Farewell Sexualities from Ken Plummer

Draft for

Vol 16, No 7, October 2013

This issue marks the completion of the editorial changeover for the journal, a process that commenced in Autumn 2012. A list of the full new editorial team can be found listed on the inside cover. Here the departing editor and the incoming editors make some remarks.


Sexualities: Some Notes from the Departing Editor


Ken Plummer


Sexualities started its journey in 1996 and the first issue was published in 1998. Since then, it has been part of my life for this whole period but now the time has come to wave a cheery goodbye and to welcome a new team. Here I will say a few brief words about the journal’s past, present and future.


By the mid 1990’s, the once seemingly new Critical Sexualities Studies was starting to come of age. The 1960’s through the 1980’s had been an exciting time: debating  ‘constructionism versus essentialism’, challenging the established terminologies of ‘the homosexual’, digging out new historical questions, questioning ideas of the ‘the natural’, ‘the sexual’ and ‘sex/gender’, building a sense of the significance of the cultural, and of course building the new social movements of sexual and gender change.  At the start of the 1990’s, A Lesbian and Gay Studies had started to become established across several countries, and ‘queer’ was just starting its innovative and radical journey through literary studies challenging and critiquing “heteronormativitities”. New journals were starting to appear: The Journal of History of Sexuality in 1990, and GLQ in 1993. For me, to repeat, this was a truly exciting moment.


Sexualities was born to capture this excitement and to publish the widest range of this new “critical-empirical-theoretical- cultural-historical- sociological” work. The new journal wanted not only to help provide a new space for publication but also to symbolize a field of enquiry that had attained a kind of recognition in the academy. I have since called it Critical Sexualities Studies (Plummer, 2012).


It may be interesting to look briefly back on my original proposal for the journal and review the kind of topics that I proposed it should analyze way back in April 1995. This area list has in fact been printed in every issue of the journal on the back cover since its inception; but here I am reproducing the original proposal – which is slightly more detailed.


Here is what I suggested would be covered in the 1995 outline proposal which I submitted to Sage. I quote:
In its first three years, the journal would hope to encourage a wide range of contributions. Some of the topics on which papers will be encouraged include:

  • Hi Tech and the New Technologies of Sexualities

A very topical issue; and maybe the focus of an early special issue. I am thinking here of articles and debates around cybersex, telephone sex, virtual reality, and the links to masturbation, safer sex and the like.

  • The (New) Geography of Sexualities

Landscapes and spaces of sexualities need analysing. Here is a call for papers that locate the ‘spaces’ of sex in the cities throughout the world.

  • The Stratification of Sexualities by class, race, gender and age

A crucial but neglected topic – again it would be good to have a special issue on, say, Class and Sex. But just how do modern sexualities get organized through stratification systems? Likewise race would be a good focus for a special theme.

  • Queer  Theory, and Lesbian and Gay Studies

This is not to be a journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies  – there are now quite a few of these. Nor is it meant to copy the direction of Queer. But the journal will regularly provide a home for articles that analyse the shifting nature of same-sex experiences across the world, and debate its politics.

  • Reproductive Rights

Articles that link Sexualities to all the debates over reproduction/abortion/ changing patterns of fertility etc will be encouraged. Note that they should link to Sexualities.

  • Sexualized Identities / Sexualized Communities

All the new communities and all the new identities can find a home for analysis in this journal – from debates over bisexual identities to analyses of specific fetishist communities; from the problematizing of ‘heterosexual identity’ to examination of male-based erotic settings such as the gay bathhouse.

  • The Globalization of  Sexualities

Articles from all round the world will be encouraged, but will be favoured when they directly confront issues of globalization and the intermingling of different cultures.

  • Representations, Pornography and Mass Media Communication of Sexualities

Photographs and artwork can be easily included in the journal – though only in black and white (black and white glossy prints are preferred to ensure clear reproduction). Analyses of all kinds of media and how they represent sexualities will be welcome, including cultural histories of different kinds of audiences and their consumption of sexualities. However, all the ‘old’ debates over pornography should be avoided – unless some striking new analysis is provided!!!

  • Sex Work and Sex Tourism

It would be good to have an early special section around prostitution/ sex work (old and new forms of, in different countries of the world, male and female, etc.) and the rise of sex tourism with its links to globalization.

