Sexual Futures: Versions of the Sexual Past, Visions of the Sexual Future

24th and 25th April 2014

Supported by the Centre for Medical History.

The future offers a critical space to negotiate sexual possibilities. It can serve as a doomsday warning, provide utopian fantasies or aspirational goals for real reform. Such visions of the sexual future are often achieved through an imaginative reworking of motifs and elements from the past. This colloquium investigates how and why sexual knowledge, articulated in science, literature, art, politics, law and religion, turns to the past to envision the future.

When it comes to imagining the future, the past can be cast in manifold ways. It can appear as mythical, traditional, ancestral, atavistic, hereditary, primitive, classical, or historical. It can also serve a number of purposes. It can lend weight or authority; it can provide a rhetoric of objectivity, neutrality and empiricism to support visions of the future. It can galvanise calls for reform by appearing to offer visions of realistic possibility, alternative social worlds that have existed in the past and are therefore more than idle fantasy. The past can also be deployed in narratives about progress and decline, civilization and evolution, which lead towards a utopian or dystopian future. It can be marshalled as evidence to articulate universalising claims about humanity, provide evidence of variability across time, illustrate future possibilities or legitimise change. In addition, the past can offer a space of forgetting and loss and therefore a means of rejecting or engaging critically with the very concept of the future. It is the aim of the colloquium to examine how such uses of the past in the service of the future intersect with sexual knowledge and experience.

Forming part of the Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History project, this colloquium invites scholars from a range of disciplines to examine any aspect of the nexus between past, future and sex.