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Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights

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University Seminar: Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights

In the past decade, innovative scholarship on sexuality in the humanities and social sciences has experienced a period of enormous growth, exploring new methods and theoretical frameworks as well as radically transforming our understanding of sexuality and its social meaning. This new scholarship situates sexuality in historically and culturally specific locations, viewing sexuality as the product of social relations, as well as human biology and bodies. Transformative as this work may be, its implications and suggestions for scholars and activists working in related fields remain to be explored.

At the same time, other scholars and advocates have worked to expand traditional definitions and boundaries in human rights and health, gender and health, and gender and human rights. Their innovative work has occurred on many fronts: conceptual, legal, and practical. In attempting to grapple with challenges and problems in human rights and health, researchers and advocates have encountered crises involving sexuality, for example, in their work regarding the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, sexual violence in conditions of warfare and ethnic conflict, and women's sexual and reproductive health.

This University Seminar encourages and examines interdisciplinary dialogue and work regarding the relationship among sexuality, gender, health, and human rights, both in domestic and international contexts. We hope to facilitate and advance interdisciplinary dialogue and scholarship regarding these issues.


University Seminars 2001-2002:

October 10, 2001

Alain Giami, M.D.
Director of Research, INSERM, French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, Paris, France

"Sexuality and Control: Mentally handicapped women, sterilization, and rights"
The paper investigates the historical and psychosocial background of the sterilization of mentally handicapped women in France, and investigates the relationship between their sexuality and their sterilization. Sterilization of the mentally handicapped is used as a method for controlling their sexual activity, along with other forms of management such as gender segregation and the interdiction of heterosexuality. The institutional organization of the sexuality of the mentally handicapped reveals how these individuals are deprived of citizens' rights.
read the paper

April 16, 2002

Dennis Altman, PhD
Professor of Politics, LaTrobe University

"Globalization and Sexual Identities"
Professor Altman will examine how globalization changes the ways in which we imagine ourselves, focusing on how certain methods of organizing sexuality and sexual identities are being universalized, and the consequent tensions between 'tradition' and 'modernity' this reveals. Does the globalization of sexual identities inevitably mean the triumph of western norms and values, or does it allow for the development of new forms related to different cultural traditions? Professor Altman is the author of ten books, most recently Global Sex.

Discussant: Alice M. Miller, J.D., Law & Policy Project, Columbia University
Time: 6:00-8:00pm; Location: Room 546, Jerome Greene Hall, Columbia Law School. From 116th St. Subway stop at Broadway, walk across main campus on College Walk (going east). Enter at 435 West 116 Street, near Amsterdam Avenue. For information, contact 212-854-2511 or culture@law.columbia.edu

May 1, 2002

Scott Long, PhD
Program Director, The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

"Is 'Sex' Culture? Is 'Culture' Sex? Traditionalist Discourses in Developing Countries and the Eroticization of Cultural Authenticity"

Discussant: Lynn P. Freedman, JD, Law and Policy Project, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
Time: 6:00-8:00pm; Location: Faculty House, Morningside Campus, Columbia University. Faculty House is on 116th Street, east of Amsterdam Avenue and the Columbia Law School. Enter the gate on 116th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. For further information: rock-sms-sph@columbia.edu or 212 854 2511


University Seminars 2000-2001:

April 19, 2001

Rebecca M. Young, Ph.D.
Research Scientist, National Development and Research Institute, Inc.

"Renovating Homosexuality and Rights: Scientific and Cultural Effects of "Modernizing Trends" in Biological Research"
Biological arguments about the inborn nature of sexual orientation appeal to many sexual rights proponents, especially since recent biological research seems to reflect updated, diversity-friendly views of gay men and lesbians. A close examination of this recent work, however, suggests that its modernizing efforts are incomplete, posing serious problems for those who would use this evidence to argue for rights. Paradoxically, these incomplete efforts also threaten to destabilize the entire scientific project, creating a field in which a great many studies that appear to be mutually supportive are in fact directly contradictory. The presentation explores the complex relationships between scientific research, rights arguments, and social change.

