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Shame: The Politics of Sex & Sexuality

In a speculative aside to his theory of civilisation, Sigmund Freud invites us to consider how feelings of shame are intimately associated with the act of genital exposure that occurred when mankind assumed an upright gait. Shame was first provoked in man when, moving from four legs to two, his genitals became ‘visible and in need of protection’, says Freud. Tying together the sites of sex and security in this way, Freud permits us to imagine that with this act of shameful exposure a political animal was born.
But can such anthropological conjecture shine any light on the place of shame in a contemporary culture? In what ways does shame operate when sexual exposure is actively deployed as a political strategy? And how might we understand changing attitudes to sex and sexuality in relation to the shifting grounds of social and political security, and the shaming practices that take place thereon?

Wellcome Images, Thomas Wright 1862   Femen Protest Source: The Guardian, Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

An offender exposed to public shame (1862), Wellcome Images


Femen Protest (Photo: Joel Saget/APF/Getty Images)






May 14th 2015, Exploring Shame & Stigma: An Interdisciplinary Workshop with Imogen Tyler; Anna Harpin; Jason Mast & Julie Walsh ]