Category Archives: The statistical imagination

Thinking with Pleasure

I’m off to Norway to give some workshops and a couple of talks about my research at the University of Oslo.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet researchers and students from the schools of public health and medical anthropology there.  I’ve organised the workshops around my work on pleasure, digital sex, HIV prevention and harm reduction – and I’ve attached the outline here: thinking-with-pleasure-norway-workshops.  It will be a great opportunity to workshop these pieces so I can pull them all together, as they’ll form the basis of the monograph I’m due to deliver by the end of the year: The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV

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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Devices and technology, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, HIV behavioural surveillance, Masculinities, Medicine and science, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Policy and programs, Self-medication, Sexual practice, The statistical imagination, Uncategorized

The Sexuality of the Night: Violence and Transformation

Draft Contribution to Forthcoming Issue of Current Issues in Criminal Justice on the Sydney Lockout Laws

Abstract

The figure of the resident is privileged in discussions about nightlife governance. But the ‘right to the city’ extends to those who use the city, and popular opposition to the lockout concerns questions of access to public space on the part of those marginalized from these policy equations. Opponents of the Sydney lockout object to qualitative transformations in the cultural atmosphere of the city. This article argues that nightlife is of greater value than governmental measures about the prevention of violence capture. Of particular significance are the constitutive omissions of the category of ‘alcohol-related violence’. A better analysis would investigate the attraction of ‘liminal experience’ that prompts violence on the part of certain participants. It appears that certain gendered identities have not been well equipped to handle difference. At a time of reduced support for sex and gender diversity education, the state must get better at modelling capacities to live with difference.

Keywords: Night-time economies; alcohol-related violence; homophobic violence; licensing laws; urban governance; anti-social behaviour; urban safety; drug policing.

Introduction

On 21 February 2016 an estimated 15,000 people rallied peacefully in Sydney’s CBD under the banner, ‘Keep Sydney Open’. They were protesting Sydney’s lockout laws and their effect on the city’s nightlife and cultural atmosphere (McMah 2016). On 19 March, thousands danced and marched from the city to Star Casino in a bid to ‘Reclaim the Streets’, protesting the apparent hypocrisy of licensing laws that permit the Casino to remain exempt from restrictions that have shut down nightlife in other parts of the city (Roberts 2016). On 27 April, another protest – ‘Keep Newtown Weird and Safe’ – was held in response to a perceived increase in homophobic and transphobic abuse and violence in Sydney’s inner west. Organisers linked this mobilisation to the displacement effects of the lockout laws, which they claimed were dispersing hetero-masculine crowds, attitudes and violence from Kings Cross to the otherwise queer-friendly inner west (Ford 2016).

Taken together, these actions suggest that a significant number of Sydney-siders have sensed a qualitative transformation in the cultural atmosphere of the city since the introduction of the lockout laws. This perceived transformation is linked to the city’s orientation towards cultural and sexual diversity: hence the popular resonance of slogans such as ‘Keep Sydney Open’.

Nightlife, Difference and the Right to the City

The controversy surrounding the lockout laws is about more than the right to drink alcohol in the city at night, or the impact of licensing laws on jobs in the hospitality industry – though the latter is certainly significant (Cooke 2016). It is about the ‘right to the city’ claimed by youth and minoritized groups (Lefebvre 1968, Berlant & Warner 1998; Harvey 2008). Those opposing the lockout are crucially concerned with the cultural transformations associated with the state government’s clampdown on nightlife; the increasingly bullish policing of youth and social minorities in NSW; and the unprecedented increase in police powers that effectively reduce these groups’ access to public space.

Nightlife can be approached as a pedagogical space in which people learn to appreciate and take pleasure in difference (Young 1990, Jacobs 1961).  The value of this space is not captured by governmental measures concerning the prevention of violence. Indeed, cultural opposition to the lockout laws can be taken as an urgent plea on the part of those who use nightlife space for state authorities to diversify their outcome measures.

