Sociology | Constructing Sexuality
S522 | 11596 | Weinberg
The aim of this course is to provide an understanding of the social
constructionist perspective and its development and application in
the area of human sexuality. The course will cover the sources of
the evolution of constructionism: from symbolic interactionism (and
other interpretive approaches) in the United States, the influence
of the French post-structuralists, inputs from Britain and New
Zealand, the role played by feminist scholars and queer theorists,
and the contributions of postmodernism and cultural studies.
Students will see how these different contributions have
complemented one another in a contemporary approach to the study of
In terms of substantive content, the course will examine how the
constructions (i.e., meanings and interpretations) of various forms
and facets of sexuality are related to the evaluator’s historical,
cultural and social location. We will look at the role of power,
politics and discourse in shaping constructions of sexualities and
the misconceptions and socially-linked processes that underlie
certain traditional interpretations. This analysis casts into
relief the role of macro-sociological factors as well as those on
the interpersonal level (such as the “slight of hand” used in
transforming notions about statistical normality into imputations
about psychiatric abnormality – e.g., most people are heterosexual,
so bisexual and gay/lesbian people are psychologically abnormal).
A “sex radical pluralist” model of interpretations (one that has
been delineated by social constructionists) is proposed as an
alternative to the traditional one. The specific “sexualities” to
be discussed include nudism, forms of sex work, intergenerational
sex, homosexuality, bisexuality, sexual contact with animals,
transgenderism and sexuality, fetishism, sadomasochism, fisting,
urine play, and playing with and ingesting feces. The course will be
organized around lectures, audio-visual materials (explicit sexual
material of many of the behaviors listed above), a guest speaker,
and discussions. If you will be offended by the explicit videos or
by explicit language, please do not take this class.
Martin Weinberg, Packet of Articles available at TIS
Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children
From Sex, 2002.
Arlene Stein, Sense and Sensibilities: Stories of a Lesbian
See attached sheet for additional readings for graduate students.
Papers and Exams
Five short papers and three essay examinations.
See attached sheet for additional papers for graduate students.
S522 (Constructing Sexuality)
Re: Additional Reading and Book Reviews
The additional readings (all ordered for the course and available at
TIS) for S522 (to be done in addition to the S422 readings,
assignments, and exams) are:
(1)Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Vol.
1, which is to be read in addition to the secondary sources provided
in the course packet. No paper is assigned for this book.
(2) Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting
Children From Sex, 2002.
(3) Steven Epstein, Impure Science, Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1996. Paper assigned (see below).
(4) Ken Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social
Worlds, New York: Routledge, 1995. Paper assigned (see below)..
(5) Wayne H. Brekhus, Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs: Gay Suburbia
and the Grammar of Social Identity, Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2003. Paper assigned (see below.
Assignment for three prior books (2 – 5): Read the book completely
and write an 6-8 page book review that provides: (1) a good summary
of the book (longest part of paper), (2) a clear description of what
qualifies the book as a work in social constructionism (or perhaps
breaches what you think a social constructionist work should
provide), and (3) a scholarly evaluation of the book.
Late Receipt Policy: If a paper is not turned in on (or before) date
it is due, my policy is to lower the grade on the paper 1/3 of a
grade for each day that it is late (e.g., A to an A-, A- to a B+,