Book Review: Routledge Companion to Geographies of Sex & Sexualities

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Happy new year! I have written a review of Gavin Brown and Kath Browne’s Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex & Sexualities for the academic journal Antipode.

I enjoyed reviewing Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You for Pan Macmillan last year (which you can read here), but this was a different endeavour as the review was for publication in an academic journal (this article in the ever-excellent Thesis Whisperer covers some of the debates). This review took me a while to write as the book itself is enormous – it could almost sit on a coffee table, although alas, like most academic volumes, it’s absent of those arty photos we all love – but it was nevertheless a really interesting experience. It proved to be a good way of consolidating my own knowledge of the research field whilst also writing for other readers. That sense of consolidation is key, because in a field that is changing all the time (especially in terms of new technology) the researcher needs to keep on top of new ideas or risk becoming out of touch in their own research.

I’d recommend the book to cultural geographers, sociologists, and political scientists certainly, and it deserves a place in any university library because it covers a very wide range of topics: from sex work to transgender life in small-town America. You can read my full review here, but below is an extract of how I introduce the topic, as a way of sketching out some of the most interesting parts of this geographical topic for those of you not familiar with the area:

‘What is the relationship between cities and sexualities? Is the Pride parade dead as a form of political expression? How does urban governance influence sex work? These are the kinds of questions raised at the intersection of geography and sexuality, and they bring with them debates from queer theory, sociology, and science and technology studies.

The Companion takes as its starting point the historical lethargy in geography regarding the study of sex and sexuality beyond a heteronormative focus on couplehood and the family. This has shifted over time to incorporate approaches that attend to the influence of place, space and mobilities in shaping sexual desire, and how sexual identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are represented across the world. The perceived “naturalness” of heterosexuality means that it has long been accepted as the default expression of sexuality in public space, so non-heterosexual or queer identities and practices in public space are easily marked as other (and sometimes punished).

Following an initial focus in the 1980s and 1990s on gay male spaces, scholarship grew to consider lesbian experiences, and, more recently, bisexual and trans people. Today, the field is healthy and expanding, exploring not just sexual identity but also biopolitics and sexual health, migration, surveillance, technology, the value of home, the visibilities and exclusions that mark public and private space, and the life (and possible death) of the “gayborhood”.’ (Miles 2016: 1-2)

And you thought geography was all ‘colouring in’.

But there is a serious point here: in a global context where 74 countries actively punish LGBT people, and where LGBT safe spaces are still subject to violence, social science research on sex and sexualities is more important than ever.

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