This site is under reconstruction and updating in the summer of 2021
This site is under reconstruction and updating in the summer of 2021

Tag: Body

I am lecturing social psychology for a few weeks

When I started teaching at Essex in 1975, one of my main courses was Social Psychology. This year I am returning ti give four lectures on this course. 40 years on! And the subject has moved on You can find this by clicking here SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY SC213-5-FY 2017 SUPPLEMENTARY HANDOUT FOR WEEKS 17-20, LECTURES 12-15…

One day course on illness

A one day course will be run by Ken on illness stories on Friday June 14th Stories of Health and Illness: An Introduction: (Essex Short Courses in Social Research) Professor Ken Plummer from Department of Sociology, University of Essex At 09:30 in Seminar Room 3, Constable Building, Essex University, Colchester Campus . Course overview Telling…

Transplant Hallucinations

6th Anniversary of My Transplant: Time for Hallucinatory Stories Today, February 18th, is the 6th Anniversary of my Liver Transplant. I remain full of daily gratitude to my donor – and her family. I have had six years of extra life so far! It is a true scientific and human miracle.  Any point in history…

Image of a Transplant Man: Laura Cuch

Image of a Transplant Man: Laura Cuch

In the Winter of 2010, I was approached by a photographer who was making a study of ‘Hidden Lives’. She was taking images of people who had confronted some kind of ‘body problem’. As I recall the three main groups were transplant patients, insomniacs, and women who had not been able to have children.

She came to my home and interveiwed me for a number of hours about my eperiences. She then went away and pondered what I had said; and came back to me with a  number fo suggestions for  a photography session….

Her work has now been presented at a number of exhibitions, in a limited edition book  (Sleeplesee, No Ma, Trans) and on her web site. You may like to look at it in more detail via:

Not unusually I suspect, this is not an image that I see of myself! It is a fine image but I don’t like it! I look so much more confident than I usually feel.

About Trans

Trans is a photographic portrait project about people who have had an organ transplant and how this experience becomes woven into their personal and biographical narratives. The possibility of living thanks to another person’s organ somehow transgresses the Western essentialist view of individuality and subjectivity – the notion of a unified, self-contained body. As such, Trans aims to look at how organ transplantation can affect people’s sense of self-identity.

Individuals have experienced taste, personality or behavioral changes after an organ transplant, which they sometimes relate to the traits of their donor. Recent biomedical research in the USA suggests that the brain does not have an exclusive role in ‘data processing’ and that it may be possible for a transplanted organ to connect a recipient with the donor’s memories. Despite such research, the theory of cellular memory has not been scientifically proven and changes to donor recipients are currently explained as a result of improving health, medication or psychological shock.

There is no question that an organ transplant is a life-changing experience, full of emotional, embodied and social complexities. Often these translate into certain fears and desires regarding, for example, the acceptance or rejection of the organ; the integrity of one’s identity; mixed feelings towards the donor’s family, such as gratitude, guilt, health responsibility or debt; the variable levels of anonymity between donor families and recipients and; an urge to make sense of what may be perceived as a second chance at life.

The photographs and texts that make up Trans were created using a combination of interview and portraiture. Participants were interviewed first in order to evoke their experience of transplantation as well as to agree to the location, setting and approach for the portraits. During the photographic sessions, the focus was placed on the affective and emotional aspects that had emerged in conversation.

I would like to thank the participants of this project for their collaboration and trust.

If you would like to know about how to register as an organ donor, please

However, if you wish to become and organ donor, the most effective way is to tell your relatives.

About the trilogy

Trans is the third part of a trilogy that aims to question what it is to be human by exploring issues of subjectivity in relation to health and disease; the imaginary around the body and its control; and ‘lack’ as a corporeal condition. The first project of this trilogy, Sleepless, looks at people who sleep very little. The second project, No Ma, is about women who are not mothers and are certain they will never be. One of the key themes of the trilogy is to visually explore aspects of the human condition that are not visible.

The motivation behind this trilogy is to address vital experiences that somehow transgress the notion of a ‘normal’ human subject (established and defined by social norms through scientific/cultural discourse) in order to challenge conventional understandings of the human subject.

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)

Article: My Multiple Sick Bodies

Below is my most recent article published in April 2012. It is my first published piece based on my illness. MY MULTIPLE SICK BODIES: SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM, AUTOETHNOGRAPHY AND EMBODIMENT   Ken Plummer   Published in Bryan S Turner ed.  Routledge Handbook of Body Studies 2012: Routledge p75-93   What happens when my body breaks down…

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