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Sex on the Edge

New program in sexuality is interdisciplinary, and open to all

by Debbie Hum

In less than 10 years, work in the field of queer studies has become highly sophisticated, and attracted academic attention that in many cases has evolved into a broader exploration of sexuality.

Concordia officially launched its new interdisciplinary minor in sexuality on October 9, at the start of a three-day conference that was called Sex on the Edge and was organized by Cinema Professor Thomas Waugh and Communications Professor Chantal Nadeau.

Waugh, who is the program director, explained that the original call, made in 1993 by a task force on gay and lesbian life at Concordia, was for a curriculum that was relevant to lesbian and gay students. The new sexuality minor is a space for queer studies, Waugh said, but it is a slightly broader program that welcomes students who do not necessarily identify themselves as lesbian or gay but are interested in sexual studies.

"There's been more and more of a critique in the academy of notions of identity as being fixed and stable and defining everything about someone, or everything about a community," Waugh said. "We didn't want a program that assumed to be able to define its constituency and its field in a very rigid way. We want much more openness."

Waugh pointed out that interesting work in research and curriculum is being done at Concordia by people who do not identify themselves as lesbian and gay but who share common objectives with people who are. The interdisciplinary nature of the program also acknowledges the limits of university resources, he added.

The Sex On The Edge conference was the culmination of a four-year research project led by Waugh, called Sexualités, représentations, marginalités: Enjeux culturels, sociaux et politiques. The team's co-investigators are Chantal Nadeau (Communication Studies), Catherine Mavrikakis (Études françaises), Brian Foss (Art History), Frances Shaver (Sociology/Anthropology) and Ross Higgins (Sociology/
Anthropology). Marcie Frank (English), was a collaborator with the conference and the sexuality program, and Katarina Soukup, a Master's student in Media Studies, helped coordinate the conference.

Participants emphasized the importance of historical study and explored the relatively new issue of citizenship. "That's an old-fashioned term that I think is being revalued -- moving beyond the idea of being outsiders to thinking about members of sexually marginal communities as being citizens with not only rights but also duties," Waugh said.

Waugh is the author of Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film. He is working on another book, The Fruit Machine: Twenty Years of Writing on Queer Cinema, to be released this winter. He is a book juror for the 1999 Katherine Singer Kovacs Book Award, which is presented by the Society for Film Studies.

In December, Waugh will be keynote lecturer at the centenary conference on Joris Ivens in the Netherlands.

Copyright 1998 Concordia's Thursday Report.