I’ve been thinking recently about trying to relaunch asexualitystudies.org (which is now asexualitystudies.wordpress.com because the domain lapsed) as a group blog. As I see it the site would serve four purposes:

  1. Collating news about asexuality research
  2. Curating asexuality related resources 
  3. Providing a network spacing for asexuality researchers
  4. Providing a forum for people to write shorter articles about asexuality research

If we could get five or six people together, it seems as if the site could be a really useful resource without it being a major responsibility for any one person. If you’re interested in getting involved please get in touch: mark@markcarrigan.net

“Spotlight on Asexuality Studies” was a groundbreaking event hosted by the Identity Repertoires/Mind the Gap research group in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK.  Academics, activists, community members, therapists and students gathered in the university library and online to discuss contemporary asexual research, with papers presented both in-person and from the United States and Canada via video-conference.

For more information about the event, see the website.

My chapter outline for the book I’m planning for this research project: Late Capitalism and A/Sexual Culture

Introduction

Part 1

The History of Asexuality
The Asexual Community
Asexual Experience
The Sexual Assumption
Sexual Culture

Part 2

The Sociology of Intimate Life 1949 – 1979
The Sociology of Intimate Life Life 1980 – 1997
The Sociology of Intimate Life 1997 – 2012
The Sexual Revolution or the Consumer Revolution?

Part 3

Theorising Socio-Cultural Change
Methodology and Methods
Little Kinsey and Contemporary Survey Data
The Popular Corpus – Decade by Decade
The Academic Corpus – Decade by Decade

Part 4

Results 1949 – 1959
Results 1960 – 1969
Results 1970 – 1979
Results 1980 – 1989
Results 1990 – 2000
Results 2000 – 2010
Results 2011 onwards

Part 5

Cognitive Sociology and Human Being-Together
The Transformation of Intimate Life
The Future of Human Intimacy

Conclusion

Most of us see ourselves as living in a sexually liberated age. Having thrown off the shackles of prejudice and prudishness, we believe ours is an enlightened culture where we tolerate sexual difference and value sexual choice. Yet are we as well adjusted about sex as we tend to think we are?

Drawing on my research into asexuality (those who do not experience sexual attraction) and sexual culture, I argue that there’s a profound and often unrecognised inarticulacy and confusion about sex which plagues the modern consciousness. We talk loudly and frequently about sex and yet we’re far less able to articulate why sex matters to us and the role we think it should play in our lives. We’re plagued by confusions and anxieties, as clinical ideas about what constitutes sexual normalcy enter ever more into our daily lives.

This leaves a diminishing space within which to enjoy the freedom we have, with too little sex drive and too much sex drive – as well as a whole range of experiences in between – increasingly seen as a sign that something is wrong with us. I argue that western society has seen a huge and profound transformation in our personal & intimate lives over the last half century. So huge in fact that we are very rarely able to acknowledge its scale.

I talk about how this transformation is wrapped up in the spread of capitalism throughout the globe, as well as the onset of consumer society, suggesting that for all the pleasures brought by the sexual revolution, it has also brought countless problems and that, unless we face up to these and work out progressive ways to overcome them, much of what past generations struggled for risks being lost in the face of a moralising conservative backlash.

This research project is an extension of my research on asexuality, particularly the notion of the sexual assumption this had led me to. I take this to be the habitual cognitive category which, as an empirical claim, asexual individuals regularly encounter in the dispositional reactions and the reflective judgements of peers, friends, family and others. The sexual assumption holds that sexual attraction is both universal and uniform: everyone ‘has’ it and it’s largely the same thing in every instance.

Does it just impact on asexuals? No, I don’t think so. I want to try and do secondary analysis on qualitative data about sexual experience and sexual anxiety in these terms. I also don’t think it’s universal. It has a history of emergence and I want to understand what that history is.

My underlying hypothesis is that increased visibility and publicity of sexuality created a discursive vacuum which emerging sexological discourses (in an uneasy concordance with politicised discourses emerging from the new social movements) filled. This was a process mediated by the proliferation of a mass market for cultural products pertaining to sex & intensified by the structural pressures created by the shift to a consumption-driven economy (rise of sexualised advertising being the obvious one, suspect others though). Some of these were problematic to begin with. All the more so when they subsequently lost whatever scientific context they had in the first place.

