Category Archives: Theory

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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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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Health, Sexuality & Culture


I became a Dr in Health Sexuality & Culture 13 years ago in the building pictured in the screenshot of my Facebook Profile above.

It was lovely to have the chance to go back there and visit for a workshop convened by Associate Professor Niamh Stephenson, from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at UNSW this week.

Niamh recently published a book with our supervisor and mentor, Professor Sue Kippax, Socialising the Biomedical Turn in HIV Prevention, and the workshop was a nice way to celebrate it’s publication.

The campus looked so beautiful, more beautiful than I remember. And it was so nice to reconnect with colleagues working in the area, some of whom I’ve known for 2 decades (!!)  to share what we are working on and how we are thinking these days.  (Click here for pictures)  🌿

The other thing to say is that working in my field over the past 13 years just seems to have made me …gayer  🌸💗💕


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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Books, Devices and technology, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, HIV behavioural surveillance, Medicine and science, Online meeting sites, Policy and programs, Self-medication, Sexual practice, Sexual Sociability, The statistical imagination, Theory

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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Filed under Affect, Antiretrovirals, Devices and technology, Engagement with medicine, Erogenous zones, Eroticism and fantasy, HIV behavioural surveillance, Masculinities, Medicine and science, Online meeting sites, Self-medication, Sexual practice, Sexual Sociability, The statistical imagination, Theory

Update: The Gay Science is out now, + info on new projects

Update: the book based on the research this blog was first set up to facilitate has just been released by Routledge in hardcover and e-form, with a paperback edition to be released in late 2018. It’s called The Gay Science: Intimate experiments with HIV (2018). here’s the cover blurb:

Since the onset of the HIV epidemic, the behaviour of men who have sex with men has been subject to intense scrutiny on the part of the behavioural and sociomedical sciences. What happens when we consider the work of these sciences to be not merely descriptive, but also constitutive of the realities it describes? The Gay Science pays attention to lived experiences of sex, drugs and the scientific practices that make these experiences intelligible. Through a series of empirically and historically detailed case studies, the book examines how new technologies and scientific artifacts – such as antiretroviral therapy, digital hookup apps and research methods – mediate sexual encounters and shape the worlds and self-practices of men who have sex with men.

Rather than debunking scientific practices or minimizing their significance, The Gay Scienceapproaches these practices as ways in which we ‘learn to be affected’ by HIV. It explores what knowledge practices best engage us, move us and increase our powers and capacities for action. The book includes an historical analysis of drug use as a significant element in the formation of urban gay cultures; constructivist accounts of the emergence of barebacking and chemsex; a performative response to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and its uptake; and, a speculative analysis of ways of thinking and doing sexual community in the digital context.

Combining insights from queer theory, process philosophy and science and technology studies to develop an original approach to the analysis of sexuality, drug use, public health and digital practices, this book demonstrates the ontological consequences of different modes of attending to risk and pleasure. It is suitable for those interested in cultural studies, sociology, gender and sexuality studies, digital culture, public health and drug and alcohol studies.

So thrilled that Indian-Australian artist Leon Fernandes generously granted me permission to reproduce his extraordinary piece Krishna in Erskinville on the cover, an artwork first exhibited at East Sydney Doctors Gallery the week I sent my manuscript off to the publishers (!!); AND to have received such generous endorsements from Lauren Berlant and Steven Epstein – such brilliant, inspirational and inspiring critics and social thinkers.

The Gay Science flyer

Meanwhile I’ve commenced a new ARC Discovery Project with Dean Murphy, Toby Lea and Kiran Pienaar on LGBTQ drug and medication use, ‘Chemical Practices: Enhancement and experimentation‘ this year (DP17), which proposes to treat queer and trans drugtaking practices as intimate experiments (in the science studies sense) while considering the forces that constrain and enable such experiments to assemble and find their publics and thus become more collectively and carefully elaborated. More details and a link to the project’s website, still in development, to follow

I’m also continuing work on my interest in the design and transformation of geo-sexual networking devices and how they structure the arrangement of sex between men, as well as dreaming up a new project about the normalising effects of the terms of national membership in Australia and the opportunistic policing of citizenship via mundane legal provisions that serve as pretexts for increased surveillance of migrant/ethnic and queer & gender minoritized communities & populations.

This project will work across ‘queer’ and ‘wog’ practices of body modification in Australia (car modification culture and queer drug and party practices mainly) to bring anti-racist critiques  into better articulation with queer counterpublic theory in critical studies of the  disciplinary terms of Australian citizenship and national membership, as well as the ethico-political and aesthetic dimensions of self-experimentation, body-modification, collective self-transformation, and how they are inter-implicated with evolving markets, cultural economies, and gender identities in the pre- and post-digital context.

Tentative working title-headers for this longer term project are taken from the subcultures this work will learn form and have particular vernacular relevance within them respectively.  They include “Policing Cruising: body-modification and resistance within queer and wog scenes in Australia”;  “Defected”; or maybe just “@toughstreetmachines”


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‘Don’t sugar me cunt!’: The drug search as a technology of sovereign humiliation and assertion

This scene, from Ana Kokkinos’s brilliant (1998) film Head On, astutely demonstrates how the drug search has emerged as a key technology for the instatement of white heteromasculinist sovereignty.  But before watching, please be warned it’s disturbingly  violent and depicts police brutality against vulnerably sexualised, gendered and racialised bodies.

“This room is so white!!!”

From the underpants inspections that NSW police used to conduct to harass cross-dressers and transgender people over the 1950s and 1960s in Sydney, to the NSW police use of sniffer dogs that continues to this day, stripping people bare –  down to the bios of bare life –  has a long history of use as a strategy of coercion, humiliation and violence,  deployed most often against queers, blacks, immigrants and women in bids to assert particular forms of sovereignty and abjection.

To me, Kokkinos’s take on the intersections of nationalism, policing, ethnicity, sexuality and gender in this scene is incredibly incisive.  It eloquently demonstrates why the police use of drug and other laws to intimate and harass people they don’t like the look of (with sniffer dogs for example) must be brought to an end now …..and why it requires an urgent counter-response from anyone concerned with the violent operations of racism, homophobia and transphobia in present day Australia

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Filed under Affect, Devices and technology, Drug dogs, Masculinities, Police, Sexual practice, Theory, Transgender