The Sexual Knowledge Unit

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The Sexual Knowledge unit brings together scholars from across the humanities, social sciences and biomedical sciences who are engaged in research about sex, gender and sexuality and who investigate the construction and authorisation of sexual knowledge. It fosters collaboration with practitioners outside of academia to develop new approaches to sexual health and wellbeing. Building on the international recognition of research activities within the unit, our ambition is to consolidate the University of Exeter as a world leader in interdisciplinary, engaged and applied research on a wide range of issues around sexual knowledge.

Key questions for research within the unit include: 

  • What methodologies are there for studying sex?
  • What knowledge systems are applied to study of sex?
  • What variety of evidence is marshalled to document sexuality (e.g. from animal – human comparisons, patient case studies, statistics and surveys, neuroscientific data, cross-cultural comparison or historical material)?
  • How do different approaches (e.g. literary, medical, anthropological or religious) secure intellectual and cultural authority about sexual knowledge?
  • How do different forms of sexual knowledge inform practice (e.g. in diagnosis, therapeutic treatment, education, ethics, identity formation or law)?
  • How are the disciplinary bases and boundaries of such forms of sexual knowledge variously contested? 
  • How have various forms of knowledge about sex evolved within different cultures and contexts? 
  • How can we put disciplinary approaches in dialogue with each other?
  • How can we use this dialogue to improve health and wellbeing?

The unit is led by a group of scholars working within the humanities (Classics, English and History). It capitalises on and fosters Exeter’s expertise in qualitative, historically sensitive and critical methodologies. Our remit is to explore and interrogate existing concepts and frameworks for understanding sex from cross-cultural and cross-historical perspectives. With collaborators from a variety of disciplines across and beyond the humanities, we develop interdisciplinary frameworks to examine different perspectives on sexual health, sexual knowledge and sexual practices and the agendas that inform them. We will also build on our extensive collaborative work with practitioners outside academia, including doctors, youth workers, educators, charities and community groups.

Our long-term aim is to build a network of partners across the South West region and beyond, with whom we work to shape the direction of our research and to test and develop the real-world relevance and application of our findings. As such, we aim to break down barriers between academic disciplines and to collapse the distinction between the critical and the applied, research and practice. A key objective is to develop a robust model for collaboration that will enable humanities scholars, social scientists, biomedical researchers and practitioners in clinical and non-clinical settings to find new and productive ways to address jointly the various complex challenges around health and wellbeing facing the modern world.

We are committed above all to:

1) Developing new languages and practices of interdisciplinary collaboration

2) Developing world-leading research in dialogue and through collaboration with the world outside academia

3) Applying our research to address urgent challenges in the contemporary world

Current interdisciplinary research and public engagement and impact activities within the unit include:    

1. Sexual Knowledge, Sexual History
2. Rethinking Sexology
3. Sex and History

The Sexual Knowledge unit is co-directed by Professors Kate Fisher and Rebecca Langlands and Drs Jana Funke and Jen Grove.

See more on the project website