Nightlife has been an important zone of community-formation for those who have been excluded from family and the cultural mainstream, such as sexual and other minorities (Chauncey 1994, Race 2011). The gradual closure of long-standing queer venues in the inner city represents one casualty of the current approach to nightlife governance: the lockout has effectively eradicated a key space of socialization for these communities, who are often targets – but rarely perpetrators – of nighttime violence

Measures of Violence

The situation is exacerbated by the reductive nature of statistical measures used to diagnose nighttime violence. A key measure has been ‘alcohol-related violence’, but it is unclear whether this category adequately captures the qualitative nature or causes of the violence it enumerates. A significant body of qualitative work in the Drug and Alcohol field questions whether particular effects, such as violence, can be causally attributed to substance use per se (Rhodes 2002; Fraser & Moore 2011; Duff 2012; Fraser, Moore & Keane 2014; Race 2014). This literature demonstrates that the effects of alcohol and drug consumption are contingent on a range of other variables, such as context, cultures of use, affective conditions, and the socio-material arrangements in which consumption takes place, among other factors.

One of the most influential texts for regulatory approaches to night-time economies has been the work of Dick Hobbs and colleagues, which links nighttime violence to the proliferation of markets in alcohol associated with post-industrial urban entrepreneurialism (2000, 2003).   With its focus on the economic conditions within which night-time economies are promoted by urban planners, this research privileges market restrictions (licensing laws, business mix and density, policing) as key components of governmental measures to address nighttime disorder and violence. Hobbs et al. can be commended for their ethnographic attention to the socio-material arrangement of alcohol markets, its implication in violence, and the problems this can create for government. But certain elements of their analysis have been neglected in policy responses that are highly pertinent to current controversies in Sydney.

Liminal Experience

Hobbs et al. (2000, 2003) identify ‘liminality’ as a key appeal of night-time leisure precincts. This anthropological term refers to threshold experiences that involve some suspension of everyday social and sexual norms, and some experience of alterity. Liminal experiences are characterised by time-out from ordinary activities, a sense of play, and a desire for encounters with the novel and the strange. For this reason, they are sometimes characterized by a dynamic of attraction and repulsion; in certain circumstances they may prompt violence in certain subjects’ bid to reassert sovereign identity (Phelan 2001). Gail Mason and Levin Lo have used this category to understand the appeal of cultural events such as the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to heterosexual spectators (2009). For certain participants, the liminality of nightlife may be experienced as a threat to sovereign identity that is at once pleasurable and destabilising. Violence emerges as a way of re-establishing the sovereignty of the perpetrator in the moment he commits it: a way of re-asserting domination.

Qualitatively, little is known about the acts of rage and desire that perpetrators of night-time violence experience. Certainly, night-time economies are likely associated with many forms of differently motivated violence. Alcohol is no-doubt an element in the forms of liminal experience that attract huge crowds to party in the nightlife precincts of inner Sydney. But if some of this violence can be attributed to the dynamics of liminal experience, as I have speculated, then its persistence suggests that certain sorts of identity have not been well equipped to handle difference.

Crude measures such as ‘alcohol-related violence’ are unlikely to gauge the qualitative dimensions of these processes adequately.   Nor do they capture the transformation in the affective climates of precincts such as Darlinghurst and Newtown that those who have rallied against the lockout laws complain of. It bears noting that a reduction in foot-traffic – or indeed, incidents of reported violence – in traditional centres of queer social life does not necessarily equate to safety for those most vulnerable to night time violence and abuse on the basis of sex, gender or racial difference (Jacobs 1969).

It is telling that the regulatory measures adopted by the NSW government and NSW police to address public disorder and ‘anti-social behaviour’ tend to take social difference the target, rather than beneficiary, of regulatory intervention. Authoritarian strategies such as the use of drug detection dogs position sexual and racial minorities as suspects rather than citizens deserving of state protection. Police stubbornly defend these strategies despite a wealth of evidence that their detections are inaccurate and disproportionately subject social minorities to invasive intervention (Lancaster, Hughes & Ritter 2016; Race 2014; NSW Ombudsman 2016). But as events such as the illegal policing of Mardi Gras 2013 indicate, police are often complicit in the intimidation, violence and abuse that has come to characterise Sydney’s night-time spaces (Mardi Gras, Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Inner City Legal Centre, & ACON, 2013).

Conclusion

The lockout laws can be viewed as the latest episode in the increasing investment in regulatory responses to urban problems on the part of the NSW state. But there is a wealth of cultural creativity among Sydney’s youth and subcultural communities that the state could be drawing on to devise more creative, inclusive, and less authoritarian responses to the problems associated with night-time precincts. Australia’s internationally recognized response to HIV/AIDS demonstrates the value of including the denizens of nightlife in policy responses to social problems that concern them (Sendziuk 2003). It is a policy success story that stands in stark contrast to the state government’s top-down, police-heavy approach to nighttime violence. Certainly, authorities could do much better at modelling practices of handling difference in our urban centres. Authorities ignore the sexuality of the night – and its volatility – at their peril. Sydney’s reputation as an open, diverse, inclusive and dynamic city is endangered in the process.