  • Cross-generational Sexualities

A controversial topic? But there is definitely a space here for discussions of the nature of childhood sexualities in different settings – along with aspects of child sexual abuse, paedophilia and its organisation, social gerontology and sexual experience of the elderly, moral campaigns around childhood sexuality etc.

  • The Diversification of Sexualities

Or what used to be called perversions! There is room for describing, discussing and analysing the full range of sexual experiences from fetishes to aspects of sm. A special theme on solo sex/masturbation would be welcomed.

  • Methodologies of Sex Research

A suggested early issue may be ‘Ethnographies of Sexuality’ – maybe a themed issue. It could present an array of original ethnographies, a review of their history, and an analysis of methodologies. Papers on methods of sex research will not usually be of great interest – unless they focus on matters like ethics,  critiques of standard practices etc. Remember this is largely (but not exclusively) a critical, qualitative journal.

  • Sexual Politics

Debates and controversies in all the areas of sexual politics will be encouraged. There is no partisan view; as long as all papers meet the journal’s criteria of relevance (see above).  Feminist, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered politics can be dissected from many different positions and debates established.

  • Health and Sexuality / The Construction and Impacts of Sexualities through HIV and AIDS

The journal will not be publishing medical articles around sexual health; but all issues concerning the ways in which Sexualities are socially organized through health issues will be of great interest.

  • Key Thinkers and Theories

What has been the contribution of Bataille, Kinsey, Hite, Humpheys or Rubin? There is space to review classic contributions, as well as situate new ones.

There is also space for many other topics, like:

  • Love and Intimacy
  • Boundaries and Trangressive Sexualities
  • Feminism and Sexualities
  • Narratives of Sexualities
  • Youth Pregnancy and Teenage Sexualities
  • The Gendering of Sexualities
  • Organizational Sexualities
  • Households and Domestic Economies
  • The Pedagogy of Sex
  • Sexual Violence and Harassment
  • Gender Blending
  • Bodies and Sexualities
  • Moral Panics and the Social Regulation of Sexualities


This agenda will soon be twenty years old; and as I read it over again, I find it did more or less set a loose, wide and cultural agenda. I wonder if the new editors will agree that this still more or less holds for today- though with a few minor reservations and a few shifts of emphasis. Here are mine.


The first omission is very baffling. Somehow I came to omit ‘sexual rights’ or ‘intimate citizenship’ from this original listing! This is odd indeed; but it has not stopped us publishing quite a lot on such topics. Indeed several special issues have dealt with sexual and intimate citizenship and there have been lots of articles. But it is not there in the original list. It has to have been an oversight on my part and needs rectifying.  Perhaps it was so close to me as my own research, too obvious, to even state it? Or maybe I presumed it under the heading ‘sexual politics’. But it is a serious omission and needs correcting. It is also strange that masculinities studies was not listed as an issue; again it was certainly on my mind as I was writing about it at the time (Plummer, 200xxx)


A second and key glaring omission would have to be religion. It is indeed a sign of the changing times, almost certainly brought on by the Twin Towers Tragedy, that global religions, once hardly to be present in Sexuality debates, have now rushed to the top of the agenda. It is hard to believe really that many of the debates in the late twentieth century were presented without any consideration of global faiths and religions – but they were. Nowadays this has become impossible. We have indeed featured religion in special sections of past editions; but I see it as becoming more and more of an issue in coming issues The deep ways in which global religion shapes most of the world is apparent once again.  Yet, we have to be very vigilant in this return to religion. We need deep and very critical analyses of their pervasive and complicit role throughout history in creating gender inequalities and oppression, shaping damaged sexual worlds and the slaughtering and exclusion of millions of sexual outsiders. Even today the major world opposition to progressive sexualities come from religions and often forming unholy alliances.  Progressive sexualities will depend on a serious and very critical reworking of our relationship to religious thinking: in my view, too much recent work remains too sympathetic and accommodative to the regressive terrors of global religions which continue to impede sexual progress.

In 1998, at the end of ten years of the journal, there was a special issue that reflected on the first decade. Here I reviewed key themes and suggested another agenda for the future. I do not want to repeat any of that here.  Suffice to say that the journal had fulfilled its promise of covering a wide range of cultural topics; and many members of the editorial board then made remarks on directions for the future of the journal and sexualities studies.


