The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

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The Natural and the Normal in the History of Sexuality
 
A conference to be held at the Monash Centre, Prato from 8 to 10 September 2008.
 
This project sets out to explore the discursive specificity and evolving meanings of the terms “natural” and “normal” in relation to sexual behaviour and fantasy in European and American writings (religious, medical, psychological, literary) from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries.
 
Supposing that in the sixteenth century, notions of the natural were largely bound up with theology, our hypothesis will be that these notions were at least double. On the one hand, Adam as the first man was supposed to embody the pure “natural man” acting in accordance with nature. Nature here follows reason and the will of God. On the other hand, theologians held closely to the view that present human nature had been corrupted by sin (natura lapsa). This meant that there was in human nature a potential for the monstrous: because of his fallen “nature”, man was now capable of acts against God and rationality. It may well seem that this analysis of theological thought takes us outside the history of sexuality narrowly understood, but we are seeking here to build a deep genealogy of the normal. So we will ask to what extent this theological view survives as a trace in modern uses of “the natural” and “the unnatural”.
 
We will, in any case, approach with suspicion the standard notion that Medieval and Renaissance concerns with the theological were brought to an end in the eighteenth century, although eighteenth-century thinkers certainly elaborated a notion of natural behaviour. Whole societies of humans living far from the influence of Western civilisation were declared to be natural. It appears also to be the case that the discursive practice of describing particular bodily acts as “against nature” or “antiphysical” also came to the fore at the time. Were those two developments related in a systematic way? One of our guiding hypotheses about the eighteenth century will be that the Enlightenment cult of nature was new in two ways: in its elevation of nature to the status of supreme authority, and in its enlistment of nature in the cause of critiquing and reforming the social status quo. Is it a legacy of the eighteenth century that the opposition between nature and culture itself stands in the twenty-first century as a condition of true knowledge and effective critique? And if that is so, how exactly did it come about?
 
There seems to be a further move from “nature” to “norm” in the nineteenth century, although references to the natural state of humanity continue to be important in narratives of civilisation. But while very concerned with ensuring “normal” sexual behaviour, European medical and psychiatric writing of the nineteenth century is strikingly unspecific about where the norm can be found and of what it might consist. “Normal” seldom means simply statistically common in the rhetoric of these texts, then, but rather points to a social ideal or serves to mark resistance to a cultural fear. During the nineteenth century, it might also be said that secular discourses explicitly bid to construct Christianity as an unnatural denial of human sexuality. This can be seen particularly in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century psychoanalytic models in which the repression of the sexual instinct is construed to lead directly to neurosis; so it is the repression of the “natural” that creates psychopathological “abnormality”.
 
Nineteenth-century thinkers were also inclined to see some form of continuity between the normal and the abnormal. We will draw further hypotheses from the work of Georges Canguilhem, whose essays on the normal and the pathological show what a difficult concept “the normal” was in the nineteenth century. Via a critical reading of the writings of Auguste Comte and Claude Bernard, Canguilhem makes it clear that the understanding of the normal found in these influential writings depends problematically on the idea that the pathological is always, with respect to the healthy state, either an excess or a lack. This makes it impossible in principle to draw a clear boundary between health and sickness. Furthermore, says Canguilhem, the nineteenth-century concept of the normal was not, and could not be grounded empirically in the study of large numbers of cases. We will follow his lead in hypothesising that, whatever the normal was for Comte and Bernard, it cannot have been grounded in statistics: the normal was not the mean, or even the median.
 
Whether or not one follows Canguilhem in his subsequent attempt to ground the normal in evolutionary biology via the more fundamental concept of normativity, it is clear that, in theories of the normal, the philosophical and scientific stakes are high. The very concept of normativity, adopted by Foucault from Canguilhem, now does great service in gender and sexuality studies. But it too has its own genealogy, and deserves to be analysed in our collective research with the tools of intellectual history.
 
