Against Atlases (A Late Critique of Volume 1)


Index®Volume 1® Against Atlases (January 2005 reflection)


Sexual Spatiality: Some Remarks


Onto “Curricularity”



Sexual Spatiality: Some Remarks


As a subgenre a sexological “atlas” is situated within a larger genre of “geographies of sexuality” which itself is nested in what can be called the “spatial sexualities” or perhaps “local sexualities” tradition. A landmark effort in this recent “spatial turn” in sexology here is of course David Bell and Gill Valentine’s Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexuality[1], amidst a range of writings addressing sites, places, spaces, spatialities, spheres, scenes, arenas, areas, territories, locales, landscapes, (‘Third’?) worlds, neighbourhoods, districts, and so on, as containing, constitutive of, or implicated and articulated in sexual identities/performances. Works thus informed variably examine “spatial dynamics”, “spatial organizations”, and instances of “spatialisation”. The work in these writings (which significantly tends to be viewed as to mirror practices studied) is variably “geography”, “topography”, “cartography”, “social ecology”, or “mapping”.  The literature has produced gendered spaces[2], queer spaces, non-spaces, and so forth. Instances of social spatialization of gender/sexuality are examined in their private and public contingency (including performances in “intermediate” spaces); global, local as well as hybrid species of “glocal” articulations; metropolitan, urban and rural configurations; central and (semi-)peripheral positionality. Conversely, sexualities impact, design and elaborate environmental ethics, for instance as studied by ecofeminism. More interesting still is the influx in social/cultural theory of spatial tropes to conceptualise issues of sexual performativity and trajectory: ‘closets’ exited or re-entered, bodies/anatomies ‘mapped’, mind/bodyscapes navigated[3], counterhegemonic sexologies ‘marginalized’, ‘boundaries’ between sexual discourses and silences.


Some of these tropes have been employed ‘paragraphically’ in Volume 2 of this corpus (notably §6.2.7, §17.1-6, §4.7, §16.1.5, §IV.5; Appendix 3), and very much in unselfreflective ways. From these passages, very abstractly, it emerged that (1) sexual / sexological spaces could be curricular (curricularised, curricularising), and that (2) sexual curricula (curricularizations) could be spatial, spatialised, spatialising. Collaterally, both dimensional processes have been proposed as a near-paradigmatic (but perhaps also counter-paradigmatic) binary in generic poststructuralist theory[4]. So in a sense microspatialities and macrospatialities have been offered in GUS, but implications of scale were left unanalysed (in fact unmentioned).


Examples of ‘sex atlases’[5], then, include the present effort, and the International Encyclopaedia of Sexuality (rather an atlas than an encyclopaedia). The ‘geographies of sexuality’ genre beside featuring more or less regimented regionalist approaches (of which an atlas I contend is the most regimenting), also features thematic exposés that draw upon the full literature body of local sex customs (e.g., Gregersen[6]) to establish human variance: thematically ordered, and on “world” scale.




Some remarks should be addressed, some of which have been hinted at briefly at a number of previous occasions (2002 Guidelines, 2003 PostScript, 2004 Preface). In the following post hoc ramification of this initially pre-academic effort, I would like to deconstruct earlier efforts to arrive at more nuanced appreciation of ‘atlas’ data. Then I conclude to propose not an alternative to spatiality, but an optional focus within sexuality studies in general, and a worthy focus within (if necessary) spatial sexologies more specifically.


