitter of their particular way of feeling an event.

To reformulate the selfie in this way raises practical/ethical/aesthetic questions for the selfie-maker: what style might one devise to become worthy of the event?

Example: Gay Science selfie

science is Magic profile


* The t-shirt says Detroit and the upraised spanner symbolises the power of workers in solidarity

*I’m having a cuppa in my Science is Magic mug. I love how Beaker embodies the anxiety and clumsiness and the pervasive imminence of catastrophe implicit in modern Scientific projects: Beaker is a Muppet, but fear not citizens! Because haven’t you heard? Science is Magic!

*You know what else is Magic? A nice cuppa tea.

*I’m wearing my Stephani ring, which I always wear to remember my love for Stephan

*Behind me is artwork by Daniel Joshua Goldstein that I bought after I met him, quite by chance, a few days after watching We Were Here, a documentary about the impacts of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, to which Goldstein, as one of the film’s participants, bears moving testimony.  I saw the film in a tiny theatre in the West Village In New York, 2011, and got to meet Daniel himself a week later, when I bumped into him and his partner completely randomly on the sidewalk of 8th Avenue. Daniel was in town to show his For Redon exhibition. His work, and this work in particular, spoke to me.  I’m so lucky to be able to enjoy it every day.

*As FB Cover Art, I’ve used an iphone pic of some beautiful chrisanthemums, which graced a vase at home during the weekend of Club Kooky September 2017.  A wonderful instantiation of queer chemistry if ever there was one.

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Care of the Selfie: Towards an Aesthetics of Digital Existence

What is a selfie?

180407B3-1AB1-44AF-A076-2566F5247575A selfie is not a simple act of self-reflection, but more like the instantiation of a brand, in the sense that it functions as both a medium and device that projects the self into the various social arena of digital culture.

A medium, in the sense that media are platforms for social action.

And a device, in the sense that it collects, stores and processes information that enables other participants in the platform to calculate, respond, and recalibrate.

Once a selfie is grasped as a multi-dimensional platform, then all sorts of material objects and social processes can be understood to enter into the labour of self-formation.

In short the selfie is an experiment, a platform for self-articulation, a social device and virtual source of relational transformation


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Gay Science Studios

You can now follow Gay Science Studios on Facebook ~ just click on my mug


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Geo-sexual networking, apps, websites, and HIV prevention

I accepted an invitation from Zizi Papacharissi to contribute to a volume she is editing – The Networked Self ~ Love on the topic of gay social networking apps and websites.

My piece explores the sorts of solutions these devices propose to various, collectively felt, problems and asks how tech users, product developers and sexuality researchers might work together to construct better infrastructures for sex and sociability between men, among other users of these devices – with a specific focus on how various apps and websites have sought to incorporate and operationalise methods of HIV prevention.

Sexual networks such as Bareback Realtime, Grindr, Manhunt, Gaydar, Hornet and Scruff all feature in the discussion, which you can access by clicking on the title:

Mobilizing the Biopolitical Category: Problems, devices and designs in the construction of the gay sexual marketplace

Abstract: Drawing on previous work in which I have approached digital sex as a marketplace and conceived hookup apps and online cruising sites as market devices, in this chapter I argue that problematization (Foucault 1995) is a useful analytic for conceiving the design of online dating and cruising devices, because tech developers tend to rely on some problematization of the existing sexual marketplace, as it is being enacted, in their efforts to improve the prospects of specific groups of participants, qualify their products and secure a niche in the digital marketplace. Drawing on a rare interview with the founder of (‘BBRT’), the world’s largest hookup site for men looking for other barebackers, I discuss how this site was conceived and designed in an attempt to address certain problems its developers perceived in the gay sexual marketplace as it was digitally and practically enacted at the time of the site’s conception.  BBRT is an especially interesting example because it demonstrates how clinical indicators, among other personal and technical specifications, can emerge as criteria for discriminating between prospective partners, populating personal profiles and qualifying the self in the pursuit of sexual encounters.  In this respect, BBRT stands as a fascinating example of how innovations in digital culture can eventuate from convergences between digital and clinical media and how such convergences effect differences in the pragmatic qualification of social networking applications.  But it also stages the categories according to which members are required to present themselves online as provisional, historically situated, and available to experimentation and critical transformation.




