Month: August 2012

Quoting Humanisms

Here are a few thoughts from George Eliot. Her Middlemarch is one of the great sociological novels: it should really be a part of any sociology syllabus.

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness

I concluded my textbook with another quote from her.

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

O may I join the choir invisible
O my I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence: liveGeorge Eliot
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man’s search
To vaster issues.
    So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing as beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity
For which we struggled, failed, and agonised
With widening retrospect that bred despair.
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
A vicious parent shaming still its child
Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved;
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air.
And all our rarer, better, truer self,
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burthen of the world,
Laboriously tracing what must be,
And what may yet be better— saw within
A worthier image for the sanctuary,
And shaped it forth before the multitude
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reference more mixed with love—
That better self shall live till human Time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
Unread for ever.
    This is life to come,
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven, be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty—
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense.
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.


Inspirations: Michael Schofield

Michael Schofield was a pioneer of social research into homosexuality between the 1940’s and the 1980’s, and a campaigner for The Homosexual Law Reform Society (which led to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the U.K.). He played a prominent role in the law reform lobbies of the 1960s and 1970s. He is the author of many books including Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality (1965) and The Sexual Behaviour of Young People (1965).  I first met him in 1967 when I was starting out on doing research into ‘homosexuality’ and examining the possible impact of changes in the law. He was a great inspiration to me and, together with his dear partner Anthony Skyrme,  has remained a very good friend all these years.

I wrote this Wikipedia entry very recently –  so that we will not forget him and his brave early work.

Michael Schofield with partner Anthony Skyrme
at Ken’s BSA Lecture in October 2012

Life and work

Michael Schofield was born in Leeds in 1919, the fourth child of Snowden Schofield, who was the owner of Schofield’s, the largest department in the north of England, between 1901-1996. He obtained a degree in Psychology at Cambridge University, spent the war years as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, and then studied at Harvard Business School. During this time, he identified as homosexual and decided to make an original study of the social aspects of homosexuality. In those days, when homosexuality was a criminal offence, publishing under his own name was too risky and he assumed the pen name of Gordon Westwood. This first book, Society and the Homosexual, was published in 1952[1] and was the first non-medical book to be written about homosexuality, long before the famous trials of the 1950s[2] and the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee[3] . Later, in 1960 he published A Minority, the first detailed research into the lives of homosexuals who had not got into trouble with the law and who had not sought medical treatment.[4] His third and major study was finally published under his own name in 1965 (Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality). [5] In England little of sociological significance had appeared before this; and his work was regularly cited in the debate over law changes. At this time he also became active in the Homosexual Law Reform Society, working with Antony Grey and others.

After these publications he turned his attention to other social issues including single parent families, teenage premarital sex, birth control, abortion, drug taking and prison reform. All of these were major controversies in the ‘Swinging Sixties’. In 1965 his best known book, “The Sexual Behaviour of Young People”,[6] was published. This caused a stir, but was also taught in higher education institutions as much for its methodology as its findings. His later books included Social Research (a textbook), The Strange Case of Pot, The Sexual Behaviour of Young Adults, Report of the Committee on the Operation of the Sexual Containment Act. He also wrote many research reports, articles in periodicals and introductions to other books. Schofield spent many years actively supporting various law reform groups. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) for nine years. He was active in the campaign against censorship and appeared as an expert witness for the defence of several obscene publications trials. He also served on the Government Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence (chaired by Barbara Wootton) that published the Wootton Report (the report on cannabis which suggested that the legal penalties were far too severe). He wrote a minority note for it. On a wider scale, he campaigned to make contraceptives free on the National Health Service and for the Abortion Law Reform Society. He was an early supporter of frank sex education, gay rights and a more tolerant attitude to marital infidelity. He was to be found opposing Mary Whitehouse and her supporters on TV and radio on many occasions, but he made few enemies and many friends. Schofield was the founder and main instigator of a charitable foundation named the Lyndhurst Settlement. Between 1968 and 2005, it donated at least three million pounds to small struggling charities, particularly those groups working for civil liberties and for the protection of the environment.

Schofield retired in 1985 from public life and lives with his partner (whom he met in 1952), Anthony Sykrme.


Schofield was amongst the very the first researchers to approach homosexuality outside of a medical or legal framework. His concern was to investigate homosexual life as it was lived by ordinary homosexuals in everyday life. At the time homosexuality was a criminal offence, and such research was difficult to conduct. His first book, Society and the Homosexual[7], was an overview of the topic including early notes on the gay scene in England at that time. His second book,[8] was an original survey study of 127 men, and was the first of its kind. He asked them questions on their background, early homosexual experiences, attempts to combat, the extent of their homosexual acts, their work and leisure and their community integration. The third book[9] was a comparative study of heterosexuals and homosexuals along there dimensions: in prison, in treatment and others in the community. He concluded:

Homosexuality is a condition which in itself has only minor effects upon the development of the personality. But the attitudes not of the homosexual but of other people towards this condition, create a stress situation which can have a profound effect upon personality development….. A proportion of homosexuals are able to withstand this pressure from outside and become social casualties. These are the homosexuals found most often in prisons and clinics…… On the other hand the homosexuals who have learnt to contend with social pressures can become adjusted to their condition and integrated with the community. These men are hardly ever found in prison and clinics”([10])