These are my research questions for the project:

    1. How does the 1949 Mass-Observation ‘Little Kinsey’ sex survey compare with available contemporary survey & interview data?
    2. What shifts in the underlying conceptual architecture of the most influential sexological texts can be identified on a decade-by-decade basis?
    3. What shifts in the underlying conceptual architecture of the most influential popular books on sex & sexuality can be identified on a decade-by-decade basis?
    4. How do the conceptual trends identifiable in academic and lay discourse help explain the experiential transition found in comparison of Little Kinsey and contemporary data.

The research is intended to be qualitative (discourse analysis) and quantitative (corpus analysis) assuming I can work out how to compile the corpus in a way that is suitable for the latter.

Something I’m really looking forward to is taking place in December. Myself and two other asexuality researchers have organised a panel on asexuality and sexualisation for this international conference on the Sexualisation of Culture in London:
  • Ela Przybylo – York University
  • CJ DeLuzio Chasin – University of Windsor
  • Mark Carrigan – University of Warwick
I haven’t actually written my paper yet, or even really planned it, though I’m fairly clear about what it’s going to involve. Having worked out my notion of the Sexual Assumption in various papers (the all pervasive categorical assumption of the uniformity and universality of sexual attraction) and, through a range of conference presentation, begun to offer a grounding for this account in critical realist social theory (my own spin, based on my PhD research, on the debate between Archer, Elder-Vass and Sayer about the relationship between reflexivity and habitus) I want to use this presentation to try and draw these strands together and finally do what I’ve been aiming for in the last three years: offer an empirically worked out theory of late capitalist sexualization. This is the topic for my long planned short zero book style book and, if I can get funding, my big ugly probably slightly unreadable book about the ‘science of sex and modernity’ so it’s very exciting. This conference panel feels like a crucial hinge between stuff I’ve been doing for the last 3 years and stuff I want to be doing for many years to come.

I’m planning a paper about the cultural impact asexuality is/will/might have on non-asexuals. The method obviously isn’t particularly scientific, at least not in the sense it’s commonly used, though I do think it’s a useful tool (when combined with twitter, facebook and helpful online friends) as part of the research process. This is the first of three polls which I want to use as a starting point for planning the paper.

If you’re willing, it would be really appreciated if you could share this via facebook or twitter. Also, it would be a huge help if anyone’s willing to answer an additional two questions using the comments box below: “If someone told you they were asexual, what would you think they meant?” and “What do you think your response would be?”

If you identify as asexual yourself please don’t answer any of these questions

The first paper I ever wrote has finally been published, only  2 1/2 years after I wrote it, feels like so long ago now:

Asexuality is becoming ever more widely known and yet it has received relatively little attention from within sociology. Research in the area poses particular challenges because of the relatively recent emergence of the asexual community, as well as the expanding array of terms and concepts through which asexuals articulate their differences and affirm their commonalities. This article presents the initial findings of a mixed-methods research project, which involved semi-structured interviews, online questionnaires and a thematic analysis of online materials produced by members of the asexual community. The aim was to understand self-identified asexuals in their own terms so as to gain understanding of the lived experience of asexuals, as well as offering a subjectively adequate grounding for future research in the area.

1) How did this process get you started on the study of  Asexuality?

My first reaction when I came across the idea of asexuality was actually non-comprehension. In common with a lot of the sexual people I’ve spoken to about asexuality since then, I found it very interesting but I just didn’t ‘get it’. I’d recently completed an MA dissertation project on sexual identity & I was struck by the extent to which much of the academic literature I’d been reading had taken sexual attraction as a given, yet here was the most obvious counter-point to that assumption. It was in the process of talking to these two friends about asexuality that I began to get interested in it from an academic stand point, all the more so when I found out (via Andrew H’s excellent Asexual Explorations site) how little academic research had been conducted on the topic at the time.

2) During this time, you said it caused you to question your own sexuality?  What did you encounter when you went down this path? What did you  discover about yourself?