  1. Why regionalism? Obviously the problem of sexological atlases is the problem of regionalism in anthropology in general[7]. Surely, technological developments require ongoing reformulation of the salience and status of distances and proximities[8], an agenda definately pertaining to sexualities in general and growing up sexually, specifically. Thus, one observes in anthropology as in social sciences generally a tendency to question rather than map boundaries, to contest rather than ascribe or describe confinements and borders, and to transgress conventional frontiers, for instance to further internationalization of welfare politics deemed universally and exclusively applicable (e.g., girlhood “genital mutilation”, “routine neonatal [male] circumcision”). While the out/in paradigm is ‘out’, there is also a receptive sentiment for miniaturization and micropsy (micropolitics, locality, local contestation and digestion of the assault of the global, domestic sexualities) and an aim to destabilize statist, global, multinational corporate, and transnational geopolitical scales of spectre and governance. Thus if locality (anti-universalism) is meaningful at all for “sexualities” (bodies, desires, narratives, …), why then a structural privileging of eroding and fragmenting geopolitical locality, or emergent geopolitical translocality? Obviously, the reality of world-scale political/technological developments impact localities more than ever and more than ever realised, but they do so unevenly, selectively, and variably effectively. For instance, transnational articulations of ‘sexualities’ contribute to a centralisation of sexual reproduction by regimentation of reproductive bodies, trajectories, strategies, ‘rights’, technologies, and politics. An atlas of Growing Up Sexually, however, should resist such matter-of fact, matter-of-course centrality, since it tends to instrumentalise and reduce (rather than question and problematise) pre-reproductive, non-reproductive, post-reproductive performances, as such. For example, can a pre-reproductive girl-child be addressed globally and generally as such without marginalizing alternative anthropological entries? Also, is prepubertal female circumcision a case of dominating females, or of dominating prepubertals, or of violating “humans” with “rights”? Is the predominance of feminism (and allied genderist projects) in the globalist intellectualization and its expanding action reach obfuscating possibilities for a gender-noncentric ramification within social sexology (see below)?
  2. Why is my Atlas “worldist”, then continentalist, then statist, then ethnicist/tribalist? An atlas, even though merely an atlas of references, seems suggestive of an effort to encompass, discipline and contain “all” data by omniforic incorporation into a seemingly straightforward, approved, bird’s eye way of presentation. On retrospect, the closure implied by such an ambition seems almost obscene. I have largely refrained from negotiating academic colonialism, by simply including it and having it argue for its case. The step-wise regionalism is unpardonable, I think, insofar as it uncritically rehearses a history of Occidentalism (“Orientalism”), ahistorical essentialisation of tribal units, neglect of in-group and in-area plurality of voices and intentional ambiguities, adopting geopoliticism as a meaningful master grid, genderless “authorless” research, and so on. An anti-Western bias, of course, should not produce an anti-Western gaze. Theses: (1) anti-Westernism (anti-Westernist sexology? Anti-sexology?) does not subvert Westernism (or ‘Westernity’), it repeats it (disloyally); (2) an anti-Western (sexological) gaze looks at parts of Westernism, while it might look at its totalizing properties and alleged totality; hence, (3) “the West” is not a unitary (sexological) regimen, rather it is a politically integrated conglomerate of practices reproduced discursively (as I write, as you read); (4) a centralised undertaking or not, a deconstruction of “the [sexological] West” is still a reproduction of focus and of dis/loyalty, it is still geochauvinism and geopolitical (colonial, extreme criticists might say), or at least geo- or topocentric; lastly, (5) critical views of (sexological) Atlases are still atlas-centric acts of hubris (certainly I do not contemplate reworking it anti-topographically). An alternative system of review and reference, however, would be more or less unworkable (loosely coherent and rigorously indexed collections of abstracts, as previously assembled for some regions), or uninformative (regionally specific bibliographies), though useful.
  3. Another question is whether areas, even if emancipated from ‘culture area’ allegations, might still be (by some) appointed a “sexual area” status, even paradigmatically so (as happened with the Circum-Mediterranean, which for unaccountable reasons did not receive separate coverage until this reflection). Here we are looking at an interesting history of anthropological regionalism, from ‘culture area’ (eco-geological determinism), to historical diffusionism, historical-cultural ‘core complex’, multifactorial integrationalism, anti-regionalist particularism, and finally to eclectic species of spatialism (emphasis on intra- and interregionalist focus). Notably most notions of Mediterranean machismo (hypermascilinity composed of antihomoeroticism, gynecomisy, and demonstrative hypersexualism) and female virginity / chastity are not substantiated by meticulous trajectorial analyses[9]. These are rarely the thick “geographies of childhood” (however an emergent niche[10]) that we would like.