A second major contribution was his work on the sexual behaviour of young people[11]. This was one of the very first surveys of sexual behaviour in the U.K.and looked at the behaviour of young people. Five years later these same young people were re-interviewed for a follow up:[12]. Perhaps the most surprising finding of these studies with hindsight is that they reveal the relatively low levels of sexual behaviour of young people at that time. Schofield’s work paved the way for much later wore.g. Kaye Wellings[13]. A photographic study by Damien Rudd (Birds of Panic: Sexual Behaviour of Young People) has also been based on it.[14]

Publications 1952-1979

  • Society and the Homosexual (1952)
  • A Minority: Male homosexuality in Great Britain (1960)
  • Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality: A comparative study of three types of homosexuals (1965)
  • The Sexual Behaviour of Young People (1965)
  • Social Research (1969)
  • The Strange Case of Pot (1971)
  • The Sexual Behaviour of Young People (1973)
  • Report of the Committee on the Operation of the Sexual Containment Act (1976)References
  1. ^ Westwood, Gordon (1952). Society and the Homosexual. London: Longmans Green.
  2. ^ (Peter Wildeblood: Against the Law)
  3. ^ H.M.S.O (1957). Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. London: H.M.S.O..
  4. ^ Westwood, Gordon (1960). A Minority: A Report on the Life of the Male Homosexual in Great Britain. London: Longmans Green.
  5. ^ Schofield, Michael (1965). Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality. London: Longmans.
  6. ^ Schofield, Michael (1965). The Sexual Behaviour of Young People. London: Longmans.
  7. ^ Society and the Homosexual, 1952
  8. ^ A Minority,
  9. ^ Sociological Asopects of Homosexuality, 1965
  10. ^ Schofield, Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality1965: p203
  11. ^ The Sexual Behaviour of Young People,1965
  12. ^ The Sexual Behaviour of Young Adults,1971
  13. ^ Wellings, Kay (April 1996). “Sexual Behaviour in Young People”. Ballieres Clin. Obset.Gynacol. 10 (1): 139-60.
  14. ^ Rudd, Damien. “Birds of Panic: Sexual Behaviour of Young Peopl”. Retrieved 14/Aug/2012.

How to be Gay: book review

How To Be Gay By David M Halperin Belknap Press Hardback 978-0-674-06679-3 pp534 £25.95 To be published 30th August 2012 And reviewed by Ken Plummer in Times Higher Education Supplement THES  23rd August 2012 ______________________________________________________________  This is a delightfully puzzling book. The author, David Halperin, originally a classical scholar is eminent in the field of queer…

Haunting Images: Cyborg by Lynn Randolph

I am sure lives can get shaped through imageries as much as words. For some – the artists, the film makers, the photographers- this may be the key to their lives. But most people live with imageries in their life. How we see our world has consequences.

I hope and plan to show a few of my favourite imageries on this site from time to time. And here is another long term favourite: it is Cyborg by Lynn Randolph.

It is an image that I have lived with for 20 years and used a lot in my work. It has been much discussed in gender courses as it was used and discussed by Donna Haraway in her work The Cyborg Manifesto (1985).  It captures a mood and tone from a period of my life – a postmodern moment. It captures the work of a new friend- Lynn Randolph who I first met in 1987. But above all for me it captures, condenses and confuses, in a deeply ironic fashion, our ‘humanity’: our location as unique human beings in a world of machines, and stars, and animals: the universalities of connections in our unique moments.

See Lynn’s work on:

Queer in Europe

Queer in Europe A Book Review to be published in Sexualities: Vol 15 No5/6 September 2012 Robert Kulpa & Joanna Mizielinksa  eds De-Centering Western Sexualities: Central and European Perspectives  2011 Ashgate  ISBN 978-1-4094-0242-8   Price  £60.00 hb. Lisa Downing & Robert Gillett  eds  Queer In Europe  2011 Ashgate  ISBN 978-1-4094-0464-4   Price £55.00 hb.  The challenge to…

John H. Gagnon and William Simon.

Where does the drama get its materials? From the unending conversation that is going on at the point in history when we are born’. Kenneth Burke

John Gagnon and Bill Simon were amongst the towering intellectual influences of my early life. I read them throughout the 1960’s. They taught me that:

 “ (1) Sexual conduct is entirely historically and culturally determined; (2) the meaning of conduct does not reside in a reading of the bodily activity of individuals; (3) sexual science is historically and culturally determined in equal measure ;(4) sexuality is acquired, maintained, and unlearned in all of its aspects and is organized by social structure and culture, and (5) gender and sexuality are both learned from of conduct and are linked differently in different cultures.  (John Gagnon: The Interpretation of Desire p136 ID).

