Cultural Studies

50th Anniversary Issue: Thinking Through Novels

The 50th anniversary issue of Novel, “Thinking Through Novels,” a collaborative effort from the editorial and advisory boards of the journal, is now available.

ddnov_50_3_coverContributors to this special issue consider the most important events in the history and theory of the novels during the past three to five decades and then reconsider how that history, and how current novels produced for an international readership, challenge scholars to rethink how to read the novel.  They examine topics from world literature to race, gender, and the novel to how the rise of social media has impacted the novel’s role in imagining personal identity and social affiliation. This issue was partially inspired by a forum previously published in Novel volume 44, issue 1, “Futures of the Novel.”

Learn more about the issue and browse the table-of-contents here.

 

Three New Journal Partnerships for 2018

In 2018, Duke University Press will begin publishing three journals: the Journal of Korean Studies, English Language Notes, and Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism. Read on to learn more about these new journal partnerships.

ddjks_22_1The Journal of Korean Studies, edited by Theodore Hughes, is the preeminent journal in its field, publishing high-quality articles in all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences on a broad range of Korea-related topics, both historical and contemporary. Korean studies is a dynamic field, with student enrollments and tenure-track positions growing throughout North America and abroad. At the same time, the Korean peninsula’s increasing importance in the world has sparked interest in Korea well beyond those whose academic work focuses on the region. Recent topics include the history of anthropology of Korea; seventeenth century Korean love stories; the Chinese diaspora in North Korea; student activism in colonial Korea in the 1940s; and GLBTQ life in contemporary South Korea. Contributors include scholars conducting transnational work on the Asia-Pacific as well as on relevant topics throughout the global Korean diaspora. The Journal of Korean Studies is based at the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University.

ELN-54.2-cover-bleedA respected forum of criticism and scholarship in literary and cultural studies since 1962, English Language Notes (ELN) is dedicated to pushing the edge of scholarship in literature and related fields in new directions. Broadening its reach geographically and transhistorically, ELN opens new lines of inquiry and widens emerging fields. Each ELN issue advances topics of current scholarly concern, providing theoretical speculation as well as interdisciplinary recalibrations through practical usage. Offering semiannual, topically themed issues, ELN also includes “Of Note,” an ongoing section featuring related topics, review essays or roundtables of cutting-edge scholarship, and emergent concerns. Edited by Laura Winkiel, ELN is a wide-ranging journal that combines theoretical rigor with innovative interdisciplinary collaboration.

Meridians15Meridians, an interdisciplinary feminist journal, provides a forum for the finest scholarship and creative work by and about women of color in U.S. and international contexts. The journal, edited by Ginetta E. B. Candlario, engages the complexity of debates around feminism, race, and transnationalism in a dialogue across ethnic, national boundaries, and disciplinary boundaries. Meridians publishes work that makes scholarship, poetry, fiction, and memoir by and about women of color central to history, economics, politics, geography, class, sexuality, and culture. The journal provokes the critical interrogation of the terms used to shape activist agendas, theoretical paradigms, and political coalitions.

Visit dukeupress.edu/journals to subscribe to these journals.

Trans Awareness Week: Resources from the Press

Trans Awareness Week, which leads up to the international Trans Day of Remembrance on November 19, is dedicated to transgender advocacy and awareness. We stand in solidarity with members of the trans community by sharing some of our most recent scholarship on trans studies.

readtorespondOur “Trans Rights” and “Bathroom Politics” reading lists include books and journal articles that address issues relevant to the trans community, from the recent bathroom ban to trans-inclusive feminism. The journal articles included in these lists are freely available through December 15, 2017, and book introductions are always freely available.

http://saq.dukejournals.org/?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=blog%20post&utm_campaign=j-transawareness_Nov2017The essays in South Atlantic Quarterly’s “Against the Day” section “Unrecognizable: On Trans Recognition in 2017” confront urgent questions regarding transgender recognition in the current political moment. Since Trump was elected, trans communities in the United States have expressed fear and outrage at the possibility that the “transgender tipping point” might be about to tip back. However, contributors to these essays explore the complicated relationship of the trans community to the “transgender tipping point” and express that even if recognition is inevitable, trans people may not always want to be identified. These essays invent new terms to describe the impossibility and violence of recognition and speculatively suggest an entirely different relation to visibility. In relation to the backlash, too, they argue that we cannot do trans politics without an analysis of political economy, of the history of racialization and the violence of liberalism, and of hetero- and gender normativity.

