Frank Bongiorno on Sexuality

School of Cultural Inquiry Conference Room, A.D. Hope Building (14)

Jeffrey Weeks once described the history of sexuality as ‘a history without a proper subject’ while for Michael Foucault it was ‘a historical construct’. Foucault and his followers have tended to distinguish ‘sex’ as a biological or anatomical category referring to bodily organs and acts – something which has clearly existed across millennia – with ‘sexuality’, a field of pleasure, desire, power and knowledge that they believe emerged relatively recently. If this basic approach and chronology are correct, the history of European Australia ought to be a useful means of exploring the 'invention' of western sexuality because it has occurred in the very period widely understood as critical in the making of sexual modernity. This Keywords lecture will draw on research carried out for a recently released book, The Sex Lives of Australians: A History, to reflect on the history of sexuality as a field of scholarship - in Australia and elsewhere - and to test some of the claims made in the international literature about the making of modern western sexuality by reference to Australian sexual history.

Frank Bongiorno is Associate Professor of History at the Australian National University, and has previously held lectureships at the ANU, Griffith University, the University of New England and King's College London, as well as research positions at the ANU, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Cambridge. He is the author or co-author of two books on labour and radical politics in Australia and, most recently, of The Sex Lives of Australians: A History (Black Inc.), the first book-length treatment of its subject across the period of European settlement.


Date & time

Mon 30 Jul 2012, 5–6.30pm


School of Cultural Inquiry Conference Room, A.D. Hope Building (14)


School of History


Updated:  3 November 2017/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications