Peter Townsend was the founding Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex and he has been an inspiration for many, including me. I first read his study of care of the elderly – The Last Refuge – as a student in the mid 1960’s. His book was enormously influential at the time. I was later to have the privilege of teaching with him. Most famously he developed the idea of relative poverty and he lived to see it being widely accepted and applied in many countries across the world.
But it has now been rejected by the current coalition government, who have returned us to the old language of the disreputable poor: the skivers and the scroungers , ideas we thought had been laid to rest. This government has displayed a dire form of anti-humanity which has distressed large numbers of people. If it returns to power, it plans to take it even further with even deeper currently unspecified cuts into welfare of between £11-30 billion pounds. I sigh with disbelief and horror. It would be cruel and nasty government. Poor Peter would turn in his grave at the horrors being perpetrated and the loss of much of his life’s work.
Let’s recall the final words of his book, The Last Refuge (1959):
We look back with horror at some of the cruelties perpetrated in the 1860’s, just as our descendants, a hundred years hence, will look back with horror at some of the cruelties we perpetrate today. Possibly the ultimate test of the quality of a free, democratic and prosperous society is to be found in the standards of freedom, democracy and prosperity enjoyed by its weakest member.
A discussion between Ken Plummer, Jeffrey Weeks and other contributors chaired by Gregg Blachford; with an update with Róisín Ryan-Flood was held in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex on Thursday March 19th 2015. The Making of the Modern Homosexual was published in June 1981 in hardback and paperback. The book was inspired by Mary McIntosh’s article ‘The Homosexual Role” Social Problems Vol. 16, No 2, Fall 1968 which was republished in the book and followed by a discussion. The book was developed in an early workshop, linked to an Open University Second Level Intro to Sociology Course (Study Section 8), and held at Essex in 1979. (The O.U. programme ran for over a decade, throughout the 1980’s.)
The Book ‘Blurb’
‘Is the “homosexual” a type of person that has been with us in various guises throughout history? Is he or she simply a “being” that we are slowly discovering and understanding better? Or is the “homosexual” simply an invention of our century? The authors of this original and important new work take this last view and argue that although “same-sex” sexual experiences may have existed throughout history, the notion of the “homosexual” is a peculiarly modern idea, which has profound consequences in the structuring of recent homosexual experiences. The essays in this book take the contemporary construction of the homosexual as their common concern’.
The Book Contents
Part One: The Making of a Sociology of Homosexuality
Building a Sociology of Homosexuality (Ken Plummer)
‘The Homosexual Role’ (Mary McIntosh); with interview (McIntosh, Weeks, Plummer)
Part Two: Directions for Enquiry
Homosexual Categories (Ken Plummer)
Discourse, Desire And Sexual Deviance: Some Problems In The History Of Historiography (Jeffrey Weeks)
Liberating Lesbian Research (Annabel Faraday)
Part Three: The Making Of The `Modern Male Homosexual: Explorations In Research
Pansies, Perverts And Macho Men: Changing Conceptions Of Male Homosexuality (John Marshall)
Gender Confusions: Psychological And Psychiatric Conceptions Of Transvestism And Transexualism (Dave King)
Male Dominance And The Gay World (Gregg Blachford)
Appendices on Research
Some images from those early days -1980
A day meeting to discuss the book and organised by the Open University who used many images for their programme broadcast throughout the 1980’s. The photos show Jeffrey Weeks, Ken Plummer, Gregg Blachford, John Marshall, Mary McIntosh and Annabel Faraday.
Today, March 9th, marks the 10th anniversary of my ‘illness’. It is this day in 2005 I was rushed to hospital in Santa Barbara, diagnosed with ‘alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver’, told to give up drink or die. It was also the day I first heard the word ‘transplant’ It…
Announcement of forthcoming seminar 50 Years of Essex Sociology: A seminar sponsored by the Department of Sociology and the Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship ‘The Making of the Modern Homosexual’ Revisited A discussion between Ken Plummer and Jeffrey Weeks and other contributors chaired by Gregg Blachford and an update with Róisín Ryan-Flood. Thursday March…
IMAGINATIONS: FIFTY YEARS OF ESSEX SOCIOLOGY EDITED BY KEN PLUMMER was published on September 1st The photo shows the ‘sneak preview’ at the Wivenhoe Book Shop. This unique book tells the story of the Sociology Department at the University of Essex through fifty contributions from past and present. With many photographs, the students and lecturers…
Imaginations: University of Essex’s sociological half-century Eminent sociologist Ken Plummer captures 50 tales of a groundbreaking department. The continuing relevance of the ideals that have inspired one of Britain’s pioneering departments of sociology is examined in a new book. Ken Plummer, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Essex, has devoted much…
Imaginations: fifty years of Essex Sociology edited by Ken Plummer A book to celebrate fifty years of the Essex Sociology Department. Through fifty contributions from past and present, the students and lecturers in the department tell the story of its history, its ideas and its community. It provides an unusual insight into the workings…
The Marrying Kind. Edited by Mary Bernstein and Verta Taylor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Pp 432 $25.00pb $75.00 cloth Reviewed by Ken Plummer in the American Journal of Sociology Vol. 19, No 6, May 2014. p1765-7. Gay Marriage was scarcely a whisper twenty years ago. Now it has become a global public…
I gave this lecture at the Huddersfield Conference TROUBLING NARRATIVES: IDENTITY MATTERS on June 20th 2014. In this lecture I revisited my study Telling Sexual Stories, published nearly twenty years ago. I began by considering the background – how it came to be written. I then asked what its original contributions might have…