The most apparent conclusion I draw now is that issues that were a little cutting edge twenty years ago have now become orthodoxies. There is now good work in virtually all the fields of interest listed. Indeed, almost all these interests have now turned into specialist fields. I think for example of large clusters who now work on sex work and prostitution, on porn and internet studies, on migration, on local and global ethnography, on sexual violence, on transgender. What is quite striking as a new generation settles into this field is just how professionalized and institutionalized it has all become. There are centres and courses everywhere; conferences of all kinds are held regularly all over the world; new journals are appearing; and professors of gender and sexuality are now commonplace. It is a very different scene from half a century ago when I started out. There is no reason to be alone anymore in the field of sexualities studies.


I believe that the journal has continued at the forefront of many of these developments. It has helped foster new fields of interest such as asexuality and auto/ethnography; and consolidated older ones: transgendered bodies and debates, porn, and  BDSM  have featured regularly. Sexualization has grown into quite a prominent theme – it was not really around even as an idea in the mid 1990’s.There have also been recent special features which have covered a wide range of issues:  European Queer, LGBTQ Sex Work, Citizenship, Law, Class and Intersectionality, Anarchism, Religion, Visual Culture, Lacquer and his theory of historical change and Sex pedagogy.  I was especially happy to see the publication of a special issue on ‘Anarchism and sexuality’ edited by Jamie Heckert. This is not much discussed and the issue seems to have some impact.


In the final issues of my editorship, I also noted the almost ubiquitous presence of ‘queer’: we had special issues on Queer Europe, Queer Citizenship, Queer Netherlands. Queer theory has often sat a little uneasily in Sexualities but it has always also had a major presence. It has certainly always been included in its agenda but in an odd way Sexualities has a wider scope. Queer has always been resolutely bound up with being anti-normativity: against dualities, it transgresses gender, sexuality and the normal. Polarised gender, polarized homo/heterosexual divide and the normal are its enemies. Yet ironically these also serve to define it. Critical Sexualities Studies did not want to limit its work to this frame. Hence queer theory is simply not used by a lot of people who work in this field, and indeed can be even actively disliked. I have never had this view. But there is a largely omnipresent Westernization and Americanization about queer theory – out there, once again, colonizing the global territory. And my reading is that in many countries these radical ideas have not gone down well. The time might have come for all to make their peace.  But it should be clear that I have always thought queer theory a narrow theory – and that Sexualities will, I hope, always have a much wider remit.



I guess I have been working in this area more or less for nearly half a century (I wrote my first undergraduate essay on homosexuality in 1966, and published my first article in 1973), and have experienced many major developments. As I leave both the field and the journal, I do indeed feel a great sense of advance on very many fronts; there have been tremendous achievements, politically and intellectually. It is indeed as Jeffrey Weeks puts it ‘The World We Have Won’ : or maybe more correctly, a world that some have won – for the moment. There is still much to be done. And as I leave, a few anxieties stir in me.


First is my anxiety about the global. The significance of grasping the importance of the global now seems well established and the past fifteen years has brought a hopefully irrevocable turn towards the international and the transnational. But my hunch is that it is even more difficult and complicated that we originally thought. There has been a very uneven global concern over the past few years. Certainly, the journal has had a decidedly global push and featured many articles on many parts of the world including Sri Lankan nachchi, Hong Kong Tonghi,  Shanghai, Chinese Migrants in Japan, Cuba, Ho Chi Minh City, Buoenes Aires, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa. There have certainly been a range of articles from Europe including  Ireland, Poland, Spain and the ‘Queer Netherlands’, as well as articles from  Australia, New Zealand,  Canada, Finland.  Still, that said, the centre of the journal is still undoubtedly the North and the West – and primarily the U.K. and the U.S.  It had been my impression that we had published a wider range of articles from Central Africa, India, and elsewhere: but in fact it seems that although we have reviewed quite a few articles from them, they finally did not make publication in the covers of the journal.


My hunch is that many journals are now facing the deeper implications of trying to go global through a western based journal. Whether we like it or not there is a Western Intellectual International Movement which sets the style and key issues for Sexualites studies; it often takes over other countries, returning to home bases in Western countries. In all of this, there are immediate problems of language and translation; of culture and academic backgrounds; of contrasting tradition of scholarship. We have to worry about western careers being built on the back of poorer countries, as well as the tragedy of native scholars becoming westernized and then writing back on their own country with new degrees of western sophistication. We have gone global but do not really know how to handle it.  What we need are more studies in the form of Sylvia Tamale’s excellent African Sexualities  which is a fine home grown collection of ideas and findings about “Africa” and sexualities. Likewise Saskia Wieringa and Horacios Sivoris ‘s recent The Sexual History of the Global South also serves as a harbingers of a new local bred kind of writing and understanding.