It was the first time that it had ever occurred to me to think about my own relationship to sexual desire and sexual attraction, rather than simply taking these things as a universal given. Actually my partner at the time became rather concerned that I was going to end up identifying as asexual myself when she saw how fascinated I was getting by it. But it was more a case of the research prompting me to think about aspects of myself that I hadn’t before, opening up a space to put into words things which I hadn’t really properly articulated previously.

Whereas people often take asexuality as a ‘lack’ of sexual attraction, implying that it’s a small group characterized by the absence of something which the majority have, my research and my personal experience led me to a very different conclusion: sexual attraction is not a uniform thing, nor is the moral significance we place upon it in our lives. Until studying asexuality, the question of what significance sex had for me wasn’t something it had ever occurred to me to wonder about. Cue the realization that, though I’m not asexual and I enjoy sex, it’s just not something I see as particularly important in the context of my life as a whole.

I’ve been fascinated ever since by how asexuality might provoke an increasing awareness of sexuality (there’s no good counterpoint word for this) in non-asexuals. Much as the word heterosexual only became a common identifier once there was public awareness of homosexuality, I suspect that increasing visibility for the asexual community will provoke a much more nuanced and personalized understanding of sexuality amongst non-asexuals. At the very least this was my personal experience. There’s a complexity and richness to sexual experience which our everyday languages for talking about these things, rooted as they are in the scientific (and often psuedo-scientific) study of sex, just doesn’t currently do justice to and this has real consequences for how people understand themselves and how they relate to others.

3) How does Asexuality fit into the field of Sociology? What topics would  Sociologists cover that would be of interest to Asexuals?

Although i think Asexuality Studies both is and should be an interdisciplinary field, I’ve long maintained that sociology – at least of a particular sort – offers a unique vantage point for studying asexuality because of the analytical resources it provides for exploring the relationship of the individual to wider society. In this sense it looks at the experience of asexual individuals, as well as the emergence of an asexual community more widely, in terms of wider trends which are underway in contemporary society. So it could be said, at least ideally, to combine the big picture with the little picture (or the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro’ to use sociological lingo).

4) How do you feel about the current state of Asexual research?  Most of it  focuses on the medical or mental health fields. It seems there is almost  no research about how Asexuals live and the problems they face. How are  you and others working to change this?

Asexuality research is becoming a lot more diverse but, given what a long term process academic publishing is, it hasn’t yet made an impact simply because it’s not in print. It’s also a field which, interestingly, seems to draw grad students to it much more than established academics – with a few notable exceptions, some in print, others in progress – though obviously there comes a point where the former group become the latter. There’s an edited book of feminist work on asexuality studies due out later this year, as well as my own edited book and a special issue of the journal Psychology & Sexuality due next year. 2012 promises to be an exciting year for asexuality studies.

5) You are appearing at the Sexualization of  Culture Conference in  London, if you have not already. You are forming what you hope to be the first International Panel on Asexuality. (I believe there /has /been one  at USC Berkley, but you may want to contact Sara Beth Brooks or David  Jay to confirm this information.)  What disciplines will the panel  include? Will prominent researchers be on the panel?

We haven’t actually got confirmation about this yet but hopefully we’ll hear soon. Ela Pryzbylo from the University of Alberta had the idea of putting in a proposal about asexuality and sexual culture – so the credit very much goes to her for what could be a hugely exciting event – contacting me a few months ago to collaborate on the submission. CJ Chasin, an asexual academic whose work I’ve drawn on extensively in my research, will be the third person on the proposed panel, so it’s a mix discipline wise: sociology, women’s studies and psychology. I’m hugely excited about this both because it’ll be a huge opportunity to promote asexuality research – particularly in terms of wider debates about sexualization which I’ve been convinced for a long time that asexuality studies has a unique perspective on – as well as meeting and working with two people whose work and interests extend in a very similar direction to my own.

6) You have launched an Asexuality Studies website.  You would like it to  become a hub for researchers interested in Asexuality.  How do you plan on achieving this goal?

It’s still very much a work in progress (asexualitystudies.org) but I’m hopeful it will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. I’m arranging a series of online seminars about asexuality research which will be recorded and posted on the site as podcasts – there’s a draft schedule up there at the moment. It’s also hosting the asexuality studies discussion list, which I setup quite a while ago now, as well as research profiles, other podcasts and (eventually) resources for the media.