978-0-8223-6914-1Developed in the United States in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of bone and soft tissue reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. In The Look of a Woman Eric Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons as they move from consultation and the operating room to postsurgery recovery. He shows how the increasing popularity of FFS represents a shift away from genital-based conceptions of trans- selfhood in ways that mirror the evolving views of what is considered to be good trans- medicine.

 

FORTHCOMING FROM TSQ: TRANSGENDER STUDIES QUARTERLY

ddtsq_4_3_4_coverTranspsychoanalysis
edited by Sheila L. Cavanagh

While psychoanalysis has traditionally been at odds with transgender issues, a growing body of revisionist psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice has begun to tease out the trans-affirming potential of the field. “Transpsychoanalysis,” features essays that highlight this potential by simultaneously critiquing and working within the boundaries of psychoanalytic concepts and theories guiding clinical work. Featuring a range of clinicians and scholars, this issue centers on questions pertaining to trans experience, desire, difference, otherness, identification, loss, mourning, and embodiment. The contributors explore these questions through topics like Tiresian mythology, bathroom bans, ethics, popular culture, and the Freudian couch. By setting up this dialogue between psychosocial studies and trans cultural studies, this revisionist work may radically transform psychoanalytic theory and practice.

“Transpsychoanalysis,” volume 4, issue 3-4 will be available in early December.

Borders and Margins

ddmew_13_3_coverThe most recent special issue of Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” is now available.

This issue approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

Readings on the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution

October 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and a distinct turning point in world history. Check out our books and journal issues on the Revolution and its legacy.

ddlab_14_3In the most recent issue of Labor, the journal’s Up for Debate section focuses solely on the anniversary of October 1917. In the introduction to the section, Eric Arnesen writes, “The revolution brought about by the Bolsheviks had a profound impact not merely on what was to become the Soviet Union but on the development of the Left and the fate of workers’ movements in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas as well.”

Contributors to the section track socialism throughout the last 100 years, analyze the Revolution and the American Left, and view the Revolution through a micro-history of a Brazilian metalworker of African descent. Read the essays from this section, made freely available.

978-0-8223-6949-3The centenary of the Russian Revolution is the perfect time to consider the legacy of communism. In her new book Red Hangover, Kristen Ghodsee examines the legacies of twentieth-century communism twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell. Ghodsee’s essays and short stories reflect on the lived experience of postsocialism and how many ordinary men and women across Eastern Europe suffered from the massive social and economic upheavals in their lives after 1989. An accessible introduction to the history of European state socialism and postcommunism, Red Hangover reveals how the events of 1989 continue to shape the world today.

dispatchesA special correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, Morgan Philips Price was one of the few Englishmen in Russia during all phases of the Revolution. Although his Bolshevik sympathies accorded him an insider’s perspective on much of the turmoil, his reports were often heavily revised or suppressed. In Dispatches from the RevolutionTania Rose collects for the first time Price’s correspondence from Russia—official and unofficial, published and unpublished—to reveal a side of Russian life and politics that fell largely unreported in the years before, during, and after the Revolution.

978-0-8223-6324-8Originally published in 1937, C. L. R. James’s World Revolution, 1917-1936 is a pioneering Marxist analysis of the history of revolutions during the interwar period and of the fundamental conflict between Trotsky and Stalin. A new definitive edition, published this year to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, features an introduction by Christian Høgsbjerg and includes rare archival material, selected contemporary reviews, and extracts from James’s 1939 interview with Trotsky.

The Russia Reader, edited by Adele Marie Barker and Bruce Grant, includes a section on the Revolution that reprints many primary documents, from The Communist Manifesto, Lenin’s The Withering Away of the State, and Viktor Shklovsky’s Revolution and the Front to Anton Okninsky’s Two Years among the Peasants in Tambov Province and letters written by ordinary Russians in the wake of the Revolution.

Forthcoming from South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_116_4October! The Soviet Centenary
edited by Michael Hardt and Sandro Mezzadra

Contributors to this issue approach the October 1917 Russian Revolution and the experiments of the revolutionary period as events that opened new possibilities for politics that remain vital one hundred years later. The essays highlight how those events not only affected Russia and Europe but led to the emergence of a new political image of the world and a profound rethinking of Marxist traditions. This issue globalizes the 1917 revolution, emphasizing its echoes throughout the world and the parallel development of political possibilities beyond Russia. Topics include the Soviets from the revolution to the present, the impact of the revolution in Latin America, the work of the legal theorist Evgeny Pashukanis analyzed through the lens of the revolution, anarchist imaginaries, and the historicizing of communism.