A second anxiety concerns the growing fragmenting and specializing of the field. This is generally true of all of academia. The enormous growth in the field has been accompanied by bureaucratic funding requirements, publishers protocols, ethical guidelines, celebrity career structures and the like: it has made the whole field very fragmented and splintered into specific groupings –on ‘ sex work and prostitution’, on HIV and AIDS and health, the new technologies of sex and so forth. In many ways this is good and it is a prime feature of the journal to bring together this disparate collection. But I also think the journal needs sometimes to act as dynamic to help create wider theoretical and critical theory more generally – to bring the heterogeneous spaces together.


Another anxiety concerns the fact that there seems to be little theoretical excitement in the field outside of queer theory. Thus much of the sociological work remains committed to its usual style of empirically focused middle range theory, and data analysis through small scale empirical research. It is the sine qua non of most articles we have published. Innovative theory is relatively rare – with only a few forays beyond established thinkers. This is all solid work and relevant; but it has little of the challenge of the earlier days and hardly pushes us theoretically on very much. The literature is now overwhelmingly dominated by references to Foucault, Butler or Bordieu; or to queer and inter/sectionality (ideas at least a quarter century old).  However bold they once were, they are now the unmistakable orthodoxy in this field: they are canonical and dominate, for instance, citations.

Only queer theory excites theoretically. The way of much sociology is to bore. It is only really with queer theory that ideas still push, provoke and sometimes dazzle, sometimes even shock. Queer theory itself is now over a quarter of as century old and the shock of the new itself has become institutionalized. But that said it manages to keep us shocked about orgasms (AnnamarieJagose), time (Elizabeth Freeman), and Lady Gaga (Jack Halberstam)! It might be good to see some bolder ventures like these in Sexualities in the future.



Now in 2013, the journal is an established, wide ranging and flourishing journal. But it has never been for all: it is flanked on one side by the continuing naturalistic tradition of the sexologists and on the other by the anarchistic traditions of Gaga Land.
The journal has been an exciting part of my life for nearly twenty years and I am sad to be leaving. Although I started out with dreams and visions, the practical exigencies of everyday life – including illness- meant the journal had to become more practically focused. Although in the early days it was possible to commission articles and establish special features, bit-by-bit I have simply had to be responsive to the flood of articles submitted and the constant stream of suggestions for special issues. We have increased our size from 4 issues a year to 8. (And I note that the other journals in this field have all also become bigger). There is just so much work now taking place in this field- and of course the awful demands of the REF in the UK make more and more publication necessary. But the demands for space are now considerable. It may be that the incoming board will develop more and more features on line that help the hard version of the journal only be one of its outputs.


I have been lucky in having a good editorial board – some have worked well beyond the call of duty, and others have just left me alone (and also left the journal alone).  Most of all the generally smooth running of the journal has been down to Agnes Skamballis who has been the key personal front of the journal. I am profoundly indebted to her. The journal was contracted by Sage in 1996, Agnes became its administrator in 1999 ( Christine Kane was the superb original administrator who set up all the foundational  systems); it could be said the journal is Agnes. I am so pleased to say that for a good while she will be continuing as the editorial manager.


There are also many people to thank at Sage: Chris Rojek , Jane Makoff, Jane Price…, Mila Steele,  Jai Seeman, Jane…., Caroline. Lucy Glover worked on the journal for a year whilst Agnes was seriously ill; Lisa  & Kate…..
I have spent the best part of the last twenty years being engaged with the journal Sexualities.  Very conscious of the way new generations shape scholarship and activism, I now think it is clearly time for me to gently depart. The journal surely needs a new generation of scholars to ‘dream ahead’ and to activate the journal into a forward looking frenzy of ideas: to create new spaces, push new styles, generate new interests, make new methods. And all the time to further the serious critical cultural study of global human sexualities in order to make this a better world for all. It is now time to bid it a very fond farewell, to let go, and to wish a new generation and the new editors the excitement, the joy and the success I think the journal deserves on the next phases of its journey.


Ken Plummer, May 2013


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