  4. Why is the atlas (volume “1”) numerically preceding a potentially more useful thematic digest (volume “2”)? (Volume 1 should be included as a master addendum to volume 2 but for understandable reasons the atlas evolved more rapidly than the thematic extraction process, and turned out more voluminous. Repositories, depots and archives precede dissertation, so to speak. So this arrangement articulates process not product, which is satisfying as far as I am concerned, at least in cyberspace where conventional spatiality is progressively subverted.)
  5. How do thematic grids cross-cut continents by addressing under equivocal headings certain possibly related, possibly disjunctive practices? These thematic eruptions are largely ungrounded, tendentious and unduly decontextualizing. I now figure they (early marriage, disparate age contacts, early sexarche, legislative texts) also tend to privilege the promiscuous and transgressive —both as articulating conservative contemporary Western ethos— (a point on which I criticized Kinsey), and thus they tend to reinstate the centrality and relevance of such ethics by “disloyal repetition”. While I do believe occasions of conflict, violation and deviance are more informative than the performance of normalcy (which I guess does not exist anywhere in pure form; cf. volume 2, passim), close analysis of such occasions should be set to subvert and deconstruct rather than merely oppose and expose ethnospecific ethical hegemonies.
  6. Then, what to have an atlas of? A problem not unique to spatial organisations of data, to assume capturing a totality of what are called “sexualities” has become an entirely impossible, politically unstable and perverse manoeuvre. My first tentative idea was that an atlas could be organized around the notion of “sexual behaviour”, with psychomental operations covered by their executive corollaries, thus privileging performative dimensions (The International Encyclopaedia of Sexuality’s paragraph structure deals with a tripartite ontology of ‘Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns’, ‘Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors’ and ‘Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Ambisexual Behaviors’, thus enacting behavioural, gender, and individuality paradigms). In my case this tended to exclude the anthropological genres with psychological/psychodynamic focus (genres rarely rich on the mater of erotic inauguration and liminalities). Spatiality here is a choice between loci of agentic performativity: (1) the internal or internalized realm, (2) the internalization site, and (3) the internalizing and internalizable realm. We can easily see that the Sambia case, for a rich example, can not be covered without reading a substantial amount of Gilbert Herdt’s work. Here we might speculate on the psychodynamic reception of maternal detachment, properties of erotic recruitment and confinement, and related aspects of “primordial trauma”; but also on the flute-centred ritual means of exclusive, erotic resocialization into an age-graded system of prestige, affiliation and warfare; then again, we might “localise” matters into a wider (multi-village, regional) system of “antagonistic” principles of gender in terms of pollution, secrecy and compartimentalisation. Thus, in Herdt (1982/1998) the anthropological focus is interlocal (or in fact translocal) if anything, in teleological and ontological speculation. Question is whether it is productive -or in any way possible- to feature these writings in an atlas, because the heterogeneity is often overlooked and embeddedness easily marginalized[11]. Reading Poole (same volume, on the Bimin-Kukusmin) we are led to consider yet further complex, symbolic applications of ‘place’ within ritual: that of (1) the actual ritual site being compartimentalised to organise dramatic trajectories, and of (2) the transformed body as a container, receiver and transmitter of gendered and gendering substances, as well as a surface for inscription and ascription. This results in bodies being “situated differently in their community” (Poole, 1982/1998:p135), which hints at a third, more ephemeral and complex understanding of ‘standing’.
  7. An ethnohistorical atlas being of an “anthropological” genre, that is, if this is to remain a meaningful qualifier at all, localisms would have to privilege descriptions of social (non-)articulation of (emotion) management, (conflict) resolution and (biomedical) rationale, over descriptions that, performatively, enact diagnostic, therapeutic and prognostic operations on ‘culture’, be it Other cultures, Our culture, Your culture, or My culture. (I skip over the ethical debate whether anthropology of sexuality should be medical anthropology per se, or benefit people in terms of ‘welfare’, ‘rights’, and so on. The International Encyclopaedia of Sexuality’s paragraph structure prescribes 6 out of 13 paragraphs dealing with ‘problem categories’—conflicts, ‘significant’ [illegal] unconventionalities, medical interventions, diseases, dysfunctions, therapies. I would say there is a biomedical paradigm there.) Citation here is never passive, it re-lives the cited before it is revisited, even if re-lived in order for it to be revisited. During the work it has frequently crossed my mind that an atlas of (Western, structural, historically situated, …) sexologists would be more informative than an atlas of sexualities. (Subchapters ‘13’ in the International Encyclopaedia of Sexuality deal with ‘Research and Advanced Education’ mostly at a corporate, institutional level.)