Look for this issue of South Atlantic Quarterly in November.

Transatlantic Theory Transfer: Missed Encounters?

The most recent special issue of New German Critique, “Transatlantic Theory Transfer: Missed Encounters?,” edited by Andreas Huyssen and Anson Rabinbach, is now available.

NGC_132_prThis issue explores how intellectual theories migrate from Germany to the United States, asking what makes one theory compatible with and successful in the new society while others have little impact. Avoiding the obvious successes (from Marx to the Frankfurt School) and failures (authors whose translated works have had no effect on intellectual life in the United States), contributors investigate complicated cases in which the US reception was not particularly intense. The examples of Hans Blumenberg, Friedrich Kittler, Reinhardt Koselleck, Siegfried Kracauer, Niklas Luhmann, Alexander Mitscherlich, and Gershom Scholem prompt questions about the importance of clear translations, the effects of the publishing business on dissemination, the transformations that theoretical work undergoes as it moves from its original contexts to new ones, and the role of disciplines and interdisciplinarity in shaping a theory’s reception.

Read the introduction to the issue, freely available.

Unpacking Tourism

ddrhr_129Tourism shapes popular fantasies of adventure, structures urban and natural space, creates knowledge around difference, and demands an array of occupations servicing the insatiable needs of those who travel for leisure. Even as migrants and refugees have become targets of ire from far-right parties, international tourism has grown worldwide.

The most recent issue of Radical History Review, “Unpacking Tourism,” posits a radical approach to the study of tourism, highlighting how tourism as a paradigmatic modern encounter bleeds into diplomacy, militarism, and empire building. Contributors investigate, among other topics, how the United States has used tourism in Latin America as a tool of interventionist foreign policy, how Bethlehem’s Manger Square has become a contested space between Palestinians and the Israeli state, how Spain’s economy increasingly relies on northern European tourists, and how the US military’s Cold War–era guidebooks attempted to convert soldiers stationed abroad into “ambassadors of goodwill.”

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

The Militarization of Knowledge

ddbou_44_4.coverThe Militarization of Knowledge,” the latest special issue of boundary 2, edited by Paul A. Bové, is now available.

The growth of the military and its role in producing and controlling knowledge has reordered the entire system of knowledge production and reproduction in advanced societies. The military has had a profound influence on what is thought, on the style of thinking, and the topics developed. This issue addresses the implications of these facts and how one might best think critically about this process.

Articles in this issue address the expanse of militarization and the positive and negative results of state action on knowledge.

The issue concludes with deep reflection on the consequences of such militarization to the exploration of thought problems within the social order and wonders about the results of centering the power over truth so much within the desiring apparatus of the war machine.

Read the introduction, made freely available.

New Books in October

October is upon us, and we have a number of new books to introduce to you this month. Be on the lookout for these exciting titles at bookstores, online, or at academic meetings later this fall.

978-0-8223-6918-9In The Right to Maim, Jasbir K. Puar continues her pathbreaking work on the liberal state, sexuality, and biopolitics to theorize the production of disability, using Israel’s occupation of Palestine as an example of how settler colonial states rely on liberal frameworks of disability to maintain control of bodies and populations.

Jennifer Terry, in Attachments to War, traces how biomedical logics entangle Americans in a perpetual state of war, in which new forms of wounding necessitate the continual development of treatment and prosthetic technologies while the military justifies violence and military occupation as necessary conditions for advancing medical knowledge.

978-0-8223-6973-8Life in the Age of Drone Warfare, edited by Lisa Parks and Caren Kaplan, explores the historical, juridical, geopolitical, and cultural dimensions of drone technology and warfare, showing how drones generate ways of understanding the world, shape the ways lives are lived and ended on the ground, and operate within numerous mechanisms of militarized state power.

 

Tracing the college experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in her new book Grateful Nation, Ellen Moore challenges the popular narratives that explain student veterans’ academic difficulties while showing how these narratives and institutional support for the military lead to suppression of campus debate about the wars, discourage anti-war activism, and encourage a growing militarization.