 References
Berlant L and Warner M (1998) ‘Sex in Public’, Critical Inquiry 24 (2), 547-66
 Chauncey G (1994) Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of Gay New York 1890 – 1940, Basic Books
 Cooke R (2016) ‘The Boomer Supremacy’, The Monthly (online), March 2016 https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2016/march/1456750800/richard-cooke/boomer-supremacy>
 Duff C (2012) ‘Accounting for Context: Exploring the Role of Objects and Spaces in the Consumption of Alcohol and Other Drugs’, Social & Cultural Geography13(2), 145-159
 Fraser S and Moore D (2011) The Drug Effect: Health, Crime and Society, Cambridge University Press.
Fraser S, Moore D and Keane H (2014) Habits: Remaking Addiction, Palgrave Macmillan
 Ford M (2016) ‘Keep Newtown Weird, Protesters Demand in Rally Over Safety Issues in Sydney Nightspot’ ABC News (online), 23 April 2016 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-23/keep-newtown-weird-protesters-demand/7353136>
 Harvey D (2008) ‘The Right to the City’, New Left Review II (53), 23-40
 Hobbs D, Lister S, Hadfield P, Winlow S and Hall S (2000) ‘Receiving Shadows: Governance and Liminality in the Night-time Economy’, British Journal of Sociology 51 (4), 701–17
 Hobbs D, Hadfield P, Lister S and Winlow S (2003) Bouncers: Violence and Governance in Night-time Economies, Oxford Univeristy Press
Jacobs J (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books
Lancaster K, Hughes C and Ritter A (2016) ‘”Drug Dogs Unleashed”: An Historical and Political Account of Drug Detection Dogs for Street-level Policing of Illicit Drugs in New South Wales, Australia’, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, (online first) DOI: 10.1177/0004865816642826
 Lefebvre H (1996), ‘The Right to the City’, in Kofman E and Lebas E (eds), Writings on Cities, Wiley-Blackwell
 Mason G and Lo L (2009) Sexual Tourism and the Excitement of the Strange: Heterosexuality and the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade’, Sexualities 12(1), 97–121
 Mardi Gras, Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Inner City Legal Centre, & ACON (2013) Policing at NSW Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) Events and Venues. ACON https://avp.acon.org.au/sites/default/files/Policing-at-LGBTI-Eventsand-Venues-final-version.pdf>
 McMah L (2016) ‘Thousands Protest Against Lockout Laws in Keep Sydney Open Rally’ News.Com.Au (online), 21 February 2016 http://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/news/thousands-protest-against-lockout-laws-in-keep-sydney-open-rally/news-story/3093c5f3279899db2fd0132e9d10d5bc>
  NSW Ombudsman (2016) Review of the Police Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Act 2001, Office of the New South Wales Ombudsman
Phelan S (2001) Sexual Strangers: Gays, Lesbians, and Dilemmas of Citizenship, Temple University Press.
 Race K (2011) ‘Party Animals: The Significance of Drug Practices in the Materialisation of Urban Gay Identity’ in Fraser S and Moore D (eds), The Drug Effect: Health, Crime and Society, Cambridge University Press.
 Race K (2014) ‘Complex Events: Drug Effects and Emergent Causality’, Contemporary Drug Problems 41(3), 301–334.
 Rhodes T (2002) ‘The “Risk Environment”: A Framework for Understanding and Reducing Drug-related Harm’, International Journal of Drug Policy 13 (2), 85-94
 Roberts D (2016) ‘Protestors Literally Hang Shit on Star Casino After Anti-Lockout March’, Pedestrian TV (online), 19 March 2016 https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/arts-and-culture/protesters-literally-hang-shit-on-star-casino-afte/b0071ef7-e33a-4ac7-b3b4-3a6f7f626bc8.htm>
 Sendziuk P (2003) Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to HIV/AIDS, UNSW Press.
 Young IM (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton University Press

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Filed under Affect, Devices and technology, Drug dogs, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, Masculinities, Parties, Police, Policy and programs, The statistical imagination

Keep Sydney Open

Excited to be participating in a discussion about the governmental assault on Sydney nightlife next Monday, next to Don Weatherburn and Murray Lee, (among others, tba).  Slightly terrified, but I will feel a lot safer if I wear my Darlinghurst-issued ‘safety first’ helmet I found in the gutter on the way home from Mardi Gras festivities last weekend.  Details below:  Please come along if you can!