Summing up, space is a rewarding grid for overviewing human sexualities, though an arbitrary one, in fact an infinitely plural one. While geography as a master grid is contestable, more productively contestable grids include the ontological (body, mind, institution, author) and the paradigmatic (welfare, therapy, trajectory) apparatus, because it is here where ethnocentrism is played out most elaborately. An alternative rendering of this cross-cultural overview, as initial supervisory input suggested, is according to life phase, but that won’t do in a project that deconstructs curricula as such. So how about curricula?



Onto “Curricularity”


Trajectories as Postmodern Absence


Action research has produced theoretical work on ethnicity/‘race’, gender (and gender orientation), and class, as evermore “intersecting axes of oppression”[12]. Contemporarily these axes should ideally be “re-conceptualised without reducing one to the other”. While such reciprocal reductionism is one concern addressed routinely in current research, significantly and increasingly also from spatial perspectives, few authors point out, except in general terms (usually suggestive of a regimental political imperative for inclusivity and generic utility), that the axiality in question obfuscates much of the cultural potentiality of drop-out candidate axes. The exclusion of trajectory within this canonical postmodern triad seems obvious for a number of reasons. First, the concept of pedagogy seems rooted, embodied and institutionalised in a necessity of generational power differentials. This means that pedagogues can not go beyond what might be imagined to be anti-authoritarian, critical, and postmodern formulations of “peer” led, “participatory”, “dialogical” and “exchange” based routes of education. We remain e-ducated, led (out). Even in these solutions, one does not escape modern horrors routinely escaped elsewhere: doctrine, essentialism, developmentalism, power dichotomy, unilateralism, alignment, internalization, graded accreditation and graduation based on alternativeless consensus, and so on. Thus the child represents a case at best of defect or inconsequential postmodernism (cf. Janssen, 2004)[13].



Culture and Curricular Fit


I propose a definition to approach ethnotheories of sexual trajectories, as generated by previous literature reviewing, then proceed with some hypotheses to be addressed in future research.




  • “Sexual curricula” or careers here are understood as confluences of local, reciprocally implicated disciplinary ethnotheories integrating notions of chronology (a logic of sequentiality, timing and chronic segmentation), content (ontology, teleology, deontology; substance, purpose, trope), and governance (age/phase stratification, inauguration, poesis). Central properties may pertain to closure, efficiency, and totality.


Preliminary Hypotheses.


·        Curricula contain and imply eventuality. Through curricula individuals reduce, precede and perform events on account of their alleged “fit” (events are reduced to ‘fitting in’). For instance, sequentiality disciplines the step, to the steps; whereas chronology disciplines the time, to the timeline.

·        One might argue that curricular containment is twofold control: in one sense by enabling extirpation and silencing the unfitting and ill-fitting (in terms of repair and punishment, vis-à-vis the Precocious / untimely / ‘hurried’, the delayed, the dyscurricular, the ‘trans’curricular), in the other by enabling the rendering of the fit (in terms of enrolment, rite de passage, internalized careerism). These vectors are mutually constitutive, mutually implicated and mutually exhaustive.

·        Curricula work out properly only in anomalous contexts. Contestation however is discursively to occur merely in exteriority, the timeless, the deprived, not something that mocks salient time, but that subverts clocks, imagine bending the pointer, the pointer-holding plate, the plate-holding wall. Discurricular categories are “curricularised” if not made the focal site of curriculum; it infects, makes aware, renders visible.