978-0-8223-6941-7.jpg

The Extractive Zone by Macarena Gómez-Barris extends decolonial theory into greater conversation with race, sexuality, and Indigenous studies; and traces the political, aesthetic, and performative practices of South American indigenous activists, intellectuals, and artists that emerge in opposition to the ruinous effects of extractive capital.

Essays, interviews, and artist statements in Collective Situations —many of which are appearing in English for the first time—present a range of socially engaged art practices in Latin America between 1995 and 2010 that rethink the boundaries between art and activism. The collection is edited by Bill Kelley Jr. and Grant H. Kester.

In Never Alone, Except for Now, juxtaposing contemporary art against familiar features of the Web such as emoticons, Kris Cohen explores how one can be connected to people and places online while simultaneously being alone and isolated. This phenomenon lies in the space between populations built through data collection, and publics created by interacting with others.

Originally published in 1939, Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal is a landmark of modern French poetry and a founding text of the Négritude movement. Journal of a Homecoming, a bilingual edition, features a new authoritative translation, revised introduction, and extensive commentary, making it a magisterial edition of Césaire’s surrealist masterpiece.

978-0-8223-6949-3In Neoliberalism from Below, Verónica Gago provides a new theory of neoliberalism by examining how Latin American neoliberalism is propelled not just from above by international finance, corporations, and government, but by the activities of migrant workers, vendors, sweatshop workers, and other marginalized groups in and around the La Salada market in Buenos Aires.

Kristen Ghodsee, in Red Hangover, examines the legacies of twentieth-century communism on the contemporary political landscape twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, reflecting on the lived experience of postsocialism and how many ordinary men and women across Eastern Europe suffered from the massive social and economic upheavals in their lives after 1989.

978-0-8223-5884-8Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and his experience trading derivatives, in The Social Life of Financial Derivatives, Edward LiPuma theorizes the profound social dimensions of derivatives markets and the processes, rituals, mentalities, and belief systems that drive them.

In Monrovia Modern, Danny Hoffman uses the ruins of four iconic modernist buildings in Monrovia, Liberia as a way to explore the relationship between the built environment and political imagination, showing how these former symbols of modernist nation building transformed into representations of the challenges that Monrovia’s residents face.

Steeped in Heritage, by Sarah Ives, explores the racial and environmental politics behind South Africa’s rooibos tea industry to examine heritage-based claims to the indigenous plant by two groups of contested indigeneity: white Afrikaners and “coloured” South Africans.

In Tropical Freedom, Ikuko Asaka examines emancipation’s intersection with settler colonialism in North America, showing how emancipation efforts in the United States and present-day Canada were accompanied by attempts to relocate freed blacks to tropical regions, thereby conceiving freedom as a racially segregated condition based upon geography and climate.

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Q&A with Lynn Comella, author of Vibrator Nation

lynn_comella_by_krystal_ramirez_smallLynn Comella is Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. An award-winning researcher, she has written extensively about sexuality and culture for numerous academic publications and popular media outlets. She is coeditor of the comprehensive New Views on Pornography: Sexuality, Politics, and the Law, and a frequent media contributor. In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure—the first book to tell the story of feminist sex-toy stores and the women who pioneered them—she takes a deep dive into the making of the consumer market for sex toys, tracing its emergence from the early 1970s to today. Drawing on more than eighty in-depth interviews with retailers and industry insiders, including a stint working as a vibrator clerk, she brings readers onto the sex-shop floor and into the world of sex-positive capitalism and cultural production. Lynn Comella is on a national tour this fall and winter; check back here next week for a full tour schedule.

art1Why did you decide to research feminist sex-toy businesses and how did you conduct your research?

I’ve long been interested in the politics of sexual representation, from the feminist sex wars of the 1980s to debates over school-based sex education. When I started this project, which began as a seminar paper in graduate school, I was really interested in the various ways in which female sexuality assumed a public presence as opposed to being relegated to the privacy of the home. As luck would have it, a feminist sex-toy shop, Intimacies, had just opened in the college town where I lived. I decided to make the store the focus of a small pilot study in an effort to better understand what made this female-friendly vibrator business different from more conventional adult stores ostensibly geared toward men. I quickly realized that Intimacies was part of a larger network of women-run, educationally oriented vibrator shops located in cities across the country that had all adopted a similar way of selling sex toys and talking about sex. I wanted to know more about what united these businesses together and how they attempted to practice feminist politics through the marketplace. What were the sexual vernaculars, retail strategies, philosophies, challenges and paradoxes that had shaped these businesses?