March 21, 2001

Chantal Nadeau, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Communication Studies, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

"Beastly Politics, National Sexuality, and the Culture of Rights"
Using the example of animal-right advocacy, my talk explores the interconnections between social hygiene, women's bodies, and sexual rights. Specifically my research project examines how animal-right movements are informed by a complex sets of discourses on reproduction, preservation and conservation that are enmeshed in the politics and policies of social/national hygiene. I analyze how animal-right movements (especially anti-fur movements) are involved in monitoring the population, particularly in regard to traditional eugenicist concerns about the fit, the unfit, and public health. The animal-rights movement as mostly a white movement -- illuminates the circulation of various hygienic strategies tying the production of a "clean" national environment to that of the naturalness of the female body and sexuality. I analyze the activist strategies of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation (an anti-fur activist group). Bardot's sexualized involvement in the survival of "whiteness" passes notably through her own rejection of motherhood, men, and immigrants all at once. It is through this purification of her own sexuality , her embodiment of the white nation, and her protectionism of the national borders to prevent the spoiling of the species (animal and human) that Bardot (and her animal-rights advocacy) participates to a conception of rights and sexuality as being a matter of social hygiene.

January 17, 2001

Tom Shakespeare, Ph.D.
Research Development Officer of the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Institute, Newcastle

"Disability and Sexuality: Towards Rights and Recognition"
Disability studies is now taking on board the issue of sexuality. This paper asks why it has taken so long for this to happen, and explores the value of a social model of disabled sexuality, as well the need for a sensitivity to difference. Secondly, the paper explores the contribution made by disability sexuality studies to mainstream work on sexuality and rights, particularly the challenge to notions of sexual and gender normality. Finally, the paper suggests that Axel Honneth's work on relations of recognition may offer ways to conceptualise sexuality issues within the disability rights agenda, as well as new perspectives for work on sexuality and human rights.

November 29, 2000

Katherine M. Franke, J.D.
Professor of Law, Columbia University

"Theorizing Yes: An Essay on Feminism, Law, and Desire"
In this presentation I ask a set of questions intended to highlight the degree to which legal feminism has, by and large, reduced questions of sexuality to two principle concerns for women: dependency and the responsibilities that motherhood entails, and danger, such as sexual harassment, rape, incest, or domestic violence. Curiously, since the end of the so-called "sex wars" in the 1980s it seems that legal feminists have ceded to queer theorists the job of imagining the female body as a site of pleasure, intimacy, and erotic possibility. While feminists in law devote our considerable energies to addressing sexuality understood in terms of freedom from oppressive practices, feminists in other disciplines continue to simultaneously approach questions of sexuality in both negative (freedom from) and positive (freedom to) terms. Why do legal feminists frame questions of sexuality more narrowly than colleagues in other fields? Is there something intrinsic to a legal approach to sexuality that deprives us of the tools, authority, or expertise to address desire head on? Can law protect pleasure? Should it? Have legal feminists implicitly made the (I believe mistaken) strategic judgement that feminist legal theory cannot explore sexuality positively until danger and dependency are first eliminated?

November 01, 2000

Oliver Phillips, Ph.D.
Rockefeller Fellow, Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights
Lecturer, School and Department of Law, Keele University, England

"The Growing Significance of Sex in Southern Africa: A Human Rights Context"
While the South African constitution has worked to promote lesbian and gay rights, the government in neighboring Zimbabwe has been explicit in refusing any notion of these same rights. These contrasting situations share an increasing investment in the significance of sexual identity, but articulate different concerns around shifts in gendered relationships. This has arisen in conjunction with the development (post-Independence and post-Apartheid) of full legal subjects, who have the capacity to bear rights. Oliver will discuss the politics behind these recent dynamics and their implications for human rights in the region as a whole.

October 03, 2000

SSRC Sexuality Research Fellowship Program Fellow, History Department, University of California, Berkeley

"Sexuality, Consent and the State"


University Seminars 1999-2000:

April 25, 2000

Eric O. Clarke, Ph.D
Associate Professor of English and Faculty Associate in the University Center for Social and Urban Research, University of Pittsburgh
""Lifestyle" and Human Rights: Sexuality at the Limits of Social Inclusion"

This paper explores some possible relationships between "lifestyle" and human rights. Although the common-sense associations of lifestyle" include contemptible consumerism or a euphemised homosexuality, lifestyle in modern social theory also indicates a particularly significant aspect of modernity: social affiliations that are not reducible to kinship or the nation. In this sense, lifestyle seems to signify a realm of choice and self-making enabled by the freedom and autonomy delivered (in distorted ways) by the social effects of capitalism.
Given this promise of affiliative freedom and as well the failure to deliver this promise equitably, this paper suggests that we think of lifestyle as relevant for rights as a mechanism for social inclusion. This relevance is of particular interest for political struggles centered on sexuality. Rather than repudiate lifestyle as a trivial and devaluing euphemism, this paper argues that lifestyle can open up less conformist understandings of both sexuality and social inclusion.