John Gagnon and William Simon

My first encounter with John was with the sociologists Michael Schofield who introduced me to him in 1970 in Wayland Young’s House – 100 Bayswater Road. He subsequently became the external examiner of my PhD, he visited Essex in 1984 (when I also met Cathy Greenblat), and I visited his hosting university Stony Brook in 1985. I first met Bill many years later at Santa Barbara in 1987 where we were both teaching summer school. I also met Lynn his wife. Together we had a wonderful summer together and Bill introduced me to the music of Andrea Marcovici.

John and Bill are both amazingly strong intellectuals in the best sense of that word.

They studied at Chicago in the mid 1950’s. Subsequently John went to the Kinsey Institute and Bill joined him a little later (with a Hugh Hefner grant).  They worked ‘crazily together’ till 1968; and then wrote the book Sexual Conduct by 1973. By this time they were also getting new career structures – John at Stony Brook, Bill at Houston (and- as it happens- with new partners and families).  But after Sexual Conduct, they remained friends: you could always see them together at conferences; but the critical moment was over. Their intellectual lives moved on differently. We must all be grateful that they spent those five years together at Kinseyland. Without the right time, the right place, the people mix would this have happened.

John writes in his biographical essay:

Two senses of the world that I know Bill and I shared. First, was a certain view of our lives as accidental and contingent, lives that could have turned out quite differently; and second, a recognition of our marginality to the larger sociological profession as advanced by the Graduate Program in Sociology at the University of Chicago and recorded by the official historians of the department and the discipline…..   …. P287 SC 2

 They were, of course, writing before Foucault’s influential work (though as John has remarked when he encountered Foucault: “What Foucault does is too texty; its too parochially French..  he is not very new except to folks who are  not well read in history and the other social sciences’……. P280  Together John Gagnon and Bill Simon were a powerhouse of ideas. Here is a potpourri of some of their ideas in axioms:

Therefore, the authors reject the unproven assumption that “powerful” psychosexual drives are fixed biological attributes. More importantly, we reject the even more dubious assumption that sexual capacities or experiences tend to translate immediately into a kind of universal “knowing” or innate wisdom – that sexuality has a magical ability, possessed by no other capacity, that allows biological drives to be expressed directly in psychosocial and social behaviors.  Pyschosexual Development 1969

 In any given society, at any given moment in its history, people become sexual in the same way as they become everything else. Without much reflection, they pick up direction from their social environment. They acquire and assemble meanings, skills and values from the people around them. Their critical choices are often made by going along and drifting. People learn when they are quite young a few of the things they are expected to be, and continue slowly to accumulate a belief in who they are and ought to be throughout  the rest of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Sexual conduct is learned in the same ways and through the same processes; it is acquired and assembled in human interaction, judged and performed in specific cultural and historical worlds.  John Gagnon Human Sexualities 1977: p2)

 All conduct is scripted , and ..scripting theory is not merely to be applied to sexual conduct, but to all social conduct’ ID P136  Orig 1991

 No Play Without A Script : We see sexual behavior therefore as scripted behavior, not the masked expression of a primordial drive.  Pychosexual development 1969

 We have allowed the homosexual’s object choice to dominate and control our imagery of him……..(we will) only begin to understand [ through]… those complex matrices wherein  most human behaviour is fashioned’….. Formulation, 1967.

 There was no magic in the world… The world is no longer enchanted, and it cannot be enchanted again. And the search for enchantment in sexuality must end in failure……. SSp284

 The critical posture to maintain is that the future will not be better or worse, only different’. P233 SC2. P233.

 It is abnormal to think scientifically. Most thought processes, as you go through the world, are impressions and fragments and pieces. You have to create an environment in which linear and highly coherent thought can go forward; you find a quite room, you close the doors, you turn on your computer, you look at the screen, you type. You pretend there is nothing else going on in your head. But that describes a specialized environment of a very specialized form of thinking…… SSp280

The most important permanent truth about sexuality is that there may be no important truths about sexuality that are permanent … all discourses about sexuality are ultimately discourses about something else; sexuality rather than serving as a constant thread that unifies the totality of human experience, is the ultimate dependent variable, requiring explanation more often that it provides explanation’ (Postmodern Sexualities 1996:142; xvii)

Quote of the Day:

On getting it all wrong!

“You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.” Philip Roth (American Pastoral

A Puzzle?

Pessimism, Hope and Real Utopias

Imagining Better Worlds? Pessimism, Hope and Real Utopias I have recently been reading two books with hugely different claims. One is by by the arch conservative philosopher Roger Scruton; the other by a long dead and much admired Marxist, Ernst Bloch. The conservative is arguing for The Uses of Pessimism – the importance of pessimism…

Poetic: Snow

incorrigibly plural snowflakes

I wake up most mornings with a deep sense of the multiplicities of things, and a bafflement at how we can ever comprehend any of it. I find Louis Macneice’s Snow quite inspirational.

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

the starry, starry skies

and the snowiness of snow.

the infinity of lists

and the galleries of libraries.

little lives too full to grasp.

legions of dead too lost to see.

a babel of language and love.

a topos of inexpressible ineffability,

ad infinitum, this pluralistic world

Michelangelo: Head

Michelangelo: Study of a Head (in red chalk)

This image was used at the British Sociological Association Conference in 1993 and a copy of it still hangs in the corridors of the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex.

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