Geographies of Sexualities: Theory, Practices and Politics

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In addition, since the s, historians have dramatically expanded research on sexualities, some of which has specifically asked spatial questions. During this decade, some work by feminist historical geographers also began to examine sexuality as it intersected with gender in shaping spaces in the past. However, these various strains of inquiry have rarely come together and have not been expressly thought of as a thematic area of study within either historical geography or geographies of sexualities.

The collection presented in this special issue of Historical Geography is an attempt to draw together the multiple and fragmented strains of what might be defined as historical geographies of sexualities, and to reflect on the possibilities of making thematic connections between historical geographers working on sexuality and geographers of sexualities who research past spaces. It is the outcome of a special session of the same title organized for the AAG conference in Los Angeles, where we realized that several sexuality-and-space scholars especially those with an urban focus were increasingly asking historical questions.

While this collection is quite a departure from what was actually presented in the session, it represents what we could generate as we open up this discussion. In order to frame the collection, we provide an overview of three literatures that are central to the project. We begin by providing a brief overview of spatialized histories from a variety of sources that speak to this literature.

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Next, we turn to the more presentist geographies of sexualities to consider the uses of sexual pasts for this literature. Finally, we describe the process of building this collection and discuss its unique contributions. In the s, interest in the mutually constituting relationships between spaces and sexualities in history seems to have emerged due to three intersecting processes. As a result, there is now a large and growing collection of monographs detailing the local history of sexual minorities and dissidents in cities across North America and elsewhere.

Written largely by historians, local activists, and those who lived the experience, these works have recorded and preserved an often-closeted history that is difficult to find in the archive and easily lost to time, especially after the AIDS epidemic.

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They certainly describe the spatial formation of gay neighborhoods that was so typical of the s and s, tying them to gentrification and racial displacements, new social movements, and what we would now call neoliberal urban policies. Global political-economic forces situate the rise of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer visibilities in the post-war city including the shift from Fordist to Postfordist regimes of accumulation.

Micro-geographies of bars and taverns are richly detailed, showing how these locations were vital to self actualization, community formation, as well as political organization and resistance. The importance of private spaces such as the home and family were vital for community formation and individual survival, as in the case of lesbian dinner parties in s Buffalo, or the struggle of lesbian and gay parenting in a conservative post-war culture.

To be sure, there have been a scattering of historical geographies of sexualities. This is hardly surprising given the breadth of each term in that appellation. But because of this breadth, there is a rather disparate quality to the literature, where pieces address different theoretical and topical strands more directly than they engage with one another as a cogent intellectual group.

Prostitution has certainly been a point of focus, where governance and policing clash with complex geographies of public and private, gender, and moral regulation.


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The disparate character of this literature is reflected in its lack of representation within the subdiscipline. A scan of historical geography journals, reference materials, and reviews suggest that sexuality largely remains a present absence in the subdiscipline, either as a complete silence or one that haunts research on urban, population, medical, and feminist historical geographies but is rarely articulated. For example, aside from book reviews of the work of historians, the main journals of the subdiscipline have published very few research articles on the topic. While major Foucauldian themes such as biopolitics, moral regulation, and governance are common, references to sexuality as subject matter are almost completely absent.

Having said this, the thematic of sexuality within the discussion of discipline has not been particularly well developed. For Howell, both Foucault and his interpreters are to blame for the neglect of sexuality and gender in earlier works like Discipline and Punish. Here, sexualities are morally regulated, medicalized, commodified and governed, but they are rarely experienced, made, or emplaced. From within social, cultural, urban, and, more recently, critical geography, has emerged a very vibrant field of inquiry in geography: geographies of sexualities, and its critical off-shoot, queer geographies.

Although it began primarily by analyzing how lesbians and gays created urban spaces, it quickly shifted to the mutually constituting relationship between heterosexuality and space, a perspectiveinspiredbythe spatial turn. Queer geography began to analyze the hetero- and homo-normativities involved in shaping spatial power relations, critically engage with the intersections between sexual normativities and other power relations such as racialization and colonialism, and disrupt the orthodoxies of geographical epistemologies and methodologies.

The sexuality and space work of the s certainly provided inspiration for the spatialized histories of sexuality. However, geographers of sexualities and queer geographers have rarely engaged with the past.

Geographies of Sexualities : Theory, Practices and Politics

While there are examples of historical geographers who straddle both sub-disciplines, few geographers of sexualities research past spaces, and when they do so, the past largely plays an unexamined role. Primary examples of this presentism include the analysis of the historical development of particular urban forms such as red-light districts and gay villages, or the tracing of the movements of sexually marginalized populations in urban space.

In this sense, these works have taken up the task of providing a geographical perspective to the deeply contextualized ethnographies and histories of LGBT community formation in the past. Such a project has also been extended by researchers interested in working at the interface between community history and geographical theory to disrupt historical methodologies such as mapping and archiving. These last two works signal what is perhaps the greatest challenge for the building of historical geographies of sexualities at the current moment as critiques emerging from queer geography continue to inform and reshape the practice of geographies of sexualities.

Beyond the intersectionality that is seen as central to queer critiques, queer epistemologies in geography extend earlier analytic concerns of postmodern and feminist scholarship regarding the transparency of space.

More recently, however, such critical analysis also involves the reconsideration of the temporal brought by queer futurity. The challenges of creating this special issue of Historical Geography lie at the interstices of the cleavages of knowledge production outlined above.

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Since few historical geographers have specifically adopted sexuality as an arena of inquiry, there has been a lack of researchers with the archival skills, theoretical grounding, and curiosity about sexualities in the past to take up this line of inquiry. This seems poised to shift as new generations of historical geographers either adopt lines of inquiry specifically focused on sexuality or are persuadedto consider sexuality as they examine the intersections of relations of power in the past.

The adoption of queer theory, moreover, asks us to reframe some historical geographies and to reconsider whether they might be historical geographies that implicate sexualities. On the other hand, few presentists working within geographies of sexualities feel comfortable working in the past and presenting their work in an historical geography forum. It is not only that they may feel untrained in archival skills and in the style of writing that informs historical geography as metier , but many of the authors that we asked to contribute to this collection were at a loss when considering what they might say to an historical geography audience.

In other words, they were unclear how to frame their contribution to this discussion.

Table of contents for Geographies of sexualities

This innovative volume offers a trans-disciplinary engagement with the spatialities of sexualities, intersecting discussions of sexualities with issues such as development, race, gender and other forms of social difference. Del Casino Jr. Herman, Jinthana Haritaworn, Mark E. Geographies of Sexualities : Theory, Practices and Politics. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Queer Critique and the Politics of Affect. Fucking Geography Again.