Please note: Deadline has been extended to the 28th of January
'… [T]he sexualisation of culture from the ‘pornosphere’ to the public sphere has included with it a democratisation and diversification of sexual discourse. The commodified cultures of advanced capitalist societies have come to function as spaces for the articulation and dissemination of diverse sexual identities and radical sexual politics.' Brian McNair (2002) Striptease Culture: Sex, Media, and the Democratisation of Desire.
'When sexuality turns female, we find it still enmeshed in semantics linking women, fire and dangerous things.' G Lakoff (1987) Women, Fire and Dangerous Things.
This two-day inter-disciplinary conference will bring together a number of critical conversations opened up by the commercial and popular success of the trilogy of stories which started with Fifty Shades of Grey (2011). We will look in particular at the histories and meanings of: the eroticised narrative of the romance, and by the conservative romancing of erotica; by the novel technologies the trilogy both used and departed from; and by those critical responses which found the text wanting in feminism, ‘authentic’ representations of BDSM, and/or literary ‘taste’.
Creating and working from a close reading of the narrative dynamics of the trilogy and other examples of such fiction (as text or on the screen), we will discuss the ways in which representations of female sexuality in contemporary erotic and/or romantic fiction reproduce or depart from the dominant tropes of such fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The consequent alignments or departures will be explored as ways of enquiring into the current state of feminism, gender hierarchies, female desire and popular culture.
At the motivating core of this conference is a need to re-engage with questions about feminism, post-feminism, and anti-feminism in the fields of past and present popular culture. To do so, we will, inter alia, interrogate the popularity of E.L. James’s texts amongst millions of women readers. These texts knit together the long narrative romance tradition of women-as-‘fixer’-of-broken-male (from Jane Eyre, North and South to the works of Barbara Cartland and the texts which inhabit the categories of Mills and Boon), with the historically more recent yet powerful narratives of erotic fiction which think of themselves as being written ‘for women’. As such, the trilogy is perfectly placed to allow us begin a broad and deep exploration of the contradictory conservatism of much popular culture when it comes to the representation and interpretation of female sexual desire.
It will be our contention that the success of the trilogy, and the ideological intensity invested in the various responses both to the texts and to their popularity, speak to larger or wider concerns in contemporary Western cultures – concerns about sexual politics, about how to preserve the authenticity and autonomy of sub- or counter- sexual cultures, and concerns too about cultural value or ‘taste’ in the realms of gendered spaces.
Hence we invite papers which turn on or engage with the following themes:
Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to firstname.lastname@example.org before the 28th of January.