Workshop in February 2015, probably in Berlin
The sexual as well as the exotic are prominent markers of the unknown, of alterity, and of “excess”. These different dimensions of unfamiliarity often mutually intensify each other, for example when the racial Other is sexualized or when certain erotic practices are exoticized. Ideas about extra-European animalistic savagery testify to this, as do images of deviant sexual encounters happening in obscure and exciting settings. The dynamics of sexualizing the Other or of othering certain sexual practices can thereby unfold in discriminatory, idealizing, emancipatory or normalising registers. The intricate complexity of colonial intimacies around 1900, the sexualisation of non-white bodies in the 1920s entertainment business and the significance of faraway places for sexual experimentation in the 1970s demonstrate this. These examples hint at a long tradition of European longings for the primordial, unspoilt and uninhibited sexuality of supposedly uncivilized others, exposing the contradictions and the ambivalences of the Western civilizing project in interesting ways.
Yet, besides such long-term continuities, the interplay of the exotic and the sexual was also shaped by more rapid changes and variations. Its historical malleability comes into view once one places the “sexotic” within specific political, economic and cultural contexts and conditions ranging from imperial power relations across post-colonial global asymmetries to gendered hierarchies. Such dynamics can be investigated by analysing popular representations and practices in visual culture (from Paul Gauguin or Aubrey Beardsley to Love Boat or the Blue Lagoon), in choreography and music (from Richard Strauss’ Salome across Josephine Baker’s banana dance to contemporary Hula performances), in literature (from Charles Baudelaire to Hubert Fichte or William S. Burroughs), or in pornography (employing e.g. Eastern European, African or Asian casts and sceneries). Similar dynamics also surface in sex tourism to Thailand, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean; in workshops propagating Kamasutra know-how or Tantric practices; in internet porn, where performers can be ethnicized by a mouse click; and in sex-work related human trafficking and migration.
The workshop aims at tracking these histories of the “sexotic” thereby broadening the focus on intimate colonial encounters in the periphery and the metropole that hitherto prevailed in historiographical research. In this vein, the proposed analytical endeavour will, firstly, discuss these issues in juxtaposition to phenomena like tourism, pornography, sexual techniques, and sex-work as well as, secondly, extend the investigation beyond the heyday of imperialism into the present. The workshop will thus emphasize historical perspectives on the interplay between the sexual and the exotic in a comprehensive way: How and why did imaginations of exotic sex and sexual exoticism change across time? Were there different, regionally, gender- or class-specific exoticizing stereotypes? Were discriminatory strategies of sexualisation contested by counter-strategies, de-sexualising or otherwise? How were strange places, bodies and practices translated, conveyed and rehearsed and thus appropriated in new surroundings? Which political, economic and cultural conditions enabled and shaped the construction, perception, production and consumption of exotic sex and sexual exoticism since the 19th century in German-, French-, and English-speaking Europe?
This call is primarily addressed to historians and scholars from the social sciences, cultural and media studies or other neighbouring disciplines who take historical dimensions into account. The workshop language is English. Please apply by sending a short CV of not more than one page and a paper proposal of not more than 300 words as word files to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31 March 2014. The organizers will finalize the program of the workshop by late April, inform applicants accordingly, and then apply for funds. Participants will learn in October 2014 whether sufficient financial support for covering travel expenses and accommodation could be secured. At the two-day workshop in late February 2015, which will probably take place in Berlin, the around twelve participants will present for 20 minutes each leaving ample time for discussions.