Safety first helmet

Sydney’s Lockout Laws: Cutting Crime or Civil Liberties?

14 March 2016

Registration

Click here to register your attendance

________________________________________________________________________________________

Join us at the Sydney Institute of Criminology where a panel of diverse speakers will explore the Sydney Lockout Laws: the science and statistics, the impacts, and conundrums and trade-offs in regulating the night-time economy.

Since being introduced, Sydney’s Lockout Laws have been contentious, and have highlighted a range of concerns about Sydney’s night-time economy, including safety, alcohol-fuelled violence and crime, civil liberties, entertainment and enjoyment. This panel event canvasses some of the debates in the community. It will discuss: what is the evidence for and against the laws? How are they impacting the community? What is reasonable and unreasonable regulation?

This event is hosted by the Institute of Criminology, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney. 2016 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Sydney Institute of Criminology, and this panel event is the first in a schedule of events that showcases the contributions of the Institute to public debate, research and policy.

About the speakers: 
Dr Don Weatherburn has been Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in Sydney since 1988 and is an Adjunct Professor with the School of Social Science and Policy at the University of New South Wales. He has published on a wide range of topics: including drug law enforcement policy, liquor-licensing enforcement, the economic and social correlates of crime, criminal justice administration, juvenile recidivism and crime prevention. He has also published three books: Delinquent-prone CommunitiesLaw and Order in Australia: Rhetoric and Reality and Arresting Incarceration: Pathways out of Indigenous Imprisonment.

Professor Murray Lee is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Sydney Law School. He is the author of Inventing Fear of Crime: Criminology and the Politics of Anxiety (2007), co-author of Sexting and Young People (2015) and  Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications (2014), co-editor of Fear of Crime: Critical Voices in an Age of Anxiety (2009), and editor of the scholarly journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice. He is author of over 50 book chapters and refereed journal articles. His current research interests involve fear of crime, policing and the media, ‘sexting’ and young people, crime prevention, confidence in criminal justice systems, and the spatial determinants of crime.

Associate Professor Kane Racefrom the Department of Gender & Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney has published widely in the areas of drug use, sexuality, HIV and public health; and is recognised for his contribution to HIV prevention and policy in Australia and internationally. Kane is a founding member of the Association for the Social Sciences and Humanities in HIV and a member of the editorial advisory boards of the International Journal of Drug Policy, Contemporary Drug Problems, Biosocieties, Culture, Health & Sexuality, and Sexualities. He is an active volunteer for Unharm, an organisation devoted to drug law reform and making drug user safer, where he has played a leading role in efforts to mobilise queer community around this issue recently.  His book Pleasure Consuming Medicine: the Queer Politics of Drugs (Duke University Press, 2009) examined how moral and legal distinctions around drug use are bound up in the moral policing of citizenship.  He has lived in the inner east of Sydney for over 20 years.

 Chair: 
Associate Professor Julia Quilter 
is a graduate of Sydney University, UNSW (LLB) and Monash University (PhD). Prior to joining the University of Wollongong in 2010, she spent ten years practising as a solicitor and barrister, working mainly in public law and criminal law. She worked at the NSW State Crown Solicitor’s Office and was the Special Counsel to the NSW Solicitor General and Crown Advocate, appearing as junior counsel in constitutional and criminal law matters in the High Court, NSW Court of Appeal and NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.  Shespecialises in research and teaching on criminal law and criminal justice policy. Her research focuses on criminal law responses to alcohol-related violence and ‘one punch’ fatalities, sexual assault, the operation of public order laws and the law’s treatment of intoxication. She is a regular media commentator on criminal justice issues, and a co-author of Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in NSW (Federation Press, 6th ed, 2015).

 

Time: 6-8pm (registration and refreshments from 5:30pm)

Location: Law Foyer, Level 2, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Free however registration is essential

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0248

Email: law.events@sydney.edu.au

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Filed under Affect, Drug dogs, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, Medicine and science, Parties, Police, Policy and programs, The statistical imagination

Exceptional Sex

How does crystal meth participate in the continuing experience of HIV among gay men, and how have responses to HIV shaped gay men’s crystal meth use and surrounding practices?  The topic recurs with surprising regularity in gay community discourse:  We’ve had a number of excellent community forums on this issue in Australia in the last few months alone – and seen the production of some useful resources locally and internationally – yet some of the themes, findings and positions taken in these forums have persisted for a decade if not more.

