Before ‘Spanner’: A Sociologist Struggles to Make Sense of ‘Sadomasochism’ in the 1970s



Recently, I gave a talk on some of my very early work on BDSM at a conference at Essex. The conference was

Remembering Operation Spanner: Culture, Law, History and Crime Conference
10-11th September 2015

Here is the abstract:

In this talk I will return, rather disturbingly, to research conducted in another time (the 1970’s) and place – as part of a project called, rather pompously, “Symbolic Interactionism and Sexual Differentiation: An Empirical Investigation”. The main aim of this study was to apply sociological/symbolic interactionist insights to a wide array of sexualities that had hitherto been the domain of psychologists and clinicians; and one of these fields moved under the category of ‘sadomasochism’. This study was pre-computers, pre-AIDS, pre-Clause 28, pre Thatcher, pre ‘Video-Nasties’, pre-Body studies, pre-Butler, pre- globalization, pre-postmodernism and largely even pre-Foucault: and, apart from a few quotes used in my Telling Sexual Stories (1995), it was never published. (Another world then!)

I will review some ‘findings’; indicate the ‘sensitising concepts’ and theories that I found useful; and raise some of the analytic and practical problems the research generated. I will briefly conclude with an update: looking at some of the more recent research and speculating just a little on how all this might link -or not link- both to the Spanner decision, and to some of my more recent work on Intimate Citizenship (2003) and Cosmopolitan Sexualities (2015).

Summary of talk

Prologue: Time, Generational Standpoints and Generational Sexualities

Contexts and Early Days (1965-90)/Building New Research Areas (1975-79)

Conceptualisations for SM: Symbols, Scripts and Social Worlds

Paradox and Ambivalence: Grounded Ideas of SM

Back to the Future/Moving On: Challenges for Kink.

For the handout I prepared, look at handout Before Spanner

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