·        Curricular containment is nevertheless by-passed, contested, subverted and (self-)deconstructed.

·        Curricula are ethnohistorically contingent, not necessarily internally consistent, and exist/evolve dialectically. Curricula are local, local permutations of master narratives including ‘welfare’, paedotrophy, ‘development’ and other ‘necessities’.




Future research might examine dis/articulations between contemporary ontogenetic notions and genres of sexual (gendered/erotic) persona. It might examine how developing sexual personae discursively mediate between hierarchical textual orders, to contain performative elements of what I would call the body curriculum, through erotological dialogue, and gendered self-instantiation. An important question reads: if gender and gendered bodies can be described in terms of performativity (e.g. Judith Butler) and be deconstructed as such, what then can be said about curricular bodies? Is it necessarily the case that “life phase” figures as a political factor or grid in gender studies, or might curriculum itself be worthy of a paradigmatic approach? A discussion of this problem requires a critical ‘interlogue’ between current academic theorising on the curricular subject on the one hand, and a dialogical approach to ethnotheories and “autographies” of the sexual persona. I am interested here in the social interstitium of auto[bio]graphies as collages featuring behaviours, events, experiences, and states of attraction, as such, and as constitutive “work” in emerging pre/adol/escent social networks.


To meet this (open-ended) objective, this research involves analysis in three parts. First, a comprehensive historical reconstruction of key academic notions of the emergent sexual persona might be forged to provide an understanding of possible tensions between, gaps in, and possibilities for hybridization between diverse lines of ramification. This requires an integrative, inclusive and synthetic reading of ethnographic, sociological, clinical, and other modes of analysis, and a thorough discussion of their methodic viability. My emphasis here would be directed to developments significant in late 20th century ethnographic resources. An organising feature would be the analysis of dialectic friction between “trajectories” on the one hand, and “curricula” (programmatic, discursive, disciplinary and institutional understandings of trajectorality) on the other. Thus, one might deconstruct developmentalist and essentialistnotions of sexual and erotic performativity, and examines current potentiality for post-developmentalist approaches, specifically for ethnographic methods.


Second, fieldwork could map local ethnotheoretical notions of the sexual persona. This fieldwork could include dialogical work with young adolescents and adults, and focus on “reconstructive” and “acconstructive” features of autobiography and auto-ethnography, dialectic emergence of “trajectory” and “curriculum”, aspects of agency and “development”, and perspectives of deconstruction. With “acconstruction” I propose to address techniques of forward construction of the inaugurational, aspired, and propaedeutic persona (“agenda”), that is to say, the constituency of the envisioned agentic Self. With “dialogical” I imagine experimental, open forms of exchange, employed to centralise eventual intertextuality, performativity, and hierarchical containment. Thematically, I would in particular be interested in performative forms of Not-doing (e.g., virginities), of preliminalities, and anticipations within allegedly/potentially developmentalist regimens and logics.


Third, one could examine possibilities for integration, cross-breeding and cross-fertilisation of insights from both dialogical realms of theorising. It is here that bottom-up and top-down webs of signification might feed into, deconstruct and/or overlap the other’s proceedings. Specific attention is reserved for issues of privileging of voice, subject and development, author-text-reader constellations, truth and theory, and representation. In this concluding part one may examine ways of reformulating existing genres of theoretical endeavour in “sexual development studies”, to be reinterpreted and revaluated as a newly emerging field of expertise, a new subdiscipline. Trajectory, hence, could well emerge as an underrecognised/underappreciated/underprivileged parallel paradigm in sexology. In vogue is a child-centred, dialogical, intertextual and open-ended mode of approaching a large and multi-facetted field of theorising, unduly disintegrated and disaggregated as yet.