Exceptional Sex was an attempt I made in 2007 to make sense of the evolving construction of “the Tina epidemic”, or whatever you’d like to call it – #WiredPlay, #Chemsex, #PNP, the “double epidemic”.  Each of these terms have tried to do the work of naming, in different geographical contexts, what nevertheless seem to be some common patterns and emerging forms in urban gay scenes internationally.

I’m sharing Exceptional Sex here because I think the analysis if offers remains topical, but the text itself is hard to access in electronic form.  (You can always buy the book  hint hint – Pleasure Consuming Medicine (Duke UP 2009), where the essay was later published).

But I’m also curious – what’s changed?  what’s stayed the same? what’s missing? where do we go from here?

What can we make of this issue?

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Filed under HIV behavioural surveillance, Masculinities, Online meeting sites, Parties, PNP culture, Policy and programs, Self-medication, Sexual practice, The statistical imagination

The Difference Practice Makes: Evidence, articulation and affect in HIV prevention

This paper considers the difference that a conception of sex as social practice has made to the relations articulated in HIV social research in Australia.  In defining sexual practice as “fluid, embedded in specific social formations, and involving the negotiation of meaning” (Kippax & Stephenson, 2005), social researchers put their own research categories and questions at risk by constructing situations in which their objects of research were given occasions to differ.  Taking this risk produced sharp insights about the evolving dynamics of the sexual and prevention fields and produced distinctive, interesting findings.  It enabled the articulation of the practice of “negotiated safety” and later strategies of HIV risk reduction emerging from gay men’s practice, for example.  I draw on Latour’s (2004) concept of articulation to make sense of these innovations and query some of the key distinctions that organise the field of HIV research:  qualitative/quantitative; social/biomedical; subject/object; human/nonhuman; interpretations/evidence.  In the present context, I argue that keeping HIV prevention effective, engaging and interesting will require ongoing attention to the embodied articulation of HIV relations.

[This post is the abstract of a paper of mine just submitted to AIDS Education & Prevention.  Should be of interest to HIV prevention geeks and potential prevention geeks mainly ; )]

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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Engagement with medicine, HIV behavioural surveillance, Policy and programs, Sexual practice, The statistical imagination

Provocative Objects

Things are moving fast in the world of HIV prevention and sexual practice, with the introduction of new techniques such as Treatment as Prevention and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (billed as ‘a pill a day to prevent HIV infection’) being purposed for prevention purposes.  While the latter is not yet available in Australia, it has been the subject of a whole lot of controversy as well as some very provocative and creative cultural production in North America, including the My Life on PREP series by blogger Jake Sobo, who gives a fascinating account of how his perceptions, experiences, practices and theorisations of risk change as he starts using the drug for HIV prevention.  He really accounts for himself as a sexual subject “in process” and the result is both fascinating and informative.

promiscuous

If that wasn’t creative enough, check out this recent  Youtube clip, “The Key” adapted from one of Jake Sobo’s blogs, that positions PREP as an intervention into the forms of shame, sexual judgement and aversion to stigmatic identification that circulate in gay male domains like the online world and which could be seen to hamper effective HIV prevention.  Most of us know the territory, but as far as confronting these things, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an intervention this bold.  There’s much to admire about this clip – the funky  beats, the uncompromising confrontation of online dynamics and interaction, and the sharp analysis of how investment in normative ideals of intimacy can precipitate forms of self-deception around risk and sexual practice.

What I am less sure about is the invocation of PREP as THE key  – as though an exclusive – way of solving this problem of sexual stigma, shaming and aversion. I have huge admiration for this intervention, and I  have also been very interested in the provocative powers of PREP,  but I’m  keen to hear people’s responses to this clip.  How well does it handle your concerns about PREP?  What does and doesn’t it deal with?  What else might one need to know to consider engaging with this preventive strategy?  What issues or concerns does PREP raise for you?

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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Devices and technology, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, HIV behavioural surveillance, Medicine and science, Self-medication, Sexual practice, The statistical imagination

Cataloguing desire

Has anyone seen the recent biopic J.Edgar?  It’s the story of J. Edgar Hoover, who was head of the FBI between 1935 and 1972 and who was also a rumoured homosexual.  At one point early on in the film, the young J. Edgar is depicted taking his soon-to be assistant, Helen Gandy, on a date to see the card catalogue system he claimed to have invented for the Library of Congress.  (Gee, some date!)  In a bid to show off the ingenuity and efficiency of the system, he asks Gandy to propose any topic for him to search within the archives.  “Indiscretion!” she proposes, and in a matter of minutes, J. Edgar finds a book on the topic and retrieves it from the library shelves.  He then goes on the rhapsodise about how wonderful it would be if there were a card on every individual in the United States: how easy it would be to solve crimes if every individual were as easily identifiable as books in the library.