Researching the history of feminist sex-toy stores sent me down a rabbit hole. It took years and multiple methods of data collection—ethnographic fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and archival research—to weave together the various historical threads that shaped these businesses and the larger women’s market for sex toys and pornography. Writing the book I wanted to write, one that took a deep dive into the making of a market, required a kind of methodological promiscuity: I worked as a vibrator clerk at Babeland in New York City where I sold my fair share of sex toys, answered customer questions, and crossed my fingers that my cash register balanced at the end of the night. I interviewed more than eighty feminist retailers, employees, and industry insiders. I toured dildo manufacturing companies and lube factories, and attended more than a dozen adult industry trade shows where I sat in on business seminars that discussed marketing sex toys to women, retail-based sex education, and the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. I poured through dusty boxes filled with corporate documents, internal memos, customer letters, advertisements, news clippings, and more, and amassed a research archive teeming with sex-toy ephemera (which I’m having a lot of fun sharing on the vibrator_nation Instagram account).

What was it like for women to purchase sex toys before the mid-1970s? What were feminist entrepreneurs trying to change?

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for the average woman to comfortably buy vibrators in the early 1970s. Conventional adult stores weren’t designed with female shoppers in mind; reputable mail-order businesses that sold so-called marital aids were few and far between; and women walking into a department store—or any store, really—to buy a vibrating massager risked encountering a male clerk who might say, “Boy, you must really need it bad, sweetie pie.” What made the situation all the more frustrating for many women was that they were being told by feminist sex educators and therapists that they should masturbate and take control of their orgasms. Vibrators were being framed as tools of liberation, but getting one wasn’t easy. Early feminist retailers, such as Dell Williams, who founded Eve’s Garden in 1974, and Joani Blank who opened Good Vibrations several years later, stepped into this breach. They turned the traditional model of an adult store, with its “seamy” aura and X-rated style, on its head in an effort to appeal to female shoppers. What made these early feminist vibrator businesses so revolutionary, and what set them apart from their more conventional counterparts geared toward men, wasn’t just their focus on women, but their entire way of doing business. They led with sex education not titillation, and worked to advance a social mission that included putting a vibrator on the bedside table of every woman, everywhere, because they believed that access to accurate sexual information and quality products had the potential to make everyone’s lives better.

In the book you describe a “sex-positive diaspora” of feminist retailers. What do you mean by that?

One of the things that I found so interesting during the early stages of my research was the degree to which feminist business owners tipped their hats to Good Vibrations. Many of them credited the company’s founder, Joani Blank, a sex therapist with a master’s degree in public health, with helping them start their businesses. Blank had a very non-competitive approach to running a company and strongly believed that the more businesses that were doing what Good Vibrations was doing—selling vibrators and talking openly about sex—the better. Blank freely shared information and vendor lists with aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the early 1990s she started a short-lived internship program to train people how to run a business like Good Vibrations. The first, and only, two people to complete the internship program were Claire Cavanah, who along with Rachel Venning would go on to found Babeland in 1993, and Kim Airs who started Grand Opening in Boston that same year. Blank’s communitarian, non-competitive ethos created a ripple effect and by the early 1990s, Good Vibrations’ DNA had begun to spread to cities across the country. In time, people who worked at Babeland and Grand Opening branched out and started their own feminist vibrator shops and Good Vibrations’ sex-positive mission continued to replicate. I wanted a phrase that captured this movement and dispersal, and the description “sex-positive diaspora” seemed to do that.

What role have lesbians and queer-identified retailers and people of color played in the history of feminist sex-toy business?

Lesbians and queer-identified retailers, along with queer and transgender employees, have played a major role in shaping the history of feminist sex-toy businesses. They opened stores, worked on the sales floor, started sex-toy manufacturing companies, wrote “how to” guides, and made pornography. In these different ways they’ve been important nodes of transmission and sources of queer sexual knowledge, including for straight people. In fact, I’d argue that the history of feminist sex-toy stores is also, and very much so, a story about queer entrepreneurship and cultural production. For many of the businesses that I write about in Vibrator Nation, their identities as queer and trans-inclusive companies are as important, if not more so, than their feminist identities. And yet, it’s also the case that these businesses have historically been very white. If you look at photos of Good Vibrations staff from the 1980s, for example, everyone is white and female. So it’s perhaps not surprising that some customers got the impression that Good Vibrations was a white women’s store—even as the company worked hard to change that perception and diversity its staff. This was certainly how Oakland-based retailer Nenna Joiner, the founder of Feelmore, experienced Good Vibrations when she first discovered the company in the late 1990s. Although she loved what the store offered, she didn’t see any images that represented her. She realized there was a need in the African American community for more diverse sexual images and resources, and decided to start a business that could deliver what she felt was missing from other women-run sex-toy stores.

