Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Crispin Thurlow Faber
WOMEN 566
Seattle Campus

Discourse and Sex/uality

Seminar-based analysis of discourse and social construction of eroticism/desire in face-to-face/mediatized talk and texts; examination of the reproduction of power, control and ideology through the linguistic and semiotic realization of sex/uality. Offered: jointly with COM 566.

Class description

This graduate seminar is run under the auspices of Communication/Women Studies 566 DISCOURSE AND SEX/UALITY. The class will meet Mondays between 4:30pm and 7:30pm in Communications Building (Seattle campus) room 126.

Michel Foucault(1978:156): "The Faustian pact, whose temptation has been instilled in us by the deployment of sexuality, is now as follows: to exchange life in its entirety fo sex itself, for the truth and sovereignty of sex. Sex is worth dying for. By creating the imaginary element that is 'sex', the deployment of sexuality established one of its most essential internal operating principles: the desire for sex - the desire to have it, to have access to it, to discover it, to liberate it, to articulate it in discourse, to formulate it in truth."

We are all of us inescapably positioned by 'sex'; we are forced to have an opinion about it, we are obliged to identify with it, we are compelled to do it and to talk about it. But what exactly is it? Where is it? Typically, we are encouraged to think of sex - and sexuality - as matters of the body and, perhaps, of the brain. But sex is quite apparently equally a matter of imagination, representation and politics. Up to a point, sex is whatever we (or "they") say it is.

This seminar is concerned with exploring - in very open terms - the inherent discursivity of sex/uality as both a practice (e.g. the "doing it" of sex) and an identity (e.g. the "being it" of gender and so called sexual orientation). A discourse perspective allows for a critical exploration of the representation and reproduction of sexual practices and politics, and also how power and inequality are organized through our incessant 'articulations' about sex.

As a way to focus our thinking, we will make our way together through the following definitive texts:

Butler, Judith. (2004). Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge.

Cameron, Deborah & Kullick, Don. (2003). Language and sexuality. London: Routledge.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

Foucault, Michel. (1990 [1978]). History of Sexuality: An Introduction (Volume 1). New York: Vintage Books.

The other core texts will be:

Coppola, Francis F., Mutrux, Gail (producers) and Condon, Bill (director). (2004). Kinsey [motion picture]. USA: American Zoetrope.

Ewing, William A. (1999). Love and Desire: Photoworks. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Michael, Robert T., Gagnon, John H. Laumann, Edward O. and Kolata, Gina. (1995). Sex in America: A Definitive Survey. New York: Little Brown.

Student learning goals

You will know about a range of perspectives on sex/uality from different academic disciplines.

You will understand how sex is simultaneously a site of power and pleasure, how it is both a bodily matter and a matter of discourse.

You will be familiar with the works of several major scholars committed to revealing the discursive or socially constructed nature of sex/uality.

You will understand how sexual practices and identities intersect with class, gender, (dis)ability, age, race/ethnicity, and so on.

You will have developed some of your own thinking (and writing) about topics related to sex/uality and/or discourse studies.

You will have a basic grasp of critical discourse studies as an approach to analyzing and theorizing sex/uality.

General method of instruction

This class will be primarily organized around an interdisciplinary series of "guest" presentations by faculty and senior doctoral researchers here at the UW. (More details of the speakers will be posted on the course website nearer the time.) These talks will typically be scheduled in the second half of our weekly class meetings (i.e. 6:00 to 7:30pm). The first half of each meeting will centre around our reading of five core texts. We will also be working together on a small research project about the depiction of sex acts in cinema.

Recommended preparation

You do not need to have a particular research/academic background in sex studies or sexual identities; nor do you need to have a background in discourse studies. My goal in constituting this seminar is to help create a space for exploring the both the discursivity and the politics of sex; this will be a space that is also constituted by the range of interests you bring with you and by the different perspectives offered by the guest speakers.

Class assignments and grading

Your weekly commitment to this seminar will entail: reading and presenting material from the five core texts; reading the article or chapter assigned by our guest speakers; actively engaging with our guest presenters; working towards a collective, creative project on the representation of sex in film; preparing and documenting your own research/writing on the topic of sex practices/sexual identities.

This graduate level seminar will graded on a credit/no credit basis. You will be eligible for a 4.0 grade at the end of the quarter if you have fulfilled the following basic requirements: you have participated actively in the lecture series; you have completed the required reading; you have contributed ideas and materials to seminar discussions; you have actively contributed to any collective project work; you submit reasonable, documented evidence of having developed your own thinking or research related to sex/uality.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Crispin Thurlow Faber
Date: 02/09/2011