Sex and intimacy in modern times
Great transformations have been taking place in the realm of intimacy, with the rise of non-monogamous non-marital forms of intimacy, increasing visibility of LGBTQ life, well-established commercial sex industries, popularized public reports of private stories, huge developments in the popularity of cosmetic surgery, and widening possibilities for intimacy in social media, to name but a few. New forms of identity, intimacy and sexuality have emerged in today’s globalized world, which blur the boundaries of what constitutes private matters and public issues and challenge the meanings of normal/abnormal citizen, natural/artificial body, real/virtual relationship, and authentic/counterfeit intimacy.
Using contemporary sociological theories of identity, gender, and sexuality, this course aims to track the major transformations in the realm of sexual intimacy and to examine newly emerged ethical issues, moral dilemmas, and social conflicts over sexual intimacy in four inter-related domains in modern times: (a) democracy, human sexual rights, and citizenship—how these issues are important when talking about intimate relationships; (b) mass media, social media and popular culture—how private matters become increasingly subject to public scrutiny; (c) economy and consumption—how intimacy is increasingly commodified and commercialized; and (d) science, medicine, and digital technology—how medical and computer science foster new pleasures, bodies and practices, and the problems that arise from this. At the end of the course, you are expected to be able to think critically about intimacy, to understand the complex interplay between the self and society, and to have learnt how to respect individual differences and preferences.
Course learning outcomes
You will be able to…
- identify key concepts in intimacy through contemporary sociological theories of identity, gender, and sexuality.
- achieve a critical understanding of the issues of intimacy in your everyday life, from learning to examine the interplay (a) between the self and society, i.e. how social, economic, political, and cultural forces shape our intimate choices and decisions; (b) between private and public, i.e. how our most private decisions are bound to public institutions such as the state, law, media, and medicine.
- express an appreciation for the distinctiveness and inter-relatedness of our own and other intimate cultures, as well as demonstrate cultural sensitivity towards people from different cultures.
- understand the meaning of being a responsible global citizen who respects individual differences and preferences, and upholds the core values of a democratic society: human rights, justice, equality, and freedom of speech.
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Giddens, A. (1992). The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Jamieson, L. (1998). Intimacy: Personal Relationships in Modern Societies. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Plummer, K. (2003). Intimate Citizenship: Private Decisions and Public Dialogues. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. [Key reading]
Rubin, G. (1993). “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, eds. Abelove, Henry, Michele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin. London, UK: Routledge, pp. 3-44.
Attwood, F. (ed.) (2009). Mainstreaming Sex: The Sexualization of Western Culture. London: I.B. Tauris.
Bell, D. and Binnie, J. (2000). The Sexual Citizen: Queer Politics and Beyond. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2004). Love Online: Emotions of the Internet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Berlant, L. (ed.) (2000). Intimacy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Bernstein, E. and Schaffner, L. (eds.) (2005). Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity. New York, NY: Routledge.
Chu, C. S. K. (2018). Compensated Dating: Buying and Selling Sex in Cyberspace: Palgrave Macmillan.
Duncombe, J., Harrison, K., Allen, G., and Marsden, D. (eds.) (2004). The State of Affairs: Explorations in Infidelity and Commitment. London, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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Gamson, J. (1998). Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Haritaworn, J., Lin, C. J., and Klesse, C. (eds.) 2006. Special Issue on Polyamory, Sexualities 9(5).
Illouz, E. (1997). Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Illouz, E. (2007). Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Kong, T. S. K. (2011). Chinese Male Homosexualities: Memba, Tongzhi and Golden Boy. London, UK: Routledge.
Kong, T. S. K, (2019). Oral Histories of Older Gay Men in Hong Kong: Unspoken but Unforgotten. Hong Kong: HKU Press.
McLelland, M. and V. Mackie (eds.). (2015). Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia, London, UK: Routledge.
McNair, B. (2002). Striptease Culture: Sex, Media and the Democratization of Desire. London, UK: Routledge.
Padilla, M. B., Hirsch, J. S., Munoz-Laboy, M., Sember, R. E., and Parker, R. G. (eds.) (2007). Love and Globalization: Transformation of Intimacy in the Contemporary World. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Plummer, K. (1995). Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change and Social Worlds. London, UK: Routledge.
Seidman, S., Fischer, N. and Meeks, C. (eds.) (2011). Introducing the New Sexuality Studies: Original Essays and Interviews. London, UK: Routledge.
Wolmark, J. (ed.) (1999). Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs, and Cyberspace. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh Press.
Zelizer, V.A. (2005). The Purchase of Intimacy. New Jersey, NJ: Princeton University Press.