The film sets up an interesting set of tensions and associations between information retrieval, the catalogue, surveillance, indiscretion and homosexual expressivity.  The ‘theory’ of the film is that it is J. Edgar’s own inability to express his sexuality that leads to his obsessive interest in the private lives of others.  (This licences the film to go on obsessively to explore the private life of J.Edgar.  Not a happy thing, unless you like tales of repressed old gay men played by straight actors in bad ‘old person’ makeup….)

For me, this representation of the card catalogue connects in interesting ways to another historical figure who I’ve been researching, Sam Steward – a fascinating figure, and contemporary of J. Edgar Hoover’s, whose life is the topic of this recent brilliant biography by Justin Spring.  Steward was a literature professor, who became a tattoo artist and also a writer of erotic fiction.  He was friends with a range of prominent 20th c. figures, from Gertrude Stein to Alfred Kinsey.  He was also a bit of a gay lothario and lover of rough trade.

One of the best known features of Steward’s life was his keeping of The Stud File, a 746 cross-referenced card catalogue system in which he recorded details of every sexual partner he had between 1924 through 1974 – their measurements, attributes, what they did together, etc.  Steward used the catalogue system partly in order to refresh his memory and enable repeat encounters, partly as an upshot of his relentless enthusiasm for archiving.

This makes me think about the use of this device as part of male homosexual arrangements and erotic practice over the  20th century.  The catalogue emerges as a distinctive mechanism or what I would call an infrastructure of sexual encounter.  I’ve become fascinated with the place of the catalogue in the emergent homosexual subjectivity of the 20th c.  Just as fascinating, I think, is the desire to enumerate; and  the place of the statistical imagination in homosexual self-understanding more generally (I’ll blog about this some more another time).

Steward went on to become one the key informants of Alfred Kinsey, whose work is considered foundational for American sexology.  I’m struck by the sense in which Steward’s practice of cataloguing anticipates and informs the scientific methods of this nascent discipline.  For me the link to Kinsey connects in suggestive ways to the practices of HIV behavioural and epidemiological surveillance, which draw extensively on the techniques of sexology, and which have become the primary means of knowing about male-to-male sexual practice – a massive worldwide apparatus, intensively resourced and linked into policy, without which contemporary policy responses to HIV/AIDS would be unthinkable.

There’s a lot that can be said about this particular structure of scientific knowledge and the forms of authority it auspices (and I’ve begun to try to say some of it here and here): the sense in which the primary way in which we ‘know’ about sexual practice is by counting and measuring other people’s behaviour.  I’m constantly struck, for example, by the fact that we have so many people working in the HIV field who are regular participants in affected communities/cultures, but who are blocked if not actively discouraged (by the professional frames within which they work) from reflecting in any sort of sustained or explicit way on the making of their experience …as part of their work  .  You have to ask: what sort of engagement with sexual practice are these epistemological arrangements modelling?

But I am also interested in the sense in which Steward’s practice of cataloguing anticipates or presages another contemporary device or formal infrastructure which now plays a major part in the facilitation of all-male sexual encounters: the online hookup site; and in particular, the online profile …which can be viewed as an active participant in the contemporary shaping of gay sexual subjectivities.  Through the online profile, we catalogue ourselves – according to certain formats – and we use this device to facilitate sexual encounters, having it operate as the terms of our initial exposure to others.  Could the popular participation (not to mention forms of disaffection and critical engagement) that surround this infrastructure be more widely or critically generative?

The difference of course between J. Edgar and Sam Steward, or between behavioural surveillance and online cruising, is that in the latter instance what we have – at least potentially – is a case of inhabiting the catalogue: i.e. an explicit use of the catalogue for embodied and erotic purposes.

And so what I am becoming interested in is the politics that emerges when we acknowledge (or get explicit about) our inhabitation of the catalogue: When we reformulate or engage the catalogue as a device that is affective, erotic and specifically inhabited …

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Filed under Affect, Devices and technology, Eroticism and fantasy, HIV behavioural surveillance, Online meeting sites, The statistical imagination