March 22, 2000

Founder and coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, an international non-governmental network dedicated to progressive social change for women since 1985.
"Women's Human Rights and Sexuality in Muslim Countries and Communities"
The presentation examines the wide range of Muslim laws and customs and the resulting variation in women's lives and access to rights, including those affecting their sexuality. In addition, the paper analyzes the rise of fundamentalism and its attempt to homogenize these diverse laws, exploring how this attempt is being supported by cultural relativism and identity politics outside the Muslim world. Finally, the paper looks at women's struggles and strategies to maintain existing rights and gain new ones.

February 23, 2000

Assistant Professor, Department of History, SUNY-Binghamton
"The Race of Sodomy: Asian Men, White Boys, and the Politics of Sex in California and British Columbia 1910-1928"
The presentation explores questions of race, sexuality, law, and human rights by examining a series of appellate court decisions in which South Asian and Chinese immigrant men were accused of anally penetrating white adolescents and young men in British Columbia and Northern California from 1910 to 1928. The paper explores how evidence of sexual activity is produced through police investigation and jurisprudence. It also provides an occasion for thinking about how historians can utilize sources documenting persecution to provide insight into the meanings of sexual and social relations in marginalized social groups.

January 25, 2000

University of Picardie, Amiens, France
Rockefeller Fellow, Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights, Columbia University
"Pregnancy and Prostitution: Forging a Common Strategy Against State Regulation"
Although reproduction and sexuality are increasingly addressed together in the context of human rights, health, or culture, the link is rarely formulated in terms of reproductive and sexual labor. This presentation focuses on state regulation of pregnant and prostitute women, whose subordinate and/or illegitimate socio-legal status rationalizes labor appropriation and denial of basic rights.
On a global level, state regulation of pregnancy and prostitution has been incorporated into "population control" and "migration control," most specifically under the name of "family planning" and "anti-trafficking." Although those policies fit within a coherent system, reproductive and sexual (including migrant) labor issues are most often isolated, or framed as ideological and strategic opposites by the right-wing, as well as by many left-wing and feminist activists and NGOs. This false dichotomy reinforces the division of women and the rhetoric of protective versus punitive state control.

November 23, 1999

Professor of Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester
Rockefeller Fellow, Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights, Columbia University.
"Melancholia and Moralism: AIDS and Contemporary Queer Politics in the U.S."
Professor Crimp has written on both contemporary art and cultural representations of AIDS. His books include "On the Museum's Ruins" (MIT Press, 1993), "AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism" (MIT Press,1989), and "AIDS Demo Graphics" (Bay Press, 1990). He is currently working on a book about AIDS, queer theory, and gay and lesbian politics.

October 20, 1999

Director of the Centre for Feminist Legal Research in New Delhi, India.
Joseph C. Hostetler-Baker and Hostetler Professor of Law Endowed Chair at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, 1999.
"Postcolonial Erotic Disruptions: Legal Narratives on Sex, Culture and Nation"
The talk will focus on the legal controversies around sex and sexuality that have convulsed postcolonial India in the 1990's. The hysteria has manifested itself around issues of sexual expression and the increasing visibility of the sexual subalterns, which are perceived to threaten Indian cultural values and the nation as it is imagined. My key concern is to examine the central place of culture in discourses on sexuality and law's role in simultaneously reinforcing an essentialist story about culture as well as providing space for resisting this construction. I will discuss how the cultural move is used to delegitimize sexual practices and activities by casting them as foreign and contaminating. I will also talk about how cultural hybridity is deployed to counter this authentication of Indian cultural values through strategic essentialism, a move that is ultimately intended to expose the fluidity of culture and Indian cultural values. I look at some of the limitations strategic essentialism poses for the sexual subject, in particular, the sexual subaltern and explore how an alternative subjectivity, that is, a sexual subaltern subject in pleasure, can negotiate these limitations.

All University Seminars held:

6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., @ Faculty House (directions)

Program for the Study of Sexuality, Gender, Health and Human Rights
Division of Sociomedical Sciences
Columbia University School of Public Health
617 West 168 Street - 3rd floor
New York, N.Y. 10032
Tel: 212 305 5656
Fax: 212 305 6832
Email: rock-sms-sph@columbia.edu

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Department of Sociomedical Sciences