Twentieth-century sexology, particularly in its Anglo-American forms, has commonly been seen as marking the point of rupture with the linking of nature and the norm. We will examine this assumption with care. We expect to show that the two terms continue to remain in epistemological and causal dialogue in a series of ways. Kinsey’s sex research in America in the 1940s and 50s attempted a non-normative statistical and descriptive approach to the study of sex, in which diversity was nominally celebrated. However, even this self-avowedly “value-free” science of sex appeals to concepts of nature and normality, in suggesting that more forms of sex are natural than was previously considered, and, by extension, that the “natural”, in its expanded as well as narrow definition, is necessarily “healthy”. John Money’s constructivist assertions in the 1960s, 70s and 80s that the influence of social stereotyping on gender identity supersedes the dominance of “naturally occurring” chromosomal or physiological sex has polarised contemporary sexual science, with psychologist and endocrinologist Milton Diamond being the most vocal advocate of the opposite viewpoint. Lastly, Money’s contribution to the study of abnormal sexual practices – what were previously termed “perversions”, renamed in the twentieth century, after Stekel’s suggestion, “paraphilias” – continues the familiar opposition of normal-abnormal, in a series of texts, especially Lovemaps of 1986, that resemble and, it can be argued, are the direct heirs of the European sexual psychopathology manuals of the end of the nineteenth century, by their determined attempt to enumerate and name forms of deviation. Money goes one step further than nineteenth-century sexology in his invention of “normophilia”, a classification that stands alongside the paraphilias but defines the condition of being aroused by so-called “normal” stimuli. The difference between nineteenth and late-twentieth-century models is that here, “normophilia”, like the paraphilias, is arrived at by a process of acculturation, not as a result of nature. We will then come to ask to what extent the norm, at the end of the twentieth century, becomes for some sexual scientists a desirable achievement of culture.
 
This conference will be held in association with the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Sexuality and Gender in Europe, at the University of Exeter.

Some Photos...

 
On the left, Valerie Traub (Michigan). On the right, Annamarie Jagose (Auckland).
On the left, Annamarie Jagose, in the middle Chiara Beccalossi (CHED), on the right, Fernanda Alfieri (Trento).
On the left, at the back, Lisa Downing (Exeter), on the right, in front, Heike Bauer (Birkbeck).
 
For more information, please contact Peter Cryle or Lisa Downing.

 PROGRAM

The Natural and the Normal
Monash Centre, Prato
Monday 8 September 2008
10.00-11.00
Valerie Traub
(University of Michigan)
The Nature of Norms in Early Modern England
11.00-11.30
Morning tea
 
11.30-12.30
Fernanda Alfieri
(FBK Studi Storici Italo-Germanici)
The Manifold Shapes of the Natural and its Prescriptive Force on Early Modern Theological Discourse on Behaviours
12.30-2.00
Lunch
 
2.00-3.00
Marina Bollinger
(Sydney University)
The Sex of Adam: Nature, Unity, and Perfection in Early Modern Theology and Natural Philosophy
3.00-4.00
Sabine Arnaud
(Texas A&M)
Repetition of Images and Divergence of Visions in Medical Writings on Hysteria from 1650 to 1800
4.00-4.30
Afternoon tea
 
4.30-5.30
Caroline Warman
(Jesus College, Oxford)
“Je veux, n’est qu’un mot” (Diderot): The Rhetoric of Liberty and the Clash with Norms of Bodily Determinism and Desire in Late Eighteenth-Century France
Tuesday 9 September
10.00-11.00
Lisa O’Connell (Queensland)
Empowering the State: Natural Law, Political Theory and Marriage Reform in 18th-century England
11.00-11.30
Morning tea
 
11.30-12.30
Heike Bauer
(Birkbeck, University of London)
Enlightenment Sexology? Sex, Race, and the Question of What Is Naturally Human
12.30-2.00
Lunch
 
2.00-3.00
Chiara Beccalossi
(University of Queensland)
The Cult of “Normality”: Italian Psychiatry and Sexuality c.1880-1910
3.00-3.30
Afternoon tea
 
3.30-4.30
T.B.A.
4.30-5.30
Annamarie Jagose
(University of Auckland)
 
How to have Normal Sex: The Twentieth-Century Career of Simultaneous Orgasm
Wednesday 10 September
10.00-11.00
Peter Cryle
(University of Queensland)
The Concept of “Normativity”: Foucault’s use of Canguilhem
11.00-11.30
Morning tea
 
11.30-12.30
Elizabeth Stephens
(University of Queensland)
Secret Diseases and Public Shaming: Sexual Health Campaigns as Normalising Technologies
12.30-2.00
Lunch
 
2.00-3.00
Alison Moore
(University of Queensland)
Masochism and Gender Normalcy in Interwar Psychoanalysis
3.00-3.30
Afternoon tea
 
3.30-4.30
Lisa Downing
(University of Exeter)
“Normophilia”: Diagnosing Sexual Normality in Late Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Sexology

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