How have feminist sex toy stores remained true to their mission while also turning a profit?

The ongoing tension between profitability and social change is a thread that runs throughout Vibrator Nation. Many of the retailers I write about started their businesses because they saw their stores as a feminist way to empower women (and eventually everyone). They led with a mission of social change rather than capitalist aspirations. Good Vibrations’ Joani Blank once told me that profits were secondary to everything that was important to her about running a successful business. And if you read the mission statements of many of the businesses that followed in Good Vibrations’ footsteps, they’re all about promoting sex education and personal transformation and creating a more passionate world. There’s almost no mention of making money. As one of my interviewees pointed out, if you don’t put profitability in your mission statement, it’s easy to forget about it. In some cases, it took a severe financial crisis for retailers to realize they needed to cultivate new forms of business expertise and foster attitudes in which money was seen as friend instead of foe, something that not only greased the wheels of social change but kept those wheels spinning.

How did feminists end up changing the adult industry?

Perhaps the most dramatic shift over the past forty years is the acknowledgment on the part of mainstream adult retailers, manufacturers, and porn producers that the sex industry is no longer a world of men. In a post Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey era, this statement might seem glaringly obvious, but it wasn’t that long ago that women found themselves marginalized in an industry largely dominated by men and steeped in sexism. I heard stories during my research of female product buyers with budgets of upwards of $3,000,000 annually who couldn’t get the time of day at adult novelty trade shows. Men would look right past them. And that was in the early 2000s. Feminists played an absolutely central role in creating a market that is now widely regarded as one of the hottest growth segments of the adult industry. Today, women are trusted authorities who routinely hold the microphone in seminar rooms filled with wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and content producers eager to mine their expertise. There have been other important changes, too, most notably in regard to sex-toy manufacturing and marketing. By the early 1990s women were placing new demands on the adult novelty sector. Good Vibrations began offering warranties and started sending defective merchandise back to manufacturers, letting them know they weren’t going to settle for cheaply made products that conked out after one use. Manufacturers started making products that looked prettier, had better motors, and used non-toxic and body safe materials. Sex-toy packaging with images of sultry porn starlets has been replaced with softer, more colorful, and sanitized imagery. Messages about sexual health and education, rather than titillation, are regularly used as marketing platforms. Art school grads and mechanical engineers are bringing elements of sleek design and quality manufacturing to an industry that used to revolve around the idea of planned obsolescence where nothing was made to last. It’s a far cry from what the adult industry looked like in the early 1970s when Dell Williams and Joani Blank took a bold leap of faith and started their small, women-friendly vibrator businesses.

What are some of the challenges of doing scholarly work on the sex industry?

What it means to do scholarly work on the sex industry has changed quite a bit over the past 15 years. When I was completing my Ph.D. in the early 2000s, academic research on the adult industry was hardly typical and it wasn’t unusual for someone to raise an eyebrow when I told them that I was researching feminist sex-toy stores. They were intrigued but often skeptical about the scholarly merits of such research. Although academic research on the adult industry is still not the norm, there’s a growing, international network of sexuality scholars—historians, sociologists, media studies practitioners, and others—who study pornography and other facets of the adult entertainment industry in an effort to better understand this extremely profitable yet under-examined segment of popular culture. This scholarship is increasingly finding institutional support not only in the form of tenure-track academic appointments, but in academic journals and professional organizations, too. Additionally, more and more academic presses are realizing that there’s a market for well-researched books about pornography and the sex industry, and are building their lists according. As for the nitty-gritty of researching the sex industry, it’s really no different than studying any other cultural phenomenon: you approach it ethically, rigorously, and systematically. The less we exoticize sexuality research, and the more we treat it with the seriousness that we might approach other scholarly topics, the better this research will be.

You can order Vibrator Nation from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E17COMEL to save 30%.