The Summer Institute in Sexuality Studies
June 5-9, 2017—York University, Toronto
Perversion at the Crossroads of Critical Race Studies, Psychoanalysis, and Queer Theory

Perversion is a slippery signifier, prolific in meanings and genealogies. It is most often associated with any type of sex which deviates from an expected trajectory or desired outcome. In 1905, Freud notoriously spoke of a child’s disposition as “polymorphously perverse.” This assertion was considered scandalous in its unveiling of childhood sexuality, but also in the contention that all subjects begin from a place of perversion, and that these unsound origins are perhaps not so easily abandoned. Perverse thoughts, objects, and acts extend beyond assumed aims, lingering uncomfortably upon that which should be quickly bypassed. They are sticky, insurgent, and out of place. They get sidetracked and fail to arrive on time. And because of these multifarious digressions, they are considered strange, abject, and to be avoided. In this way, parallels can be found between the social construction ofsiss_1 “perversion,” and ideologies surrounding race and queerness. Queer and critical race theorists have written at length about similar divergences: being disoriented and “slanted” (Ahmed 2006), failing (Halberstam 2011), disidentifying (Muñoz 1999), growing sideways (Stockton 2009), aberrating from gendered and eroticized liberal economies (Ferguson 2004).

The 2017 Summer Institute in Sexuality Studies (SISS) explores questions surrounding perversion from three key vantage points: critical race studies, psychoanalysis, and queer theory. Psychoanalysis and sexology have a conflicted relationship to the perverse, as both fields created taxonomies that pathologized certain sex acts and queer embodiments. These imperial taxonomies associated people of colour with excessive sexuality, taboo, fetishism, deviance, and moral depravity. The consequences of these destructive systems of classification still resonate today, yet have also been transformed and complicated through globalization, neoliberalism, the normalizations of LGBT people, interracial sexual relations, and visibility of sex. Some canonical queer theorists, including Michel Foucault, Lauren Berlant, and Leo Bersani, called for the recognition of queer, sadomasochistic, and public sex as subversive to heteronormative sexual politics. However, numerous queer of colour theorists (Eng, 2010; Muñoz, 2009; Musser, 2014; Reddy, 2011) point out that conceptualizing perversion as subversive overlooks the ways in which this concept has been employed as a tool in systems of racial oppression. Today, for example, the perverse psyche of “the other” is used to justify war on terrorism, torture of political prisoners, and exclusions of people of colour from citizenship in Europe and North America.

Given perversion’s complex history, its foundational ties to colonization, and continued relationship to systemic marginalization, how may we best make use of this concept today? Participants at this year’s Summer Institute pursue this question, exploring facets of perversion through brown jouissance; reconceptualizations of race; emotions, affects and the flesh; black aesthetics; trans racial intersections; BDSM and fetish; citizenship and homonationalisms; visual art, poetry, and more.

Over the course of five days, the participants will engage in lectures, master classes, roundtables and creative workshops using a wide variety of approaches to consider the intersections of perversion, psychoanalysis, queer theory, and race. By bringing together internationally renowned lecturers and graduate students from a variety of disciplinary and geographical backgrounds, the Summer Institute provides an international and multidisciplinary platform for learning, sharing and developing research and theory in the area of sexuality studies. SISS has partnered with FAG Feminist Art Gallery to provide a series of cultural events throughout the week led by their artist in residence. For more detailed information regarding lecturers and the schedule of classes and events, see our website or email with inquiries at siss2017@yorku.ca.


Apply to the 2017 Summer Institute in Sexuality Studies by filling out the SISS 2017 Application Form Here.

Apply for a travel subsidy for the 2017 Summer Institute in Sexuality Studies by filling out the SISS 2017 Financial Assistance Form Here.

Access the Preliminary SISS 2017 Schedule Here.

Institute participants will receive a certificate of participation upon completion.

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