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“The things one does! The things one believes in!” Commodity Culture, Gay Play and the Thringing of Addiction

Some queen told me that a selfie I took reminded them of Frank Thring.  I had no idea who that was so I got busy googling and learnt, to my delight, he was a flamboyant Australian actor born in the 1920s who, among his many gay achievements, invented the clapperboard, did stage to great acclaim in London, and in his film career played Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur (1959), a gangster in The Man from Hong Kong (1975), The Collector in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and voiced the part of Zeus in Hercules Returns (1993).  So far so good.

But I struck inter-web gold when I came across this 1976 commercial he starred in for Martins Cigarettes which may well be one of the gayest things I’ve ever seen:


Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 12.23.40 am

“This is a commercial, as you may have guessed,” he announces, following a nonplussed eye roll, “and this…” – he gestures dismissively to the bedazzled chorus line – “was the advertising agency’s idea”.

“Totally unnecessary!”  he exclaims.

‘I am simply here to tell you about Martin’s, the new King Sized cigarette,’ he explains, and proceeds to do the job he was paid for and spruce the product.

‘Martin’s in the handsome gold packet has a quality,’ he recites, ‘a quality you can trust!’ before a glamorous blonde dancing partner decked in gold is thrust upon him, prompting an exasperated cry, ‘Must we dance??’

The whole production is delivered in such a withering, caustic tone as Thring goes through the motions of advertising Martins cigarettes, all the while serving up generous lashings of fey manner, camp asides and persistent ennui at the genre he is compelled to work within.

But the queer epiphany occurs in the final moments of the ad, when Thring incants what could be taken to be an aspirational lifestyle fantasy slogan, but into which he sneakily smuggles a  sighing meta-commentary on the market genre he’s just participated in:


       The things one does!

          The things one believes in!


It’s easy to read this little gem of a phrase as a wry parody on consumer culture; lines that echo Adorno’s claim that consumers see right through the promises of the commodity-process, but go on to buy things anyway, producing an affective climate of cynicism.

But what delights me most is the distance and critical reflexivity his camp manner engenders in relation to the commodity itself,  literal investment in which was conceived by Frankfurt Scholars as a perpetual re-creation of frustration in terms remarkably reminiscent of addiction.

The things one does! The things one believes in!  The slogan works on at least two registers: a literal celebration of the glamour of doing and believing in things, and believing what one is doing when one is doing the consumption thing…  and a parodic performance that ridicules the thing that one is doing, and the beliefs one must entertain when one does the things one does when one does the commodity-thing.

In our hygienic, smoke-free days, the retro-activity of almost any cigarette advertisement might come across as camp in the extreme, but I like to think Thring’s irony sets in motion a novel conceptual feeling. In playing the signifier so gaily and so drolly he multiplies possible manners of relating to the fetishized commodity-form, the object of compulsion and source of possible addiction.

We need not enslave ourselves to the tyranny of literal meaning: we can play with meaning and signification; and in such play we conjure a modicum of agency.  We are not merely slaves to the order-word (the original Latin meaning of addiction).

A very cultural studies thought-chain, if ever there was one.

Those who are cynical about of the critical possibilities of creative consumption, symbolic re-appropration and camp pleasure will object that whatever critical distance camp irony creates has become so fashionable that any critical purchase it might once have had has been lost. Indeed, hip irony and detachment only serve to congratulate the consumer for their cynicism, but in the end works just as well to sell things,  all the while palliating whatever anxiety the commodification provokes. Thring might even be acknowledging this: “The things we believe in!” he exclaims triumphantly, depressively.

But I think Thring’s performance undercuts direct investments in the addictive object in a more generous way, sparking the possibility of new forms of eventful reflexivity,  multiplying possible relations to the fetishized thing.

Indeed, he Thrings it!

In the end, Thring’s ironic, gay, destabilising performance may work just as well to sell the fetishised commodity, but in thringing it, he produces it expansively, not as a fixed and determined thing, but as a problematic object, which is to say, an object available to the pleasure of problematisation.

Dance, we must : )

But in qualitative play we trust.








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