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Jan 2005


[1]Bell, D. & Valentine, G. (Eds., 1995) Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexuality. London: Routledge

[2] Laurie, N., Dwyer, C., Holloway, S. & Smith, F. (1999) Geographies of New FemininitiesHarlow: Longman; Rose, G. (1993) Feminism and geography: the limits of geographical knowledge. Polity, Cambridge; Women and Geography Study Group (1997) Feminist geographies: explorations in diversity and difference. Harlow: Longman; McDowell, L. (1999) Gender, identity and place: understanding feminist geographies. Cambridge: Polity

[3] Porteous, J. (1990).  ‘Bodyscape’, in J. Porteous, Landscapes of the Mind. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p68-85

[4] The Derridian notion of “différance”, for instance, captured two simultaneous operations: espacement (“devenir-espace du temps”) and temporisation (“devenir-temps de l’espace”). Both the “différence” (“altérité de dissemblance”) and the “différend” (“altérité de polémique”) produced by the operation of “espacement” would have to be connected with the operation of “temporisation”; “Differer in this sense [temporization] is to temporize, to take recourse consciously or unconsciously, in the temporal and temporizing mediation of a detour that suspends the accomplishment nor fulfilment of "desire" or "will," and equally effects this suspension in a mode that annuls or tempers its own effect” While the appropriation of what may seem obscenely abstract ideas to practical (ethnographic) utility most probably will impress different people differently in terms of these concepts of arch-writing being generic for the microbiographical scale, I think may be worthwhile. Derrida, Jacques (transl. Alan Bass) Margins of Philosophy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1982, p3-27

[5]Note that there is a 1983 ‘Sex Atlas’ by Edwin Haeberle on this site (New Popular Reference Edition, Revised and Expanded), that does not feature a geographic paradigm.   

[6] Gregersen, Edgar. (1992). The World of Human Sexuality: Behaviours, Customs and Beliefs. New York: Irvington; Gregersen, Edgar. (1982). Sexual Practices: The Story of Human Sexuality. London: Mitchell Beazley International, Ltd.

[7] A significant event Concepts of Regionalism - Approaches and Theories was organised by the University Center for International Studies (UNC-CH) in cooperation with the Nordamerikaprogramm (University of Bonn, Germany), March, 22-26, 2000 []

[8] E.g., Kornelia Hahn, Regionalism in global societies: How is a contradiction analyzed? Workshop at North CarolinaUniversity, Chapel Hill/USA (sponsored by Humboldt Foundation), March 2000[]

[9] See non-coverage (exclusion?) of sexuality and sexual identity in the otherwise contributing Mark Moritz, Honor psychology and pastoral personality: An ecocultural analysis of herding routines and socialization into the culture of honor among nomadic FulBe in West Africa. []

[10] Consider this bibliography, derived from Trondheim, 3-4 February 2003 Seminar/doctoral course in the seminar series on Childhood - Agency, Culture, Society:

[11] I thank Dr. W. van Binsbergen for hammering this home to me.

[12] Parker, I. (2002). Discursive resources in the Discourse Unit, Discourse Analysis Online


[13] Janssen, D. F. (2004). Postdevelopmental Sexualities: Don’t Bring the Kids. Paper delivered at the XVIth Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozialwissenschaftliche Sexualforschung (DGSS) Conference on Social Scientific Sexuality Research “Sexualities and Social Change”, June 25-27, 2004, Lüneburg. [download]. The unstated argument reads that to be human implies extended (extending), language-based indoctrination of a techno/bureaucratic curriculum that drafts (rather than appeals to) the specimen for is its own good. Blatant and exotic disruptions of the pedagogical ideal case, at times found in non-Occidental societies (boy castrati, berdaches, dalai lama, young Pharaohs, cross-generational child marriage, seduction, …) today one notes the tendency to reformulate bureaucratic concerns for office and status quo, into concerns for “psychological” development as a singular, totalising, professionalised and legislative Mahlstrom.  In the West, this also pertains to aggressive if not imperialist action-taking to ramify and contain “outlying” practices (e.g., allegedly “reactive” sexualities), practices in “outlying” locales (e.g., the internationalization of child sexual abuse activism), and to deconstruct “outlying” voices (e.g., societal management of transgressive developmental sexologies). Thus envelopment discourses will always be substantiated by some logic of necessary development (psychosocial, existential, …), contested only by the uncontestably voiceless, and only on marginal matters, often by marginalisable people.